Southern California, August 1999
We wanted to take a short trip out west during one of Jen's six days off, part of her confusing work schedule. It was time to cash in some frequent flyer miles from our Australia trip last year (pictures and story for that are still forthcoming). We decided to go to Seattle, but when I called to find out the available flights all the good ones were taken. "What about San Diego?" asked Jen. So I checked that out and found a set of flights that fit Jen's time off very well.
Thursday, August 12
We had packed ahead of time, since Jen had to work. As soon as she got home we loaded up our Saturn and made the hour drive to Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. Pretty soon we were on a puddle jumper to Pittsburgh. This was the downside of cashing in the miles on US Airways...we were going from South Carolina to California via Pennsylvania. That makes sense!
Five hours later we arrived in San Diego to temperatures in the high 60s. Perfect! I could forget about South Carolina's high 90s for a while. We got our rental car, a blue Chevy Cavalier, and headed to our hotel, the Best Western Posada on the Yacht Harbor. When you surf online, what they don't tell you is that "harbor view" overlooks a busy four lane road and some boat slips. Not very exciting, but we'd survive.
Friday, August 13
I have always wanted to go surfing. And now, at age 27, I was going to get my chance. Friday the 13th. We sped through San Diego's morning rush hour to reach Leucadia Beach around 8am, where I was signed up for Kahuna Bob's Surf School. Soon they had me decked out in a wetsuit and surf shoes and I was carrying a 10 foot surfboard down the winding path to the beach. There I met up with the instructor and my classmate, a kid named Ryan was probably about ten years old. Ryan was a pro; he'd been taking the class for a couple days.
They had me plop my board down in the sand and practice the basics. I worked on moving from laying down on the board to standing. You're supposed to do this in one fluid maneuver and keep your legs bent when you stand. A couple tries and I had it down. Now it was time to hit the water! And it was cold! I had just been in the Atlantic Ocean a week earlier at Edisto Beach, SC. That water was probably in the 80s. Leucadia Beach, almost at the same latitude, was somewhere in the 60s. I was glad I had the wetsuit on. The Pacific waves coming in were huge compared to normal Atlantic fare.
I started out laying on the board while my instructor picked the waves. We started on the whitewash of dying waves. My first dozen attempts were spent trying to get the hang of getting up and staying there. It wasn't long before I had this reasonably figured out. Then it was time to try some paddling. It's easy to swim in the water, but when you're using the same arms to propel a 10 foot board, you don't feel like anything is happening. But it makes a difference. With the teacher's help, I caught a wave just right and found myself near the top of it, moving twice as fast as any wave I'd had before. Then I lost my balance and rode the rest of the wave tumbling through the surf. But it was cool.
I learned the hardest part of surfing was timing yourself with the waves. After that, you just need to be ready for the ride. It doesn't hurt to be in shape for it either. My two hour class was enough Pacific pummeling for one day. My surfing muscles were aching and my neck was chafed and burning from the wetsuit and salt water. But I loved it!
After I had had a chance to shower and recover, it was time to attend to Jen's interests. Time to go fabric shopping! Her internet friends had pointed her to a store in the vicinity of El Cajon. We found the place but decided that lunch would be first, eating burgers and taco salad at the "Boll Weevil." Then it was a couple doors down to Rosie's Calico Cupboard where Jen picked up some missing flannel and some sand and water colors for my quickly-forming ocean quilt.
On the way back we headed straight to the coast and walked along the Sunset Cliffs. The ocean was slowly eroding the cliffs into some interesting shapes. It had also destroyed a walkway that used to be on the top...only bits and pieces were left.
In the late afternoon we did some grocery shopping, then made our first trip up to Pt. Loma. We thought we were heading the right way when we arrived at the entrance to a Naval station. We asked the sailor at the gate if this was the way to the lighthouse. "Absolutely," he said. "You make a U-turn right here, go all the way back to the light, and make two lefts."
Cabrillo National Monument on Pt. Loma keeps lousy hours. They're open 9am to a little after 6pm. We arrived at 5:30 and entered the fog atop the hill. We were pressed for time and I took some quick shots of the lighthouse and the statue of Juan Rodr�guez Cabrillo. Then it was time to leave. We had a quick dinner before crashing out at the hotel.
Saturday, August 14
I wanted to go back to Pt. Loma to get some more time to shoot the lighthouses. It was foggy again. This time we were early. The sailor at the entrance station wouldn't let us in until precisely 9am, and it was two minutes 'til. We waited and then cruised into the park, this time heading for the tide pools. This also turned out to be where the other morning visitors were going. There was a swarm of people, but not too much to see. We found tiny anemones and other sea creatures hiding in the water-filled nooks in the rocks. There were some surfers offshore; they had gotten in early because they arrived in a speedboat. We got a good look at the new Pt. Loma lighthouse, which is at the bottom of the hill along the ocean. The original lighthouse, 400 feet up the hill, is often obscured by the fog. On our way out we stopped at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery for a look around.
