Exploring Ecuador Slowly…But It’s Almost Over.

The weeks have zipped by in Ecuador, full of exploration and fun – so much so that I’ve neglected the blog without a moment of guilt…til now, as we see our three months in South America coming to an end.

Let’s rush back to Otavalo for a few minutes, which we enjoyed following the difficult overland trip from Popayan (see previous blog). Otavalo was the place in Ecuador we’d first thought might appeal as a place to “ex-patriate” ourselves for a while in the coming years. It isn’t as prominent on the overseas retirement list as its nearby sister city, Cotopaxi, or its far away kin, Cuenca, but we thought it might work for us, and spent a week there to see if we were right.

Otavalo Market Gossip

Otavalo Market Gossip

Summing it up, some of the reasons we liked Otavalo were because of its scale – smaller, walkable, and no high rise buildings. The climate in March was lovely, at 8500’ high in the Andes, with even higher areas to explore, including volcanic peaks and hot springs, and of course, the well-known craft market.  Not sure whether it’s the ginko we’ve been taking or not, but we’ve had NO altitude issues…yay!

Much as we enjoyed Otavalo though, we probably won’t return for a long-term stay – for some of the same reasons. At about 90,000 local residents, and a very small international community, there wasn’t as much variety in nightlife (restaurants) as we had imagined. Also, not yet an international bookstore or book exchange. And, surprisingly, the craft market itself was a little bit disappointing (see more below.)

All in all, Otavalo didn’t “feel” right, the way we later discovered Cuenca did. Someday it will – when more expats discover it, and have the energy and interest in building small businesses (like the great little coffee shop, The Daily Grind) – we’re just not the ones who want to create those enterprises.

The famed Otavalo market is overwhelming, in the way that you can have too much of a good thing. Dozens upon dozens of small stalls fill the Plaza des Ponchos, every day of the week in a maze of indigenous entrepreneurship. Except on Saturday, when the market expands from the Plaza and fills many surrounding streets as well. Many of those stalls are filled with the same items – from ponchos, sweaters, pants and pullovers to blankets, table runners and bags of many kinds. There are wood carvings, paintings and jewelry, wooden bowls and maracas. Some of it is beautiful, but there’s so much of everything that it’s mind-boggling. And brings to mind doubts of how much could possibly be “handmade.” It was truly staggering how much of everything there was, and how one stall resembled another. How to decide what to buy and who to buy it from? How could each of these merchants be making a living? And what about the actual storefronts we saw, where huge plastic bags were filled with the same trinkets, shawls and hats that we’d just seen in the market?

Many Many Many Crafts

Many Many Many Crafts

So I was pleased to see, from time to time, people (usually women) actually making something by hand – crocheting a bag, knitting a hat, weaving a bracelet. Even more rewarding was going on a day long trip with Runa Tupari, a tour operator in Otavalo (www.runatupari.com/index.php/en) during which we visited traditional craftspeople in their homes. Those were the moments I’ll remember.

82 Year Old Weaver

82 Year Old Weaver

Thus it was that after a week exploring, talking to people, and avoiding much shopping, Otavalo dropped from the list of potential residences; and nearby Cotopaxi never made the list at all – many of the local people had mentioned with bemusement that there was a neighborhood full of Norte Americanos there, and that it was like a little America – not what we’d be looking for if we live overseas again.

But, go to Otavalo, do.  And we’ll go back too.   It’s a charming small Ecuadorian town, and there’s a lot to do from there, from hiking to boating to exploring the traditional crafts refined over generations. There are a couple of great little coffee shops and a fantastic pie shop – yes, American style pies with thick fillings of amazing tasting Ecuadorian fruits. We went three times in the week we were there.

Food Adventures

Food Adventures

And the market, despite my concerns, is a visual extravaganza, which is why I spent more time taking pictures, and less time shopping. Next time, a bit more about Otavalo.

New Friends...

