Road diary: April 30 - May 3, 2011

    Saturday, April 30

Leave Oakland 10:15; traffic not too bad, reach San Juan Bautista 11:45.
Lunch at Jardines de San Juan; pleasant outdoor dining; have broiled rock cod.
Big wedding and reception at adjacent patio and banquet room; dancing, etc.
Room at Posada de SJ not ready yet, walk around town.
Chickens (& roosters & chicks) roam everywhere, a feature of SJB.
Stroll along original Camino Real dirt road beside mission; area below used to be rodeo ground, bleachers still in place.
Good art gallery on 3rd; buy cards & sculpted plate.
Check into room. Place is stingy with supplies, low on TP.
Find maid but she has no English; realize impossible to pantomime need for TP to young woman without risk of misunderstanding and jail.
Fortunately desk clerk translates; commit "papier de banos" to memory.
Restaurant choices more limited than year before:
- Fault Line, closed
- Casa de Rosa, lunch only, Thurs-Sun only, hosting private party today.
Matxain Etxea Basque place offers sweetbreads, lamb shanks; we go there.
No one leaves that place hungry; dinner includes
- full bottle for 2 of (probably home-made) red wine
- bread
- soup
- salad
- beans
- French fries
- rice with chopped vegs & sausage
- lamb stew
- dessert
- coffee
- PLUS the entree
We are seated next to guitarist, recognize Albeniz' "Asturias", chat.
My claim to fame: once almost drove Christopher Parkening to airport.
A table in back breaks into a plaintive melody, then Happy Birthday; we applaud.
I think first tune is Basque shepherd's lament for passing of time;
sheep no longer find him attractive, etc.

    Sunday, May 1

Posada uses motion-detecting light switches to save energy; they turn off if they sense no motion in room for 10 minutes. Fine, except where bathroom-light switch is located in hall outside.
Leave SJB 9 AM, drive through Hollister, with a pleasant brick downtown and older central neighborhood. No bikers; they are all at a saloon in SJB today. Reach Pinnacles ~10.
Buy hat and trail mix at visitor center; souvenir & sustenance.
Hike Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies cliffs and mountain pass; cross Chalone Creek seven times.
See large but harmless snake sunning self on path; other hikers bushwhack on creekbed through poison oak to avoid it.
Many many plants and wildflowers; a partial list:
poppies, yarrow, lupine, Chinese Houses (Collinsia), Baby blue-eyes, Brodiaea/Triteleia, Miner's lettuce, phlox, Matilija poppy, Indian paintbrush, Apache plume, larkspur, cow parsnip, Mule Ears, Grindelia, Spiraea, columbine, buckeye, soap-root (Chlorogalum), Clarkia, Calochortus, buckwheat, wild grape, wallflower (Erysimum), Pearly-everlasting, Mimulus, Dudleya, thimbleberry, Iris, wild rose, vetch, sagebrush (Artemisia), dodder.
Drive back through pastures being converted wholesale to vineyards.
Dinner at Dona Esther's; margaritas good, food OK; liked Jardines better. Truth is, SJB doesn't seem to have a really good Mexican restaurant.

    Monday, May 2

Drive to Pinnacles; hike up Bear Gulch Cave trail. Walk/crawl/scrabble through caves while trying not to drop flashlight.
"Caves" are formed by giant boulders wedged into \/ shaped chasm to form an irregular roof that could drop a hundred tons on your head at any moment. Adds a certain something to the hike; still, glad to be back in daylight at top.
Circle back above chasm for better view of roof.
Lunch at Moses Spring picnic area, then ascend Condor Gulch trail, named for reintroduction of endangered California Condor species to habitat.
See many large creatures circling above; but whether condors, buzzards, hawks, or Nazgul, can't tell at a distance.
Many spring flowers along trail.
Back to SJB, have dinner at Jardines; pleasant outdoor dining, good chile colorado, bearable-if-thirsty beer (Toro Amber).

    Tuesday, May 3

Pass up free motel breadcrusts, have breakfast at Vertigo "micro-roastery" next to Post Office. This place is more like Berkeley than any other establishment in town, with good fresh coffee and croissants, pastries, etc.
SJB seems to be mostly a working-class town; they tried for luxe during the pre-2008 boom, but those places have failed.
Their tourist trade (besides the biker bar) seems to be based on festivals the town hosts several weekends in the year; the "Indian Market" was going on this weekend and there are many others at different times.
Outside of one Pizza Factory and a Valero station, there are no chains or franchises in town, which is nice.
Buy gas before leaving; see our new Civic has clocked 35.25 MPG on the trip, which is also nice.
Head home to "civilization".

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