June 4 — Trips from the Road

Despite rainy weather, we decided to make a day trip for abalone. The swell wasn’t the predicted 2 feet that we hoped for, but it wasn’t too bad. The water could best be described as “sharky”, due to a combination of runoff from the cow pastures, tiny bubbles mixed into the dark silty water and the appearance of pockets of blue sky that casted our silhouettes down to the obscured depths. Who says that you have to make better decisions when you get older? Apparently, we didn’t look too appetizing to any sharks that may have seen us. Despite horrible visibility, we got 5 of the little suckers after about 30 minutes in the water.

But enough about that, I decided to break out my D-50 and to take pictures on the ride back home. If you ever get a chance to drive, hike and dive this stretch of coastline a few hours north of San Francisco, take it!

Fort Ross and Stillwater Cove

It turns out that there are a lot of camp sites available in the Fort Ross area of the California coastline, and the beginning of September during the mid-week is an ideal time to get a place to yourself. We returned to a place that had yielded some pretty good results on a previous trip at Stillwater Cove, in Sonoma:

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As with most of our trips, we tried to find new spots that people were less likely to access, as we found out that one cove over from the main beaches was much more productive than the well-picked-over waters closer to the road-side parking. Recently, we’ve been seeing more and more people who don’t seem to be very comfortable in the water diving for the snails. Luckily for us, we are a bit more comfortable scrambling down areas that are not as accessible, going for longer swims and able to dive a bit deeper.

Here’s a picture of the cliff we went over–this is not easy to scramble down so we usually end up chucking our gear over the edge first, though we’re still wearing 20 pounds of weight and 7mm wetsuits:

Stillwater Cove Cliff

This is what it looks like going down. The rock was rotten sandstone, and it was not easy to climb down, and thus there should be plenty of abalone…

Stillwater Cove Descent

Here’s a video of the entry into the water:

In this particular spot was apparently perfect for prickly sea urchins (which we were very careful to avoid, but if you like uni this is the spot!) and though we saw two abalone, they were both nowhere near legal size and crammed into deep, well-concealed crevices. On another trip, we had discovered that the channel between a group of rocks jutting out of the ocean and point on land was super-productive, however it is only safe to go in on the calmest of days. This day, though there were no huge waves, was not doable, so we had to dive the spot that everyone else goes to pick their abalone. Notice that this descent is easier, but still requires a rope to get down to the bottom when in full diving gear:

In order to find decent sized abalone, not just ones that were barely of legal size, we swam further out into areas where the surge was stronger and where the water was deeper. Luckily, this spot was nice and sunny, so we saw things like this (usually, it is cold and foggy which makes you appreciate the warm and sunny days):

Here’s an abalone, in situ:

The Tyrannosaurus Rex of echinoderms, the sultan of sea stars: the mighty sunflower star

Sunflower Star

Abalone and a giant green anemone:

Abalone and urchin

Smaller, orange anemones:

And we had a visitor as well:

Mr. Harbor Seal

Once that was said and done, we found a spot about 30 feet down under a submarine ledge with a number of decent sized abalone:

Abalone cluster

It took me a while to select three to pull, as thirty feet is about as far as I can comfortably and safely dive right now. This is an improvement of the first time I went, when going down 15 feet was really challenging. Here’s a shot of me at the bottom. The yellow line is attached to my ab bar and gauge one one side, with my MacGuyver’d float (made out of two children’s PFD’s, rope, zip ties and a carabiner) 30 something feet at the other side:

…and at the surface, putting one away:

Here’s a shot on land. You have to tag the abalone right away once you get on your boat or come onto land, otherwise you potentially face a stiff charge:

Unfortunately, Heather didn’t bring her abalone card with her, but luckily for us, this meant that she could play around with Mika’s new Canon Powershot D10, which is rated to go down to 10m.

I don’t have any pictures of our campsite, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that it’s worth getting out there in the off-season. The sites are well-maintained, there seems to be a lot of areas to go hiking, diving and fishing, and if you pick the right site, you can end your dive with a nice hot shower!

China Bowl: The Best Al Pastor?

On the way up from Huntington Beach, Kohei and I picked up some fresh, wild-caught shrimp in a small town right before we reached Santa Barbara. If you are familiar with that stretch of coast line, it’s the place that used to have the banana plantation back in the day.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, but the place selling the shrimp was like something you might encounter in Mexico or a rural coastal village in Thailand. I saw no signs advertising their shrimp, only a broken down taco truck converted into a produce stand, which also sold long skateboards.
Kohei inquired if they were the place that sold shrimp, and the young dude cleared some lettuce off of a battered box, and removed the lid to expose some really fresh shrimp. It still had bright pigmentation, and the only smell was of fresh sea water.
I drove off with my mind blown that such a place could exist, hidden from everyone other than the locals right next to the 101. This is what I had grown addicted to in Japan: finding places that no one else knew of that were extraordinary. Since returning, I’ve found such places, but not nearly as frequently as I did in Kyushu and Kansai.
What was the chances of finding 2 places that surprised me in one day, covering a stretch of California that I have driven through countless times? Well, it was pretty good that day.
“What do you recommend for lunch?” is a question I’ve asked Ko on many occasions, and he has never done me wrong. Tri-tip burgers in Long Beach, Pink’s Hotdogs, and the best chili fries in L.A. are only a few things that we have enjoyed on an afternoon. This guy knows good food, but I was still more than a bit confused when he recommended a Chinese place for Mexican food.
We walked into the restaurant at about 2pm, and there was no one to show us to a seat. Instead, we walked up to a window next to the kitchen, wrote down our order on an order pad. We summoned the cook, and he shaved a seemingly insignificant portion of meat off of the stack, serving us 3 tacos apiece.
This beautiful ball of sizzling pork reminded me of all of the great chunks of roasting meat I’ve sampled, notable those of the kebab places in Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, of tacos in Mexico, and of Churrasco in Kobe.
The salsas and condiments were top rate as well. Notably, they served their tacos with a side of canned pineapple that perfectly complemented the tacos. Pico de gallo, cilantro and onions, jalapenos, sliced radishes, guacamole, and other toppings rested underneath two Shisars, a lacquered hyotan, and a samurai helmet display. Could this place be any more awesome?
The owner clearly liked fishing and hiking in the mountains, as he decorated the restaurant with mounted fish and family pictures in the Sierras. I have no idea about the history of this restaurant, but I intend to return and find out. It will give me a good reason to go back and enjoy some of the best tacos I have ever tasted!
On the China Bowl website there is no mention of tacos, but take my word for it: it is well worth your time to stop by this place if you find yourself passing through Santa Maria. Long live Chinese tacos!