June 05, 2009

Following in My Own Footsteps

I haven't been travelling all that much since I quit my job in January, but when I found out Edith was going to San Diego on a business trip next week, I jumped at the chance to join her early and carve out even more of Southern California to make my own.

After arriving early this afternoon with relatively no itinerary, we ended up back in La Jolla for a nice oceanside patio lunch. We'd had a nice time at George's last year during our first ever trip to the San Diego area, watching our sunburns emerge on our arms and legs and feet as we sipped cocktails and sat once again unprotected from the sun. Back then we were delirious from kayaking, and although we made it down to La Jolla Cove to watch the birds and listen to the sea lions, we somehow missed out on La Jolla Cave, which must be entered by its folksy "Cave Gift Shop" at the end of the busy, trinket-laiden commercial strip.

Today's maitre d' at the Trattoria Acqua sat us directly overlooking the Cave Gift Shop, and given any inkling of a missed opportunity being repeated, we couldn't resist going in.

A white-haired, hunched man behind a desk took our four dollars each and pointed us to a stairway leading down what we were warned as "wet, slippery steps" - 145 of them, in fact. This is the only sea cave you can access by land on the California coastline, making it not only historic but also quite the curiosity. Scrawled in paint above our heads read, "LOW CEILING" and even we at five-foot-four had to duck and hunch ourselves just to make our way down.

As we descended down into a roughly-cut or blasted hole in the earth - reminiscent of our descent into the Atlantic Tunnel - the distance between the stairs seemed to get shallower, and the dampness nearer, until my sandals were squishing in puddles and trapping the water between my toes. We could hear moans in the distance - were they lost souls, or sea lions, or the incoming tide?

Turns out they were the pigeons that live down there.

At the bottom of the steps, you climb out onto a platform that brings you close to the mouth of the cave, with the sun filtering in blindingly. Even at low tide, the ocean comes in and splashes up on the rocks like an attack, waiting to snatch your camera or your shoes away from you.

At the end of the platform, just when you feel like you're all alone in the world like many a great explorer before you, snorklers bob their heads in and out of the water's surface, and a new group of curious folk - these some blonde-streaked, flatchested college girls - come down the slippery stairs in your footsteps.

And then you go back up.

But those few minutes you have marvelling at the jagged edges of the aperture makes you glad you're inside the cave instead of outside of it. And now you know what it's like in there.

I used to never want to go back to the same place twice, but I've learned to appreciate gaining a dynamic, quality understanding of a place rather than a superficial overview of it. So although I was tempted to try some new restaurant in some other neighborhood in San Diego today on our way to Escondido (which is new to me), I'm glad we retraced our steps. Maybe the place is the same, but it's a year later and we are different. It was nice to be able to see La Jolla just a little bit older and just a little less burned.

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