I’m back at Amanda’s for a couple of days before hopping on a southbound train to San Francisco on Friday. Three weeks of wandering, wondering and marvelling are coming to an end, and I will leave this eccentric haven with a wistful sigh. The melodramatic side of my brain is now conjuring images of boarding the train in slow motion with Bittersweet Symphony blasting in the background… before I get too carried away, here is a round-up of the week’s goings-on:
Timbers Game. As the country’s soccer capital, it would have been wrong to have left without experiencing a bit of State-side footy here in Portland. I headed down to the stadium with Amanda, Mary and a group of others to watch the Portland Timbers take on the Houston Dynamos: a very watchable if slightly scrappy 2-2 draw (the Timbers were 2-0 down at half time, so the second half really was edge-of-your-seat stuff!). As I often find with football, however, my favourite part was watching the crowd… true to form, the Americans take cheering on their team to the next level (there are even ‘cheerleaders’ posted around the stands with their backs to the field, whose job is to lead the crowd’s cheers like orchestra conductors throughout the game). The below photo should hopefully give you some idea of the atmosphere. SO much fun.
Mt Hood. Saturday saw new-found kindred spirit, yoga buddy and generally excellent human being Mohan and I make our way around the Mt Hood loop. The beauty of the drive itself was countered slightly by a thick layer of smoke that had wafted in from inland forest fires which, coupled with the barrenness of the rain-starved landscape, made certain areas look like something out of Star Wars. First stop was the village of Hood River, where a paddle boarding competition was taking place (complete with hilarious commentator, random!). Next was Trillium Lake, a classic camping spot full of families setting up their BBQs, gazebos and inflatables (think of any American movie you’ve ever seen featuring a family vacation to a woodland lake). Mt Hood usually towers over the lake in the background, but due to the aforementioned smoke, it was barely visible! However, we did get up close and personal with the mountain when we made our last stop at Timberline Lodge. The Lodge plays host to hoards of skiers at almost any other time of year (there is usually snow on the mountain well into August apparently), but the dry conditions meant that we weren’t in for a whole lot of snow ourselves! Despite the smoke and atypical lack of greenery, it is hard for this area to not be beautiful in some way, and that added to the excellent company made for a fantastic day out.
The Coast. On Sunday, Amanda and I relived our Spanish road-tripping days (with her in the driving seat this time) as we made our way out to the Oregon Coast. We made our way to Ecola State Park (I know I know, I couldn’t stop calling it either ‘Ecoli’ or ‘Ebola’ either…), and were hit immediately by an enchanting, mystical view of sea mist hugging the rocks way into the distance. We hiked through coastal spruce forest (here was the lushness I had been craving!) out to Indian Beach, where we found mussels, starfish and a wee crab clinging to the rocks! This was followed by a stop at Cannon Beach, where we ate large amounts of ice cream and wandered across the sand to the famous Haystack Rock, watching the sunlight glistening on the water and setting the world to rights as we went.
I have also decided to do an ‘Unexpected highlight of the week’ mention in every post, for those special little moments that are not part of a fixed event or excursion, but which accumulate to make your experience of a place truly memorable. This week’s highlight is courtesy of the No. 4 bus driver who drove me between Division and Rose Quarter on Monday afternoon. As the doors swung open in front of me, the driver, a large lady with hair pulled back into a bun the same size as her head and finished off with a huge white flower, greeted me thus: “Well HELLO there, come awwn in!!! Girrrrrrrl where you stoppin’ today?? … AWESOME, got your ticket there? … Right on!!! Oooookay hold awwn folks, heeeere we go!!” Punctuation can only convey enthusiasm to a certain extent, so I hope my excessive use of it goes some way towards illustrating just how happy this lady seemed to be driving us all where we needed to go. And you know what? As she greeted each passenger with equal amounts of exuberance and cheer, every single person on that bus was grinning all the way across town. What a babe.
After casting my mind back over the past three weeks’ happenings, I realise how at home I have felt, here in this city of a thousand faces. Without wanting to make this sound too much like a gushing Oscars acceptance speech, my experience thus far has confirmed for me that impressive scenery is often an added bonus, and it is the people in any place that make or break your experience. The people I have met in Portland have been overwhelmingly generous, welcoming and engaging – Amanda, Emma (and the Belmont crew), Mohan, Tyson, Yvonne, Bob, awesome bus driver, life coach sushi lady, Firelight yogis, Sasha the lovely interpreter, guy who gave me a free cup of tea in case I was missing home: THANK YOU. My heart is already a little heavy at the thought of moving on, but I am consoled somewhat by the prospect of the Californian shenanigans just around the corner… Pastures new: I’m on my way!
