Alcoholics Synonymous and the Devious Yankees
Just before we left Vancouver Island for the US, I received a slightly strange email. In the email, the woman who ran the place that we were due to stay at near Olympic National Park warned us that a huge storm was on its way to the area for the duration of our visit. She did not describe a gentle Highveld thunderstorm, or a damp Cape winter drizzle, but a once-in-a-generation, tree-ripping, road-flooding state of emergency – a Hurricane Katrina-reincarnated type of storm. She said that although we were still welcome to stay, in all likelihood we wouldn’t be able to leave the house and there wouldn’t be any power, but she would happily cancel our reservation for free if we wished. I was convinced. At the time, I thought this a kind and thoughtful act – an example of an American forsaking the profit motive for a gesture of consideration – and after consulting with our friends Dean and Des, who were due to meet us there, we cancelled the booking. Now, I have a different view.
For one, the much-vaunted storm never arrived, certainly not with anything like the forcefulness that was predicted. For another, I am writing this the day after the US elected a new president and I am now finding it difficult to take anything an American says at face value. How could I when that nation has chosen as their representative and leader, someone to be the embodiment of what they stand for, a man who is a lying sociopath, a xenophobic misogynist, a boorish icon of ignorance with the attention span of a five-year-old and degrees of narcissism that not even Ovid contemplated. Sure, he shares many of these characteristics with our own President, but with a worse hairstyle and lacking the devious chuckle, the good singing voice and the great dance moves, but at least we don’t pretend to be the “Greatest Nation on the Planet” or the “Leaders of the Free World.” So, the cynic in me (some would say the cynic that is me) now interprets this act of kindness from our prospective American host in a new light – hers was not an act of charity towards us but rather a crude attempt to avoid any legal liability.
When we agreed to cancel our trip to Olympic, Dean suggested that we hang out with them in Seattle where they live and wait out the storm. “Stay as long as you want,” he said casually. Careless words perhaps, especially when you throw in homemade food, gallons of quality wine – all the more appealing after our unsuccessful foray into Canadian wine – and the good company of old friends. Dean’s insistence on grinding coffee beans by hand for every cup of coffee added to the temptation to stay. Having been on the road for about 6 or 7 weeks, we seized the opportunity to catch up on laundry and spend some time loafing around the house. There was no storm to wait out, but we forsook any intention of being tourists in Seattle and had a wonderful few days of relaxation during which I watched my first Sunday afternoon American football game on TV (with pointers from Dean) from start to finish. This put me in the perfect position to nod my head sagely and appreciate the 10-page supplement in the paper the next day, which was dedicated to just this one game, a regular league game. So now, if you want to know anything about Richard Sherman’s temperament or the Seahawks’ aggressive defence, just ask me.
I also caught my first live Liverpool game on TV for many weeks, a game versus Manchester United, and not even José Mourinho’s dour anti-football could take the pleasure of watching away from me (we’re going to win the league, by the way). San-Marié was able to spend some time in the kitchen without burning anything down and the comforts of home made it hard to leave. Although they never said anything, by day four I suspect Dean and Des, despite being the consummate hosts, were contemplating clarifying that “as long as you want” wasn’t really meant to be taken literally. But we’re quite perceptive about these things and so, on day five, we picked up our rental car and headed south towards Oregon.
We meandered down the Oregon coast through the towns of Cannon Beach, Yachats and Bandon, spending a few nights at each. These towns were all relatively quiet out of season, and we sampled the glorious Oregon seascapes, local wine and cuisine. We ambled through lovely forested areas and on sparsely populated yet scenic beaches, vast flat stretches of sand that provide inviting terrain for the avid walker to explore at low-tide.
For me the highlight was trying to photograph a location called Thor’s Well. Thor’s Well is a huge hole between some rocks, that through a combination of waves crashing over the top and pressure that builds up from below in a manner which I don’t completely understand, results in thunderous and spectacular upward explosions of water followed by a strong whirlpool effect as the water subsides into the hole between the rocks. Some of the reports I’d read suggested that this place could be a tad dangerous with large waves, slippery rocks and strong tides, but I took the right precautions. Admittedly, these precautions merely involved handing my wallet and phone over to San-Marié as I approached the dangerous spot, but at least it meant she’d have some cash and something to call 9-1-1 with if I disappeared below the waves. The colourful sunset I’d hoped for as a backdrop was not forthcoming, and as the wild Pacific ocean assaulted me, I began to regret my somewhat casual choice of attire. Nobody ever told me that hiking boots were not ideal footwear when submerged in salt water repeatedly for extended periods of time. However, using my Ninja-like agility and deft sleight of foot to achieve dazzling feats of balance with Nureyev-like grace, I managed to survive. I even took a few photos whilst simultaneously providing endless amusement (and perhaps a bit of consternation) to San-Marié as the odd rogue wave took revenge upon me as I intruded upon the ocean’s sacred space. Who would have known that being drenched, fully clothed, by the cold Pacific ocean, could actually be fun?
We spent a day exploring the giant redwoods in Northern California whose size and grandeur cannot be captured by any photos. As we drifted past these arboreal behemoths, I found myself singing Monty Python’s lumberjack song which I thought was a considerable improvement on my initial reaction of mumbling “big tree” every time we came upon one of them. Leaving the trees behind us, we then made a run to San Francisco to meet up with my cousin Grant and his wife Judith. Long-term readers of this blog may recall that we met up with them in New York State last year where we were plied relentlessly with alcohol. This time Grant lured us to his house with promises of a “good bottle of wine” to celebrate his birthday. After a a gentle stroll trough the lovely village of Mill Valley, we had a celebratory birthday dinner with a prestigious bottle of wine along with a snifter of scotch. It also gave us the chance to catch up with my aunt, Natalie, a dedicated reader of this blog and Grant and Judith’s daughter, Catherine, who, in preparation for med school, had recently returned from 3 months in South Africa where her stories of helping out in a hospital in East London sounded terrifying to me but appeared life-affirming to her. We shared a fair amount of wine, whisky and malt, yet Grant and Judith claimed that they don’t normally drink that much – oddly enough, a similar claim made by Des and Dean when we saw them. Being moderate drinkers ourselves, we don’t believe any of them.
Our last 3 nights in the US were spent in San Diego which was a convenient stopover point for us on the way to Costa Rica, from where I am writing this post. In San Diego, we avoided the standard tourist attractions and instead spent our time in a quaint holiday cottage, enjoying the beaches at sunset near the house and visiting the local eateries to try and sate San-Marié’s relentless appetite for fish tacos, craft beer and American barbecue. She wanted to cash in on the relative safety of American cooking before exposing her delicate constitution to the travails of the Developing World. Wandering the streets and beaches of San Diego, the Americans all seemed pleasant enough, but I guess I didn’t know then who their next president was going to be.
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