Posted from Portland, Oregon, United States.
(Or: Back in the U.S.A.)
Accompanying photos can be found here.
Our debut on Portland TV News can be found on the previous post here.
(This is admittedly a rather detailed account of our action-packed week. Relax, enjoy the moment, pour a beverage, and have fun.)
After a farewell walk through Stanley Park in Vancouver on the morning of Friday, September 16, it was time to head back to the U.S.A. Border crossings are eerie moments, even when you have nothing to hide nor any reason whatsoever to be nervous. But even the routine questions send your brain into overdrive, spinning needlessly.
Border Security: “Why were you in Canada?”
Us: Blank. What’s the right answer? Why is he asking this? What’s he getting at?
Border Security: “Where did you visit?”
Us: Blank. No idea. Why is he asking this? Does he suspect something?
Border Security: “What brings you to the west coast?”
Us: Clueless. Why does he want to know? Did our names come up on his computer?
Of course, all went fine – although he was noticeably surprised and disappointed to hear that in seven weeks through Canada we had not seen a bear – and we headed on our way to Seattle, trying to get our brains to switch back to miles from kilometers. (It’s just our opinion, of course, but the metric system not only is more logical, but counting in kilometers actually makes the trip goes quicker because they go quicker.
That afternoon we arrived in a cloudy, dreary Seattle, but it was a city that neither of us had spent any time in, so we were excited. Our host was a friend of Joe’s from undergraduate school (Heather) who is now married and (temporarily) living with her in-laws. It was incredibly generous of them to let us stay there, since Heather’s husband’s sister was getting married in a week and wedding preparations were in full swing and extended family was already flying in from the Philippines. But it was fun getting to know them all that evening, hearing about some of the Filipino customs associated with weddings, and reuniting and reminiscing about crazy college days with Heather.
Saturday we went to meet up with another friend of ours, Lyndee, whom we haven’t seen in over 10 years. On the way we stopped at Snoqualmie Falls which was, not surprisingly, gorgeous. Unlike some other falls we have seen on this trip, the water at the top did very little tumbling and cartwheeling on rocks during its trip down; instead, this was one long, airborne plunge, making an impressive, deep splash below and producing a rising mist.
We had a fantastic time with Lyndee and her new-ish family, including husband and a very smiley seven-month old daughter, who enjoyed vocalizing her happiness all afternoon long. Lyndee’s husband is a very talented chef who specializes in sushi, and we had the most insanely impressive sushi feast that afternoon, which also included wine from Lyndee’s aunt and uncle’s New Mexico vineyard. We ate and drank and chatted all afternoon, and it was totally wonderful. It was very hard to say goodbye. But the Mormons who came knocking on the door as we were leaving made it a little easier.
That evening Heather and her husband gave us a driving tour of Seattle and took us to a fun little bar/restaurant that used to be a fire station where we sampled several locally made brews (although Erik had a cosmo). IPAs are big in the Pacific Northwest, and microbrews are plentiful.
Sunday morning we embarked on our self-guided walking tour of the Emerald City. Seattle has many neighborhoods and they all have strong identities, but it isn’t super practical to walk through them all because of the way the city is laid out. So our plan was to start in the Capital Hill neighbor and make our way to the famous Pike Place Market. There are many wonderful cafes and shops in Capital Hill, and there was also a fantastic farmers market. The flower sellers had the most captivating and perfect flowers ever; the produce sellers had spectacular peppers and greens and fall produce – one vender sold only potatoes and had at least a dozen different varieties, all perfectly cleaned and gorgeous. We stopped and chatted with several of the cheese venders, asking questions about goats vs. cows (vs. sheep), the use and sale of raw milk, the climate, and other logistical issues involved in cheese-making in that part of the country. There were young fiddlers performing and selling CDs to finance their trip to summer music camp, there were bakers and candy makers – you get the idea. There was positive energy all around, and we took our time experiencing and enjoying what was there without worrying about the tick-tock of a deadline.
We eventually made our way to downtown and to the Pike Place Market, which is enormous and located just off the waterfront of Puget Sound. This is a big, loud, famous, and highly populated market that sells just about everything. There were plenty of private venders there, but there were also permanent shops and fish markets as well – not to mention the original Starbucks, which was teeming with flash-popping tourists. If we lived in Seattle, this would be a really fun place to go during the day, pick up some salmon and vegetables for dinner and maybe some flowers for the table. But that’s not our lives right now…but it was enticing. That afternoon we met up with a high school friend of Joe’s (Julie), whom he hasn’t seen in over 15 years. Although we thought we might make it out of Seattle without stepping foot in a Starbucks, it was her choice for us to meet at one – one of the 4000 or so within a one-mile radius. Again, it was a joyful reunion filled with constant laughter and the reliving of happy stories of our youth.
Dinner that night was back at Heather’s in-laws place, where we sampled food with a Filipino flair. In fact, it was our first experience with tripe. Because of their history with “visiting” militaries from other countries (Spain, U.S.), Filipinos became very resourceful in using the usually discarded parts of animals, and that has helped to form part of a national culinary identity. The tripe was different for us but not unenjoyable, the stew it was in was very tasty, and the martinis Heather made for us helped the cause as well. It was a nice life lesson, though: even in America – among fellow Americans – cultural exchange can still happen; we learned only a small bit about Filipino culture, but we absolutely adored Heather’s in-law family and they treated us like we were family, too.