The big adventure for the day was Tijuana. Jen and I had never been to Mexico, and we figured to add it to our list since we were "in the neighborhood." We drove down and parked in a huge lot on the U.S. side. We had our backpack filled with a minimum of necessities: sunscreen, water, and the old camera.
It's incredibly easy to enter Mexico. You just walk through a one-way gate and you're there. Nobody around to ask questions. No turning back. Your first steps into Tijuana are greeted by a whole city square of pharmacies, ready to sell you whatever you want. Tijuana must have more pharmacies per capita than anywhere in the world. Apparently the dentists are in on it too, because they are also everywhere.
The next thing in town that you see are the barkers and beggars. These people must make up for half the population, the other half being the tourists, at least in the tourist areas. "Almost free" is the favorite phrase of the barkers. You are hounded for blocks by people pushing 99 cent Coronas, cheap silver necklaces, and pictures with striped donkeys. The beggars are mostly young children; it was really depressing to see the little boy crying and sitting on the bridge trying to pick a tune from a plastic guitar.
Despite the bad stuff, Tijuana was still a big colorful town. Jen and I found a halfway-decent looking place to eat and ordered quesadillas. I had a beer and Jen had a margarita. We also drank the bottled water we had packed-in. The food was pretty good, and the band playing was a nice touch. We were amazed at the various tactics to make money off the tourists while they ate. There was a guy roaming around drawing pictures of people at their tables. Another guy asked us our names and returned 20 minutes later with a personalized drawing. He wanted $5 for it. I offered him all I had in small bills...$4, and he took it. I was happy to indavertently hone my haggling ability but then I wondered if he would have taken less.
After lunch we walked down the other side of the strip and headed toward the border. It took longer to cross back to the U.S. We stood in a really long line and slowly made our way through customs. Meanwhile, outside, hundreds and hundreds of cars waited to cross, congested in five lanes of traffic.
I was looking forward to seeing the San Diego Padres play the Florida Marlins. Neither team was doing well; we figured we'd drive up and buy tickets for an empty ballpark. It turns out the game was sold out! I speculated that it was because of excitement over Tony Gwynn's 3000 hits, which had already happened. The tickets were probably bought in anticipation, and I didn't feel like dealing with the scalpers.
We ended up driving through the La Jolla area before returning to the bay and a nice dinner at the Chinese place next to our hotel.
Sunday, August 15
We were ready to head out of the city. A couple days of city noise and heavy traffic prepared us for the hills. But first we finished our rounds of San Diego. We started with a final trip up to Pt. Loma, getting our money's worth from the $5 entry fee which is good for a week. Our perseverance paid off; this time the fog was absent. I ran around taking tons of lighthouse pictures while Jen browsed in the gift shop. I met another photographer who had the benefit of a tripod, which I forgot, and a guy to carry his gear around. Since I'd been there shooting three times I gave them a little info, and then went on my way. I was happy to see some blue skies finally, and I was able to shoot the new lighthouse from high up on the hill with my 300mm zoom lens.
On our way out of San Diego, I thought we'd take a little driving tour. I wanted to see the famous Coronado Hotel, so we crossed the Coronado bridge and drove through the pretty but traffic-congested town. I think we drove by the hotel but I wasn't sure, and the traffic convinced me that it was time to go camping. We drove down the peninsula, had some lunch, and then took the interstate out of San Diego, east into the Peninsular mountain range, being passed by a lot of Arizonans headed home.
We exited off the interstate and found the familiar twisty mountain roads that we enjoyed so much on our Northern California trip. We slowly wound our way into the hills and eventually arrived at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, site of our next two night's stay. Most of the weekend campers had bailed from the Paso Picacho campground, leaving us with a wide selection of campsites. We found a nice shady spot; it was hotter up in the mountains than it was on the coast. The only downside to the camping area was the dirt, a fine powder that looked something like Nestle's Quik. Little dark-eyed Juncos spent their time picking through it for food. Steller's jays were all over the campground, but the inconsistent light and the birds' jumpiness made it hard to get a good picture. But Jen managed to snap a good one of a juvenile Jay in a tree. We also saw several acorn woodpeckers flying around, that marked a new bird for us.
We had once again forgotten to pack our flashlights, just as we had done in Australia. Jen picked some up in the camp store, and we vowed to make a list for next time. After camp was set up and a short hike, we were content to lounge around the campsite, doing some reading, and having our leftover Chinese for dinner, and then crashing early.