The fog continued to billow in as we left the Rocky Point Restaurant. For all the gorgeous photographic images of the coast that entice one to the drive, we were not going to have this type of day. The fog hid the sea stacks and foaming waves. Fog hid the scrub oaks on the steep slopes and redwood trees in the river valleys. Yet, when one has a specific day to drive south, one must except the conditions. The photographers have probably come out on dozens of occasions, often at unreasonable times to be set up at a specific location, and waited hundred of hours, and recorded thousands of images to capture one marketable picture. Big Sur became a Big Blur for our drive.
Our destination was a cluster of lodge-cafe-grocery-store-gas-station named Gorda. If the coast is a blur, Go Gorda.
Gorda is hardly a place. It is more of an experience. When I mentioned Gorda to several of our party and others interested in our travels, I received few affirmations, but mostly puzzlement. It does not show up easily on maps. Even Mapquest required clicking down to the really local level to find it. This is how I found it. Grand!
After finding the name, I began Googling “lodging, Big Sur”. Most of what I found was camping spots, high-end-new-age-coastal-views spas, and Motel 6-to-8’s in Pseudo-San-Simeon. Then Gorda’s cottages showed up. In browsing the website, I noticed that two of the cottages could accommodate 5 to 6 people, and one had a kitchen. I sent a “contact us” e-mail to inquire about availability. After two weeks I did not receive a reply. I looked up the phone number to make a follow up call.
“Good morning. Is this the cottages at Gorda?”
“You got the place”
“I was wanting to check on one of the cottages, the Rock House.”
“Yeah, it’s here.”
“We plan to travel on the coast in September.”
“I would like to check whether the Rock House is available in September.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“Could we make a reservation for two night.”
“I’m sure it’s open.”
“Could we set the date.”
“September… 9th and 10th”
“I’m sure it will be open.”
“What do we need to do to make a reservation?”
“Oh, you want to make a reservation?”
“Yes, September 9th and 10th.”
“Ah, let me find a calendar… That’s a long way away.” (I was calling in July)
“I found your website… I sent an e-mail a couple of weeks ago, but had not received a response.”
“We have a website? (To someone on that end of the phone line) Do we have internet here? (To me) Guess someone must check that. Didn’t know we had internet here…”
I had read in some of the Trip Adviser reviews that the lack of cell phone service and wi-fi access was a regular complaint of travelers along the California coast. But, as we were not seeking this as part of our travels, at least for a couple of days, I was not concerned. We concluded our business on the phone. When the charge for the cottage showed up on my credit card statement, I had more assurance that I had actually talked to someone in Gorda. I brought the credit card statement along, just in case I needed verification.
On our foggy day, as we rounded the corner and hill that approached Gorda, we saw the road open up, and the signs advertising cottages, cafe, groceries, and gas. I stepped into the grocery store, as this appeared to be were you rented the cottages. I think that I met the young man, whose voice I had talked to on the phone. Early twenties, dreaming eye, yellow scruff of hair and beard, and lots of enthusiasm, smiled from behind the counter.
“Good afternoon. We have reserved a cottage… the Rock House.”
“Great” (long pause)
“Yes, is this where I check in?” (long pause)
“You want a cottage?”
“We reserved the Rock House.”
“We have to go over there.”
“Oh, I have to check in elsewhere?”
“No, over there.” (he pointed from the grocery store counter, to a desk with a book, then walked around the store to this) “Here”
“We have your receipt” (handing me a credit card receipt to sign). “You’re good. I’ll show you where the Rock House is” (he crossed back to the grocery store counter, then pointed at a diorama of Gorda) “You go from here (the grocery store), up this driveway. The Rock House is right here.” (long pause)
“Do I need a key.”
“Oh, the key (opening a cabinet), here it is.”
I returned to the van with his infectious smile. We drove up the lane about 100 feet and pulled into the first parking space, at the Rock House over looking Highway 1. It was a charmer of a place, with a sitting room-kitchen at the entrance, and two bedrooms, with a side bath slipped into the available square footage (maybe 750 to be generous). The pull-out sofa that we expected, turned out to be a non-pull out love seat. We found the fold-up cot in the closet. Hmmm, where to delegate those 24 square feet? I thought of our trip to Florence, with the rooms with six inches between each twin bed. We had two extra inches in our room once the cot was stretched out, but could not open the closet, nor close our door. No worry, we would all be asleep at that time.
