The Start of the Holidays

“Life is no different than the weather. Not only is it unpredictable, but it shows us a new perspective of the world every day.”

– Suzy Kassem

If you had told me at the beginning of October that I would be suddenly rushing across country to California, I would have laughed and asked why. In a truly devastating turn of events, we lost not one but two family members within nine days due to COVID-19. It was a brutal reminder of how easily life can be cut out from under you without much warning. We’re all rushing for normalcy but there’s absolutely nothing normal about the state of the world anymore. This is our new reality. It hurts and leaves you constantly wondering “who is next.”

The one good thing that came out of it was seeing family that live in California. Without hesitation, we drove 34 hours to be with them. I’d do it again too, but hopefully next time for a happier reason. I’ve always enjoyed a cross country road trip; especially one that cuts across New Mexico and Arizona as they are beautiful states.

This time was no different with blue skies and pleasant temps throughout the drive. We were treated to magnificent sunrises and sunsets that made us appreciate life even with despair hanging over us.

After reaching California, the majority of the week was spent working, with family, and attending funeral proceedings. It was an exhausting time that felt like a month rather than a few days. We were all ready for a little something to break up the pain and as usual, my immediate way to do it is to retreat into nature. So we made our way to the coast.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the California coastline, but it is probably one of my favorite places in the world. It is a stunning display where rocky cliff faces break up the surf and mountains kiss the Pacific Ocean. It can be 100 degrees inland then a chilly 60 when you get to the water. For us, it was a marvelous day with little cloud coverage until the late afternoon. We made our way to Montana De Oro State Park just south of Morro Bay. I had never been before, but my mother insisted I’d be blown away. She was right. The reviews were consistent with one thing, “It’s the best state park in California.” I’m pretty sure they’re right.

Between the surf crashing onto the cliffs and the wildlife, I pretty much wanted to take up permanent residence. We ended up spending most of our day there, checking out the trails and the beauty of it. I didn’t even cover half of this park, it extends up into the surrounding hills and summits. If you enjoy hiking, this is a perfect spot to check out.

Towards the end of our hike, we noticed the clouds rolling in. The weather on the California coast can change in a moment so always be prepared and bring layers! We decided it was cold enough for a bread bowl of clam chowder. No, it wasn’t gluten free. Yes, I was in pain later. It was worth it.

Our stop took us a few miles north to Morro Bay and Dutchman’s Seafood House. If you’ve never been to Morro Bay, you are missing out. The coastal town is dotted with boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops. Plus it’s home to scores of seabirds, otters, and sealions. That alone is enough to keep me going back.

We settled in at Dutchman’s, ordered our bread bowls, and a round of drinks. It’s a cute little spot with great views of the bay and Morro Bay Rock. The warmth of the sun was also a perk as the temperature had dropped significantly.

It truly was what I needed to unwind after an extremely trying week. There’s so much overwhelming sorrow when losing a single family member and to lose two in such a short time taxed all of us emotionally, mentally, and physically. This entire post has me reliving so many emotions and maybe that’s why it took me a few extra days, but to the entire Ortega family this one’s for you. We love you all so much, cousins.

On a different note, VoyageSavannah Magazine interviewed me last month for their inspiring stories series which can be viewed here. I had never been interviewed for a magazine before so it was such a neat experience! So if you’re interested in learning a little more about how my mind works, click that link. As usual, travel safe and travel often.

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