The Journey to Casa Madera – The Pacific Coast Highway!

Thursday morning 7:50, November 11, 2010.  Heather and I have just come back from walking Alexa and there is Alfonso, Roberto and Marco waiting at the gate to get to work.  They are into the third week of what we thought was a minor renovation to build a new kitchen and improve the air flow and light in that area of the house.  There is still a pile of work to do before they can start to put on the new roof.

this was only just the start

They are their usual selves, smiling, happy, ready to start their long day.  As Alfonso goes through the gate he says, yo tengo desayunos por ustedes.  For the readers who don’t understand spanish, he brought us breakfast.  We told him we would get Alexa settled away and would meet him in the black hole that would one day be the kitchen.

Man it is so much bigger without cabinets!

Now as a background, we noted the day before that the boys had brought their own hot plate to heat up their breakfast as they don’t eat before they leave their respective houses.  We come into the kitchen after filling our coffee cups and Alfonso tells us that he got the food from people who live by him who own a lunch truck.  The truck goes by our place twice a day with food for the people who work in the area.  They serve full meals at a reasonable cost.  And man is it good but more on that later!

Breakfast with the boys, Alfonso Jr., Marco, Alfonso Sr., Roberto, Me

First off Alfonso offers us both Cokes.  Ice cold right out of his cooler.  In glass bottles so you know they are delightful but we just cannot drink Coca Cola at 8:00 in the morning so we stick with coffee.  Coca Cola is the national drink in Mexico, most people may think it is Corona but it is not. Its plain and simple, Coke.  I am pretty sure it outsells everything else 4 to 1.  Even though you can buy Pepsi cheaper everybody in this country drinks Coke, a lot of it.

Need I say more?

But on to breakfast.  He offers us a choice of loaded tacos, one type is arrachera (a personal favourite) and the other is lengua.  Affectionately known in english as tongue.  Never a real high point in my menu but its a taco and we must be polite so we go for the lengua first.  Now I have never liked tongue, tried it a few times but it never did anything for me.  This taco was unbelievable.  It was absolutely delightful.  Everything had been mixed to perfection and everything just melted in your mouth.  The flavour was fantastic.  It reminded of some grape tomato’s we bought at a farmers market outside of Marina, California as we were heading for the Pacific Coast Highway.

We left our hotel in San Francisco on November 9, 2008 at 8:03 AM dressed in shorts and light shirts as we were looking forward to a hot day in the car.  The sun did not disappoint.  At 8:00 it was warmer than it had been the entire day before when I seriously considered putting on my Saskatchewan Roughriders sweatshirt.  It was a very much appreciated gift from Mr. Cook and his cohorts and has come in very handy here on the cold mornings but I would rather no one who knows me ever sees me in it!

We worked our way out of the city into the California farmland.  There were farms everywhere.  We are used to seeing farms but being Albertan we are used to seeing waves of wheat, rye and canola, not lettuce, tomato’s and other vegetables.  We were rolling into Marina, California when we spied a fast food chain where we could grab a coffee and use the bathroom.  Off the highway we went and lo and behold weren’t they having a farmers market in the parking lot.  Well that had to be checked out and check it out we did.  We found some fresh picked grape tomato’s that quite simply were the best tomato’s either one of us have ever tasted.  They were sweet and juicy and well we could go on but then I would lose the G rating.  The 2 pound clamshell that we paid about 2 bucks for was gone before we got to Monterey.

We thought we might stop in Monterey to sightsee but realized that it is a long way to Los Angeles and even longer on the PCH so we kept right on moving.  The Pacific Coast Highway is a nice drive.  The road is narrow, twisting, hilly and very slow. It was the perfect road to drive to get us ready for what lies ahead in a few more days.

It may be a winding road but it is beautiful

Traffic was not bad, the scenery was spectacular and the road was fun to drive.  At 1:25 we had been driving for 5 hours and had managed to go 291 kilometers.  The average speed after we left Monterey was 35 miles per hour.  We had a long, long way to go yet.

The California Coast

We stopped at Piedras Blancas which is just north of San Simeon.  There is an Elephant Seal Rookery there and you can get pretty close to observe them.  It was pretty cool.

The face says it all

Still driving, lots to see on the road.  Looked a lot at the water and vistas, decided to pass on Hearst Castle.  Maybe next time.  Still 236 miles from LA.

We drove and drove and drove and drove.  Just when it seemed like we would never see civilization again at about 5:00 pm we rolled into Santa Barbara.  We decided at that point it was time to pack it in for the day.  We spent the next 45 minutes looking for an acceptable hotel.  We finally decided on a Best Western.

