June 24th, 2013 - Hindsight: Northbound on the Pacific Coast, Part III - Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver
You know, it’s funny how the longer it takes me to write about things that have already happened, the more I realize how much is always happening. On a daily basis, regardless of where you are, there are situations that are worth talking about. Yes, it’s possible to skip the hour to hour and write about what’s most relevant, but things seem to be a little different now that I’m settling into a new chapter of life. With my travels behind me, and a reintroduction to responsibilities, I don’t foresee the realism of keeping up in the blogosphere.
Not to say my day-to-day existence isn’t as exciting now, or that I don’t have anything worth writing to remember, but rather that my efforts belong in other artistic forms. That I’d rather concentrate on what’s ahead instead of what’s behind. Besides, this blog was intended to define my travel experience, and I think upon completion of this entry I’ll have satisfied that goal.
Before I move on, I’d like to extend a big thank you to those who have read anything, regardless of whether it was half an entry or the whole damn blog. I enjoy that my writing was interesting to some. The World’s Wanderer was written solely for me and my desire to one day look back and think, ‘Wow… I really did that,’ but to have had a complimentary audience I never catered to only enhanced the experience. So thanks to you for hopping on the literary train - even if just for the pretty pictures.
And now, back to the story.
It was Ryan Mitchell and Zipporah Lomax - two photographers associated with the incredible up-and-coming 'Bloom Series’ - who saw our craigslist plea for a ride up to Portland from Oakland. Together they’d been filming Envision festival in Costa Rica, and were in Ojai, California when they saw our request. The evening we returned from exploring San Francisco, Leah and I received an email that went like this:
“Hello!!!!! This is zippy. I’m with sir Ryan Mitchell who is giggling, saying he knows Leah! We’re headed to Portland this weekend in Ryan’s van. We’ve got room for both of you…bodies, backpacks, guitars and all. :) Call us!!!”
Not only did Ryan and Leah go back a couple years in Vancouver, but I’d been told several times what a great person he’d be to talk photography. We had even watched the first episode of the Bloom Series several days prior to Zippy’s email. The situation was beautifully bizarre and perfect, and we immediately agreed to their offer.
They arrived at AJ’s house several days later for hugs, introductions, and a place to crash. There was some travel discussion and agenda-making over a beer that helped us get to bed with ease. We spent the following morning packing Ryan’s Van - the White Buffalo - and then hit up a farmer’s market for coffee and honeysticks. Caffeinated and excited to go, we drove to Dolores Park in the latin-flavoured Mission District of San Fran.
Our final hours in the Bay Area were spent tossing a frisbee, drinking beer, and basking in both the sun and vibrations of a city awash in 4/20 spirit. Alternatively, for those who don’t know, April 20th is a day in North America where thousands essentially gather to smoke pot. Its origins are hazy (harhar), but it’s grown to become a gigantic cannabis celebration and movement - particularly on the west coast.
The crowds of Dolores Park only got bigger as the afternoon went on, but we were gone before anything really crazy went down. Still, it was fitting to leave San Francisco with the image of rainbow colours, bouncy castles and plumes of arcing smoke fresh in our minds. Thank yous and goodbyes were exchanged between Andrew and ourselves, and thus began the next part of the adventure.
We drove through a sun-beat San Francisco to the Golden Gate bridge and beyond, marveling one last time at the city and it’s old architecture; it’s sun; it’s ocean. That bridge though, man. We’ve all seen enough images to know it’s a feat of engineering, but until you cross that thing you won’t understand how frickin’ big it is. My camera may or may not have fired a couple times during the transfer.
Hint: it totally did.
Our surroundings changed profoundly as we made our way north. Several hours of driving saw the subtropical coastline fade into expansive golden flats which faded into pine-covered mountains and granite cliff-sides. The former happened closer to the California-Oregon border, where it began to feel a lot more like home. Leah and I nearly jumped out of our seats at the sight of Mount Shasta, the first snow-covered mountain to leap onto the coniferous horizon. It was pristine and beautiful. We even pulled into this secluded area that Ryan knew of, and, with the setting sun streaming through the pines, filled up on the cleanest glacial springwater California had to offer.
There wasn’t a more ideal way we could’ve made it to Portland. Ryan and Zipporah shared mutual traits, understandings, and ideas, all of which amounted to a seamless twelve-hour commute. Only three stops were made: once in Mount Shasta, once in Ashland, and of course once in Portland, where we arrived sometime after midnight. Ryan drove from start to finish without complaint.
