Monday, February 17, 2014

San Francisco Part 1

I decided to forego doing anything around the Monterey Peninsula, instead hitting the road after a quick shower and raiding the motels pathetic breakfast selection. The weather was beautiful the sun shinning down on the landscape, the temperature perfect for driving with the windows down. The most talked about stretch of the PCH is the stretch from San Simon, just South of Big Sur, to San Francisco. Admittedly most of the southern portion of the highway was inland, with a far higher percentage of monotonous rolling hill landscape than the jaw dropping beauty of the ocean vistas along the cliffside routes through Big Sur. Above the Monterey Peninsula the rout began to flatten out, cutting between rocky beaches and hilly farmland, waves crashing violently onto the shore as cattle grazed peacefully in the fields. 

The beaches were empty as the water was cold and the air not much more pleasant with the brisk wind coming in off the open sea. I decided to pull over at a cove, and went down to explore some tidal pools. The tidal pools were a buzz with life, but it was mainly just crabs, snails and clusters of mussels. I meandered around the beach for awhile watching the waves smash against the rocky outcrops sending sea spray into the air. Birds searched the title pools for a quick meal, flying away as the waves crashed. The only sound in the air was that of the crushing surf, the only smell that of the sea. I stood alone in the cove enjoying the solitude, the peaceful serenity of this unfiltered corner of the Earth.

When I returned to my car, my windows were covered in a salty concoction, a result of all the sea spray. I cruised on down Route 1, the landscape maintaining it’s dramatic contrast of ocean violence and plains calmness. Most of the drive thus far this day had been through rural land, the highway nearly empty as I lingered along the route soaking in the beauty of it all. Soon I came to Half Moon Bay and from that point on found more and more the rural replaced with the urban as I approached San Francisco. 

Soon my lackadaisical drive was interrupted by traffic as I found myself in coming into The City by The Bay.  What had for most of the day been a flat drive turned into a series of steep streets. The houses around took on the familiar look of San Francisco, pastel painted row houses stacked up the steep roads, each unique yet all nearly uniform in design. In my search for accommodations in The City I found a hostel, situation right along the bay. Hostels have become very familiar to me after years of traveling, but they are still somewhat uncommon in American, with the exception being the Northwest, where Hostels are nearly as prominent as they are in Europe. 

I got to my hostel and was stunned to see its location, it was located on an old Military battery, Fort Mason and the hostel itself was in what use to be the Fort’s hospital. Behind the hostel was San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge barely sticking out of the fog in the distance to one side and the ghostly glow of Alcatraz sitting stoically on the other side. The air was filled with the sound of seals barking, although I could not see where the seals themselves were. 

Alcatraz from behind the hostel.
After getting settled in at the Hostel I decided to take a walk along the bay front, A crisp wind blew down the bay as a few sea lions swam around, the crab fishermen yelling at them to leave the lines alone. The sea lines ignored the wishes of the fisherman, harassing the net and stirring the fury of the fisherman who had evidently dealt with these rascals before. The fisherman's kids tried to lure the sea lions away by throwing food into the water, which worked until the kids ran out of food and the sea lions returned. 

I continued across the dock, couples held each other and watched the colors from the sun dance across the clouds and ever-present fog. The water in the small manmade harbor was alive with activity, paddle boarders drifted quietly across the water, avoiding the swimmers who braved the chilly water for an evening workout. A row of small sail boats bobbed in the waves, having been abandoned by their captains. Along the beach kids ran up to the waters edge, running away as the waves rolled ashore. 

Further down I came into Fisherman’s Wharf, local eateries were boiling up dugeness crab right along the boardwalk, the smell of seafood overtook the air. Patrons scarfed down crab and bread bowls filled with chowder, all the while musicians played along the street, creating a festive ambiance as I strolled into the night. 

Down the boardwalk a chain link fence was clad in locks, left by lovers who had inscribed a testimony of their hearts on these chunks of mental before sealing them shut for eternity. I believe that once you lock the lock you are supposed to throw the keys into the water, which would mean there was quite a collection of keys lying below the cobalt blue waters laid out in front of me. I walked along the fence reading the locks, most simply contained the lovers names and a date. One even read a date in the future, which I took to mean it was a planned wedding date, that or time travel is real. 

It was getting dark and I had little knowledge of where I was or where exactly it is I planned on going, so I headed back to the hostel. The city lights shimmered on the bay, likes stars in an unsteady sky, twinkling in the calm waves. I grabbed a couple of slices of pizzas and continued my walk. The view of the city skyline was mesmerizing, the glowing bridges seemed as if they would transport you to a different realm. It’s crazy to look out at a cityscape and think how many stories are unfolding in what seems like such a small place. Millions of lives each adding their dim light to create a masterpiece.

The seal barks had been replaced by the sounds of boat horns, honking incessantly to inform the other boats of their location in the fog. Periodically one would pop into view before once again disappearing into the cloud. It’s amazing one can navigate anything through such persistent fog, so think that both Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge were completely obscured from my vantage point. The clouds in the sky hid the stars, but the lights from the thousands of windows stretched out along the waters edge did a fine job replacing them. As darkness took its grasp it brought along the cold and I headed inside. 

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