"The Trip With Many Pauses"
Catalina - Day One (Monday, March 27th, 2006): "Twenty-Sixish miles across the sea..."
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Ah! Yet another early morning rise for the start of a trip.
And it's important we arise on time, too. This isn't a casual driving trip where if we're an hour or two out of schedule, well, it might just be a bit darker when we arrive for the night. No. We have to catch a boat - we have tickets.
And it leaves from Long Beach at 10 a.m.
Okay, that may not seem so early to some of you. And the dock is only about forty miles away from home - how early do we need to be?
Well...pretty darn early actually.
First of all, you're supposed to get there half-an-hour before it leaves, to give them time to load passengers, pile up luggage, and check us for thermonuclear weapons or something. So already our "10 a.m." is really "9:30 a.m."
Secondly, this is a Monday morning...during rush hour...in Los Angeles. What would be about a forty-five minute drive during a calmer period of the day could be around an hour-and-a-half now - or even worse, should we get stuck behind an accident.
Finally, while we're leaving the house in our car, our car isn't going to the dock. Unfortunately, Catalina Express
charges an annoyingly high amount per day to park your car at their dock-side parking structure (at least, relative to the cost of the tickets). An absurd amount. An amount so high we just aren't going to pay it.
So we asked Dee Dee's sister, Mimnette, if she would drop us off at the dock and pick us up when we got back, with our car staying at her house for the duration. She nicely agreed, but that means instead of going straight to Long Beach, we're going to her
house first, then transfering stuff between cars, then
driving to the boat...
...add this all up, and we're leaving at 7 a.m. to catch a 10 a.m. boat.
And for us, that's early.
Surprisingly, everything actually went smoothly. Traffic to Mim's was heavy, but not too heavy. Changing cars and getting on the road again only took about ten minutes, and traffic from Mim's to Long Beach was even lighter than I could hope.
So it's now ten minutes of nine...and we're waiting for a boat.
Fortunately, there was some stuff we could do with our time. I had plans to go on a selection of the various
on Catalina and by a nice piece of planning, they had a booth for Discovery Tours
right there in the waiting room. Me and Dee Dee went over what was available and made a selection of three tours to take - one for each day on the island.
Then we paid for them.
Soon - early arrival or no - we're standing in line, waiting to board the boat. Unlike the "Great White Steamship"
of an earlier era (the last of which was sitting at the bottom of Ensenada Harbor...no, don't ask...until it was broken up in 2009), Catalina Express
runs a small fleet of hundred-odd foot catamarans back and forth, each taking about an hour from dock to dock.
Ten o'clock comes, and we're boarded and watching as we slowly pull out of Long Beach Harbor, past the Queen Mary, past the container docs, around a bunch of cargo vessels and fishing boats and personal boats of various sizes until we reach the breakwater and hit open ocean where the Captain can open up the throttle.
It's a hazy morning, but the water is relatively smooth as we zip by sea gulls and seals and the occasional really cool sailboat. As eleven approaches, we're approaching the dock in Avalon.
Soon we're off the boat and looking for our ride to the hotel.
Catalina has a strange vehicle situation. Because there is, really, not all that far for most people to go - the "City" of Avalon's only about a square mile in size (unless they head for the backcountry) - many get around in glorified golf carts. Oh, there are some cars there too (annoyingly, many of them SUVs), but with gas being about fifty cents a gallon higher than on the mainland, there isn't a lot of car traffic on the road.
For tourists, there are "taxi" systems composed of - again - super golf carts and SUVs that can take you places. That mainly breaks down to being from whatever hotel you're at to either the docks (if you're arriving or leaving) or "downtown" (if your hotel is "far" away). Since they all know when the boats come in, they're all waiting for people as they get off.
We find one that's going to our hotel - the Zane Grey Pueblo
- and get on board. Of course, other people going to other hotels are aboard too, so we take a winding trip through downtown Avalon, dropping off passengers, before we start climbing the hillside to the north of town.
The Zane Grey,
as it turns out, is actually rather high above the rest of the town. In fact, it's on a ridge that marks the northern boundary of the city and overlooks, far below, the famous "Casino,"
perched on it's spit of land. Once you get to the hotel, you discover that the vertical climbs are not over, for it's a good fifteen feet up narrow stairs from the road to entrance (more like fifty or sixty feet, if you go up the stairs in the "back") and even the main hallway has steps in several places along it's length.
It's not exactly "handicap accessible..."
But then, it was never designed to be. In fact, it didn't start as a hotel at all, but actually was
Zane Grey's house, built in 1926 to resemble a Hopi-style pueblo2
and later converted to a rather nice, cozy hotel. We checked in, did a little unpacking, then got ready for our first day on Catalina.
That involves, in this case, walking. Oh, there's the taxis. And the hotel even supplies free taxi services for guests. But only at specific hours - and unless we want to wait for the three o'clock...