Zippy ended up giving us a room for a few days in the artist’s collective she called a home. We awoke the first morning to a beautiful property, blown away by its familiarity to the Spark. Even the kitchen boasted identical colours. The house belonged to the spirit of Flora Bowley - internationally recognized painter, author, human-being extraordinaire - but was shared amongst it’s wonderful inhabitants. Those consisted of Kai, a cycling-enthusiast and bikeshop owner; Zak, a wickedly talented mandolin-manipulator; Erin, a genuine, creative energy and soul searcher; and of course Zipporah, the professional photographer/videographer who was our key to Portland.
Each being that lived in-between those walls or came through them was an inspiration. They were people who exuded confidence in themselves and their passions, embraced art, and lived healthily and sustainably. They were open, ambitious, friendly and, perhaps most importantly at this point in our travels, direct reflections of our community in Vancouver. The ability to be ourselves around people being themselves only stoked the fires of our excitement.
Our time in Portland was short and sweet. A typical Pacific drizzle greeted us the moment we stepped out to explore the neighbourhood, and we greeted it like an old friend. The cool air, lush green surroundings (which Oregon had a lot of), and rain paralleled the visions we’d been having of home. It was nice being reacquainted with the climate.
Fortunately for us, Ryan had offered to take us around to see some of the city’s hotspots, and the sun came out to join us. We checked out a variety of places including Portland’s version of Commercial Drive (dubbed Alberta Street), a Christian community garden-space called the Grotto, and a hot-springs located an hour away in the middle of sprawling forest. It quickly became clear how many cool things Portland had going for it, from its vast array of health-conscious/sustainable restaurants, to its soy-candle shops, to its grocery co-ops that featured mostly local and 'super local’ products, where the street name and number of the supplier was listed.
We really only got to see the tip of the iceberg given the time we had. Regardless, the contrasts between Portland and what we had seen of California were distinct and numerous. I think from this alone, Leah and I made enough connection to the city and it’s people to leave with strong first impressions. Coupled with its identical resemblance to our portion of the west coast, we left with an equally strong desire to return.
Kai suggested we use Boltbus to get to Seattle - a new charter-bus service complete with faux-leather seats, wireless internet, friendly staff, and tickets for $12 - and so we did.
I’d like to take a second to extend a giant thank you to the Portlandites that took us in. In the slight chance that any of you are reading this, know that we are grateful for your immediate hospitality. It was wonderful to connect. You’re included in this heartfelt sentimentality too, Ryan.
Oh, and thank you for instilling upon us the concept of the 'cold soak.' Never will I be able to sauna again without hopping into a bathtub full of freezing water.
Seattle was a brief flash in our human experience and the final nail in what would be classified as our travels. It was just over a three hour drive from Portland, yet boasted a beautiful Pacific coastline with a horizon comprised of distant, snowcapped mountains. That same pristine beauty was ever-present here, and knowing that our friends and family were just a borderline away was empowering.
We had been corresponding with Derrick Pawlowski prior to our arrival, a good friend of ours who’d also been adventuring in Central America at the same time. Although we had kept in touch and intended on meeting while abroad, things never quite synched up until he’d returned to his parent’s domain in Seattle. So be it. His folks agreed to adopt us for a couple days upon request, and Derrick came to pick us up where the Boltbus dropped us off.
Except we arrived during peak rush-hour and were located in the heart of the city. As soon as we grabbed our gear off the bus, I went over and asked another passenger if I could use his phone to call the number Derrick had provided us. There was no answer. Then the passenger’s ride came and he had to leave, so we could only safely assume Derrick was on his way and wait.
Ten minutes later, the guy who lent me his phone and his ride returned to tell us they had talked to Derrick, that he was stuck in traffic, and that they agreed to take us to a halfway point. Wow. So we threw our bags into the trunk, thanked them both, and drove away in full acceptance of another totally random act of kindness. They said they knew what it’s like to be travellers.
Naturally, we talked of our experiences and of the city itself, which glided by outside of the vehicle. I recognized the iconic scenery of the Pacific Northwest, but was still amazed by the new platform. I told our impromptu chauffeurs, and many other people during our stay, that I found it funny how I’d never seen Seattle. But also, that it was far more fitting to have done it this way.
The encounter ended as quickly as it begun, and the next thing we knew we were laughing in Derrick’s arms. It was an incredible feeling to reconnect with part of our tribe, and place another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that said ’we’re home!'
We didn’t spend a lot of time in Seattle either, but made up for that by truly immersing in the last free moments of our journey and appreciating the luxuries of western living. Appreciating home-cooked meals (what Leah likes to call 'mom food’), a steam-room with built-in speakers and iPod hookup (what I like to call 'a trip’), hot showers, a fully-loaded kitchen, access to a vehicle, and so on. All of this, combined with the presence of Derrick and his family, amounted to the ideal sendoff. We even spent one sunny day exploring downtown, hanging out by the ocean and playing on the grass of a nearby art gallery.
