In a final visit quite unforeseen, I retraced my steps into central San Francisco once more to call upon the first friend I made during my adventure of the previous seven months. Dan, my amigo from Tennessee, my house-mate in Buenos Aires, had recently completed a move to the city and so we arranged to rendezvous one evening with a bottle of Californian red to reminisce about "old times". I arrived late, the cold, damp night hanging limp upon my clothes and skin as I wandered through the Sunset district; a densely populated region to the west of downtown, next to the ocean (hence 'sunset') and, therefore, also within easy proximity of the seasonal mist and sea-fog that is so common in San Francisco at this time of year. I was in for a surprise: while I have spent the last six months avoiding foreign hair-dressers like a virulent form of the plague, with the not undesirable result that I now have hair to rival that so loved during the swinging sixties, Dan has travelled in the opposite direction, so that where once I knew a chap with hair flowing energetically from head and chin, sweeping down throat and neck in a chaotic ensemble, there now stood before me a man with short hair rising into a small, unobtrusive quiff, clean-shaven. How the tables can turn!
We drank and chatted into the night, proceedings culminating in a stroll to the sea-front in the early hours. Standing in the sand, listening to the waves crashing in against the darkness, the wind whipping through us, we both grew quiet in peaceful appreciation of the magic of the experience. We returned to the flat after fostering the cold chill of the night for as long as felt tolerable and I bunked down on yet another welcoming couch for a short sleep. The next day, before boarding the train back to Palo Alto one final time, Dan took me to a quite stunning tea emporium. The walls were crowded with shelves packed out with all manner of exotic, exciting combinations of teas, from infusions to herbals, blacks to blends. Amazed and rather incapacitated by the mind-boggling array of choice, finally I settled upon a blend that is reputedly the favourite of the Dalai Lama himself, whom I decided would surely suffice as my spiritual guide in this delicate matter. The tea was scrumptious, the location sumptuous and the talk satisfying: it was great to see the positive effects that the move has conjured for Dan so far. I departed with a smile upon my face, destined to call briefly back at Abra's in Palo Alto, before heading on down to commence a whistle-stop tour of Santa Cruz and a visit to my friend Sarah, whom a met in Cusco while we both volunteered with 'Aldea Yanapay'.
Santa Cruz and Sarah proved to be wonderful hosts and so I enjoyed another couple of days of quiet contemplation interspersed with exciting outings; voyages of discovery into a foreign scene. Left to my own devices one morning, I ambled along the water-front, through an antiquated beach-side arcade, very reminiscent to the photographs that I have seen of Brighton pier, or Blackpool. Most of the rides, the food stalls and the shops were closed, as we have now arrived in autumn and so the resort is "out of season" but, the final section of the promenade remained open and upon stepping inside a large gaming arcade, I was immediately taken back in time many years to my first holiday without my family, when I travelled to Barmouth with a friend and his parents. Then the weather had been less than favourable and so we had amused ourselves during the dank daytime with trips to the camp-site's gambler's den, a place that now seems desperate with its lack-lustre inhabitants and gaudy slot-machines but, at the time, was incredibly exciting for a young boy. I recalled also, while meandering along the wood-decked walkway, anecdotes from Down Gran detailing her own experiences at Blackpool, during its famous heydays of yester-year.
The afternoon was filled by a trip to the rural, open campus of Sarah's university and a tranquil walk through the redwood forest found therein. I marveled at the size and height to which these fabulous trees pertain and we passed much of the route in liberating, empowering conversation concerning fate, destiny, our role within these elusive concepts, as well as slightly more mundane trivia such as commenting upon how beautiful were our surroundings! The trip, although short due to my needing to catch a train from the southern outskirts of San Francisco up into the state of Oregon later that evening, was nonetheless a lovely tonic for the soul and it was super to be able to call up Sarah, no matter for how brief a time period.
The train journey to which I just referred must also be recorded here, being an event of such interest and alarm. Now, I do not wish to further fuel the rightly lambasted stereotypes attributed to those wonderful folk who choose to travel the country - any country - by public transport: indeed, as this blog surely indicates, I myself fall into just such a laudable category. However, the train-ride of sixteen hours from San Jose to Eugene, my first stop in Oregon, is worthy of mention for the endearing, if rather alarming, antagonists in my hedonistic crusade. I boarded the train and stowed away my bags, before taking my seat and settling comfortably. No sooner was this achieved than the lady sat across from me played her opening conversational gambit, asking to which destination I was headed. It soon became apparent that this charming woman was incapable of speaking without letting loose a girlish, anxious giggle and felt compelled to explain - not just to myself but, also to every other passenger who happened to step within a reasonable proximity - that the dear little dog accompanying her was a "service dog" and therefore entitled to her position on-board the train and therefore immune to any potentially accusatory stares on the part of we fellow travellers. Certainly, I harboured no feeling of ill-will towards such a well-behaved, four-legged companion but, I did grow rather tired of hearing the same defence issued, as if on a loop, every few minutes for much of the first few hours of the journey. The lady sat in front of my seat proved keen also to make her presence known to her peers: partially deaf in both ears, my heart skipped the occasional beat to hear her deafening voice boom forth at quite random intervals, often to lament the sad fact that she herself had been unaware of the train's policy to allow service animals to travel with their owners; otherwise she need never have been so painfully parted from her own dear dog, 'Snuffles', of whatever interesting nomenclature pertained to this furry guardian angel.