More photos to follow.
Love and light to everybody, as ever 🙂
K x x x
This post is winging its way across the interweb from SE Division St, where I will be staying for the next week. Then it’s back to Amanda’s for a couple of days before the San Francisco leg gets officially under way (hang in the there Emily Kennewell – almost there!). I’ve gone slightly off the beaten track with this new location in the south of the city (by Portlander standards anyway; I have heard this district ominously referred to as the Deep South, which I think sounds a bit dramatic for a neighbo(u)rhood which is a 15-minute bus ride from Downtown). I am loving the new location, I must say; Yvonne’s house has a creaky, slightly dated allure to it (Miss Havisham would feel quite at home) and the streets around here are leafy and lined with a generous choice of cute coffee shops, independent stores and local art galleries – all very nice indeed. Specifically, I am typing this from The Flying Cat, where I have been served a refreshing iced ginger and peach tea in a jam jar. The hipster points are accumulating spectacularly!
I’m going to do the British thing and dedicate a small paragraph to the weather. It is bloody BAKING! The rain-accustomed Portlanders say that it’s the hottest summer that they can remember – 99F yesterday (just converted that and it’s about 37C). The best time to wander about is in the morning before it starts heating up. After that every activity is a sweat-drenched affair. It’s all good Latin America training though, so I’m not complaining!
As mentioned at the end of my last post, this week has been a lot more about the slow lane. I went back to Amanda’s for a few days while she was out of town, and spent many a pleasant hour reading, dozing, South America planning and watering her plants – and even got a bit translation work done in between! In addition to this beautifully peaceful existence, happenings this week include:
Silver Falls and Opal Creek road trip. After some rooting around in the Couchsurfing community, a Motley crew was formed: Tyson (Portland/Colorado), Georgiy (Baltimore/Uzbekistan), Dee Dee (NYC/Afhganistan), Vikas (Portland/India) and myself. Together, we rented a car for the day and headed out of town to take in some North West natural beauty. First stop was the stunning Silver Falls site, home to several waterfalls and some great hiking trails. This was followed by a stop at the inventively named Three Pools, close to Opal Creek. The pools are natural swimming holes containing crystal green water – the perfect spot for a dip and a chill. Saying that I didn’t actually go in, but did have a lovely snooze on the rocks. For me, there are few better things than connecting with people you couldn’t have dreamed of meeting, surrounded by the rich beauty of the forest. Fantastic day.
Yoga. Yoga yoga yoga yoga yoga. I am officially in yogi mode, and in yoga Mecca here. I found a centre right by Amanda’s house which was offering unlimited classes for 2 weeks for $25 – it’s as though they could see me coming! Haven’t felt this sound of body and mind for quite some time. BOOM.
Ecstatic dance. This was one of the more bizarre experiences of the journey thus far… finding it hard to succinctly describe my reaction! In essence: imagine downstairs in the Purple Turtle (before it was revamped) at 4am on a Saturday night. Except that it is 10am, and no one is drunk/on anything. The organisers basically play a load of random music and you spend an hour dancing or responding to it however your body instructs you to. This may include any/a combination of the following: howling, gyrating, skipping, crying, head-banging, pirouetting, lying motionless on the floor.
I tried it briefly, but perhaps I am either not evolved enough or too inhibited to feel whatever deep release I had been told about beforehand. Despite my best efforts, I felt uncomfortable, like an intruder or a pretender. Or perhaps I just value personal space. I found it more fascinating to observe, which anybody is free to do from one of the cushioned ‘quiet areas’ at the side. Primal, cultist and orgiastic were words that entered my mind, as I watched a group in the centre fall in a heap on the floor together, grabbing for each other’s limbs and moaning like ghosts in a kids’ cartoon. I can see how doing away with rules, rigid dance traditions and social conventions in a communal space like that may feel very liberating, although I’d also argue that an organised session like that simply ends up inventing its own new rulebook. Mostly, I saw a room of people desperate to feel, reject, escape and connect with something greater and more meaningful than themselves. There was at least commitment and sincerity in the room, which I admired. Perhaps my way of escaping/looking for meaning just involves being a bit quieter and more solitary. Forgive my ruminating on this subject – long story short: it was an experience that I am glad I had, but which I might not repeat!
Over and out for now, have yourselves a wonderful week! Final Portland thoughts coming soon, then it’s off to Californ-i-a 🙂
K x x x
P.s. Latest photos coming shortly (road trip ones mostly courtesy of Vikas, thank you my friend!)