New Friends…

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Truly Seeing…

I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading on my Kindle during this trip, but necessity has forced, if not a conversion, then at least acceptance, that this is a good way to carry along the dozens of books I will read during a 3 month journey. Among the many books I’ve got, I didn’t realize that reading Dan Barber’s “The Third Plate,” would be so meaningful. It contributed the following quote:

“See what you’re looking at.”
Dr. William Albrecht
(1888-1974)
Soil Scientist, Univ. of Missouri

It’s the United Nations Year of the Soil, so I’m delighted that the desire to truly see what I’m looking at is echoed by one of the pioneers of organic agriculture…

Here’s some of what we’ve been seeing on our South American sojourn:

Wisps and Clock...

Wisps and Clock…

Faded Beauty

Faded Beauty

Soaked in color...

Soaked in color…


Oasis

Oasis

Reflection, Lake Near the Sea

Reflection, Lake Near the Sea


See what you're looking at...

See what you’re looking at…

A harmony of sand & sea...

A harmony of sand & sea…

Perched at the edge of the sea...

Perched at the edge of the sea…

Next, some big cities and coffee farms!

Cartagena, Caliente!

Pegasus Before Port

Pegasus Before Port


The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Well, amigos y amigas, Cartagena was by far the warmest part of the trip so far (reminding us very much of Singapore’s heat and humidity); I quickly remembered that a wrung-out, wet bandana tightly twisted and tied loosely around the neck makes for an impromptu and successful personal air conditioner…that, plus multiple trips to La Palleteria for popsicle after popsicle made from fresh, incredibly flavorful local fruits, and yes, the occasional Swiss chocolate cream. Two key themes emerged from this most “vacation-like” part of the trip: Food & Art – and by “Food” I mean: food carts and stalls, restaurants, coffee shops, farms and even grocery stores. By “Art”: museums, street vendor crafts, the colors of the buildings, the sky, the sea; and the amazing graffiti and murals …

We’re well “medicated” with gingko – supposed to help with altitude (and so far, no problems with Bogota’s 8000’), yellow fever shots, and malaria pills. Drinking tap water and eating pretty much anything that looks appetizing, and so much does!

Fruit Carts Tempt

Fruit Carts Tempt

Watermelon to Order

Watermelon to Order

Citrus and More

Citrus and More

Treats at La Palleteria

Treats at La Palleteria

My blog subtitle includes “Learn it all, over again.” All of life is an education, but sometimes you can put yourself directly in its path – and that’s what’s happened in Colombia. The tiny Museo de Arte Moderno in Cartagena is in a fabulous centuries old building just off the “Reloj” (Clock Tower) Square. Its exquisite tiny collection of modern Colombian masters was immersion in an artistic culture that I haven’t known enough about. Botero, yes. Enrique Grau? No, but he was prolific, astounding, totally engrossing. And so many others.

Museo de Arte Moderno

Museo de Arte Moderno

Grau's View of Cartagena

Grau’s View of Cartagena

We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood outside of the more well-known walled city in an Airbnb family casa, where we were also able to continue the Spanish lessons we’d started in Bogota. Cartagena is small enough that we walked everywhere, exploring tiny streets and alleys, sitting in the Plaza de la Trinidad at night with locals & tourists letting the cooler evening air waft aromas of grilled chicken, skewers of meat, and arepas (flat corn cakes cooked on a griddle and sometimes filled with cheese or vegetables.) Getsemani, particularly, is known for its vibrant and noisy nightlife – too bad we couldn’t stay up late enough to really appreciate it!

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Courtyard

Airbnb Courtyard

We’d anticipated a little time by some beautiful Caribbean sea while in Cartagena, but that wasn’t the case. The shoreline is not particularly pretty near the city, and not easily accessible by foot, so cooling off by the water wasn’t to be. Instead, we enjoyed wonderful walks through streets filled with color in every direction – whether the fruits, buildings, hats, hand-woven bags, or tshirts on sale everywhere, Cartagena is saturated with vibrant color. Thank goodness, the fact that we’re still in the early days of a 3-month journey makes it very very easy to say “no” to any purchases that can’t be consumed on the spot!

