Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seattle and Bellingham, Washington state

Going back on the road gives me a feeling of relief. Looking outside the window of the car and enjoying the views it’s like seeing a documentary from a comfy couch. When the road is going and everything runs smoothly and there are no stress factors I feel that life on the road is the best thing it can happen. You are always the stranger in the city, no one knows you, and you can always be and feel as the person you want to be without social boundaries. I love that. After Oregon we went on the west coast on US up north into Washington State, crossing little towns like Astoria, with Victorian houses, peaceful and cloudy as all the coast of US. The climate changes from the coast to inland… from 14 to 25 degrees Celsius in just a few miles. I love the cloudy weather. I don’t know why but it gives a feeling of drama, as if we are on the edge of a powerful storm and there is nothing that can make it stop, still the storm never comes. We had no rain in the last 2 months and that is great because when we camp outside I would not like to get wet.

What I noticed is that in US no house is made of brick or stone as in Europe most of the dwellings are made of these materials , and although the winters are not milder it seems that America abounds of woods so people find it easier to build everything with timber. The last hundreds of miles we crossed deep woods of conifers, spread all over the states. Both Oregon and Washington are bear countries. The Olympic peninsula has pretty beaches full of trees brought by the fast rivers that come from the mountains and end in the ocean. The houses are beautiful and the air is clean but it seems me and Jan we suffer from some sort of allergy to the pollen or other things in the air because we always complain of pain in the nose or skin rashes. While being on the peninsula I saw many warnings about vampires…it seems they filmed here the Twilight series and people are fascinated with the story. I am most fascinated with a childhood TV series called Twin Peaks and actually it is here in Washington State that they filmed it. After 2 days on the peninsula we took the ferry to Seattle where another host was waiting for us. Carol and Jeff are a middle aged couple, in their 60s , an autumn love as they met 2 years ago and decided to spend their time enjoying life, which I think people should do , we should always be in the search of love and companionship. We were received in their beautiful home in Mercer Island and got a beautiful room just for us. Immediately we felt welcomed and the same Friday night as we arrived, we had dinner and then went to a classic English dances night. It was fun to participate although I have to admit that these kinds of dances are not my favorite. The mathematics in it (counting the steps and the moves) make me really tired. We spent three hours dancing ( probably the longest time I ever spend dancing…ever) and got back home to a nice bed and fell asleep immediately. Carol and Jeff had it all organized for Saturday and around noon we left towards a lake where the family of Jeff had vacation houses and his brother was organizing his birthday weekend party. We were about 100 people, all friends and friends of friends, we talked with people, Jan went on the canoe, ate great food. It has been great. Same evening we came back home and next day ( Sunday we spent it at home relaxing). On Monday , pretty early (8 am) we went to Seattle to the Canadian embassy where I applied for my tourist visa. One entry is 75 dollars (multiple is 150). After a long waiting line and an easy interview I got my visa in the afternoon and we went happy for a walk in downtown Seattle. I actually like a lot Seattle. Even if it is quite a big city, it gives a laid back feeling.
There is a nice park and a vegetables and fish market, and we had an amazing Italian gelato in a little Italian coffee shop. Next day, Tuesday , Jan wanted to go to Mt Rainier for a day or two , so early in the morning we drove to one side of the mountain and slept there, although I must admit I was quite annoyed by the aggressiveness of the mosquitoes.
Next day we drove around Mt. Rainier and Jan did a few walks while I rested in my camping chair reading a novel and getting bitten by the mosquitoes.

