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Ramblings on the Road

West Coast Wanderings: Just what the doctor ordered

USA | Wednesday, 8 April 2015 | Views [255]

During this trip down the west coast of the US, I will be passing through four states, each, I am learning, is notable for some stereotype and has a claim to fame that distinguishes itself from its neighbour.  Before I hit California, where I will be making three stops, a few words about Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon are in order. 

Sleepless in Seattle…heck no, quite the opposite really


After 30 hours on the road, I arrived in Seattle surprised that it took just as long to get from Edmonton to Seattle by bus as it did from Adelaide to Edmonton by plane.  I was given a warm welcome in the form of a thunderstorm and was soon to discover that both Seattle and Portland are known for their rain and I had come, a little too optimistically, with far too many summer clothes.

Home to some world-renowned companies such as Starbuck, Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing, Seattle is also known as the Emerald City having lots of green space and plans to demolish an overpass near the harbour and replace it with a park rerouting the traffic in a huge ring road underground.  My time is Seattle was educational, awe-inspiring and humbling.  I learnt a lot about the history of the city, the reason for the tradition of happy hour, the Klondike gold rush (technically in the Yukon, Canada, but with a Seattle connection) and a little about native culture.  While I could tell you about the great fire of 1889 that was started by a highly flammable cabinet maker’s glue and burnt down 31 city blocks leading to the redesign of the city, I know that history isn’t so interesting unless it is somehow personally relevant, so it is perhaps better to focus on more present day matters such as those brought to light in the city’s art museum, SAM.  There was such personal human insight on display here that it would be difficult not to leave feeling stirred and a little more raw than you entered.  Whether it was the historic, religious Roman art, the traditional native art or the audio-visual contemporary art that showed a simulation of traumatic events experienced by soldiers in Iraq that was in the form of a video game and being used as a form of trauma therapy, each display immersed its viewer in its world and showed humanity from another angle. Most of all, they exhibited the strength of the human spirit.  I’ve never known a gallery to be so well laid out and so quiet.  Equally as inspiring was the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.  Even though I went in having only half an hour before closing, it was enough time for me to find out how it all started for them and get that boost of entrepreneurial energy to insight grassroots change. 

Back at the hostel, I met Hyujin from South Korea.  She was in North America for just 10 days and had come to Seattle and would be going to Vancouver for, I kid you not, the public libraries.  Apparently, she has a thing for libraries, which excites me not because she loves books, but because she feels so enlivened by something that she was willing to go to pretty extreme lengths, travelling over a big blue ocean to places that she admitted feeling a bit nervous in, to entertain her passion.  For me, I guess this would be comparable to universities, a dance event or a mountain range, all of which I frequent with some regularity and feel an increase in sensory perception while there.  What would it be for you?

The surprise find in Seattle was that Theo Chocolates are made there.  I was introduced to this brand when I arrived in Canada and love their flavour combinations and the fact that they use good quality fair trade dark chocolate.  I went in to see what else was in their range that was yet to make it to Canada (coconut curry chocolate being just one of them!) and left looking like I believe my mother when she said she read there are fears that the supply of cocoa is diminishing.  It is cheaper to buy in bulk- that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! I would later have a similar experience in Portland when I discovered that Stash tea is made there; I had the same reaction and am now the traveller walking around with a lot of summer clothes, chocolate and tea for every mood and occasion! But I digress….

In the evenings, there was only one thing on my mind: dancing! It just so happened that the weekend that I was in Seattle was also the annual Easter Swing weekend.  This is a West Coast Swing event that is known far and wide and brings out the pros making it the equivalent of a West Coast candy store.  I went to one social dance and four workshops over the four days and was not disappointed, though I did leave kind of numb after three workshops in a row on Saturday as it was just too much food for thought at that moment.

 I’m not sure if the pros workshops were influencing people’s dance, but what happened out on the Seattle dance floor was freakin’ amazing!  Connection and music were put before steps as improvised ‘play’ was woven in with the dance making it a place where anything goes.  I, unfortunately, had to leave at 11:30 to make the last bus, but the ballroom was open to 7am every day so I can only imagine how good it got in the wee hours of the morning. 

Onwards to Portland

Even since I arrived in Canada, I had been told by people I had met that I would love Portland as it seemed that it was my kind of town and seriously, they were right but what’s not to like?  Portland, through my traveller’s lens, is a well-organised, community-minded kind of city with gorgeous manicured garden, which happened to be in full cherry blossom bloom while I was there, and a focus on being environmentally sustainable and just generally… green. I didn’t do much that had a goal, but rather just enjoyed pottering around the different neighbourhoods, soaking up their unique flavour and using this positive and very agreeable energy as the backdrop for the banal things I could do anywhere.  I released any sense of guilt for sleeping in late and spending hours reading, did lots of walking, partly in nice areas like Mt Tabor and partly due to my own public transit errors when I just lost it for a few hours.  Hey ho, it’s all good.  How could I be peeved when I was walking along footpaths blanketed in blossom under an azure sky with a veggie burrito from one of the many many food trucks in my backpack?

The hostel that I stayed in in Portland reminded me very much of the place I stayed in Ottawa.  It was a restored house that due to its size had a homely feel, which made it possible for some equally as convivial late night chats with fellow travellers.  This is one of the true pleasures of travelling the way that I do as I often find that I can find more wisdom and insight here than in many counsellors’ offices.  On this occasion, it was the insightful Wesley that was my surprise messenger.  It was 1am and I was just packing up my laptop after needing some time to come down after a night of dancing and we were the only two people still up.  I can’t remember how we got to talking but I listened intently as he told me about his mad March and then proceeded to dish me up the exact same words that had been my conclusion only days before- though he did it by way of a diagram and several stories of life experience.  He was American but had never been to Portland before.  Like so many others, or so it seemed, he was convinced to come to Portland by positive word of mouth and was planning to relocate there from Hawaii after his dream of buying farmland there became less appealing.  He told me of his grandmother in DC, who he wanted to be with, but how he didn’t feel comfortable there.  He told me of his time working in the gas industry just for the money and about the ‘vision’ he had had that became a reality. His words were from the heart and soul of one who knows from being there and yet also had a softness that gave hope and comfort.  Random or not, he told me what I wanted/ needed to hear.

Hello Cali!

 When I opened my eyes from the relative comfort of the Greyhound overnight bus, we were just about to cross the Oregon-California border.  Having had a pretty decent night on the bus after the guy next to me moved himself down to the spare seats at the back, I don’t think I was suffering any ill effects, delusions and such, of a night of broken sleep.  The scenery that surrounded us for the next half hour or so was nothing short of mystical on a grand scale.  I tried to take some photos, but the lighting made it difficult and the moving bus made it near impossible to get a good shot so I ended up just enjoying the moment and now I will see if I can do it justice with my description. 

The sun was strongly beaming, silhouetting the gnarly trees in the foreground.  We were surrounded by rolling hills covered in scrub but unlike that which I was familiar with in Australia.  The valley was full of thick fog that suggested hobbits could pop out at any minute.  Then, as we rounded a corner huge snow-capped peaks made their presence known, though they were far from all this.  With the overcast sky staying behind in Oregon, I noticed the temperature, too, jump up 8-10 degrees.  Welcome to Ca-li-for-ni-a!

Tags: usa, west coast

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