Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mendocino Village off Route 1 on the Pacific Coast, North California

Trip started on: September 29th, 2006 (Friday)
Returned home on: October 1st, 2006 (Sunday)
Team: Thomas, Vinaya, Sony and Amala Rajesh, Radhika and Nikita Ajith, Nishi, Swetha and Sneha; Jeomoan and Sheena (guest appearances)

Mendocino - 2006 September
Sep 30, 2006 - 57 Photos

Mendocino Village is a small town on the Pacific coast, off route 1. It is in Mendocino county which is one of the well known California wine regions, but not as chomped by tourists as the Napa region. Mendocino area has other bigger towns like Fort Bragg, Kampuchia etc.

A vacation get-away was due for long time for us, but we couldn't really plan it as we were all busy with baby related matters: Vinaya and I were just coming back to our normal selves after the birth of our daughter Amala 2 months ago; Ajith and Nishi were almost in the same situation with the birth of Sneha, who is one month older than Amala.

Rajesh took over the planning part and booked a vacation rental in Mendocino through an agency, Mendocino Preferred. Except for its name for wines, we didn't know much about the place. We just wanted to go up north of San Francisco and chill down during the weekend. Usually in most of our group weekend get-aways, we hardly go outside and do anything. Most of the time will be spent cooking, eating and drinking. And sometimes playing whatever available in the rental -- pool, ping-pong and 56. The idea behind such trips has been always to have everyone under the same roof and spend some quality time together. Not to do many outdoor activities, and if we ever could pull off doing something, that would be always an incentive.

Radhika is in the last phase of her pregnancy and they didn't have lots of time to waste. Or they will have to wait for few more months to do anything like this. Balan and Prasi opted out as the place was far, and Prasi was very late in her pregnancy. Sasi and Sree didn't want to join as they had already planned for a long trip to LA, and another big one to London.

One week before the trip, Jeomon got an interview call from HSBC based out of Salinas. They also offered to buy Sheena's ticket if she wanted to accompany Jeomon and to spend the weekend in Bay Area. They took that offer and decided to join us. His interview was on Friday and it seemed that Jeomon could come back from Salinas before we start for Mendocino at 3.30 p.m.

We wanted to start early at about 2 p.m. to beat the traffic, but Sony's class would be over by only 3 p.m. and picking him up early might not go well with his disciplinarian class teacher; yes, he goes to a Catholic school.

Jeomon and Sheena reached home at about 10 p.m. on Thursday. We didn't have to pick them up as they rented a car from San Jose airport. Vinaya made a dinner of Vellayappam, chicken curry, and Sirloin steak cooked in wine vinegar and black pepper. Before went to bed, I cleaned and marinated the chicken, shrimp and salmon bought from the Chinese Supermarket, Lyon's that night. Those items were meant for the BBQ dinner on the second night (Saturday night) of get-away. For the dinner in first night, Radhika would bring her famed Chicken biriyani, which has become a huge hit lately in our group.

Next day (Friday) morning before 8 a.m., Jeomon started for Salinas for interview. Sheena stayed home and worked from home.

I took off from work at about 1 p.m. Reached home and helped Vinaya to pack up. We had to be at St.Lucy to pick up Sony by 3 p.m. We had to rush at the end to get to the school in time. Jeomon was not reachable on the cell phone which he was carrying. So, as per the plan, Sheena stayed home; and we started off with the idea that Sheena and Jeomon would join us in Mendocino later that evening.

The (to) Drive:
By the time we started from Rajesh's home in Milpitas, it was about 4 p.m. Three families in 2 vans -- Rajesh's Mercedes and my brand-new Mazda MPV. The plan was to get to Mendocino via I-680N - I-880N - I-580E - Hwy 101N - Hwy 128 - Route 1, bypassing San Francisco city traffic. The traffic was already built up and we found ourselves crawling on the interstates. My right heel started burning due to a rough sock and frequent braking on the road.

At about 4 p.m., Jeomon called from Salinas finally. It seems, the interview was good, but very tedious. From 9 a.m. through 3 p.m., including a full fledged lunch with the hiring manager etc. Good for him.

It was about 6 p.m. when we could get to Hwy 101 where the traffic was normal. But, Rajesh took I-80 by mistake and went into San Francisco city traffic; the very thing we wanted to avoid. That set them behind almost an hour. We stopped at a Burger King parking lot in Petaluma and had a small party with BK coffees and apple pies. And the women cleaned babies and fed them too. Rajesh and Ajith reached there at about 8 p.m. They also had coffee and burgers. The urgency to get to the destination died down somewhat, as it was clear that we were not going to make it anytime soon.

Earlier, while waiting in the traffic, I had called Jeomon and recommended them to stay back and join us only in the next morning, as it was late and coordinating with them would be really hard. And told them to hit Santana Row in West San Jose instead, for watching a movie and eating at one of those good restaurants there. But, it seems, they went to some Persian or Greek restaurant in our neighborhood ( was it Zorba the Greek near Campbell light rail station? I don't recall.)

