"We're not accustomed to lodging with a croquet court."
"He chose the... wait for it... Lavender Bliss."
"Plates of zebra, kudu and, it was rumored, even lion."
Kruger National Park, Limpopo, South Africa
July 23, 2003
Mazda in Monterey Monterey, California, USA
Friday September 14, 2007
We were trying desperately to reach San Francisco International Airport by 2:45, but knew it was unlikely to happen. I'm driving; my brother Matt is navigating and a wonderful Canadian couple is in the back seat of our Mazda 5, victims of the same airline snafu and clinging to dim hope of making a similar departure time. Oh, and we're weaving at high but reasonably legal speeds through dense traffic and aren't entirely sure we're going the right way. That's when Matt announces to our group, "We just drove off the edge of our map."
That's when I knew everything was going to be just fine. Though it was a rather inopportune time to do such a thing, this something Matt and I do well: wandering through unknown places, eventually finding a destination and managing to find an adventurous experience or two along the way, We just seldom do it on a deadline.
"The RX7 that the cool guy drove in high school." We'd spent the previous weekend in and around Monterey, California, as guests of Mazda. You know... the guys who made the RX7 that the cool guy drove in high school. They were doing something so many companies are attempting these days: trying to figure out how to market their products in a world where old school advertising is losing its mojo. Their idea this weekend was to invite some bloggers who write about things like golf, food and travel to a mini-retreat on the coast to have a little fun and play with a few cars. Matt and I, along with about ten others, were happy to oblige.
It all was a far, far cry from the kind of travel you usually read about on ThereGoesJohn, as evidenced immediately upon arrival at the Monterey airport, which we were told is also known as "Millionaire Airport."
"Pulling heavy backpacks out of a rickety carousel." Typically when Matt and I travel together an airport arrival involves pulling heavy backpacks out of a rickety carousel, searching for the dumpiest local bus and sputtering away from the airport in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes.
Here, however, we were met by uniformed Mazda personnel who seized our small bags and escorted us to a waiting luxury SUV which spirited us over the dry, brown but beautiful California mountains to a quite posh winery/resort called Bernardus Lodge just south of the city of Monterey.
I suppose I could go on and on about how this experience is different from the kinds of places we usually go, but suffice to say we're not accustomed to lodging with a croquet court. Bernadus has two.
"he did emerge smelling of flowers." We were quickly issued our Miata MX6's for the weekend and sent off to the Bernardus spa for our treatments. Again, massages and facials are not generally on our itineraries, but we were willing to make an exception. I opted for a deep tissue massage and facial. Matt also chose the massage, but for his second session chose the... wait for it... "Lavender Bliss." Not kidding. I'm not sure what exactly happened in that room, but he did emerge smelling of flowers.
Wreaking of massage oil and lilac, we headed to Bernardus' croquet court to meet the other bloggers Mazda had invited to the weekend getaway. Six bloggers plus guests plus assorted company folks made for a fun mix. Regretfully but typically, I can't remember all the names, but the awesome Melanie from Mazda was running the show with the help of Danica, who by chance once interned at the same tiny TV station I worked at in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
"A death match, throwdown round of hardcore croquet." Bloggers Chris of eagleparbirdie.com, Sarah of deliciouslife.com, Ed of thegolfblog.com, Tony of hookedongolfblog.com and Robert of dailyolive.com were all getting to know each other as Matt and I were sucked into a death match, throwdown round of hardcore croquet. A Bernardus guy named Craig reminded us of the rules, which we vaguely remembered from the backyard games of our childhood. Craig, by the way, resembled the guy on Arrested Development who wore the camera and acted as Jeffrey Tambor's surrogate when he was under house arrest.
Shockingly, Matt and I stunned the rather inattentive crowd with a come-from-behind win in the first round and quickly racked up a second victory. Fortunately it was soon time for dinner and our record would stand unchallenged for the weekend.
"Dinner" is not quite the right word to describe what was put before us that first evening. "Feast" is probably closer, but it conjures thoughts of mounds of overcooked turkey and dry dressing. The sous chef at Bernardus didn't serve distinct courses, preferring to send servers with plate after plate of exquisitely prepared dishes.
"A restaurant we'd heard of near Nairobi." I wish I had been briefed ahead of time as to exactly how much food would be served, as I kinda filled up on the early rounds. I'll leave it to the foodie bloggers to describe the meal, but suffice to say it was plentiful and good. The quantity and duration reminded Matt and me of a restaurant we'd heard of near Nairobi where tourists sit down for all-you-can eat game animals. Plates of zebra, kudu and, it was rumored, even lion, are deposited on your plate until you knock over the flag marking your place at the table.
With jet lag descending, we made our way to our lovely room, which featured those ridiculously comfortable resort beds that never seem to be available for purchase at Mattress Warehouse. Day two would bring a trip to a famous organic farm and a perfect drive down a perfect road on a perfect California day. I'll leave that for part two.