Color, Hot

Color, Hot

Color, Cool

Color, Cool

Color, Colombian

Color, Colombian

Color, Carnival

Color, Carnival

I’m reviewing many of the restaurants and activities at TripAdvisor as “tojourneywise” so you may find more information there about specific places I mention, or feel free to send a question or comment directly via the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

Next up, truly off the beaten track…Tayrona National Park and another “secret spot.”

IMG_2775

Bogota – Bewildering, Enchanting

We’re travelling for three months in Colombia and Ecuador, putting cities here through the same filter as some of our top home prospects in the U.S. Will we end up falling in love with Popayan or Manizales, Cuenca or Ibarra? Come along for the journey and see!

AirBnB View Bogota

AirBnB View Bogota

It now seems a good idea that I’ve let a few days pass by since we were in Bogota, as I’d drafted a rather negative post – it started:

Bogota feels in some ways like a third world city; why is that? Let me count the ways:
1) dog “popo” (yep, that’s what they say) everywhere; 2) gigundo (no that is not a Spanish word) holes in the sidewalks and streets; and 3)trash.

Pity the Taxi Drivers

Pity the Taxi Drivers

The State of the Sidewalks

The State of the Sidewalks

But Bogata is compelling in many ways, so let me count those too:

1. El Museo Botero – you know, the guy who paints and sculpts those wonderfully voluptuous people and objects. He donated a massive amount of his personal collection to the museum, which is set in an old colonial palacio with a lovely courtyard. Fantastic. Free. Culture.

Museo de Botero

Museo de Botero


2. El Museo de Oro – gold, gold and more gold. Antique, ancient gold, and plenty of English-translations so it’s easy to learn what the displays are all about. One section involves entering a circular, darkened room and listening to the chants of early Colombian religious ceremonies. During the chants soft lighting illuminates a 360 degree display of thousands of tiny gold objects, arranged in swooping arcs of flight and clouds.
Room of Chants and Gold

Room of Chants and Gold

3. Food – interesting and often tasty! Hot chocolate with cheese cubes (Chocolade SantaFerena.) Very sweet pastries and very dry pastries. Some amazingly good Peruvian food at “Pasion Peruana.” Incredible vegetarian lunch at “Quinua y Amaranto,” in La Candelaria neighborhood.

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

4. Architecture – from the tiny casas in La Candelaria to the palacios of the colonial era and through the early/mid 20th century, Bogota offers up some glorious buildings. The only risk is that by looking up, you may step in a nasty hole in the sidewalk hole while admiring the grimy but otherwise charming buildings.

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Colorful Candelaria Street

Colorful Candelaria Street


Apartments in the Round

Apartments in the Round

Faenza Theater

Faenza Theater

5. Art – murals everywhere. If you follow me on Instagram (cnewmanwise) you’ll see more examples of the incredible art that’s on most available surfaces.

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Beauty...

Beauty…

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

A few days in Bogota was a great introduction to Colombia and adding 10 hours of intensive Spanish lessons kickstarted our ability to get around. Angie, our teacher, can be reached at (spanish1.english1@gmail.com). She was a good instructor, understood that we wanted a crash course in survival Spanish, and that’s what we got, with smiles.

We’re off to Cartagena and the Caribbean coast next…flipflops at the ready!
City, 8000', Mountains Higher

What’s Brewing? So Very Much!

Old Bust Head Brewery

Old Bust Head Brewery

This 13,000 mile 100 day plus journey has prompted one question more than any other – how are CW and I managing to spend so much time together, and still be together?  After 32 years of marriage when we rarely spent more than two full weeks together, we’re still smiling (at each other!) after four months of travel, in a car (…talk about close quarters!) If you’re contemplating anything like what we’ve just accomplished, it’s worth considering how you really prefer to spend your time, and agreeing on some simple ways to make sure you get enough “me” time – however you define it.  (This blog eventually comes round to lots of fun info about beer, brewing and beverages, so bear with me!)

Cooking with Spent Grain - Pizza Crust!

Cooking with Spent Grain – Pizza Crust!

We’re not oblivious to the pitfalls of travelling.  In fact, we think one of the greatest indicators of a potentially successful partnership is surviving the challenges of travelling together.  Those challenges are many and I’ll address those in a dedicated blog – but for now, I want to explore one of the most important ones for me:

Constant togetherness…

 

The Roasterie - So Good!