Getting back to Seattle in the house of Carol and Jeff we spent another peaceful night and Thursday evening we went for a walk and visited some openings of art galleries. There is a lot of artistic life in Seattle and people try to gain money from open air concerts, art fairs and galleries. After almost one week relaxing with Carol and Jeff but also sharing ideas about travels, God(or better said his absence) and life in general, it was time to leave Seattle and direct ourselves to Bellingham where our friend Amy ( a member of CS that hosted us one year ago in China) was waiting for us. We left Saturday morning, on a rainy weather, with the prospect of a rainy weekend but before leaving Seattle for good we also visited Freemont street and the troll of Seattle and a chocolate factory where we enjoyed for free several kinds of chocolate and coffee.
I always like to meet again friends that we made along the travel and this time it was time to see again Amy, a young American girl that we met one year ago in Xining, China, and with whom we spent really nice moments back then and now again we were looking forward to see her again.
Amy lives in Bellingham, very close to the border with Canada…less than 30 minutes. Bellingham is a small town, with many young people, due to the university here, probably the less American town we’ve been till now. You can walk to most of the places in town which in the rest of the cities is impossible. The shared house where Amy rents a room is close to the motorway from Seattle but the feeling of the house was quite nice. The house mates of Amy are 3 great guys: Chris, Zach and Michael with whom we made friendship instantly. Amy used to study here in Bellingham and when she came back from China after teaching English for one year she decided that the best moments of her life were in this city, her best friends are here so best thing to do is to come back and make some more roots. Amy is a great person, and to prove that she gave up her room, her sanctuary and slept on the couch and we had 4 restful nights in her home. Same night of our arrival it was party time, so around 10 pm we all dressed up and walked to the house party where other 30-40 people were listening to disco music and drank some alcohol. It was great to experience this kind of party, the typical we see in US films. At about 2 am we left the party and came back home walking again. I felt as when I was at university and no one really thought about the future and what our life will be like. We were all living the moment. Amy is a very creative girl, and besides writing (she studied creative writing) she also joined a punk music band about 2 weeks ago and they were already having their 2nd house concert planned for Monday night in a house in Bellingham. It seems that many young alternative people in US at some point in their life join a band or go on a road trip. While Monday morning Amy was at work, I left Jan at home and I walked through Bellingham stopping in a vintage shop for hours in a row. I was so overwhelmed by the watching of a common shopping behavior of the young Americans (the thrift stores and second hand stores and vintage shops are in fashion here) and I kind of needed a small leather bag for myself…last one I bought was in Pakistan in the market for just 1 dollar. In the evening we went to a the house concert. It seems in US the amateur art (of any kind) is much more appreciated than in Europe where people tend to value more quality. I enjoyed a lot the house concert where 4 bands played their punk rock songs. Amy’s band was the first one, then a band from San Francisco played( they were on a 2 weeks tour) and 2 more from Bellingham. Some of the songs were pretty good. People that do these tours they gain money from donations of people (normally enough for gas till the next location) and they also sell their Cd’s or other handy crafts.
After 4 magnificent days spend with so many wonderful people that live the American dream with less money but seem to be more happy, it was time to take the road again. I was so sad to leave Amy again but I am hoping that one day we will see her again maybe this time in Spain. I will miss you Amy and Bellingham …and all your house mates and friends that were great people and with whom we shared many stories, has great laughs, walked the town in the night, had dinners….(they are great cooks).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oregon state- the green state

When we meet nice people along the way , it is always sad to say goodbye to them, and so it was a bit sad to leave San Francisco but the prospect of a few days alone on the west coast of the US seemed like a nice thing to do. We left the bay area and started to drive on the coast, direction RedWood national park. If you want to stick to the coast of the US you need to drive the 101 road which is quite spectacular but foggy this time of the year. The coastal area is not very populated; actually the whole west coast is much less populated than the east coast, that’s what the local people say. We managed to arrive to the Redwood national park, saw the elks…impressive animals and continued on the coast because we were expected in Grant pass the next day. In 2008 we met Do Lee in Greece. She is a 55 year old American lady, that smokes pot and has quite a tumultuous life. The time we met her in 2008 I had the feeling she is a bit strange, but now meeting her again she seemed almost the same. She left America for Greece a few years ago, having divorced her third husband now she was living alone, taking care of a friend of hers who has terminal cancer. We spent in Do Lees rented flat about 2 nights, with very few moments of talking to her but much more shared moments with her ex husband Dimitri (who came to visit from Greece) and another women she met in town and whom loved to talk about her life, so from whom we learned many new interesting facts about the Americans or some of them were just confirmed.I was happy, or better say very happy to leave her house in Oregon because I need to fill myself with positive energy. I promised myself that this last part of the travel will be filled only with as much positive things as I can get so my mind and body are working against negative vibes.
Our adventure continued towards Crater Lake where we arrived Friday and where we spent the whole day driving around. The place is amazing, with incredible blue water, nice reflexions, a bit of snow. The only horrible thing is the mosquitoes and flies that make your stay an impossible experience. The aggressiveness of the insects must be explained through the hard and long winters with big amounts of snow covering everything so the few months of summer make them eager to sustain their life and energy by biting everything that moves and has blood. We spent just one day in the Crater Lake National Park, but I would say it is enough. In the evening we went down through the woods that extend for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Oregon in general is very green, low density of population and quite wild in the woods. Many poor people moved from big cities back into small abandoned wood houses in the woods and they live with less to nothing. We crossed some places through the woods with shacks, and homeless people and it looked quite weird and scary but seems that especially now with the crisis many more people go back to country side life. Saturday we arrived to Oregon City where Terry, a 60 year old American lady was expecting us. She owns a very nice house on a hill in Oregon City and offered us the nice bedroom of her daughter. We were hosted together with another Spanish girl who was was travelling for 2 months in US. We connected pretty well, had a nice dinner together and talked about travels, people, and couch surfing. It is amazing how much good it can do to travel like this, using CS and meeting local people. An average night in a motel in US is about 50$ really cheap and weird places, so for us to spend 1500$ per month just for accommodation it cannot be. In the 2 months that we have been already in the US, we spent 20 days camping and the rest with nice friendly people, the number of our hosts rising now to 7. On Sunday we were expected at the house of Chris and Jen, in Portland, but in the morning me, Malen and Terry went out in east Portland to do some shopping, wonder through small shops and go to organic farmers market. It was a morning for the girls because Jan stayed home working on his computer. In the evening we left towards the house of Chris and Jen whom I was hoping to be a nice couple with whom we could spend some time together having a blast but I was surprised we had some difficulties to communicate with them at the begining. I always remember the great friendship with David and Maria and probably anything compared to them is just not the same. We spent three days at their house, sleeping for the first time on an extensible couch (still I must admit I had great sleeps). The first night I cooked some Spanish omelet that we enjoyed a lot and the next night they cooked for us 2 amazing pizzas.