Hoping to escape this sorry scene and purchase some such edible "pick-me-up", I made my way swiftly to the dining car and with it the accompanying snack-shop. Here I was quickly cornered by another fascinating passenger; this time a builder from Oregon with more than a passing interest in Latin, Roman military garb, Russian greetings, football ("soccer" - please), sustainable, 'green' construction techniques, remarkably accurate foreign accents, public speaking and speakers of the twentieth century and a great many other similarly diverse topics, all punctuated by a liberal dose of personal anecdotes. In many situations, such an interesting character could have contributed to a conversation lasting hours. Sadly, deprived of sleep due to the aforementioned suspects and victim to a stylistic approach that amounted to being spoken at rather than with, I endured the man's talented witticisms and so-such for some hour and a half (in which time I was distracted from viewing a remarkable set of waterfalls from the side of the train on which we were not sat), before finally breaking and excusing myself with talk of the need to prepare my bags in readiness of disembarkation at Eugene… some hour further down the line: oh well. I arrived, at long last, at the station and practically threw myself from the huffing carriage, out onto the bustling platform for a glad reunion with Courtney, an acquaintance from Baños, Ecuador and the latest friend to enjoy a call from my one-man travelling band back within the setting of their home.
I have now been here in Eugene some two days and already I have fallen deeply in love with the picturesque beauty of the Oregon landscape; with its tall forests, standing proud, pointing towards the heavens; with its rustic beaches and freezing surf, backdrop to some of the finest sunsets I have witnessed in my entire trip; with its friendly people and their presentation of yet another niche sport, this time frizz-golf, in which players thrown small frizz-bees towards a 'hole', a metallic basket, into which they aim to sink their 'ball', frizz-bee, within the necessary number of 'shots', throws, to make par or better - an excellent little game and far superior to golf itself, I am sure. This interesting interlude occurred when I accompanied Courtney to visit some old college friends on one of the sunniest days that the area has seen this summer, apparently: I am convinced by now that I have somehow managed to harness the sun and so it simply feels compelled to follow me wherever I happen to go, a situation that would please many in my predicament but then, they do not have skin that spontaneously combusts upon prolonged (perhaps, minute-long) exposure to the fiery globe's rays. Making the most of the enviable weather, some of our number continued on to the beach after the frizz-golf; a journey of some ninety minutes through yet more laudable landscape. After enjoying another evening stroll down to a sandy beach, again in time to watch the sun's swift descent below the waves, Courtney, I and two friends headed to a local brew-house and indulged in some hearty ales. Displaying my usual ineptitude for making any sort of decision, the attendant to our table took pity and ended up bringing me six tasters to sample (for the price of four, the number that I had indicated that I should like to try - simply, he found further examples that he thought suitable: who was I to complain?). Every sample was enjoyable - even the dark, stout porters - and we passed a lovely evening, before Courtney and I excused ourselves in time to make the two-hour return drive to Eugene at a reasonable hour (our companions were to spend the night in a wonderful apartment above the ale-house, lucky so-and-sos).
Yesterday, Courtney took me, her housemate Megan and Megan's boyfriend Josh to hike a short trail to the Kentucky Falls, some hour or so from Eugene by car. The walk took us through some wonderful, secluded forest, full of ram-rod straight tree-trunks reaching high into the canopy overhead, beside a tinkling stream that in places grew to appear more reminiscent of the river that forms the falls themselves. The atmosphere in the forest was dulled it seemed to me; our voices and the noise made underfoot muted by the overgrowth crowding in on all sides - indeed, our conversation itself was quietened by our reverence towards such a bucolic idyll; our footsteps slowed, steadied, made meticulous by the need to look up and out at everything around us. As has so often been the case on this trip, my mind was transported back to a fond memory; this time to a family trip to North Carolina and the abundant forests to be explored there. I welcomed the implicit comparison in my mind: I felt no need to contemplate elevating one location over the other and yet, at the same time, I was able to enjoy reminiscing for a short while over the wonderful feelings that were induced by my recalling such a happy family holiday from so many years ago.
The culmination of the trail, at the falls themselves, brought forth yet more glorifying comments from our little band: water shot off a cliff-edge above and tumbled out into space, falling to the pool below. I took it upon myself to risk live and limb a top a fallen trunk stretched across the river for cheap thrills and a tempting photo opportunity. It was at this point that the sky began to dark and the first water of my time in the US fell on me in earnest (discounting the sea-drizzle experienced in San Francisco). We strode back to the car-park and our warm transportation home in time for Courtney and I to enjoy dinner out at a nice spot towards her university's campus, followed by a trip to the cinema to catch the 'Star Trek' re-make for fifty cents apiece (what a bargain!). I was happily surprised by the film and by the realization such a viewing brought forth of just how much I had enjoyed the 'Star Trek' series on television as a child. We returned home engrossed in conversation revolving around the film, among other things, in time to indulge in a quick, late-night soak in the hot-tub - yes, you have read that correctly: I am currently staying in a student house here in Eugene that has a hot-tub in its garden; ah, Lenton!
In the next few days, I shall continue my journey north to become acquainted - albeit very slightly - with Portland and Seattle, before flying home from the latter destination in under one week's time. As that date approaches, I find my mind increasingly occupied with thoughts of home and of all that I shall enjoy there upon my (triumphal?) return. It is not that I have finally endured enough of this travel-business; simply that as the concrete date set for my return nears, my mind naturally turns towards this as it would - and has done - towards any approaching destination upon the road. Nonetheless, this is a destination to which I feel especially drawn, of course and to which I entertain particularly exhilarating thoughts: I shall see some of you very soon!
Best wishes to all!