I am on the veranda of a quirky little pad on South East Belmont Street – my home for the next few days. Cuppa in hand (thank you Sophie Price you LIFESAVER), I am now ready to attempt summarising my first week in this brilliantly chaotic jumble-sale of a city.
I was slightly concerned that my expectations ahead of coming here were too high; I had pictured my arrival as something of a spiritual homecoming. One week in, my feeling is that as long as you are open to diversity, the unexpected and the downright absurd, there is no way that this place can ever disappoint.
I began my Portland sojourn by basing myself in the North East part of town: first at Amanda’s and then with an old-school East-coaster and absolute diamond of a man named Bob. Catching up with Amanda after three years has been utterly wonderful, and has reconfirmed my belief that time and distance have no power over solid friendship. From old links to new connections, I then had a fascinating stay over at Bob’s place. He has this timelessness about him, an engagement in everything he sees and a deep-rooted spirituality – think Dumbledore with a Boston accent. Our conversations wound their way from his development of public health policy (which does in fact exist in America, believe it or not!) to animal totems by way of ecstatic dance (which I’m going to try for the first time next week!). Staying with him at the same time as me was Caro from Austria, with whom I wandered Portland sampling craft beer, frozen yog(h)urt and sushi. We clicked so easily and I can’t wait for the road trip in Austria and Switzerland we’ve now got planned!
This first week has been so crammed full of encounters, observations and experiences that I’m finding it quite difficult to know where to start. The itemised approach worked well in other posts I feel, so may come especially in handy here:
The Alternative. As a non-tattooed, non-hair-dyed person with relatively few piercings and a generally mainstream dress sense (insert witty retort from Jess Soper/Ruth Miller/Sarah Steenhorst/Mum here), I am decidedly out of step with the majority in this city. In Portland the alternative is the norm; men grow chest-length beards and dye them blue (I saw three such characters on my first morning), toddlers sport mohawks and underwear is apparently optional (Caro got an eyeful one day when a girl on a bench uncrossed her legs à la Sharon Stone). The message is essentially this: come here and be whatever you want to be, but make sure whatever that is isn’t too ‘normal’.
Hiking: the Columbia River Gorge. On Sunday, Amanda, her friend Kellen and I headed out of town to hike up the Angel’s Rest trail – a couple of hours’ graft with the reward of spectacular views over the Columbia River awaiting us at the top. The NW Pacific landscape is truly breathtaking, as I hope the photos show to some degree. We also made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot spectacle just outside of Portland. Beautiful though the waterfall was, the site was so rammed with tourists that we lingered long enough for me to get a couple of photos then got out sharpish – totally heaving. The Angel’s Rest hike was fantastic though, and adding that to another hike that I did earlier in the week in Forest Park with Australian Bernie (from Seattle), I am feeling live, kicking and ready for more!
Alberta Street Fair. This gave me a great sense of the scale of creativity bursting from the city’s every nook and cranny. To give you an idea of the variety of wares and services on show as we wandered down Alberta Street on Saturday morning, the stalls I passed went something like this: beaded jewellery — fennel ice cream — hand-painted city-themed playing cards — artisan soaps — eyebrow sugaring — a pop-up barber’s where you get a beer and a trim — voodoo do(ugh)nuts — a bloke with several parrots perched on his arms — honey tea… you get the idea.
Kayaking on the Willamette River. After the fair, Amanda and I took to the water and spent two hours giving our arms a good workout as we circled Ross Island in the middle of the Willamette. I proved myself wrong and managed to not sink the kayak, hoorah! The day was beautiful, the water was calm and the experience was generally bloody lovely.
One of the things that I most like about Portland is that every district is distinct; each has its own sense of community, and the variety of cute little bars and cafes to try out is quite overwhelming. I have also been struck and incredibly touched by the openness and friendliness of the people I have met here. From the folks at Bob’s friends’ BBQ to the lovely life coach lady I ended up having sushi with, everyone smiles readily and enthusiastically offers advice.
Portland has greeted me with open arms. What I have written here only scratches the surface, but I hope it gives you a bit of an idea as to the goings on of the past week! I haven’t even mentioned the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, late-night karaoke in a tiki bar, the Bite of Oregon food fair, watching soccer practice in the ‘burrrbs’ (suburbs) or my very first Slurpie (slush puppy with at least double the sugar)… gahhh too much to cram in one post!
This week I plan to live life in the slow lane and may get down to some work (siiiigh). Then again, this is Portland, so I’m also expecting the unexpected. Hope you’re all well! Thinking of you and sending loads and loads of love x x x P.s. due to popular demand, more photos will be up soon!