I parked the car and we went in to see if they had a room.  Yes, $170.00.  Man I almost swallowed my tongue!  We had seen some of the other hotels and they were not that great.  170 bucks, man we only paid a 100 in San Francisco!  Oh well they had nice bathrobes.

The Journey to Casa Madera – San Francisco!

Sunday Morning, November 7, 2010 – 7:58 AM. We were just returning from taking Alexa for her morning walk and I was in cool down mode from my morning run when we spied Alfonso and his white pick up truck backed up on the lawn in front of our gate. As we get closer we see that Alfonso is not alone. He has his 14-year-old son with him and 2 other men. They were here to pick up the concrete and brick that had been piled up during the demolition and to bring wood back for the construction of the roof over our kitchen patio.

The aftermath of demolition
This is what is left when you know how to use a sledgehammer!

It was 7:59 on Sunday Morning! We had not even had coffee yet and they were here ready to work for 5 hours.

Don’t ever say anything to me about a lazy Mexican because it is just a media myth like so many other things about this great country.

Heather and I retired to the roof to enjoy the morning view

Roof view looking towards the bay
The view from the roof

with our coffee as we try to do everyday but Sunday is special. Sundays we generally take off, we relax, we read, we remember why we moved here in the first place.

So as we sat on the roof enjoying our coffee the men below loaded the back of the pick up with concrete pieces and bricks. The truck loaded Alfonso yelled up that they would be back and we heard the truck doors close. And then we heard the sound. The sound that a 1977 Ford F-150 makes in Canada when the night before it was -25 celsius and you forgot to plug it in. The starting whine but no catch. A 20 second break and they try again. The whine but no catch. This goes on for a few minutes before I wander down the stairs and to see what is happening. The hood was up. There was space.  You forget that 30 years ago there was actually room under the hood of the car.  Space under a hood, what a concept, but this is not a blog about what they have done to our cars so on we go.

After many tries the truck was not going to start. Hmm, what to do. I ask if they have battery cables. No. It was at that point that Alfonso realized they were out of gas. (there is no working gauge, speedometer, heater or a/c controls or radio in this truck) So we decide to siphon some out of my tank as it was full. No go, who knew that a Jeep had a plate to stop siphoning of your tank.

Off to the Pemex we go. Bought 6 litres of gas and return to give it another try. The truck sounded better but still no go. They decided that it was because the truck was not level so it was then necessary to push the truck on to a level spot on the street from its current resting point. So there we were; Alfonso behind the wheel, the two Mexican men, Alfonso’s son, Heather and I all at the back of a fully loaded pick up pushing it into the street. It reminded me of a cable car incident in San Francisco 2 years ago tomorrow…..

November 7, 2008 – Sonoma, California 9:00 AM.  Checked out of the Best Western and headed down the highway to San Francisco.  One of my favourite cities.  Has been from the first time my parents took me to it in 1967.  As always, I am looking forward to my return.  Don’t know what it is about the Bay Area but if I can find a reason to go there I will.

We are driving in a fog, a fog that has nothing to do with the bottle of Eric Ross wine we had with dinner the night before, it was Bay area fog.  The type of fog they always talk about in old english novels, thick, very thick.  We were in no real hurry as the drive was a short one but we took it easy just the same hoping it would lift soon.  The main reason is we knew that in about 30 minutes we should be able to see the bay and the scenery surrounding it.  By the time we got to the bay our hopes were answered.  The fog was gone, the sun was bright and it was very, very warm.

San Francisco from across the bay
San Francisco from across the bay

Just prior to crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is Battery Spencer.  The US Military considered San Francisco Bay to be a major strategic location so they built installations throughout the bay with the Battery being the last as weapon firepower had increased to such a point that previous installations at locations such as Alcatraz were no longer needed.  It was in operation until the end of World War ll.  Now you can do a self guided walking tour.  The stop provides a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Battery
The Battery

The thing about San Francisco is there are just so many things to see and do one never really knows where to start.  We had reservations at the Best Western Carriage Inn downtown but we could not get in there until 3 so what to do to start.  We did what all tourists do, we head to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.  The Wharf was my favourite as a kid.  Dungeness Crab Cocktail available everywhere for a buck.  Fresh from the sea.  For someone from landlocked Edmonton it was totally unbelievable that crab could taste this good.  Well it was 2008, Crab Cocktail is no longer a buck but it is still fresh and tasty!  And this is a lesson.  Watch the Seagulls!  We had just got our lunch from one of the many stands that line the wharf and were crossing the small street to eat in the park.  As soon as Heather stepped out from under the canopy she was dive bombed by a seagull who almost knocked her down and got her food.  We retreated to a more quiet area around the corner that had a roof to enjoy our food in peace.