I scouted out the linens, to find that we had four towels. Time for a trip back to the young man at the grocery store.
“Hey, the Rock House is great. We have five of us, and I found only four sets of towels.”
“Oh, I forgot.” (he disappeared into the back room, returning with a large package of linens for the cot and towels) “This is for you.”
I picked up a half-gallon of milk and post cards before heading back to the Rock House. Linda had, meanwhile, been checking out the kitchen. She counted four bowls and plates, five spoons, three forks, and no knives. I headed back to the young man at the grocery store.
“We were looking in the kitchen, before we started dinner. We noticed that we were shy a few place settings for five.”
“Ah, go over to the cafe. They can probably set you up.”
I crossed from one porch to the next to enter the cafe. The waitress wore a black polo shirt with the Gorda logo. Outside this she wore a black, lace camisole, tight and uplifting. Her hair and eyes were black, with a different dreaminess than the scruffy blond man in the grocery store. Guess, she was attracting a different clientele.
“Good afternoon. We just checked into the Rock House for a couple of days. We were planning to use the kitchen, but noticed that we did not have enough utensils, plates or bowls for the five of us. I spoke with the man at the grocery. He suggested that you might be able to set us up.”
“How many do you need?”
“One plate, one bowl, two forks, and some knives.”
“You want a plate, bowl, two forks, and some knives?” (her black eyes scanned me, the restaurant, and some internal force to seek the answer to this pondering of the resources of Gorda. Then a sparkle of charity began to collect the requested items. Her delicate fingers donated a couple of paper napkins to roll the forks and knives together, as if this were the only presentation of utensils that she was familiar with.)
“Will you be back for dinner?”
“We are making dinner at the cottage.”
“Will you be back after dinner.” (hmmm, those black eye seem to fill in where the words left off. Was this a group or personal invitation? I was not quite sure what was on the dessert menu.)
“I’ll bring the plates and utensils back before we leave in a couple of day.”
We had heard that the soup was quite good in Gorda. Checking the store, we found only Cup-o-Noodles and canned goods. The stock appeared to be aimed at the campers and bicycle travelers along the coast. We returned to the cafe to investigate the options. I walked in with my wife and mother-in-law to inquire about take-out soup. Those black eyes turned from smoldering laval rock to cold coal. No invitation for dessert appeared to be offered now. I fumbled around with my wallet to pay for five soups-to-go, leaving probably too large of a tip, in “keep the change”. Yes, the soup was worth the risk of purchasing it.
Before dinner, we walked out with our glasses of wine to a bench and table with a view of the ocean. Mist billowed upward with the moist, rising air. We could barely see across the highway to the barking sea lions and crashing waves hundreds of feet below. Emily put in a request to the high-powers. Before we left to prepare the meal, the fog has pulled back a few hundred feet to give us a glimpse of the water and rocks below. We debated whether a rising wave formation was a submerged rock or whale sighting. By morning, the clouds formed a rounded edge about a half mile off shore. Emily’s request had been granted as the sun began to shine on our drive down to Heart Castle, of which I shall write about separately.
In the afternoon, of our second day at Gorda, we had clear views along the coast. We took a side trip to Sand Dollar Beach and Jade Cove. Descending the stairs, we had a good leg stretch along Sand Dollar Beach. The span of the beach, crescented by the cliffs, gave us an idea of what we had not seen the day before. I scrambled down the rope assisted descent to Jade Cove and brought back various rocks and photos to share with the others who should not try such a feat. My knees reminded me of this for the next day.
After breakfast, of our last day at Gorda, I carried the one plate, one bowl, two forks and two knives back to the cafe. The woman with the black eyes was preparing her daughter for the school bus. Maybe that sleepiness I interpreted two evenings before was sleepiness for working from dawn to dusk.