VAN CAMPING MONTEREY
Swimming the glassy waters of a protected bay, driving classic American highways with friends, finding the last pack of cocoa after a night of cold camping; The best adventures are the spontaneous ones, thrown together by a couple friends and a big white box van...
On Veterans Day weekend, I had the pleasure of tagging along with my friend to help with her dive class down in Monterey. After a chilly night bundled up in stray jackets, we woke early to the biting cold creeping through the back door of Audrey's old retired U-haul: an old school locker welded to the inside wall was used to store bedding, the van was decorated with dive fins and floats, miscellaneous camping gear covered the floor, a propane heater propped up next to my cot kept me warm, and everything smelled faintly of the farm it all came from. This old beater once scrawled with graffiti, painted white, and then defaced some more, it had real character.
TAKING THE PLUNGE
There's nothing quite like opening the back of the van you slept in that night and being greeted by the crashing shores of the California coast.
The water was calm and Sea lions could be seen breaching the surface, surely eager to play a few tricks on some unsuspecting dive students. The class was a breeze, so we finished early and found some time to explore the reef. Towering like giants above me, the kelp stalks filtered the light into a vivid gold and green - and there, nestled at its base trying it's best to remain invisible, I found a meek decorator crab. Poor guy looked worse for wear, so I handled him gently to share with the students.
Decorator crabs have a unique talent for camouflage and shell design, using items and organisms in their environment to embellish themselves and blend into the reef around them. Monterey offers a unique experience to see local species in their natural habitat, undisturbed by ships and hunters. The marine life lives closely with people and we never leave without a special encounter with the crabs, seals, otters, fish, or whales.
The afternoon began to settle in, so we swam back to shore, and left the wonderfully alien world of Breakwater once again. After a quick fresh-water shower, we loaded up the van, gathered our things, and headed to the only appropriate place after exhausting yourself in the ocean: In and Out Burger. Once we both successfully devoured a milkshake, burger, and fries to ourselves, we hit the road.
Our sleepy drive home back up north to the city ended unsuspectedly at one of Alameda's hidden gems; Tim's junkyard farm. Run by Audrey’s boyfriend, I'm told the little farm started as an empty lot and grew into the yard it is today as people began donating unwanted animals. As we pulled in, a confident llama greeted us with a herd of young pot belly pigs and a small army of chickens, ducks, and sheep followed behind to say hello.
It was great to see a small haven of countryside in the middle of the city. A seemingly boring three days off work transformed into a wholesome adventure south and ended on a wonderfully humble little farm; this weekend was a great change of pace from the usual hustle of tech life. Thank you, Audrey, Tim, and the piglet crew for including me in your adventure.
WHERE TO STAY - IF YOU DON'T HAVE A VAN
If you don't have a box van on hand, you'll be hard stretched to find an affordable room in Monterey.
If you're looking something cozy, clean, close to attractions, but won't break the bank, I recommend staying at Monterey Hostel. Dorm dooms run roughly $45 a night and the clientele ranges from young travelers to families seeing California on a budget. During my short stay, I met many lovely folks passing through, staff was kind, rooms were well kept, and breakfast was provided in the morning.