It is easy to waste time in that area, there are lots of things to see.  The seals lying on the docks by Pier 39,

Pier 39
Pier 39

the Musee Mecanique on the wharf (really cool), the buskers and really interesting public bathrooms in the middle of the street.  The bathrooms sanitize themselves after every visitor.

It was hot, sunny and truly a beautiful day.  We walked throughout the area looking at the shops, the seals and taking pictures.  It was great.

The Inhabitants of Pier 39

As the day wound down we worked our way back to the car and headed off to find the hotel.  The Best Western Carriage Inn is located in the center of town a couple of blocks off Market Street.  It was in our price range and had recently been renovated.  We were looking forward to kicking back for a bit and resting our legs before dinner.  We checked in and did the usual trek to the room with all of our worldly belongings.

As we walked to the door we saw there was a sign on the door.  The room had a name, The Pink Man room.  Ok, that is a little odd but through the door we went.

Is that cool or what!

To say they had done a renovation is one thing but they did not tell you what kind of renovation they had done.  It was a throw back to the art deco period but updated.  The room was spectacular, not your usual run of the mill hotel room.

It was comfy!

The decorations would be eclectic  but fitting with what they were trying to do.  On the table there was an old Royal typewriter exactly like the one I had typed my term papers on in High School with a piece of paper in it.  On the piece of paper was the story of the Pink Man.  It turns out they had named the rooms based on San Francisco legends.    I have stayed in some nice hotels in nice spots in my time but this one was located in an older part of town is one that I will remember forever.  It was neat, cool, groovy or sweet depending on your generation and I would stay there again.

My oldest brother had once told me that San Francisco was the coldest place on earth.  Well after the first day in town we would not agree with him, it was spectacular.  So the next morning we dressed for the same.  We walked out of the hotel and were outside for 30 seconds before we did an about-face and headed back up to the room for jeans, sweaters and jackets.  It was bone chilling cold.  No sun, lots of clouds.  Ok so maybe he was right.

We bought a day pass for the transit system and left the car in the parking lot as everything was easily accessible by transit and we could get off and on as we pleased.  Today we did the areas we did not see the day before.  Chinatown, Ghiradelli square, Market Street.  It was a full day with the highlight of the much-anticipated cable car ride up and down the hills of San Francisco!

The standard tourist shot but how can you not take one

We boarded the car just off Market in a retail district with the idea to ride the route.  And what a great idea it was until the car came to cable crossing where the driver has to release the grip on the cable to get over the cable going the other way and then he has to grab the cable again.   He has to hit the intersection with the right amount of speed to get to where he can grab the cable to continue up the hill approaching.  Well, our driver didn’t make it.  He could not grip the cable.  So here we were at the bottom of the hill going nowhere fast.  The driver tried a few more times to get the cable but it was not going to happen.  At that point a transit truck was going by and they stopped to see what was happening and what they could do.  They were driving a Freightliner.  They backed up the truck and took a run at the car (all while it was still fully loaded with passengers) and tried to push it up to where he could get the cable.

He's going to do what???

No go, one more try.  Still nothing.  It was at that point they asked us to get off as the truck was going to have to push it up the hill and we could get on the next one.

I think I can, I think I can....

Well, we were a block from Chinatown and we were hungry so we decided to catch a much later one!

Chinatown

In Chinatown it started to drizzle so we bought an umbrella and toured the shops, the alleys, and stopped for the most important meal in Chinatown, Dim Sum.  It was lovely, not quite the same as you find in Edmonton but still excellent.  From Chinatown we caught another cable car to finish the route we had started earlier.

It dropped us down by Ghiradelli Square which while interesting was more shops though it did have a very interesting art gallery with some works by Tony Curtis.  We spent at least an hour in there talking to one of the sales reps and examining their works of art.  It was a very enjoyable visit.

We walked along the waterfront, there is just something about a waterfront to people from landlocked Alberta, and found the San Francisco Maritime Museum on Hyde Street Pier.  They have restored many old sailing vessels that are accessible for touring.  It is quite fascinating.

San Francisco Maritime Museum
I was really there!
It was cold but we still had fun!

It had been quite a day, we hopped another cable car headed back to Chinatown for some quick take out and back to the hotel as we had a long drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in the morning to get to LA.

Man it is a long way....