Breakfast was at nine. I awoke at eight, had a shower, read a little, looked out of the window, then went down into the breakfast room and posed a difficult problem for the staff by asking for tea. After five minutes of shuffling around in the kitchen, they found a tea bag. With the tea I had buttered scones with raisins and cinnamon, some mixed fruit juice I couldn't identify, and apple slices. As it was too early for breakfast anyway, that was more than enough.
After that, I threw my stuff into the trunk, handed the keys back to the guy from the hotel and chatted a little with him. He apologized for the noise the evening before, which I not only hadn't minded, but hadn't noticed, and recommended a walk to the headland. (Google map, again.)
It was still early, a perfect day, sunny but not hot, the wind fresh but not cold, very little town noise, some seagulls arguing about fish, crashing wave, and a whistle buoy hooting softly out in the water. Smell of flower, heather and sea, and narrow paths leading from one picturesque cove to the next. In some places the water had created arches of rock, or cave-ins that you could look down like a well. At the westernmost point of the headland was a plaque in English and Japanese about the Pacific and about Mendocino's sister city in Japan, which really drove home the idea that if you went (sailed) straight into the West from here, Japan is where you would end up.
Lots of people were hanging around here, staring out to sea, some had picnic baskets and some had binoculars. I wondered what was there to see and looked very hard, too. And saw a whale blowing.
Back in town I searched a tiny grocery store and a workers' collective mini-supermarket in a building looking like an old wooden church for more film, and managed to get what seemed like the last roll in town. Mendocino is not only a tourist spot, but also an artist's colony and a popular backdrop for movies and TV shows. It looks like an American small town before the advent of four-lane street and chain stores, with wooden houses where no two look the same, small shops with knickknacks, boardwalks made of real boards like in some western movie town. If that's how the platonic ideal of an American small town looks, than it's little wonder that people are sentimental for it. A mansion-like Bed & Breakfast had a blue and white Peace sign flag flying under the obligatory Stars and Stripes, geese were making a ruckus in a wild garden, wooden water towers with metal barrels on them rose randomly, and the gas station at the entrance of the town had full service. I took a few more pictures and bought the most amazing and shiny post cards in a shop which also had everything an anachronistic hippy needs, as well as a corner with devotional objects -- well, five corners, actually, for five religions.
Around noon I was back on the road. In every village and town along Highway 1 at least a small group of people waved peace flags, rainbow flags and anti-war-slogans along the road. Iraq II goes into its fifth year of bloody uselessness. I drove north for a few miles, then turned east unto Highway 20. And wished for a motorcycle. The street curved up and down hillsides, one perfect curve after another, through giant-treed forests and occasional meadows, without towns, trucks or potholes to break the meditative beauty of it -- not for measly three kilometres, or five, or ten, but for thirty-five miles. An hour of perfect road on a perfect spring day, until it met Highway 101 in another, far more common small town. Not that the 101 was anything to complain about, either. On the 20 again I drove along the north shore of Clear Lake, which is very touristy, and you have to pay more attention to the road than to the sea because tourists in flip-flops can cross the road quite unexpectedly.
I started to get hungry and stopped at some diner. My must-get-biggest-item-on-the-menu habit got the better of me again, and I barely managed to make my way through the burger I had ordered and gave up on the potatoes that came with it. I also settled on two big cups of Cola for my caffeine needs instead of the usual coffee, and put sentimental music into the car stereo, because my eyes were starting to dry out and complained about the contact lenses. Fluids and sentimentality help.
Down the 29, and the landscape stayed more pretty than impressive, with one big green mountain peeking over the green hills. The name of the mountain is Mount Saint Helena (not to confuse with Mount Saint Helens, which is an active volcano in Washington state). The area used to be Russian, and the mountain is named after the wife of a 19th century governor of Siberia and the colonies on the other side of the Pacific. Suddenly the hills realized that they were, actually, a highland, and the road swung down to Calistoga in wide serpentines. Those hills are called the "Palisades", and seen from the South, the reason for that name becomes very obvious.
The Calistoga area is one big hotbed of geothermal energy. The local newspaper, keeping track of small earthquakes in the region, rarely lists less than two or three earthquakes a day around the place, usually so slight that you'd need a seismograph or a bowl of water to notice. Calistoga has two famous landmarks, a Petrified Forest that got buried under volcanic ash long ago and has by now reappeared in said petrified form, and an Old Faithful geyser. It also has enough wineries to spend years drunk and happy if you want to try them all out, and hot springs. What it doesn't have is famous people, so the place decided to claim Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent his honeymoon here -- in a hut up the mountain near an abandoned cinnabar mine, because he couldn't afford to stay in town.
Ceridwen and I had seen the geyser when we travelled the area -- Calistoga was the northernmost place we went. It was late August or early September, and just too god-damn hot. I nearly suffered from heatstroke on that day, which was what set us straight for the sea and made us reach the mouth of the Russian river at sunset. It was only about 25°C now, and I sat down in a comfortable chair and watched the geyser living up to its name and erupting every quarter of an hour.
And then I loaded myself into the car and another sentimental CD into the player (my eyes were starting to give me hell) and drove further down the 29, the Napa County Vine Autobahn, to the Bay and over the bridge and to the hotel.
Where I discovered that my cell phone had net-searched itself into a coma.
All in all, a very nice trip, and I'm very happy that I managed to have a whole weekend for it. I regret those rainy "stay in my room and read" weekends and those "too tired to raise my head before 2pm" Saturdays just as much as I knew I would when I had them, but with a toothache to drain my energy and books to forget about the toothache, I don't think that I could have done better.
Two weeks left.