Their hobby seemed to be cooking, but besides that they also were doing yoga. The second night we managed to discover that they are passionate table game players, so we began playing Carcassonne, and then Dominion (which I enjoyed quite a lot). The game captivated our time spent in the house so we managed to communicate quite well on that level. I suppose that for many people it is difficult to open to other people especially those who come from other cultures.
. During our stay at the house of Chris and Jen we went out to visit some parts of the city of Portland, but the more we try to visit the big cities of US the more it is confirmed to us that there is not much to see here.

To be honest both me and Jan think that the American cities are not so nice, still in Portland we could relax in the rose garden, where we spent an entire afternoon.
Also we did a day trip outside Portland, to mount Hood, quite a famous place for the horror film connoisseurs, because here is the place where they filmed Shining. After 3 nights spent in their house, we finished our stay there with a nice dinner and another game . It was again time to go on the road, this time towards Seattle but with 2 days camping trip to Olympus county and national park.

Monday, August 2, 2010


After a well deserved celebration of the winning of the football world cup, we went to buy groceries for the next days , including 2 camping chairs, a gas stove and a pot. I was really tired of eating cold meals all day long so I thought a little stove might help us make our diet easier for the stomach. It was a good decision because the same day as we entered Sequoia national park I heated some vegetables from a can and also I fried some sausage just to be sure we attract enough bears to our table. Sequoia National Park is beautiful, and in this park are found some of the biggest trees in the whole world, tall, voluminous, some of them older than 3000years, real books of history.

We did some walks through the park; saw about 8 bears in 3 hours, including a mother with her 3 baby bears. Since I come from Brasov, Romania, and I know how bear mind works I was keeping enough distance to be safe but Jan on the other hand, that probably never heard or saw a bear attack was approaching them at a very unsafe distance….still surprisingly nothing happened to him but the whole park was full of signs indicating security measures in case of bear attacks. We were also informed that we should not keep the food in the car during the night because the bears can brake into the car. As always Jan loves hard core adrenalin so we spent the night camping in the park with our nice van full of yummy food.