The Roasterie – So Good!

Boulevard Brewing - Around the Corner

Boulevard Brewing – Around the Corner

On this journeywise adventure, we knew from experience that a key strategy would be to find ways to have some occasional hours (ok, frequent hours) apart, to be on our own or at our separate pursuits.  And since we’re both very comfortable in new places (and really, nowhere in the U.S. was going to feel as strange as some of the other places we’ve been) we knew it would just take a little planning to engineer a few hours on our own every other day or so.

Evans Bros. Coffee - Idaho

Evans Bros. Coffee – Idaho

What helps immensely is that we’ve both created portable businesses: CW as what one of his brewery friends so aptly calls “an itinerant malt peddler,” and me, as a consultant and advisor to food and beverage startups in the organic, fair trade and natural sphere.  Charley does best with in-person calls on breweries, while I can manage primarily with phone, Skype, and email, though personal meetings are great when they can happen.  Our work means engaging with fun and interesting people who are working to nourish the world!

We didn’t consciously start our four-month long journey with a plan for how to incorporate independent time – but we learned quickly that CW’s most successful brewery visits would often take an hour or more, and if I could find a local coffee shop, farm market, or natural grocery to explore for at the very least an hour (and two hours was not at all a bad thing, I came to learn) then we’d both have a better time, with no anxiety for me over “when is he going to get back?!” nor CW worrying that I was getting antsy just when he was about to present the malts and whiskies, and getting to taste stellar beers, all with the point of actually leaving a sample of Copper Fox malt behind!

Tasting Brews Across the USA

Tasting Brews Across the USA

It’s far past time to give CW credit for a lot of the fun and exploring we’ve had on this journey.  Charley’s work with Copper Fox Distillery  http://www.copperfox.biz/index/ in Sperryville, Virginia has taken us (well, him) to over 60 craft breweries in 22 states and 4 Canadian provinces over the past 4 months, as he introduced brewers to the Distillery’s hand crafted, Virginia-grown barley malts.

We started the trip with about 100 pounds of the specialty smoked malts in the back of the car (along with our suitcases and camping gear), and picked up another 30 pounds (plus fresh bottles of the two whiskies) on the West Coast.  Although I’m now used to the slightly yeasty, warm-bread smell of sacks of the specialty malts wafting about in the car, I was happy that we left Boston for home having completely depleted the malt inventory!  CW’s pretty excited about that as well, as it means that across the U.S. and Canada, small and mid-sized craft breweries—now well over 30–are experimenting and creating new beers with Copper Fox’s apple and cherry wood smoked malt, and mesquite smoked malt.   Results of this summer’s visits already include brews on tap or soon on tap at Old Bust Head Brewing, in Warrenton, VA  http://www.oldbusthead.com/  Firehouse Brewing, in Rapid City, SD  http://www.firehousebrewing.com/  Sawtooth Brewing, in Ketchum, ID  http://sawtoothbrewery.com/         The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company, in Canmore, Alberta (near Banff)  http://www.thegrizzlypaw.com/      and The Raw Deal/Real Deal Brewing, in Menomanie, WI  http://www.rawdeal-wi.com/  .   If you happen to be nearby any of these, you can enjoy a brew with a Copper Fox smoked malt as a key ingredient, and vicariously join our  “journeywise!”

Mural in Detroit

Mural in Detroit

There’s a bit more of the trip to catch up on, but we’ve now arrived back in Philadelphia, and midst the unpacking, sorting, and oh yes, planning the next trip, I’m behind my optimistic blogging schedule.  Soon to come – what did we learn and what’s next?  Stay tuned!

Truth Be Told…

It was July 21, the 71st day of our journey, and at long last (although that makes it sound as though we were actually eager to change direction…and we weren’t), we headed East, well, sort of!  We had planned to visit relatives in St. Paul, Minnesota after leaving California, but arrived via the states of Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa (yep, 7 states), and (pay attention!) having decided we needed to revisit Boise along the way.  “Ah,” you might be thinking, “they’re going back to Boise.”  And, you’d be right if you’re a tad suspicious about the reason.