I was amazed at Seattle’s resemblance to where I’d grown up and intrigued by it’s own unique qualities, but have since added it to the list of places I wish to return to. There simply wasn’t enough time for us to gain a perspective. Looks like the west coast is calling for its own trip completely!
Boltbus saved the day once again when a potential ridesharer bailed. For $15 each, Leah and I both got seats on an early morning bus that would take us over the border and into Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station. We had to reveal to Asia, my sister, that we’d be arriving then, and would need a ride to Abbotsford so we could surprise Tiana, my other sister, for her 17th birthday. She excitedly agreed and swore to keep it a secret, as not even my mom or stepdad knew our true whereabouts.
We left a foggy Seattle behind on April 26th, and passively admired the outside world as it shifted into the recognizable surroundings of home. It was surreal traveling backwards, knowing our destination, and even moreso going through Canadian customs bearded, tanned, and five months older. It was as if nothing and everything had changed simultaneously - as if all the experiences I had had happened in the blink of an eye, and that all the memories I’d made were glimpses of some vivid dream. That nobody except Leah and I would know the true nature of our voyage - both of which was a humbling thought and a profound metaphor - and when the customs agent said 'welcome home’ the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.
An overcast sky and temperate chill greeted us warmly in Vancouver. Asia promptly arrived to pick us up and drove us straight to Abbotsford, where she pulled Tiana out of the house backwards so we could jump out at her saying 'happy birthday!' Needless to say, her genuine, tearful reaction was all I had to see. I knew we’d made the right decision to come back and do this.
The fun wasn’t over though! My mom and stepfather, Ron, had gone out to White Rock that morning to buy Tiana some gluten-free birthday treats. Prior to anybody knowing what our plans were, I’d told my mom to make sure Tiana was home around 1pm so we could have a Skype date. This was to ensure that she’d be there upon our arrival.
Because the parental units weren’t home, though, we got to plan out an extension of our surprise with both sisters. Leah and I went into a back room separate from the house just before they returned, and made sure our background was indistinguishable when we Skyped. Two minutes into the call, we pretended the signal was going sour - that we couldn’t hear them - and told them to hang up and call us back. As soon as the screen started flashing 'Wendy Wilson is calling you,’ we dropped the computer and walked inside. They were all watching the iPad in silence, so we broke it.
We received the same genuine, tearful reaction from my mother, whose birthday it was the following Tuesday. Her and Ron had no idea, and were happy to have us back. The rest is history, and not anything I intend on writing in full detail. If that was the case, I’d never be able to finish writing.
So let’s sum it up. I slept on my parents couch for the better part of a month while I surprised friends, looked for a replacement car, and searched for a place to live. A '76 Chevette, now named 'Oscar,’ manifested into my existence, and not long after that I met two of Leah’s friends, Anthony and Dipesh, both of whom needed a roommate. We had one interview and connected, prompting me to move into their Kitsilano home for June 1st. Leah and I didn’t move into the Spark House together because the rest of the Sparkies felt uncertainty with adding a seventh member. It was understandable, and for the best.
I spent a couple weeks in May forging a poem for my grandparents 50th anniversary, too, which we surprised them for. It’s safe to say I received the same genuine, tearful reaction from my grandmother. Notice a trend yet?
Oh yeah, and I shaved my beard too.
Since coming back to Canada I’ve been noticing things with a new pair of eyes, and opening up to all possibilities. Once I actually roosted in Kits, things started to unfold and continue to unfold. I can see a diving shop from my bedroom window, and only need to get some cold-water diving experience to be seriously considered as an applicant. Meanwhile, I got hired at 49th Parallel (a popular coffeehouse nearby) with the intention of learning more about the beverage I connected with at its source. This part-time commitment will allow me to live, while simultaneously giving me the freedom to explore ideas with photography, music, and art, and progress towards my goal of working as a diver on the west coast.
I thank everybody who journeyed with me, whether through this text, stuck on a white background between two red walls, or outside of it. I hope my photography inspired and enlightened you as to what I saw, and that you were able to walk in my shoes and see through my eyes. I hope my stories inspired you to acknowledge your own adventure in this world, and this life, and the opportunities that lie at our privileged feet. Traveling is a wonderful beast, and I think it’s safe to say this will not be the last time I make it happen.
The World’s Wanderer will now hibernate until the next big time out, lying dormant in virtual reality. The archives are here, for you and for me, if interest ever strikes and a read is what you sorely need. My photography page can be found here, too.
