After a glorious 4 weeks in Canada we hopped across the border by bus from Vancouver to Seattle. It was a remarkably painless journey, made easier by the decision to grab a cab from the airport where we had dropped our car to the bus station. Thankfully the inflatable rubber dinghy found a home with the attendants from Thrifty Cars who were delighted to take it, and its single remaining oar off our hands.
At the border we had to get off the bus and go through passport control. We were rather bemused by the lackadaisical and frankly negligent approach of the US border guards who seemed only able to move at the pace of the sloths (if you’ve seen Zootropolis at the Cinema you’ll get the idea!), and in between chatted between themselves about nonsense. Most bizarre given the ‘terror’ that is reported, and a very sharp contrast to the diligence of UK and European border controls! We held up the whole bus due to the driver giving us the wrong instructions, hey ho, and after a mad dash (at sloth speed) we finally got back on. Dean was not in the best of moods, which was unfortunate for the young French couple who had decided to nab our seats which were in a prime spot. They quickly decamped in response to his thunderous “get out of our seats’, and we caused much amusement for the rest of the bus.
Beautiful scenery brought us into Seattle, where our high bridge entry gave us stunning views of the Space Needle and Seattle harbour. We rode the ‘Sky Train’ to the airport through sketchy districts, and a lovely elderly retired microbologist struck up a conversation with me. He was reading the Economist and hearing my English accent asked what I thought of Teresa May and Brexit (it follows us everywhere…!). We had a lovely discussion about the virtues of good leaders, and the paucity of such leaders in the US and UK political parties. A good conversation with a delightful elderly man. As we pulled into the airport Fred was asleep in my arms, nuzzled in my neck. Another sweet moment.
We got to choose our hire car for the next 5 weeks, and we pulled out in a large Toyota that Fred had chosen because his brother Barney was just starting a 2 year placement with Toyota in Epsom. A couple of hours of heavy traffic on the freeway and we pulled into our motel in South Tacoma. We were greeted by fire engines and ambulances, and it looked like some poor old man had started a fire in his room. It proved to be our most interesting stop to date. As we ate our salad and cooked chicken by the pool we were joined by a couple of people, likely on meth, who proceeded to swim fully clothed in the pool and request our food. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a key card to enter the pool!
The relaxing evening was slightly disrupted when we got notice that our AirBnB in Portland had fallen through. I jumped onto CouchSurfer.com to see if I could muster up a last minute home for us. Within minutes Karrie and Ed came back and said they could do 2 nights but we would be doubling up for one of those with couch surfers they already had booked in. Portland was back on.
We jumped onto Highway 101 after a breakfast swim, this time meeting a lovely African American grandmother who was living at the motel with her daughter’s family including grandchildren. They all joined us in the pool and we learnt about the wider family dispute over a family farm that was subject to probate. She shared her homespun wisdom and God’s blessing for our trip. Yet another lovely set of memories.
Our route, it turned out, took us past the exit for Mount St Helen’s an active volcano. We stopped off at the visitor centre which had a magnificent view of the smoking giant that had last erupted, unexpectedly, in 1986 with the loss of over 100 lives. A quarter of the volcano’s side had been blown out with the eruption, and we had a great view of the huge crater in the side of Mount St Helen’s. Being cheapskate’s we viewed the exhibition from the entrance hall, and looked at the detailed history in the visitor centre shop. Another $30 saved!
Another detour in to the town of Battle Site, because we thought there might be a battle site there (there wasn’t!), a stop at Walmart to buy food to cook for our couchsurfing hosts, and horrendous traffic coming into Portland meant we arrived an embarrassing hour late. Ed and Karrie however were gracious about our lack of punctuality & I set to in the vast kitchen of their lovely home making Spaghetti Bolognese for us all. Caleb their second eldest took Fred under his wing, and much to his delight, they were soon playing ‘Call of Duty – Black Ops’ on the Xbox (bad bad parenting by us!).
The next day we headed out to the park and ride to catch the train into Downtown Portland. Pioneer Square was our first stop with a lovely amphitheatre. Dean and I went into the Tourist Info centre whilst Fred wondered around outside. The delightful Larry, a retired gentleman now volunteering, gave us maps and tips, including hiking for Dean (there’s just something about Dean that makes everyone think he wants to go hiking!!). We came out to find Fred ecstatic that he was in the middle of a ‘Pokemon Go’ meeting place. It was all we could do to drag him away….
Following Larry’s directions, we came to the largest Portland Food Cart site with over 200 on 2 blocks of wasteland. The variety was stunning. Our first stop with Egyptian because Fred loves Egyptian flatbreads. All the way to Portland to get a Kebab, none of us had been drinking, and it was midday! Throughout the day we grazed on a smorgasbord of international food from the carts and all were fantastic.
On Karrie’s recommendation we headed to Powell’s bookstore that takes up and entire block. We were slightly stunned to be greeted at the door by a sign reading ‘no guns beyond this point’ – not something we see on the doors at Waterstones! We left with 3 books. Taking a walk through the Pearl District we came to Blick’s a huge artists shop. The array of paints, brushes, canvases etc were astounding and beautiful to see. On our way to our next stop we came across Portland Art College. The security guy on the desk let us in as ‘visitors’ to view the students work, and pointed out a couple of exhibitions we could go in and see. There was a terrific piece of video and photographic work about the Portland homeless population. It was moving in the way it humanised this large, and marginalised, section of Portland’s society. One person in the film talked about the strength of community that they were part of, how they cared for one another. What stuck was his identification that he sees and engages every day with his neighbours, and this gives him a huge amount of social connection. On the large prosperous estate that Karrie and Ed live on I didn’t encounter one neighbour. It rang true.