YES – We have a number one “our spot” contender (for now) and it’s:  Boise, Idaho!  All this really means is that we know we’ll be going back to visit again, for longer, and in a different season.  No hasty decisions here, although truth be told, we did make a spontaneous offer on a house in downtown Boise, and perhaps for the best, we didn’t get it.  (Why we would make an offer that seems impetuous is a topic I’ll explore in another blog, especially because we did the same thing somewhere else!)  A close second is Fort Collins, Colorado, which feels welcoming each time we visit…but again, must go back for longer and not in the summer.

The feeling in the dusty red RAV4 is surprisingly different now that CW and I are driving into the rising sun in the mornings.  Some of the sense of excitement and exploration is muted – we’re covering a lot of territory quickly, and for now, spending time with friends and family instead of mostly on our own.  Only a few days of the remaining month will be in parts unknown (Canada, again.)

Three weeks after leaving Lake Tahoe, we drove away from St. Paul, rested, happy to have explored family roots and having reconnected with cousins, and now actually eager to travel on to Chicago and Detroit, with a few more visits to friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while.  Enjoy a small sampling of the photos I’m using both to record the journey and remind us of just why certain spots have seemed so very special!

Reno Diner - Right This Way!

Reno Diner – Right This Way!

Lonely Nevada Road

Lonely Nevada Road

Home for an RV!

Home for an RV!

Boise Downtown Lake

Boise Downtown Lake

Utah Agriculture

Utah Agriculture

More Utah Ag...

More Utah Ag…

Utah Sky

Utah Sky

Colorado Sky and ...

Colorado Sky and …

Softball Sized Dandelion

Softball Sized Dandelion

Colorado, Yes!

Colorado, Yes!

Fort Collins Suburb

Fort Collins Suburb

Larimer County Fair

Larimer County Fair

Fresh Eggs...Fort Collins

Fresh Eggs…Fort Collins

Nebraska Road

Nebraska Road

An Old Coca-Cola Sign

An Old Coca-Cola Sign

Wind Power in Iowa!

Wind Power in Iowa!

Minnesota Apples at the St. Paul Farm Market

Minnesota Apples at the St. Paul Farm Market

Cherry Tomato Bonanza

Cherry Tomato Bonanza

St. Paul Blooms at the Market

St. Paul Blooms at the Market

California, Dreaming…

Gallery

This gallery contains 35 photos.

We’re going to just go ahead and put California on a permanent wish list of places to live, and that’s where it will probably stay.  Perhaps if we’d bought that old Victorian in the Haight back in 1981 for $135,000, … Continue reading

Too Good for Words, Oregon!

Just about one month ago, we crossed the bridge to Astoria, Oregon from the Washington State portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail Highway – and no, it wasn’t in our imagination that the weather became misty, chilly, and very unsummer-like.  Just what I’d been hoping to avoid, as one of the “our spot” criteria happens to be a “generally sunny” prospect over the course of a year.  Here it was – a test for just how much flexibility I could encourage in CW, for whom “damp & chilly” has never been a welcome combination!

Nevertheless, Astoria proved to be much fun – a local brewery called Fort George (https://www.fortgeorgebrewery.com), a great local bakery and coffee shop (www.bluescorcher.com), art galleries, a fantastic Scandinavian shop (www.finnware.com), and (more than one!) wonderful independent bookstore – Lucy’s, and Godfather’s –  (http://www.lucys-books.com and www.yelp.com/biz/godfatherss-books-astoria).  With just under 10,000 people, the fact that Astoria supports not just one, but two local bookstores says a lot about the inquisitiveness and interests of the people who make it their home (at least I think so – and hope it’s not just that days tend to be chilly and damp, leading to many hours indoor to fill by reading!)

