The story of Big Sur

Monday, 04.01.2016

Nature strikes back. I stand still, the wind skims my face, the sunlight dances on with my face and make me smile. Immersed in the moment I breathe in the spell of nature’s magic around me. Cormorants’ murmurations float in the air, forming elliptical shapes. The sun sets down, the pink hues of clouds resemble the traces of brush strokes. I’m here. California’s Big Sur.

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Highway 1

The rough beauty of Highway 1 takes us to Big Sur. Its wilderness, untouched by human action, stays preserved. In 1962, a law has been enforced which bans any advertising along the road to prevent the fall of its pristine condition. The local authorities even give none permissions for new building sites in order not to destroy the horizon.

The road goes through the California coast from Legget (Mendocino county) to Los Angeles. It is 655 miles long, built in smaller sections, and its oldest part was opened in 1930. Highway 1 took its present shape in 1964.  The road is divided into four parts: Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway and Coast Highway. So you can choose whichever section floats your boat. Our boat led us to Big Sur.

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Big Sur is a state of mind

Lonely Planet guidebook doesn’t describe Big Sur as a place on a map, but as a state of mind. Big Sur is a go-to, when you want to get away from the hectic pace of the San Francisco Bay Area. There’s no reception nor Internet connection. There is no honking, screeching tires, or road rage. There’s only you and the gusts of wind playing with your hair. Here you commune with nature (the one with a capital N).

Restaurants, shops and bars are rare in Big Sur. Camping sites and cabins are popular, but you need to book them in advance, otherwise you might have a problem to stay for a night. But I strongly recommend to ask camping hosts if you can put up your tent. Often the sign saying “Full” is a half-true. It means, the parking lot is full. If you don’t bother to leave your car by the road, you can spend the night for as much as $10.

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Nature

Cliffs and rugged mountains plunging into the Pacific Ocean reign at Big Sur. The unreachable summits overlook the coast making every human feel like an ant. Behind every curve of Highway 1 the vista takes a different look. We pull over at every possible lay by to feast our eyes on the view. This road is definitely about the journey.

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As a European I’m bewildered by the cooperation between nature and humans. I’m not used to not wild animals, in Europe they hide from people. Here it’s different. The animals and humans live in harmony, everybody is minding their own business. The tangible nature of Big Sur is foreseeable, but it happens even in Mountain View, where I live.

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On the coast green areas are scarce. These are the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You can stay for a night on a campsite, go hiking or just relax. Rattlesnakes, black bears or mountain lions might occasionally cross your path.

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Kelp

As a landlubber I have to learn a lot about the ocean. We set on the trip when the ocean spits out loads of kelp – the biggest seaweed in the world, reaching up to 260 foot length. It can grow up to 3 foot per day! Underwater, it creates a tangled forest of seaweed and the most effective ecosystem on Earth. The kelp jungle works for many animals as a protection or nutrition.

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In September the sea currents throw ashore kelp. On a beach kelp decomposes and nourishes the soil. For many years people used it as a fertilizer. Kelp is also rich in iodine, also used as an ingredient of cosmetics, dairy products, or salad sauces.

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The only drawback of kelp are the clouds of flies, or rather their countless numbers, which coat you, go inside your ears, mouth and nose. This period lasts, supposedly, only a month. No exceptions – every beach is covered with piles of decomposing seaweed. The reason is that local biologists and ecologists are in favor of keeping the ecosystem intact. After the WW II kelp was on the verge of extinction, so any attempt to keeping it alive is praiseworthy. So, there’s nothing left, but to let the ocean take it back to the depths.

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Camping site

Americans love to camp in style. When in Europe the campsites are packed with tents, trailers and campers, in the US the organization reaches its peak – special parcels are prepared for the visitors. When in Europe the campfires are lit randomly, the Americans built up spots just for it. In Europe you need to bring all the gear with yourself, here there’s even a bench to sit.

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I was truly impressed by American camping style meaning being bigger than the neighbor. Has it ever crossed your mind to bring a ten-people leather couch in front of a tent? And here, a group of surfers came with their own trucks (one even with a trailer!) and took a small fully-equipped house with them. Or maybe a big house? They had everything, even a big-ass gas grill.  They didn’t limit themselves to it: even their folded chair had to have a mere 5 foot height and an ottoman in front of it. You need somehow to get into it, don’t you?

17-Mile Drive

On our way back home we stepped by to 17-Mile Drive. It is the most picturesque place on the California coast. Located close to Monterey, 17-Mile Drive goes through golf courses, million-dollar mansions, and picturesque coastline. If you want to see luxurious America, then come here.

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17-Mile Drive ends in a lovely town of Carmel which looks as sweet as the name suggests. Small, cute wooden houses perching on hills, as if taken from a fairy tale.

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The end

We finish our trip in Carmel. We drove 400 miles, it took us 15 hours, 2 days. It was worth it. Tired, but happy we reached home with the thought at the back of our heads that it’s not just vacation, but it’s our reality.