I could not sleep all night having nightmarish thoughts of a bear jumping on the car, breaking the window and cutting my head off. Next day as you can imagine it was change of policy day, so I told Jan we need to park safer next time because I cannot afford 2 sleepless nights in a row. It seems difficult for Jan to understand my fear of bears but I remember the times when I was living in Racadau and if I was visiting a neighbor that was living in a different house I had to stay overnight because you could not cross the street due to hungry bear presence. Close to Sequoia Park there is another smaller park called Kings Canyon, a drier and hotter place, but still very beautiful. The landscape of eastern California is amazing, yellow fields, hills with trees and yellow grass, many fruit trees, horses, farms, it gives a very idyllic feeling. They say that California is the state that has everything: from ocean to high mountains, dry deserts to snow, green valley and yellow hills… surely I would say it is one of the most beautiful regions of the world.
If you come to California, another destination that you should not miss is Yosemite National Park. The park is located on the west side of Death Valley in a higher mountain zone with green beautiful woods, meadow, lakes, animals, high picks. We stayed only 2 days here although you can spend much more time doing easy trails or more long and difficult ones. Something that is very typical here is to go and see the water falls, which are amazingly beautiful. The best light to catch the true feeling of Yosemite in a photo is the sunset light when all the east wilderness of the park is illuminated by the sunset. Although Yosemite is such a beautiful place, you can get tired of being surrounded by so many people spending their vacation and making the whole place look crowded. This is something that happened to us a few times here in the US, being summer, everyone has a vacation and many people seem to chose camping trips to the national parks so the beautiful scenery can be sometimes disturbed by the multitude of people. After spend 5 or 6 days relaxing through the parks it was time to hit again the coast of California with a destination that no one should miss in the US : San Francisco.
I have been searching for a host in San Francisco and it was difficult to find someone so I looked outside of the bay and I found Kevin in San Leandro and he responded positively to my request. We arrived late in the afternoon at Kevins house, a small but relaxing 2 bedroom property with a big living and a nice little garden. Immediately Kevin made us feel like at home giving us the possibility to recharge batteries, clean clothes and work on the computer. Later we had a small dinner together commenting details of our trip and he detailing a bit about his life, beliefs and sexual orientation ( he is gay).

I knew that San Francisco is the capital of the gay , with a large community residing in the area, with less prejudices and maybe more freedom of expression. Actually I think we were very lucky to be accommodates in his house because like this we could learn how society influences their lives and their political choices. Kevin declared himself still a Christian (he is of Irish origins) but not involved with the authoritarian catholic church and a supported of Obama. Most of the people in San Francisco support Obama. The second day in the hose of Kevin, we met Francisco, his partner (of Cuban origin), who is a philology doctor and a psychiatrist. We could enlarge our themes of discussions and also learn many more things over a dinner that I prepared. The same evening we were invited by Francisco and Kevin to a movie. I loved the idea of watching my first Hollywood made movie in an American cinema and actually it was quite an interesting film, with limited release, about a gay family and their problems. We spent a great evening, also going to a folk concert in a bar, Kevin also drove to some interest points of San Francisco. The night that we drove to the cinema we were coming back home on the motor way and we saw a big traffic jam in front at 10.30 pm , police cars and we felt that something happened so I tell Jan to take the first exit on the right and get out of the motor way to be able to avoid the jam. We did not know what was going on but there were maybe 30 police cars, ambulances, and firefighters…like a whole army blocking the motorway. Many cars were stuck there and it seemed like something really bad had happened. We were able to cross the motorway on the sides although it was blocked for several km’s and we arrived home before Kevin because he was stuck in the jam. Next day we discovered what happened. It seems police was following a car for speeding and when they managed to stop the car the van was full of guns and the man in the car started to shoot. It seems that the policed killed the guy but still they secured the whole area for more than 24h and the FBI was investigating the case. It was exactly one of those nights from the movies.
We spent 5 days relaxing in the house of Kevin but also visiting the Bay area. We had to cross the bridge into San Francisco every time paying 5$. We went to the old hippie area of San Francisco on Hait Street, where you can still see the hippie shops and a lot of tourists and homeless people. San Francisco is famous for many things and one of it is the architecture, old Victorian houses in colorful colors, big skyscrapers in downtown and the Golden Gate Bridge and the Golden Gate Park. We saw all the attractions, but probably the most impressive in the Golden Gate Bridge.

The cold and the mist were making sightseeing a painful job. In the summer the whole west coast but especially the bay area of San Francisco is affected by the cold currents coming from Alaska, creating the fog. All day long it seems that a huge, demonic storm is about to release its power on the city but every day passes with no rain. The wind that blows into the bay area is no less demonic dropping the temperatures severely. (No more than 14•C during day time). We were lucky also because we could celebrate Jan’s birthday in San Francisco and Kevin and Francisco invited us to Francisco’s house in San Francisco for dinner. They even bought a cake and two other lesbian friends came so we were 3 couples, 1 heterosexual and 2 gay. It was really a lovely evening, being able to share ideas, clarify prejudices and understand the American society in a better way. It was one of those nights that you will always remember and it will always give you the feeling that what you are doing in life is right for you and that our travel is the best thing of our lives.