Lewis and Clark River

Lewis and Clark River

There’s a curious 125’ tall column high on a hill overlooking Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia River.  The amazing spiral frieze covering the outside has a panel celebrating the Lewis & Clark Expedition – I’m sure Captains Lewis & Clark never had such a wonderful view of the landscape, nor did they enjoy their stay in the vicinity as much as we did!  An excursion on another drizzly day took us to Fort Clatsop, which the Corps of Discovery built to overwinter in before their long journey home.   I really love the times during this trip in which the reading, planning, thinking and talking come together in a culminating moment – as it did at Fort Clatsop, where for just a few minutes while inside the dark, damp log walls, I could picture those intrepid explorers cursing the wet weather (it rained all but 12 days of their 3-months at the fort), the endless meals of elk and deer, and perhaps the stinking smell of their forever damp and vermin-infested fur clothes.  Ugh!  They left for the long return home on March 23, 1806 – having not just survived but exceeded all expectations for their journey of exploration.  It’s been an education following some of their trail, and relearning an important part of America’s history.  Sorry if I enthuse – it’s been great!!  (And I am oh so glad that our trip has included mostly dry and sunny camping.)

Astoria Column

Astoria Column

Fort Clatsop

Fort Clatsop

I loved Astoria’s funkiness, including the Fiber Arts “knit-bombing” installation, exploring the old cannery district where there are now restaurants, as well as sustainably-focused shops selling items of recycled sails and other boating-related materials.  Could we live in Astoria?  Probably not, but it’s definitely a place we’d like to return – hopefully, on a sunny day!  “Sun” appears to be a theme for this Oregon-focused blog!

Fiber Artists Installation

Fiber Artists Installation

Cannery Poster

Cannery Poster

Fish Scale

Another Kind of Fish Scale!

From Astoria we made the 2-hour drive to Portland, following the Columbia River much of the way.  The Pacific Northwest is stunningly beautiful – the varied greens (from bright emerald and apple green to dusky peat and mossy green), of the trees, valleys, and farms and the blues, greens, grays and browns of the rivers and lakes, highlighted against the sometimes startlingly blue sky, is breath-taking.  It was with much anticipation that we arrived in Portland, a city that I have developed a crush on over the past twenty years or so.   In Portland, wonderful friends from expat days in Paris hosted us, sharing superb Oregon wines, and generally acting as perfect “Portland is Your Spot” sales agents.  We’ll see…

Oregon was “too good for words!” So, the following photographs illustrate many of the enticing aspects of Oregon – for it’s become a contender in the search for our spot…

The Portland Art Museum has  wonderful permanent and visiting collections!  (http://www.portlandmuseum.org)

Omega by Linda Benglis

Omega by Linda Benglis

The farm market – located just outside the Art Museum – is super!

Farm Market Bouquet

Farm Market Bouquet

Blue, Red, Black, Berries!

Blue, Red, Black, Berries!

The Willamette Valley is well-known for its wines, but we also discovered the wines of the Applegate and Umqua Valleys, and explored Medford, Ashland, and tiny Jacksonville.  In Ashland, we were lucky to get tickets to “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” with an all-female cast in a wonderful performance  at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  (https://www.osfashland.org/en/productions/2014-plays/the-two-gentlemen-of-verona.aspx)

Wine Barrels

Wine Barrels

Willamette Valley Shack

Willamette Valley Shack

And then there was the outdoors – mountains, beaches, and dunes to explore.  Misty day?  Didn’t matter – the hiking was a little cooler, the leaves and berries glistening just a wee bit more with the dew.  We’ve been trail-snacking by foraging for berries (blackberries, mostly) – in Canada, Washington, and now Oregon.  Here we found yummy, ripe salal berries on a trail to the beach, and remembered reading that the Corps of Discovery had been given “salal berry bread,” by the native tribes – we were, after all, still communing with Lewis & Clark!

Snack! Salal Berries on the Bush

Snack! Salal Berries on the Bush

Anemones

Anemones

On the Dock

On the Dock

Stranded Jellyfish

Stranded Jellyfish

Coastal Beauty

Coastal Beauty

Driftwood

Driftwood

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

CW - Leap Into Lake

CW – Leap Into Lake

There were many moments in Oregon when I felt graced to spend time in nature’s cathedrals.  Oregon is beautiful.  And, yes, right up there near the top of the list!

Wildflower

Wildflower

Love in the Mist

Love in the Mist

Oregon Roses

Oregon Roses

CN - Last Summer Snow!

