Sausalito. My wife, Consuelo, and I had heard that it was a great town: good landscapes, good food. Our friend, Ben, had told us what an amazing town it was. So one day, we decided to drive there. It was very early in the morning, because we didn’t want to miss any of the wonderful things that Ben had told us about. It turned out that Sausalito is a good place to go if you just want to have a nice lunch, enjoy some ice cream, and take a nap. After 30 minutes in that lovely place, we were bored.
For foreigners like me, coming to the United States is very difficult. If you do not prove how much money you have in your savings account and how many properties you own, the American Embassy denies your visa. There are certain agreements between the USA, Mexico and other Central American countries to prevent Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Bolivian citizens from passing through those countries to reach the US border. So, for me, this opportunity to study at Stanford as a Knight Fellow is probably the only time that Consuelo and I will be able to enjoy California, and to travel and learn about people from this part of the world — people who smile constantly (they like to show their perfect teeth, do they not?), who look in great shape (do they need to burn up all the calories from their cheese-baconed enormous burgers?), and who never throw garbage on the street (are the fines for littering so high?).
Back in Sausalito. Our car, Toyota, is far away from where we are. We are near a pier, and find a tourist information center. Consuelo asks for a map and lands her finger on a town, Vallejo. I do not know anything about Vallejo. The map has a figure of a whale near the word Vallejo. Can whales go so far? There is no explanation on the map. We find Toyota and just go. We feel the need to see Vallejo’s whales. Toyota is our accomplice in this trip. And there is another member of the team: La Española. She is the voice that guides us through the GPS. “Por favor, conduzca hacia la ruta señalada,” is her first advice in that female android Spanish accent.
Toyota had had a good breakfast at his favorite gas station in Redwood City, and Consuelo and I had some delicious American muffins before him. La Española never says a word about food. So now we drive, while The Doors and The Grand Funk play on the radio.
We notice that the Bay Area is huge, with lots of wetlands. But, according to the map, Vallejo is supposed to be full of whales.
When we get there, we realize that the famous place of whales in Vallejo is Six Flags, an amusement park with roller coasters, a zoo, a water park with lots of dolphins — and one whale. I look at Toyota’s gas tank; he is almost full. Consuelo and I do not feel hungry.
“If this is it, I think we better make a U-turn,” I say, disappointed.
But Consuelo needs the restroom as soon as possible, so I pay 20 bucks for parking, thinking maybe we can go on the roller coaster, but she isn’t interested.
“The most expensive pee in history,” I say.
“It wasn’t that much — we would have paid 100 dollars for two water park tickets,” Consuelo answers, while I am laughing.
Then we are on the road again. For a moment, I try to understand why I don’t feel disappointed or upset. Maybe it is because the sun is perfect, it does not burn our skins like in our country. Maybe it is because ten years after our first date, Consuelo and I have matured. Maybe it is because we have committed to be each others’ lovers, friends. Perhaps it is our silent pledge of not arguing. Maybe, it is because it is so good to see her smiling and singing that Fleetwood Mac song from the radio (the one I do not like, but I prefer not to tell her, as she does when Nirvana is on the radio — at the end, love is a meal made with respect and spiced with passion and patience).
So there we are: on the road, listening to La Española guiding us to San Francisco.
We had decided to just go to San Francisco, but then we decide to take a risk. It is 4 p.m.
“I think there will be four more hours of sun,” says Consuelo.
That sounds perfect to me (in Ecuador, the sunset is always at 6 p.m., every single day). I take a different freeway, and La Española goes crazy trying to find another way to get to San Francisco. We drive on US 1, and I’m sure we will never forget all the curves in the road that gave us stunning views of the mountains and the ocean, before we arrived at Muir Beach.
For me, a beach is a place with lots of sand, tons of beer, seafood, people listening to reggae, salsa and merengue, and of course, the warm ocean. At this beach, the frozen air forces me to hold Consuelo just to see the landscape, meanwhile people are making campfires and roasting marshmallows. Muir Beach is the opposite of everything I love when I am at the seashore. But I just loved it because of the sunset, all the algae in the sand, all the dogs playing with their masters, and because of all people laughing politely at us (they wore their Hawaiian-and-or-hippies style shirts; we wore our jackets, protecting each other from the wind).
When we start the return trip, we see a spectacular landscape. I pull over Toyota.
La Española is quiet, she decides not to guide us anymore and Toyota takes a nap while we get out. In front of me, the ocean is so blue, so calm. To my left, San Francisco is so far, but I can see its buildings. To my right, is Consuelo and the sun being absorbed by the sea.
“We never ate in Sausalito,” says Consuelo.
“And we never saw Vallejo’s whales,” I reply.