Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of driving down to Pebble Beach, California in order to measure a house for new cabinetry. The homeowner was a past client who had moved away from the Bay traffic and I was happy to make the 100-mile trek to help them settle into their new home.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with nary a cloud in the sky when I set off on my drive heading south along highway 101. Traffic was light once I got past San Jose; I just set the car on cruise control and watched the miles tick by.
Measuring the miles or the kilometers is likely the most common way of marking off distance on a road trip. When I was a kid on a family adventure, my Mom would follow along with her finger tracking our path on a map. I often whiled away the distance by looking for license plates from all the US states and Canadian provinces.
This trip, though, was a little different. I was traveling the historic ‘El Camino Real’ as indicated by the 400+ bells marking the route along the side of the road. The string of 21 Franciscan missions located up the Pacific coast from San Diego to Sonoma were constructed between 1769 and 1823 as a means of spreading European religion, government and agricultural techniques through Alta California. Each mission was constructed roughly 25 miles from the previous site so that settlers and soldiers could move safely from mission to mission in one day’s ride. The route connecting the missions was called the King’s Way, or El Camino Real, and is essentially the route that highway 101 follows today.
Shortly after I left home, I passed the exit for Mission San Jose, which got me to thinking about the path that lie ahead of me. For my 100-mile trek, if the missions were actually 25-miles apart, I should pass four missions over the course of the day’s drive.
First came Mission San Jose de Guadalupe, then Santa Clara de Asis, then Mission San Juan Bautista, then San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo. Lo and behold, about every 25 miles or so, there would appear another brown historical marker for the next mission. Those padres were amazingly accurate in their distance marking!
I shouldn’t be surprised by this though. Those monks were a well-trained lot. I know this because a year ago, Chuck and I had made a vacation trip to the Andalucian region of Spain…
One of the highlights of that trip was a stay at Hotel Monasterio de San Francisco in Palma del Rio, Spain. The hotel was actually an old Franciscan monastery that was built in 1492 that had been converted into a modern-day hotel. The conversion from old to new was done with great architectural respect and, although there are the modern-day comforts in the rooms (such as running water and air conditioning), they fully preserved the integrity of the original monastery. We thought it was really neat to sleep in the old monks’ rooms. Each one was totally unique in both decor and layout. The walls were over 12 inches thick. The original windows still opened out onto the old courtyards. The place was dripping with history. If only those walls could talk!
One thing we did know about the hotel before we checked in was that it was the monastery where Brother Junipero Serra had resided and trained many of the monks that were sent to California on his expedition up the coast that founded the California missions. Wandering the magnificent stone hallways, we found rooms marked with ceramic tiles for many of the New World missions. We found two historic paintings with script that explained their stories. One showed Brother Serra standing next to items that he brought back from the New World to the Old World – corn, watermelon, tobacco. The other showed an American Indian standing next to items that the monks introduced to the New World – Palma del Rio’s oranges, lemons and olives. Way cool!
Perhaps the item I found most interesting though was an old donkey skin. Marked on the skin was the path of the monks and the ‘El Camino Real’! Nine or ten missions were noted along with drawn landmarks to help them find their way. It was an Old World map that mimicked the path of present-day highway 101! At the bottom it had a date showing that it was made in 1787. I don’t know if it is true or not but the hotel believes it is one of the oldest maps of the missions existing today. Wow!
Every time I drive down highway 101 now it brings back fond memories of our stay at Hotel Monasterio de San Francisco and our lovely visit to Andalucia. This beautiful day, I ended my trek just down the road from Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo in Carmel. As expected, I passed by five missions that day. One of these trips I will have to actually stop at all 21 missions. To date I have been inside seven of them, and they each have something unique to offer, but this trip was all about a client’s new kitchen and the missions were just my mile markers.