CN – Last Summer Snow!

 

Back in the U.S.A.! Ahhh.

Glimpse of Mt. Rainier

Glimpse of Mt. Rainier

Ahhh, Washington!  The state, that is.  Now this is a place we could live.  We’ve been here many times, and seem to keep coming back.  That should tell us something.  But…we haven’t experienced the full range of seasons, and that’s a project we plan to undertake in the coming year or so:  identify those special places that we feel we might call “home” for a while, and then settle in each one of them for a trial run.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have that flexibility and we’re grateful that we do.  We blew through Washington this time, staying with friends in Seattle who are long time East Coast transplants, and excellent, practical guides to their city.  What did we find or reconfirm this time around?  Good coffee?  Check!  Great farm markets?  Check!  Water sports? Check!  Museums? Check!  And the list goes on, and on, and on.  Will Seattle or somewhere close by prove to be “our spot?”  Time (lots of it there, in the rain, and the wind, and the gray, and the sunshine…) will tell.

Seattle Farm Market Offering

Seattle Farm Market Offering

Street Art

Street Art

We followed up on a serendipitous meeting we’d had while in the Grand Tetons, where we met artist Ian McMahon, who had just installed “Cascade” at the Suyama Space (http://www.suyamaspace.org/installations/ian-mcmahon-cascade) in downtown Seattle.  We visited the installation of two fragile, beautiful plaster curtains, which were illuminated by the sun coming through ceiling height windows…curtains that draped like fabric yet were solid and lovely, perplexing, intriguing.

 

Cascade: Plaster Curtains Installation

Cascade: Plaster Curtains Installation

Art exploration was a theme on this visit to Seattle, where we encountered formal works like Ian’s, and found others – like the popsicle street sculpture and the fragile shattered window, below.

Shattered:  Street Window

Shattered: Street Window

We left Seattle determined to get back to the Lewis & Clark Trail, which we’d last seen in South Dakota, many weeks ago.  We headed south from Seattle, planning to rejoin the expedition’s path near the mouth of the Columbia River, at a place William Clark called “Dismal Nitch,” pretty much summing up how they felt as they finally approached their goal of the Pacific Ocean in late 1805.  No fresh food, rotting clothing, miserable weather, and a race to see if they could reach the coast before the final trading ship of the season had come and gone.  They didn’t.  A storm kept them confined to the north shore of the great Columbia, and they missed the ship, though as we know, the Corp of Discovery eventually did reach the magnificent shore of the Pacific Ocean.  Dismal Nitch was still kind of dismal in 2014 – we were there on a windy, misty, gray day, and we spent just a few minutes looking at the river and signage about the Expedition, then zipped across the river to Oregon and the Corp of Discovery’s Fort Clatsop – their winter home.  We were now in Oregon, where I (at least) have high hopes of making our own fortuitous discoveries!

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”   Martin Buber

The Wonderful State of…Idaho

Uh oh, this is going to be a long one!  Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy!

There’s a long narrow strip of western Idaho that’s lush, gorgeous, and green, all the way from Boise in the south to tiny Bonner’s Ferry up in the panhandle near Canada…and after 4000+ miles, it’s along that route that we found a few places to add to an “our spot” list.  Let’s start with Boise!

But, wait…long before reaching Boise, Idaho’s capital city, we drove across the southern part of the state from Jackson, Wyoming.  We traversed miles and miles of high desert, with occasional cows, scruffy grass, and dusty hills interrupting the ruler-straight highway vista, until before our eyes, as if in a science fiction movie, appeared the following signs:

