Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer in Monterey

Between Jun 19 and Jul 16, 2011, I spent a month as a student of the International Trade and Development Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. It was a privilege to be here as the only way to get in was by being a UWC graduate and receiving a scholarship from the Davis Foundation, who is also generously supporting my studies at Colby.

In a group of twelve UWC graduates, we attended trade and development classes and went on site visits to various companies, from less known start-ups to giants like Google and Cisco. The location was perfect for such visits as Monterey lies about an hour south from the famous Silicon Valley, a huge brainpower hub where mighty IT companies base their headquarters. I will write a separate post on our visit to Silicon Valley, but in this post I will focus on Monterey and its surrounding areas. I visited all of the places which I write about in this post.

The interesting thing about Monterey and California's northwest coast in general is that it has its own little micro-climate. Even though the air is very humid, it almost never rains in Monterey during the summer months: it only rained here once here during the whole month. Monterey's summer and winter temperatures are almost the same, rarely rising above 20°C during the day, and staying between 5 and 10 °C during the night. In addition to the moderate temperatures, weather on the Monterey Peninsula tends to be very cloudy and foggy, which is an exception to the otherwise sunny and hot Californian climate. The peninsula can sometimes get so cold in the summer that wearing a jacket becomes necessary. In fact, Monterey's weather is very similar to San Francisco's, which was once best described by Mark Twain: "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."

The Monterey Peninsula serves as a sanctuary for wildlife. Whales, seals, sea otters, and other water creatures can be found in the surrounding waters, plentiful deer and squirrels roam Monterey's forests, and all kinds of birds watch over the peninsula from its cloudy skies. In addition to the fauna, Monterey's pleasant weather supports all sorts of flowers, grasses, bushes, and trees. No matter the season, something is always blooming on California's west coast. My personal favorite is the Night Blooming Jasmine, a simple plant whose white blossoms give out an addictingly sweet, refined aroma. Biking around the peninsula on the famous 17 Mile Drive will give you a great opportunity to spot a dear, find a beach full of sea lions, appreciate beautiful coastal rock formations, and smell the fragrance of dozens of blooming flowers.

Night Blooming Jasmine
A deer near Pebble Beach, Carmel.
Sea lions lying on a beach near Carmel.

The peninsula itself features an ecosystem which is very different from its surroundings. Its moderate weather allows for a green environment filled with various forms of life. The moment you leave the peninsula, however, the temperatures rise sharply by as much as 20°C during the summer and fall by the same amount during the winter. These high temperatures are the reason why there is a large agricultural region to the northeast and a hot wine-growing region to the southeast of Monterey. The city of Salinas, which lies about twenty miles northeast of Monterey, is the center of an agricultural area called Salinas Valley, one of USA's most fertile regions. Called the Salad Bowl of America, this 150x10km strip of land produces sixty percent of all the lettuce consumed in the United States. Castroville, a small town north of Salinas, is in turn called the Artichoke Capital of the World, producing eighty percent of America's artichokes. The town of Watsonville, a few kilometers north of Castroville, produces a large portion of America's strawberries.  Carmel Valley, the area southeast of Monterey, is popular because of its many wineries and wine-tasting rooms.

A field in the town of Spreckels near Salinas.
The Chateau Julien winery in Carmel Valley.
Me and my two roommates at a wine-tasting room in Carmel Valley.

The area around Monterey is known for being home to many writers, celebrities, and rich people. The cities of Salinas and Monterey served as a base for John Steinbeck, one of America's most famous writers. He gained inspiration for many of his books in these two cities. "Cannery Row", his 1945 novel, is situated in Monterey's fish cannery district. Today Cannery Row is Monterey's most famous street, hosting numbers of tourist shops and restaurants, as well as Monterey's famous marine aquarium. The nearby town of Carmel-by-the-sea is well known for its romantic, European town feel, expensive art galleries, and a long, white sand beach. Carmel is also famous for being the home of Clint Eastwood, who served as its mayor and owned the Hog's Breath Inn, now a well-known pub. He still owns a hotel Carmel and visits the town regularly.

Cannery Row from Steinbeck's novel


In contrast to the rich, touristy towns of Monterey and Carmel, the city of Salinas is poorer. A reason for this is perhaps its large Hispanic community, comprising over eighty percent of the city's population. In fact, English may not get you too far in many parts of Salinas; Mexican Spanish is the preferred language in most of the city. The Hispanic immigrants perform mostly low-paying jobs: they work as farmers, bus drivers (Monterey and Salinas have a working public transport system, which is quite a rarity in small towns in the USA), and cleaners. Indeed, all of the cleaners in our Hotel Pacific are Hispanic.

South of Monterey and Carmel lies Big Sur, or Big South, a stunningly beautiful coastal state park. Known for its steep cliffs, blue ocean, sandy beaches, imposing bridges, breathtaking views, misty scenery, tall coastal redwoods, grassy mountains, steep waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, this park is a true jewel for any lover of nature.

Panoramic view in Big Sur.
Monterey and its surrounding areas have so much to offer that I simply can not list everything in this blog post. Whether you like the sea, the mountains, wildlife, or deserts, Monterey has it all. I will never forget the amazing one month which I spent here.


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