The Tudor Hotel
Getting up wasn’t easy. We left San Francisco at 8am. There were more farewells, more group hugs in the street outside the Tudor Hotel, and then we were off.
On the bus I considered the ‘group hug’. From a culture where a handshake is measured and infrequently given I found the concept alien. But something was happening to me. I was slowly morphing into a ‘hugger’ and I wasn’t sure that I liked it, nor whether I’d continue to give great roaring hugs back in England. Bonding-bubbles are weird things, I decided. And now there was more bonding to come as those we had left were replaced by others who were taking the trip from San Francisco.
The new ‘Tour leader’ was blonde, repetitious and unconsciously patronising. The replacement cook ‘Sandy’ seemed earnest and a little unsure of herself. In retrospect this was just arrogance on my part and, as a teacher, I should have known better. Our new tour leader was trying to ‘establish’ herself in an ‘established group’ but it was a bit tiresome having to play ‘word-games’ with the relatively few ‘new-comers’ when we could have just talked. When the word-games ended, we passed around the beer.
Around Mid-day we stopped at a winery in Monterey where a guy told me, with evident enjoyment, that the wine they sold to English supermarkets -‘Paul Masson’- was basically ‘plonk’ and that their best wines went elsewhere. He did himself a disservice. I’ve never bought Californian wine since.
Then however, I drank a lot. It was free. We ate lunch on the cliffs of Monterey, and later I paddled and pissed in the sea. Not my finest hour, nor so fine a moment as when Balboa marched into that same Pacific ocean and claimed it for Spain. But then he hadn’t drank the wines of Monterey.
Really, I was taking revenge for Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo.
Staring across the bay I’d just affronted I thought of this man, born in the late medieval period of very poor parents. As a conquistador he rose to fame and fortune on the fringes of a strange new world, and still this wasn’t good enough. Like everyone of his generation he was after a short-cut to the east and thought he’d find it by exploring America’s Pacific coast to where he thought it joined Asia, not so very far away.
Struggling against storms and bad weather he sheltered in Monterey bay before sailing to Santa Catalina Island to winter. Faced with attack on shore, Cabrillo organized a relief party and rowed to rescue his men. In the records: “As he began to jump out the boat, one foot struck a rocky ledge, and he splintered a shinbone.”
I cringe as I read this. Cringe even more when I calculate how long it took him to die. He splintered it in November 1542 but under the ministrations of his surgeon it became gangrenous, and he died on January 3rd 1543.
He left no settlements, had found no passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific, had discovered no new route to China. He never even got a sniff of the fabled seven cities of Cibola and failed to sight San Francisco Bay which remained undiscovered until 1769.
Interesting how life turns out. I toasted his memory.
Maps like these that showed Asia and America joined, and not too far away, lured many explorers who always thought that just beyond the next wave they might find it.