Mystery Signpost

Mystery Signpost

A Must Visit

A Must Visit

How could we not stop and visit?  What the heck does EBR-I stand for?  We learned it means Experimental Breeder Reactor One – the very first in the U.S.  In 1951, EBR-1 created enough electricity from nuclear power to light 4 200-watt bulbs.  The EBR-I museum is a time capsule of the 1950’s, and a superb short lesson in the U.S.A.’s nuclear power history.  Even with the warning that residual radioactivity (“not harmful”) was still decaying away but bound to certain places in the facility (those areas marked so helpfully by a purplish triangle), we spent about 45” wandering through the original nuclear power plant, exploring the former core of the breeder reactor, playing with the “grabbers” used to handle the fuel rods, and murmuring over the antique looking chains, pulleys and massive hooks that were used to move material around in the new atomic age.  The pioneering scientists who worked here were at the very edge of technological exploration, and it was a remarkable and unexpected lesson along our road.  If you’re ever on Route 26 in Idaho, do NOT pass this by – you may learn something, and you’ll certainly feel like you’ve become an extra in the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove. Curiously, the film was made the same year that EBR-I was decommissioned…

The Twilight Zone TV

The Twilight Zone TV

Dials, Switches & Buttons

Dials, Switches & Buttons

Pretty Nuclear Lights

Pretty Nuclear Lights

 

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion

 

 

 

 

Atomic City

Atomic City

 

 

 

 

 

We reached our stop in Sun Valley not long after the EBR-I visit, travelling from desert to the mountains and through the small towns of Hailey and Ketchum, both towns growing rapidly and increasing in price for real estate – thus not candidates for “our spot!”  We were generally dissuaded of any thought of settling in the Sun Valley area, though it was beautiful and there are great community activities (concerts, films, book talks) many of them free due to the beneficence of the Holding family who now own the resort.  They’ve built a wonderful outdoor concert venue and continue to play a major philanthropic role in the town.  For those with any political or U.S. history interests, here’s a tidbit:  Sun Valley Resort was developed by Averill Harriman, when he was chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1930’s, long before he begin his famed political career.

Back to the trip!  Two days passed quickly with friends who are long time Sun Valley residents and gave us a good look at what life in this lovely mountain retreat might be like.  We had a great hike in the lower mountains and an even more fun time participating in trivia night at the local dive bar…how lucky for us that many of the first questions were about Japan!  CW continued his local/craft brewery tour with a visit to Sawtooth Brewing in Ketchum.

Sun Valley might have been our spot – 20 years ago, when prices were lower…  We left for Boise after an amazing breakfast in Stanley, Idaho, a rafting and hiking base about an hour northwest of Sun Valley… with all that sunshine, an outdoor deck, great coffee, and good friends – it was a very hard combination to leave.

Stanley Bakery Menu

Stanley Bakery Menu

Eccentric Idaho City

Eccentric Idaho City

Misty Road to Boise

Misty Road to Boise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been to Boise a couple of times, and always left with a lingering feeling that we could perhaps find our spot there.  How does it meet the informal checklist? (A checklist that is going to have to take on substance soon, if we’re going to keep track of the growing number of locations that have whispered to us “stay here” or “come back…”)

Let’s recap some of the criteria:  access to hiking and the outdoors; culture; cultural diversity; a sustainable economy and food system; community; education; health care; climate…among a few others.

It seems CW and I are not the only ones exploring.  I was amused to read this article in the New York Times!  www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/your-money/Finding-the-Right-Place-to-Retire.html

The Boise farm market was great fun, as was the Boise Art Museum, which has an exhibit called “Crafting a Continuum” until August 9, 2014.  (http://www.boiseartmuseum.org/)  The ceramics, wood and fiber exhibit explores the permeable boundary that has developed between craft and art, asking us to accept functional, beautiful items as pieces of art (I have no problem with that – in fact, if a piece of art can be touched, caressed, and drawn into daily life, all the better!)  Anyway, a gem of a museum, and an unexpected and appealing part of downtown Boise.  More on Boise if and when I recap all those “our spots” that we find along the way.

We travelled north and enjoyed a few days on Lake Coeur D’Alene, again, courtesy of some very kind friends, and yes, “C D’A” is also an “our spot” candidate.  The drive was gorgeous all the way there, and while we’ve been super lucky with the weather so far, I think it would be great even in the rain.

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Farm near Kootenai

Farm near Kootenai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonner's Ferry Building

Bonner’s Ferry Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days on the water and exploring the towns of Coeur D’Alene and Bonner’s Ferry, we got our passports in order and headed for Canada.  À bientôt!

The Road to Canada

The Road to Canada