Thursday, March 13, 2014

Moss Landing

My bed at the hostel was amazingly comfortable and I slept like an angel drifting on a cloud, the room was filled with other guys, not one bed empty, but no one snored or if they did I was undisturbed by it. I really hope I don’t snore loudly, I would hate to be the guy known for snoring in the hostel dorm, everyone dislikes that guy. I was in little hurry to get back to the aquarium, as I remembered the line that had formed before opening the prior day. I took my time making breakfast and getting ready before heading out. It was a beautiful day outside, sun shining, making it just hot enough that the cool ocean breeze felt delightful, nearly Caribbean, as I took the short walk to the aquarium. 
Clown Fish
The day before I hadn’t had time to watch all the movies and presentations the aquarium offered, so I planned my day around getting to each of those activities, exploring the aquarium more in depth in between. When I entered the aquarium, the man who had sold me my pass the day before commented how happy he was I had come back second day.
“Today is going to be so much more mellow than yesterday,” he told me as he checked me in. “All the school groups are already here and nearly done, and other than that it has been an extremely slow morning,” he added to my delight. 

Cuttle Fish
We talked for a moment before I ventured back into the facility. It felt like a different place, the lobby was strangely quiet in the absence of all the screaming children, the exhibits much more accessible. At times I had full groups of minutes to stand and watch the sea life swim about without another person even in the room. It was in heaven, it was as if I had the place to myself, and the few people I did cross paths with were respectful and other than a polite “hello,” made barely a sound. I spent the day reexamining exhibits I had seen, each time finding something new and incredible to look at, and attending the lectures. After I had successfully watched the entire days offerings of videos I decided to head up the coast to a beach I had read about, that apparently was a popular hang out for sea otters.
I don't remember what this fish is, but he looks angry!
I headed up the road a couple miles, grabbing lunch along the way, with very little expectations of actually seeing any wildlife, the sour taste of last weeks failed whale sightings still lingering. I got to Moss Landing State Beach without really knowing where to go, so I jumped out of the car and started walking along the beach, an empty stretch of sand containing the gruesome sight of a couple decomposing seal carcasses, greeted me. The air reeked, to the delight of a million flies that buzzed around, a black cloud of annoyance. Along the waters edge a variety of shore birds plunked in the sand searching for food, as the waved gently rolled in. Out in the water a group of surfers waited patiently for better waves to come ashore, eventually giving up and heading home disappointed by the ocean's calm. 
The sun beat down on the beach, the cool breeze strangely absent along the deserted shoreline. I continued on towards a harbors entrance in the distance, ticking away the steps wondering if this was going to be worth the effort. Soon the silent air was overtaken with the sounds of yelping seals playing out in the surf. Thousands of birds flew from a hidden slough out into the ocean. I reached the harbor mouth and climbed the rocky wall. Instantly I was introduced to a stunning scene, seals leapt out of the water, scaring a group of birds drifting in the placid harbor waters. I walked along the rock wall, staring out at the amazing show unfolding before me, a sea lion sat on the rocks, sitting up for a moment to make sure I had no intentions of harming him, before flopping back down on the rocks, basking in the bright midday sun. 
Hi there!
Sea lions and seals swam around gracefully in the harbor, but I still had not spotted the sea otters I had driven all this way to see. It was amazing to see the usually boring seals and sea lions actually doing something other than basking in the sun, flopping around on beaches. The same animals that seemed so helpless on land, glided effortlessly in the water, their agility quite striking as they disappeared below the waves before returning to the surface by flying out of the water, as if to show off for their friends. The barking in the area was nearly deafening at times, drowning out even the ambient sound of the ocean behind me.

I continued further along the wall that protected the harbor, still searching for a sea otter, I had seen a couple drifting around in Monterey Bay during my walk along the coast there, but they were far off shore and nearly unidentifiable at such a distance. I was taking a picture of a albatross standing on the shore when I was startled by the sound of knocking. I turned around to discover a sea otter, just feet away from me, cracking a shell open on a rock. The otter seemed unfazed by my presence, or anyones presence for that matter, diving repeatedly and coming up with food, sometimes eating it within an arms length of fishermen standing amongst the rocks. 

I watched as the single sea otter, the only one who seemed to be present that day, swam around on its back, enjoying a variety of food, from clams, to shrimp, to I believe even a sea urchin. I was so close to this amazing marine mammal that I could make out what it was eating, an experience I won’t ever forget. Not too much further out the seals continued to frolic, leaping out of the water to the consternation of all the birds trying to relax in the calm water. 

The Sea Otter eventually swam further out to into the harbor and I decided to venture back to the car, this time walking along the harbor side, where huge congregations of sea birds would periodically erupt into flight for seemingly no reason, moving like a school of sardines in the air, before finally circling back and landing in the same spot they had just left. In the harbor I found the typical lazy seals, basking on an inland beach, while sail boats bobbed in the blue water of the harbor behind them. 

I jumped back in the car and headed back to Monterey, enamored with the day, and the whole of the coastline that I had explored over the past few days. Back at the hostel I picked up conversations that I had began the evening before, once again letting the night slip away from me as I enjoyed the rare experience of being surrounded by other travelers. One kid was riding his motorcycle from San Francisco to Argentina, another girl had been on the road for eight months and was finishing up her last couple weeks before returning home. Each person's story giving me further inspiration to continue this lifestyle. A map on the wall reminded me what a small part of the world America takes up, and looking at how far I had traveled, how big the world truly is. 


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