Monday morning the sun finally started to emerge in Seattle, just in time for us to say our goodbyes to our generous hosts/friends and make our way to Portland, Oregon, which is about a three-hour drive. Our hosts in Portland would be another high school friend of Joe’s (Terry) and her family. They had a beautiful house with a view of Mount Hood from the back deck – but only when the clouds allowed it. Terry has two great daughters and a wonderful husband, and her dad was even visiting while we were there; he had the greatest stories since he was an iron worker born in Sicily, moved to Milwaukee when we was ten, then lived in Joe’s hometown and raised a family before eventually retiring to Las Vegas. And it was awesome to see the way he doted on and interacted with his granddaughters. That evening we went for a walk through the Portland Rose Garden, counted the slugs on the sidewalk (seven on the way home!), picked blackberries from the bushes across the street, and enjoyed a great dinner of salmon (caught by one of their friends) and pinot noir. Oh – and pie! The evening ended with a rousing family game of Uno. Way fun.
We explored the west side of Portland on Tuesday. Portland is divided in half by the Willamette River. The west side is more trendy in an upscale way, with nice shops and restaurants. We visited some of the stores and had lunch at the Deschutes Brewery, where we all sampled some beer even though it was before noon. Oh, well. That night we had another fun family evening on the town with Greek food and gelato.
Wednesday morning we bid another sad farewell to wonderful friends and we drove to the east side of Portland for some morning walking. The east side is a little edgier, more about independent coffee shops, riding your bike everywhere, and growing vegetables in your front lawn. We went to Stumptown Coffee (Erik’s new favorite) and walked around some of the streets, enjoying the different-ness of it all. Then it was time to hit the road. If you drive west long enough in Oregon you will eventually run into the Pacific Coast, which is what we did. We tooled around the little coastal towns, such as Cannon Beach and Manzanita, walked along the beach and photographed the mammoth sea stacks just out of reach, stopped for a burrito and a beer at a little cafe, and headed to our campground, a state park just off the ocean. The last night we slept on the shore it was near Lake Superior; even the mighty Lake Superior sounds like a newborn pup when compared to the deep, round, from-the-bottom-of-the-sea-floor permanent roar of the ocean. It was amazing.
Thursday morning, as is often the case on the Oregon coast, we work up in a cloud. Everything around us was damp as we walked through a constant mist. After a morning walk on the beach, we headed south to Tillamook, known for its cheese factory (yes, we stopped, took the tour, and indulged in free samples) and then turned inland towards the Willamette Valley, known the world over for its vineyards specializing in pinot noirs. We stopped at three vineyards in the Dundee area, which all had decent wines but really exceptional views of the hills. Feeling good, we headed to Champoeg State Park to camp for the night, dining on sweet corn and peppers purchased at a roadside stand.
Friday was such an eventful day for us that it has already received its very own post. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure you do – we were on Portland TV News! The post and the news clip are here.
Saturday morning we were still basking in the glow of the fun-filled previous day and rushed to a Starbucks to finally watch ourselves on TV – as discreetly as possible, since we didn’t want to have to sign autographs for the coffee drinker who might recognize us. After catching up on internet stuff, we headed south to Eugene to finally get Joe a haircut. (It is very short – too short – but it is just hair and will grow back.)
Then we started on our way southeast towards Bend. Instead of taking the quick and easy Highway 20, we took the curvy and mountainous drive of Highway 242, which is closed in the winter because it is too treacherous. We drove through the Three Sisters Wilderness area (the Three Sisters are three mountains next to each other) getting out to walk over hills completely comprised of obsidian rock, thanks to a volcano eruption in a previous geological era, and to view all the astonishing hills, buttes, and mountains in a relatively small area. The summit was more than a mile high.
It was a great day – until we tried to find a place to camp. The plan was to camp in Tumalo State Park, but by the time we arrived (3:30), it was full. From then on it took us two hours and a great deal of driving around to find a place to set up camp. After Tumalo we headed towards Bend. The next place, an RV park, was incredibly sad and gross; there had to be a better place. The third attempt, an RV “resort” was actually more expensive than a hotel room and there were no tents, only hulking RVs. The fourth place – thanks to a miscommunication with our GPS – was actually once again the second place (still sad and gross), just coming from the opposite direction. The fifth place was abandoned and creepy to boot, with posted signs that the owner probably thought were hilarious but we thought were unwelcoming. (What were we saying earlier about cultural exchange within the U.S.?). The sixth place was finally the winner, many miles south of Bend, in LaPine State Park. It was pretty decent. We had a dinner of oats and grain cereal cooked with chopped apple, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon – which was also to be our breakfast the next morning.
Sunday morning was pretty chilly, especially because of our elevation (over 4000 feet). We packed up and headed out, driving through the Oregon Outback, which is characterized by yellow and brown sere hills populated with small green and yellow bushes that try to emit confidence in their stance but succumb to the dusty wind with the suspicion that it is their destiny to eventually become tumbleweeds. Everywhere there are wild grasses, dirt blowing through the air, and dried up lakes. Towns are virtually nonexistent, but when you do pass through one it lasts barely a quarter of a mile, but you feel within that time that if you exceed the speed limit by the smallest fraction the sheriff will stop you and take you straight to the local jail, like a scene from a Stephen King book. This usually isn’t the landscape people think of when they think of Oregon.
We’re driving south to our next Help Exchange. We will be working on an organic farm in southern Oregon for the next two weeks. Our stays in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland were too short because all those reunions (four in all) were so special. But that’s the way it goes. So it will be nice to be stationary for a couple of weeks at the farm. After that, it’s off to California!