The drive was incident free until we hit Cloverdale, where we have to change to Hwy 128. That road basically connects Hwy 101 and the famed route 1, and it cuts through Mendocino county. We had to go via Cloverdale Main St. and it was hard reading the road signs in the dark. However, the sign for Hwy 128 was very clear and we could locate it. Hwy 128 was winding and the initially part of it was through a forested area with majestic Redwood trees stand guarding on both sides of the road. Vinaya, the navigator, felt sick due to the gut-wrenching drive on the winding road as usual and stopped "navigating". Couple of times I had to move to the side of the road, and let the tail-gating traffic pass by. After a while, I could spot Rajesh's car solitary car following us little behind.

I was unusually tired when we hit Route 1; with the burning pain on my heel came back during the tough drive on Hwy 128. That portion of Route 1 is also winding, but not as bad as Hwy 128. We had to take a left to the Main St. in Mendocino Village to pick up the key for the rental, from the agent's office there. I think, it was about 10.30p.m. when we reached Mendocino Village. It was hard to read the small road signs. But, the distance mentioned on Yahoo direction helped to locate the intersections and without making any mistake we got to the rental office.

The rental was about 3 miles from Mendocino Village. We tried to follow the direction provided by the agency, but that only took us around the Mendocino Village. Yahoo direction again helped and we reached the address. I stated "address", because the address of the rental was first spotted on a mail-box on our left. And I couldn't see any sign of a home there, except for couple of huge tree trunks! (In the morning, actually I could see a home, painted all black, situated little away from those scary tree trunks.) Our rental was on the right actually. It was very well lighted and was on a huge lot. Going by my past experience of ending up in rentals situated in tiny lots at dark corners of some obscure part of the town, I didn't expect that the well-lighted house on our right would be ours. (Well done Rajesh!) We entered the house cautiously, expecting someone to emerge, and to shout at us for disturbing their peaceful get-away from busy life in some Bay Area city.

Nothing happened, as you might have already gauged. The house was well-lighted and was painted with light colors. A hot jacuzzi was set up on the deck outside overlooking the empty lots adjunct to the house and the winding road beyond that. The house had 3 bed rooms, dining and living areas, a small but clean kitchen, and small area behind the house for BBQ and hanging out. The kitchen was well stocked with equipment and supplies. I bumped into a shelf that was full of local wines. We decided to try them second night, as the first night was reserved for Patron.

I think, the time was little past 11 p.m. by the time the luggage and families were inside the house. Rajesh acted quickly to get started on the Patron (a premium Tequila) bottle. Ajith was trying Patron for the first time, and didn't seem to like it. He moved on to some white wine he brought along, after few sips of Patron. Rajesh and I finished most part of the bottle, drinking it dry, as usual. Food for first night was cooked by Radhika. She brought her famed Biriyani, and it was simply great.

I don't remember when I crept into sleep. We were discussing too many things, and eating lots of Biriyani. But, when I got up, it was about 10 a.m. in the morning.(Rajesh and Ajith claimed that I passed off in the night. But, who would believe their words when they themselves were drunk.)

In Mendecino:


Looks like Jeomon and Sheena started very early from San Jose. They almost woke us up from our sleep in the morning. That helped us to start things little early. We made toasts and scrambled-eggs (Burji) for breakfast. And got ready for some sight-seeings in Mendocino area.

We did not plan to see everything in that area, and wanted to relax and enjoy, instead of rushing and checking out each and everthing in that area like in a usual desi trip. Fortunately, Mendocino doesn't have lots of very attractive, touristy "spots" that you have to go and visit. Most of the places are natural attractions like preserves, parks and beaches.

First we went to Point Cabrillo Preserve, which was close to our rental. It is right on the Pacific coast and from the huge open space of the preserve, you get a panoramic view of the ocean. The major attraction there is the historic 1909 Light Station. The light station building is very beautiful, and we tried capture some of that in pictures. (Please see the link for photos we took there.)

The day was extremely good with comfortably cold that provided us with endless energy and enthusiasm. We walked all the way from main parking area to the light house station on the seafront (which I guess, is about a mile long). We could spot few deers standing still in the tall grass that covers the entire open space between the main parking area, and the sea. Sony, who is usually reluctant to walk such distances, was not complaining at all. It seemed that everyone including kids liked the good weather, the ocean, the light house and the walk.

But, we had an emergency waiting for us at the end of the walk back towards the parking lot. We were about to start the vehicles when Sony started crying. He was biting on some really chewy candy and one of his many wiggling teeth came off. (Yes, he is 10 years old and it is teeth falling season for him in his life.) I took him to the bathroom. His mouth was full of blood and he couldn't take out the dangling tooth that almost came off, though he was trying hard to pull it out. Then I assured him that I would take it out in one pulling. He agreed, and fortunately I could pull that out in one try. We spent sometime cleaning the mess and Sony was very happy that he could finally get rid of a tooth that was bothering him for quite sometime.

