There she blows!

Trip Start Oct 05, 2005
Trip End Apr 06, 2006

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Where I stayed
Dick's Last Resort

Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, February 9, 2006

San Diego was just what the doctor ordered. It is easily my favourite American city so far. I met up with Greg, one of Grace's ex-students (I think he was one of her first), who she kindly put me in touch with so I would know someone when I got there. I think she secretly hoped we might get married.

We went out in the Gaslamp quarter, where I was staying, and I persuaded him to take me to Dick's Last Resort, a bar Patty had recommended to me when I was in Crockett. It was awful. They had decorated the place in a style I can only describe as "shootemdownandleave emfordead" and have this stupid notion that being extremely rude to the customers has some kind of novelty value, and thus will be good for business. One beer and we did a runner, me throwing silent punches at the barmaid. Thankfully, Greg's idea of the rooftop bar at the Marriot went down much better, and we sat around the fire, chewing the fat on Argentina, drinking Scotch on the rocks. The second time we met was when I had moved hostels to Ocean Beach and he rescued me for an afternoon to drive up the coast to La Jolla. We had tea in a cafe looking out to sea and he entertained me with his Grace impressions ("Ah, mi pollito, es muy precioso, es muy signor"). Greg was cool, and it was good to compare notes on our shared experience in Buenos Aires -- one that was profound for us both. I don't know how to break it to Grace that there will be no wedding.

Ocean Beach was a completely different culture from that of the Gaslamp quarter -- very hippy and alternative. People say things like "OB is a state of mind, not a location". My hostel freaked me out at first. Most of the people staying there were semi-homeless and would spend the days smoking on the porch and begging for money. But it grew on me, and by the end I was sad to leave. They may have been destitute but they were all very helpful, chatty and generous. Plus, there was an electric piano upstairs (I spent a whole afternoon banging out tunes) and an organic vegetarian supermarket/cafe down the road. Anyone who's ever met me will know how happy that made me.

I spent a good couple of days in Balboa Park, a beautiful Spanish-style park, visiting the museums, galleries and botanical gardens, and having lunch in the Japanese teahouse. It was a very relaxing place, and I felt like I was momentarily back in Europe, which cheered me up no end.

One day, me and an Aussie girl from my hostel went whale watching for the afternoon. Every year, from mid-Dec to mid-March thousands of grey whales migrate from the Arctic Sea to the lagoons in Baja California, and, as San Diego is on the way, you can take a boat to see them. We went with Hornblower.

You have to be very patient when watching for whales. They have lots of whaley things to do underwater, so can't come up that often or they might forget what they went down for in the first place. You have to stand still, keep quiet and scan the horizon with your viewfinder, finger poised on the button. But it is worth the wait. We saw nine. Most showed us their tail ("fluking") and one came right up to the side of the boat. It was so unexpected that only those lucky enough to already be there caught it on camera. The rest of us ran starboard, frantically snapping at heads, sea, sky, boat floor, but the moment was over. While we waited for more whale action, the captain decided to start the engine and play with some dolphins that had made their way over to see what all the fuss was about. For ten minutes we bombed along with them jumping and turning in the water next to us, so close you could have touched them. Then someone from the bridge shouted, "There she blows! Two o'clock!", and we left the dolphins behind in hot pursuit of three whales who were dwarfing a fishing vessel in the distance.

I learned on the way home that the grey whale can carry several hundred pounds worth of barnacles and lice on its body, which is a lot of excess baggage when you are travelling thousands of miles to have a baby. I also learned that in San Diego bottlenose dolphins have been trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and spies underwater; and it is alleged that 36 of these dolphins have gone AWOL in the Gulf of Mexico. So if you see Flipper in army fatigues, carrying a toxic dart, with the look of Satan in his eyes, back the hell away and call the coastguard. Or better still, call Bush. You have been warned.
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