Thursday, 15 March 2007

Week 6 : Lake Cachuma to Los Alamos

It is the sixth week of my epic journey. I have travelled about 125 miles from my starting point and I have about 300 more miles to go before reaching my first staging point – San Francisco. I have seen mountains, canyons, lakes and the beautiful blue Pacific ocean. Amy and I have virtually slept in woods, in campsites, and on the beach. So we reckoned we were due a little luxury.

Therefore our route took us along Highway 246 to the spectacular Chumash Casino Resort. According to the blurb, “the Chumash Casino Resort Hotel consists of 106 spacious rooms, including 17 luxury suites featuring whirlpool tubs. From the custom designed furnishings made of elegant mahogany and high-end fabrics to the carpeting throughout, the Hotel displays a unique and refined style with tribal elements throughout”. The cost of this unique and refined style – not forgetting the tribal elements – is just a couple of hundred dollars a night. The problem was not the cost – it’s virtual money after all. The problem was that, as far as I could see, dogs are not welcome. And even worse, neither were cigars (I like a nice cigar when I am on holiday). The website sternly warns “If evidence of smoking is found in your room, a $200 charge will be added to your bill”. Thus Amy and I spent a nervous night, hiding our tails and our cigar buts.

And after the Indians, came the wine. As man and dog sauntered through Ballard and Los Alamos, they were exposed to some of the finest wine-growing areas of Southern California. So we made a short diversion to take in the Bridlewood Estate Winery – “a place apart, completely dedicated to the pleasures of wine - and serious about Syrah”. In a moment of rare honesty, Amy and I confessed to each other that we had no idea what Syrah was, but if it could be drunk we would drink it. So into the tasting room we went to try the 2003 Central Coast Syrah. According to Amy, it opens with aromas of smoke and cedar which give way to the rising red and dark fruit flavours framed with a hint of vanilla oak. These aromas grow in the glass and yield to a bright berry nose. On the palate, the berry flavours and rich fig undertones are held up by soft tannins for a long, satisfying mid-palate ending with a clean finish. This is a robust yet sophisticated wine with a moderate alcohol level 13.6%, perfect as a companion to meals that match its spice and substance. (The sound of all this was so attractive in a non-virtual sense) that I went as far as ordering a bottle from the on-line store, only to discover – to my disappointment – that they don’t ship outside the USA. How sad.)

So on we walked, towards Los Olivos which offers “ a slice of upscale Americana with art galleries, an art museum, boutiques, more than a dozen wine tasting rooms, a world-class inn and a flagpole in the centre of the town”. It really is quite swish around here and I must confess I was seriously tempted to relocate myself and my family. We stopped off at the Ranchland Real Estate Agency and thought about the ranch-style house they had for sale. “The sunny south slopes of this 5 acre parcel may be perfect for your vineyard or horses. 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath turnkey remodelled ranch style home. Solar panels and windmill cut your electric bills. Outdoor spa, steam shower unit in master bath, open beam living/family room”. A snip at just $1,595,000. Perhaps we can turn the blog into a best-selling book. Perhaps we could buy the property. Perhaps then we can discover how you can have 2.5 baths!

The close of our walk this week found us in Los Alamos which has “an old-time Western feel to the seven-block long main street offering an antique mall in a historic train depot, quaint shops, restaurants and parks”. I need to point out at this stage that the Los Alamos we found ourselves in was not the famous town of that name in New Mexico (the birthplace of the Atom Bomb) but a rather sweet Californian hamlet. So far this week we had sampled superb accommodation, fine wines, beautiful houses …. Now it was time for food. I tried Googling “Los Alamos” and “Food” and the first place I was directed to was an on-line news and opinion forum which provided a sample of what your average resident of this magical, sun-drenched, green and fertile area was thinking. I scrolled through the subject listing with increasing despair. Topics included the “Mexican invasion”, the “Gay invasion” and – I suspect if I had looked carefully enough – the “Fat man and his dog” invasion. Somehow it put Amy and I off our food and off our dreams of living in this place which seems to have been blessed with an abundance of everything …. Other than tolerance.

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