Day 49 and we woke early. Last night we were lost in the woods. We burnt until we ran out of logs, then burnt sticks and cones, and eventually succumbed to the cold with sleep. We had had no cutlery so we were hunched over chargrilled steaks clawing and slurping like cavemen. My hands looked like ape hands in the morning. Miraculously there was hot running water in the campsite as well as wifi, so I washed the blood, juice and marshmallows from my beard in a hot shower while considering the long road home.
First we decide we need to go to the ocean. We still smell of smoke. Sea air will help. The Pacific is punishingly cold at this time of year, the water drives an ache into your bones almost immediately, so a long dip is out of the question but we spend some time on Carmel beach before the long drive home. Such a gorgeous little town, built consciously to look quaint but they’ve gotten away with it. I spend as long as I safely can in the sun before getting back in the car. I don’t want to be falling asleep at the wheel. “Let’s have a road trip and not a mission,” we decide, appropriately enough as the road is an old mission trail. As we drive I start to notice distinctive bells again and again on the path beside us. “Historic Camino Real” some of them say.
We stop for coffee at the pinkest hotel in the world. The Madonna Inn. It’s trying to look Swiss, so I feel oddly at home having spent so much time in the graubunden as a child. There are 110 rooms spread out over a 1000 acre ranch. All of them are done up in a different theme. Cheapest is $210 a night. Jungle rooms, stone grotto rooms, pink fairy rooms, Flintstone rooms. It’s so kitsch I’m almost sick on myself. We sit at a vast wooden bar where a lady dressed as Heidi pours us odd coffee. If they were playing accordion music I think I’d regress almost immediately. Thankfully they aren’t, even though it’s very popular in Mexico. Next to us, identical twins are celebrating their birthday. They eat three gargantuan slices of cake. Their conversation is as scattered and enthusiastic as the decor. Nobody is talking backwards yet and there are no dwarves or giants. The twins want us to eat cake. We eat cake. Cake is delightful. Fuelled by sugar we go and find the receptionist. I ask him about the bells. “They’re mission bells.” So THAT’S a mission bell. Another line in Hotel California cleared up. In a hotel. In California. We get back on the road before the Captain brings us his steely knife.
The Camino Real stretches for almost 1000 miles. It’s the route that the early Jesuits and Franciscans used to spread their faith across this huge region. The bells are made to resemble the staffs that the Franciscans carried. They are very distinctive and attractive objects, these bells. Part of their appeal to me is that they are almost completely pointless. They just sit there in inaccessible laybys looking pretty. Good for them.
Back on the road. As the sun falls, Lyndon keeps looking behind us. “The sky is incredible.” That’s all the excuse I need to pull into a layby and crouch down as the juggernauts are blaring past, to take this shot of Lyndon, a mission bell and the sunset.
I’m back in my room now on Saturday night, with an early bed ahead of me so I can properly stand up and be counted for the last two weeks I am here. This has already been an immensely positive experience, in that I have had the space and the context to overturn a huge amount of the nonsense that my overactive imagination has been running on myself. No harm in throwing myself around a bit more before I come back, seeing who else I can meet out in this glorious ridiculous town.