La Primera Semana - Pink Piñata Party (Amongst Other Things)
It’s officially been a week since I touched down in Cancún and began making my way over to la isla de Cozumel, my home-to-be for the next several months. In this time I’ve made a few friends, acquainted myself with my surroundings, learned the basics of kiteboarding, began cooking with Mexican ingredients, reestablished my spanish, found a roommate and consequently a beautiful apartment. Which I am currently writing from, having just moved in today.
Funny story: yesterday (Tuesday) I sent a text to Alecia, the woman I’ve been dealing with for the apartment, asking if she could message me how much the price was in US dollars. She said $800 plus gas and electricity. This was $200 more than what we originally agreed upon, so I called her and told her that wasn’t acceptable, so she spoke to the owner of the apartments to see if she could reduce the price. When Alecia called me back, she asked if $720 was okay, to which I agreed at first but later realized it was still bullshit, so I started writing down conversions and proposals of what the price SHOULD be and so on and so forth.
She called me yesterday evening and was wanting to clarify that I was to move in at the beginning of January. WHAT? I had specifically told her we were moving in this week, and I reinforced that over the phone. She told me there was ‘big problem,’ that the people hadn’t moved out of their apartment yet. WHAT? When we had been shown the place, there wasn’t anybody living there! I felt like I had walked into the wall of Mexican culture.
We debated back and forth for a good five minutes until I said: “You know this is Kale, right?”
“OH! Kale! Ah! I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else!”
She apologized for another minute or two. Turns out she was mistaken about the pricing for the apartment, too. Phew. With all that said and done, I am now the proud keyholder of Cuarto Número 4, en las Villas Tortugas. Photos coming soon.
I’ve also been studying the Advanced Diving Book in order to be preemptive for my upcoming course, which I start this Friday. It’s funny, I’ve been here for a week already and I keep on having to remind myself I’m here to start diving. DIVING. When I think about getting in that emerald, crystal-clear sea my heart bobs, and I get even more excited to be here. My last evening at Matthew & Kari’s (god bless 'em) was spent both in front of the course book and the computer, editing a video to go with my song*.
At one point I noticed the neighbour next door had a neon-pink piñata set up, a big ol’ cake and more balloons than I cared to count. I asked the woman if there was a birthday happening, and she said yes. I asked for whom, and she nodded at the baby she carried in her arms. "She’s turning one,“ the woman said. I told her I was a photographer and asked if it was okay to take photos at some point during the night, to which she replied 'of course!’
So I went and did my thing inside, enjoying the sound of the event happening next door. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard all the kids singing happy birthday. It was so innocent and cute. Even just the sound of people chattering in spanish, having come together to celebrate, was enjoyable. I eventually brought my camera out to the balcony when I heard loud thumping and laughter belonging to children and adults. It had begun.
I’m sure we’ve all beat the living shit out of a piñata, but the Mexicans did something I hadn’t seen before and I thought it was hilarious. One person was designated the piñata-master - aka… 'the asshole’ - and given the rope that the little pink papermaché pony dangled helplessly from. When a girl would approach (passively), the piñata would be hung low to the ground and completely still. When a boy would approach (with fists up), the piñata-master would begin pulling the rope, bouncing the little pink papermaché pony up and down in a dizzying spectacle of Mexican tradition. The adults would laugh as the young boys threw frantic punches that often caught air and threw them in circles. It was so funny… and amazing to witness.
I’m really lucky to have been brought into this neighbourhood right from the bat. For me, it’s a really nice blend between development and Mexican culture. It’s far enough away from the main drag where shitty electronic music blares, shopkeepers hassle you, and drunken tourists make out with each other and smoke cigarettes, yet close enough for everything to be a bike ride away. I’m within walking distance of Matthew & Kari, and a grocery store which sells organic everything; meats, fruits, veg, nuts… you name it. There’s not too many other white folk out here either, which I love, and the locals are friendly and receptive. I feel very immersed and very comfortable. And there’s even more good news!
As some of you know, I fell in love when I was back in Vancouver with this incredible woman. The short amount of time we got to spend together was ideal. My departure date had always been on the horizon, and even though we stayed present and valued the memories we got to create, the concept became increasingly difficult when leaving turned into a reality. Her and I accepted what was to happen and we parted ways, albeit tearfully, knowing that everything would turn out the way it was supposed to.
Well, over the course of this past week Leah and I have been talking everyday. She was originally supposed to come visit sometime in January for a week or so, but asked me the other day how long I pictured her staying in Mexico for. When I told her she was welcome to stay as long as she liked, she jumped at the opportunity. So! Leah, my love, bought her ticket and is coming down to be with me at the end of this month!
For how long? Not too sure!
*The inspiration behind the title of this blog, so I don’t feel bad shamelessly linking it.