...so we're walking.
It's actually not that far, only about a third of a mile to Avalon's main street - Crescent Ave, which runs right along the curve of the harbor - and only a bit more from there along Crescent to our first stop: Breakfast at Joe's Place
is described as ""Where The Locals Meet To Eat!" and sits right across Crescent from the foot of the pier. It's a tiny place - it can't be more than four-hundred square feet inside - that serves breakfast and lunch (it closes at 2 p.m.). On our last trip to Catalina, we got to the island with about thirty minutes to eat something before our tour bus
was supposed to leave. Joe's
not only managed to serve us in those thirty minutes - with plenty of time to eat what we were served - but do it with actual good food.
So we're back.
The food is simple - classic diner food with some traditional Mexican thrown in - inexpensive, and darn good. Thus we were fed and ready for the day.
Eat at Joes!
Now well fed we spend a couple of hours checking out the shops along Crescent. Most of the street is "Pedestrian Only" (the red portion on my map), with even Catalina's mild traffic banned, so it's pretty much built for strolling. The shops, naturally, cater towards the tourist trade, so there's gift shops, art galleries, vacation clothing stores, dive shops, and the like. We wander through several of them, marked a couple of restaurants we might like to try later, then headed off to the pier and our first tour of the trip: A ride on a Semi-Submersible.
In Catalina, a ride on the Glass Bottom Boat
to see the kelp forests and fish has pretty much been a requirement ever since Avalon was founded. And while the Glass Bottom Boat still makes its runs (indeed, we road it our last trip), these days it's been joined by a couple of semi-submersibles.
They're pretty much what they sound like - they semi-
submerge. Or, more correctly, they're permanently in that state. Vaguely submarine-shaped, they have a whole lower level that's actually fairly deep in the water, filled with windows and tourists.
Think the old Disneyland submarine ride
writ large...and with no plastic fish.
Like the Glass Bottom Boats, they leave the pier and head out around the eastern edge of the harbor to what's called Lover's Cove
, just to the east of where we arrived on Catalina. There they slowly cruise through the kelp forest that fills the cove, giving their passengers a good view of the sealife there.
It's difficult to describe what it looks like to someone who hasn't seen it. Rippling shafts of light drop through the ranks of greenish-yellow kelp and blue-green water. Kelp that rise from the sea floor right up to the surface of the water, waving back and forth in the swell. Particles of sand and whatnot in the water sparkle in these shafts of light, not unlike glitter in a snow-globe.
Fish - sometimes just a couple, other's hundreds - curve amongst the kelp and rocks, checking out the submersible (not the least reason being they toss food off the top of it to attract them...;)). Most are in greys and silvers, but blues, greens, and bright orange Garibaldi also flit about.
The trip takes you around the curve of the cove, almost within spitting distance of the water's edge, then swings back for a swath slightly farther out from shore before heading around the point and back to it's landing spot on the pier.
We highly recommend the trip. Having ridden both the Glass Bottom Boat and this, we have to say that, yes, you should ride the Boat at least once (it's traditional), but in it, you're looking down
on the view (which actually made Dee Dee slightly seasick when we road). The semi-submersible puts you right inside
the view as it passes you on both sides.
When we got back to shore we discovered we had a slight problem. Neither of us was hungry at the moment (Joe's
is very filling!), and actually felt we were set to, oh, say eight or so in the evening.
Problem was, the last free
taxi ride to the Zane Grey
was at six. And you don't want to know how much the taxi charges for that third of a mile trip up the hill!
So, "Do we want to eat early, or do we want a ride to our hotel?"
this third idea...
...we stopped in at the tiny Vons
on Catalina Avenue3
and picked up supplies for, essentially, a picnic. Then we began the slow trek up the hill and back to our hotel.
No, don't ask why we didn't wait for the next free taxi at six. I can't really remember now and the explanation probably wouldn't make any sense if I did. If I had to guess, it was probably weather-related in some fashion. Anywho, I trudged up the hill carrying all the groceries, while Dee Dee followed behind. About a third of the way there, she suggested I go ahead (since I was carrying everything and "followed behind" kept increasing in distance if I didn't stop frequently) and she'd catch up.
So I trudged - a bit faster now - the rest of the way up the hill, dropped of the stuff in our room, and headed part of the way back down to find Dee Dee at a "rest stop" (a bench) just a little ways from the hotel.
That night we had our picnic in our room while relaxing in the quiet. And it was very
quiet. Traffic noise is trivial and vanishes as evening closes in. It's probably different in Summer, but in early Spring the number of people
in Avalon - resident or tourist - is tiny. And that tiny number is pretty laid-back and relaxed themselves.
We ate and read and lounged and then noticed a quiet noise coming from outside...
"Hey, it's raining!"
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