As we left the Art college we headed through ‘The Parks’ a series of small parks on a boulevard. The homeless move into these shady spots during the hot daytime. We only had to deviate from our path once and that was to avoid Fred seeing a couple of guys shooting up a young woman in her 20’s. There’s lots of things we’re explaining on this trip to Fred, mostly ahead of his time, but this was one I wanted to skip. We were heading to one of the most famous donut shops in town, Voodoo Donut, and as we worked our way there we came across so many homeless people. The man slumped out cold in his motorised scooter who we thought was dead (he wasn’t), the man who was having a psychotic or pharmaceutical episode in the fountain with his trousers and underwear round his knees, the high black man who wanted a cigarette (which we gave him) who then joyously engaged Fred in a conversation about what sports Fred likes (we passed 5 minutes with him), Cathy in her 50s who can’t stay clean and so can’t get a place in a hostel (Dean sat and shared his lunch with and then went back with a donut). Saddest of all for me was the teenager, with half her teeth missing, with a cardboard sign outside Voodoo Donut. She had been seeking $25 for a bed for the night, as people had given her money she crossed out the $25 and made it $20, then $15. Fred and I decided to break our not giving money rule to beggars, we chose the cheaper dozen donuts and gave the $10 we saved to her. Our resolution to give to a national charity for each country and then not give money to beggars… but when you have so much…….
In the midst of this we had the light relief of Voodoo Donuts. Glitter painted outside walls gave the old building an iridescent glow. So famous that queues were managed around the block. Once inside the visual displays of the donuts were stunning. Each donut, a work of art in itself, danced a pirouette inside revolving display cabinets. Funky pierced tattooed young millennials served us. We left with a dozen inside the iconic pink boxes with voodoo graffiti.
We decided to end our day with a walk along the Portland river front. As we made our way there, balancing our pink box, we came across the Mercy Corps HQ. Larry from tourist info had recommended a stop here. We were the only visitors to this extraordinary charity. Their objective is to address hunger and the causes of hunger, employing only locals in the countries they work. Individual stories of self-sufficiency enabled by Mercy Corps adorned the walls. Most impactful was the three differently sized Perspex cabinets containing grain. Each one contained the average food per capita, represented by the grain, consumed in three different regions of the world. The US box was by far the largest and was treble that of the poorest of countries. We took photos and for one of mine I placed my Voodoo Donut box on top of the US Perspex cabinet. I was feeling inspired…..!
We made our way back to Karrie and Eds and I set about making a chicken curry for us all. We enjoyed more good conversation about American politics before hitting the sack. After a leisurely start the next day we headed back downtown heading for OMSI the Portland science museum. Karrie was picking her 2 youngest Vespa and Laith up from the airport, who had been visiting their grandma for 3 weeks, and they were all going to meet us at the museum. We had a great time exploring the space, science and physics sections. Dean had nipped off with Ed for a cheeky beer. We all met back up and Ed drove us around the East side of Portland, through the famous funky Hawthorne district (apparently where beards, fedoras, tattoos, and the man bun was born) and up to the top of their local city volcano. Apparently Portland has more volcanos than any other part of the US, active and extinct which was a surprise. That night we were treated to marinated ribs cooked by Ed on the BBQ. I don’t know what they feed their pigs, but if I hadn’t known it was portk I would have sworn from the size of them that the ribs came from a buffalo.
We were only supposed to stop 2 nights with Ed and Karrie, but they had offered us 3 and then that evening suggested that we have another night making it 4. They had just found out that Beaverton Diversity Night Market and Festival was the next night. We didn’t take much persuading. In the morning we were treated to homemade waffles which I felt I had earnt with an early morning run around the area. We spent the morning chilling out and catching up on emails, blogging, reading etc before I took Vesper, Laith and Fred off to the local pool. We got a MacDonalds on the way due to me getting the pool opening times wrong (duh) but the kids were rewarded with a ‘Secret Lives of Pets’ toy in their Happy Meal. We had a great time at the pool which refreshed us for the evening fun.
Beaverton Diversity Festival and night market turned out to be a real treat. Food from Somalia, Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba etc and dance displays from Persia, Korea, Hawaii, China, Japan. Last up was a Brazilian band fronted by a long haired, long legged female singer in the biggest stacked shoes and the shortest white dress any of us had ever seen. She looked and sounded fabulous. Immediately the dance area was bursting and the fantastic moves of those that knew what they were doing left me sitting on the side-lines. Finally, Fred, who for some reason adores it when Dean and I dance together, made us get up and dance. He captured it on video (see Fred’s blog) before taking to the dancefloor with me, which Dad caught on video (see below). It was also lovely to meet some of Ed and Karrie’s friends and their children. It really is a community with people from all over the world that works in a very harmonious and affirming way. A great speech was given by the organisers recognising the contribution of the diverse community of immigrants which started with the Europeans. Of course this is a community of prosperity. Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Intel and others all have their global headquarters in Beaverton. Maybe none of this is about race, religion and colour. Perhaps, after all, it’s all about money……
After a wonderful time with Ed, Karrie, Caleb, Laith and Vesper we said goodbye ready to hit the Pacific coastline and Highway 101. We couldn’t have asked for kinder and more hospitable hosts and we even left with a full set of clean clothes!
Below are some more pictures from the Portland visit
For me this trip is all about having a great adventure with my family. Its taken years for us to finally stop talking about it and do it - simply because it both excites and frightens the life out me! So I'm stepping out of corporate life, where I singularly failed to achieve a work/life balance....to experience different cultures and spend time with those I love xx