However, seeing the blood coming out of Sony's mouth and his painful expressions, Nikita started crying too. But, she was pacified after Sony emerged out of bathroom smiling, and showing off another big gap between his teeth. Nikita also thought that losing tooth is a sign of a child turning adult and she didn't want Sony to grow up. (And lose company may be. Kids don't like us :-) )

We went to Mendocino Village looking for some fast food. Unfortunately, that place didn't have any, and we were not in a mood to eat in a regular restaurant with infants. Usually that would end up in huge mess and disappointment. Jeomon or Rajesh got some gourmet chocolates, and we decided to drive towards Fort Bragg, a larger town in that area, to eat lunch and do some more sight-seeing. The first eatery we spotted was a Round Table Pizza. We ordered couple of large pizzas, chicken wings and beers. Spent lots of time eating, cleaning up infants, and just plain relaxing. The day seemed to very slow for them; no rush there and the whole space in the pizzeria was available to us.

Then we drove to McKerricher State Beach, which is located between Fort Bragg and our rental near Mendecino Village. On the south end of the beach, a boardwalk leads to tide pools and a seal observation point. We took a walk on the boardwalk; Radhika was tired by then and stayed in the van. Jeomon and I got lots of time during that walk to talk about the interview he gave at HSBC in Salinas. Vinaya carried Amala baby in baby bjorn. The boardwalk along the beach is beautiful and a branch of it is even going into the grass covered open space behind the beach. Looks like the park around that beach has facilities for camping and picinic. We also saw one old local man emerging out of shallow sea water with a huge abalone.

We had to get back to our rental soon to kick start the main activity of that day, BBQ and drinking. Jeomon didn't want to miss our salmon BBQ party that night, and for that very reason, he drove all the way up from San Jose that day, beating early morning lethargy. Ajith started fire in the fire place and made the interior comfortably warm. Kids had fun playing in the jacuzzi outside. I don't know if any adults were using it as I was busy starting fire for BBQ on the grill kept at the backyard patio. Usually, we relax in the jacuzzi after first day's long drive; but we couldn't do that last night, as it was too late.

Once the patio became warm, people started coming out of the cozy interior of the house. The wine drinking began. As mentioned earlier, there was a big collection of local wines kept in a shelf, and we started tasting all varieties we found there, though we brought lots of cheap, but extremely good wines purchased from Trader Joe's and BevMo. For BBQ, we always will have salmon, marinated in fresh lemon juice, red chili, turmeric and salt. The fatty salmon chunks will always come out great on the grill, and that paired with a red wine is a huge hit in our parties. Sometimes, we grill black pomphret (AvOli) spiced with black pepper and other Indian spices. Chicken marinated in yogurt and Indian spices is another sure shot winner on the BBQ grill. (May be I should write a separate blog on the BBQ topics as that is vast.)

Like any other drinking-BBQ parties, we don't know when we stopped. People just fade out from the scene, or pass off while talking or watching something (usually some Malayalam comedy show or movie) on the TV, and get up in the morning with a slight headache. Women really don't drink wine, except for tasting some super sweet Muscat or Riesling. So, in our group, drinking is pretty much a male affair.


Jeomon and Sheena had to get up early in the morning as they had to catch return flight to Dayton, Ohio, from San Jose. I don't recall if I went back to sleep after they left.
We hadn't planned anything for Sunday. On Saturday, we had spotted a cute beach few blocks away from our rental. Before returning, we wanted to check that out too. We parked near the beach and spent some time on the beach. Sony and I went to a grocery store nearby and bought some coffee and sodas. I tried to buy some local wines there, but they carried only few boring Gallos from Central Valley.

While returning, we passed by our rental (Gull Cottage) and said good-bye to it. All of us loved that place, and decided to go back there if at all we would come back to Mendocino to spend another weekend.

The (fro) Drive:
Many famous wineries and their tempting tasting rooms line either side of the road. (Of course, we couldn't see any of those while driving to Mendocino as it was dark.) It is extremely beautiful drive during the day, with forests, wilderness, small vineyards and orchards lining each side of the road. We stopped at one of the wineries. While women and kids were busy using the bathroom there, Ajith and I tasted few wines. The tasting room ambiance in these wineries are very different from that in Napa wineries which are crowded, and run like tourist attractions. At least the Mendocino winery that we visited has a simple but well kept tasting room, and its owners passionately poured the wines for us to taste. They wanted us to taste all their products, but since we had to drive, we stayed away from becoming drunk. We also picked up couple of Zinfandels to drink later at home. (Mine is still not opened though.)

At Cloverdale, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant and ate. Rest of the trip was eventless. Just for a change, I took a different route to get to Bay Area, via I-280 by crossing Golden Gate bridge and passing through San Francisco's west side street traffic. By evening we got home; and felt really good after spending some quality time in Mendocino Village.