travelog 125

Garden Design Kretter Style in Avila Beach

Since we had already driven all the way to California for the cactus convention, a visit with our friends in the area of San Luis Obispo was the obvious thing to do. After we had successfully sold the Unimog last year, we had taken the train from Vancouver, Canada, all the way to San Luis Obispo (see our travelog 120: direct link here), where we had found accommodation with Sandy and Val in Avila Beach. Of course finding accommodation is the wrong word for their beautiful guest room which actually is their bedroom. You see the Pacific Ocean through the window of the room, go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning to the sound of the waves. For a long time the two of them had planned on putting a little succulent garden in their front yard, and so we had come just at the right time to give them a little help.

The day after our arrival last year (2014), we had joined the whole family on an outing to Pismo Beach for a show of antique mobile homes. Of course it was not called antique but vintage which sounds a lot more sophisticated. Vintage, by the way, was everything built before 1970. We had barely sold PocoLoco, and the Gillespies already wanted to land us with another motorhome! The exhibition site was an exclusive campground next to the ocean where the night started at a staggering US$ 60. It was a lot of fun to see all these different vehicles. Many were designed after a specific motto, there was even one all-things-cactus, or they were painted and decorated in a certain shade of color with pink being one of the favorites. The owners were extremely proud to show their vehicles to the visitors, and many of them were still driving them around during their holidays. Of course there were some for sale, but this needed some really carefull consideration on our part.

Time flew by with the designing of the garden. The area was not large but Sandy and Val, nonetheless, wanted a few pathways and a beautiful bench, carved as one piece out of a tree trunk, needed to get a prominent place. Sandy had already brought most of the plants from another garden. Additionally we got some more from the neighbors, bought some at a nursery, and even went to steal a few dudleyas in the area around Avila Beach (shame on us!). In the end, everything looked very nice and tidy; we just didn't have the time to cover the ground between the plants with red lava rocks. Val promised to do this the week after our departure, but on subsequent phone calls to Sandy it soon turned out that we already had a project waiting for our next visit.

Big jump to 2015. This time we did not come by train but by car, the Dodge pickup truck we had purchased years ago from Blair Gillespie. Again, we were accommodated at Sandy and Val's place in Avila Beach. Avila Beach, btw, is a cute little town on a beautiful bay on the Pacific, just a little south of San Luis Obispo. There's only one access road and on weekends it is really touristy and you will be looking in vain for a parking spot. However Sandy and Val's house sits just two houses above the ocean and has a spectacular view of the Pacific, and of course the village. You can see the Pacific doing prep work in the kitchen. This makes even doing dishes a lot easier. If you're sitting at the breakfast table in the living-dining room, you have a view of the Pacific. And in the afternoons you can sit outside on the porch, enjoy the breeze with a glass of white wine, all of that of course with a view on the ocean. If you get bored by the sea, you always have the possibility of going to San Luis Obispo. We particularly like to visit the Farmer's Market on Thursday evenings. This year too, the visit of the market was on our to-do list. This was always a good opportunity to meet up with Blair, Sandy and Val's son. Instead of eating our sandwiches sitting on the sidewalk along the street, we preferred Mo's Smokehouse where you can sit comfortably, sipping on a local brew from the tap, enjoying one of their famous sandwiches with BBQ meat and sauce. Another excursion took us through See Canyon up to a low pass and down into Prefumo Canyon and finally to Morro Bay with Morro Rock. This route is especially recommended for Dudleya enthusiasts, although you can enjoy fantastic views of Morro Rock along the road. But back to our garden project in Avila Beach.

First of all we got the red lava rocks at Home Depot. Then we went on a rampage in the garden, cutting back and removing plants that had overgrown smaller plants. It was incredible how much the plants had grown in just one year, and how densely planted everything was by now. We had brought a few plants from San Diego, and found some other groundcover plants in pots that had been used as table decorations at a wedding. Martin also installed an automatic sprinkler system, just as Sandy requested. Fortunately we had about the same clothes with us as last year, and Mihija (a Spanish combination of the words mi hija, my daughter), the Gillespie's little white dog, was still around too, so we were able to shoot some perfect before-after pictures where you can see how fast such a succulent garden can grow.

Of course we were not only slaving away in the garden. We were lucky enough that at this exact time the humpback whales were feeding and playing in the bay at Avila Beach. Humpback whales grow on average to about 13 m (43 ft) long and weigh between 25-30 tons (metric). Compared to other whales they have very long flippers, reaching almost one third of the length of the body. The name humpback whale comes from their diving behavior. When the whale dives, it always makes a hump and the fluke comes out of the water. Humpback whales are usually loners, but groups of animals have been observed staying together to forage and feed cooperatively. Humpback whales are known for their song, but also for acrobatic jumps where they come completely out of the water; they like to pound the surface of the water with their fluke as well, producing loud, explosive sounds. This in short is the theory, but now to the practice, ie the beach at Avila where we were able to observe just about everything we described above. We soon gave up taking pictures, though, because the whales always surfaced where the camera was not focussing. We sat on the porch and followed the whales with the eyes or a pair of binoculars. Most of the time they were just moving around gracefully, came out of the water with open mouths and let themselves plop back onto the water; or we only saw the fins and the hump when they were diving down into the water. But on one of the last days that the whales honored us with their presence, one of the animals whipped the water surface several times with its tail. After that, a small group came completely out of the water at the other end of the bay and splashed back. Finally two whales jumped several times in a row out of the water just in front of us, prompting loud wow's from the people on the beach.

However, there was more to be observed than just the humpback whales. Sometimes a dolphin swam through the bay. Then we marveled at the pelicans sailing elegantly over our heads, but even better was the nightly show of sea birds congregating by the millions to feed. These masses formed huge black carpets turning in circles. The water bubbled and burst like crazy in the center of these circles, and even the humpback whales were attracted by this feeding frenzy. Blair and his kids Lily and Ewan joined us for the whale and crazy bird watching. Another day Blair invited one of his friends and his wife to come over. Frequently Dana, Sandy and Val's daughter, and Katie came over with their kids Bridget and Gavin. In short, it never got boring and, of course, all those visits were always a good occasion for Val to prepare his famous BBQ spareribs, or another huge piece of meat, or a whole side of salmon, or we enjoyed an evening with huge platters of Sashimi and delicious Moscow Mule drinks which Dana and Katie mixed in the kitchen like professional bartenders. We needed to have dessert too, among it for example the Mexican brownies with chile powder. Even the kids devoured them greedily, although especially the girls didn't like chile at all.

Unfortunately, our time in Avila Beach flew by way too fast, but eventually all the packages with the stuff we were taking back to Mexico had arrived. It was time to say goodbye, but we're sure that Sandy and Val will already have another garden project lined up for our next visit. And since we have told you about our humpback whale sightings, we can already reveal that the next travelog will also be about huge sea creatures, though not about whales but about whale sharks with which you can snorkel off the coast of Yucatan, Mexico. That's exactly what we did, but to read about it you need to be patient until the next travelog.

June 2015

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen