Adventure Travel In Photos North America Oregon The Nomadic Life

Brookings, Oregon: The End of the Oregon Coast Trail [photos]

For roughly two weeks I followed the Oregon Coast Trail by means of foot and wheel, finally finishing the trip outside Brookings, Oregon and camping there for two nights with the boyfriend.

Sunset at Harris Beach

Boyfriend + My Birthday(s) Dinner

Sunset at Harris Beach

Full Moon at Harris Beach

It's cherry season in Oregon!

Although hikers can feasibly attempt the trail as a thru-trail, most opt to do it in a series of short day hikes. After vaguely trying to hike the OCT from south to north, I can see why. Keep posted for more details on my opinions/reactions from Oregon’s seaside trail!

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Hitching a Ride from an Oregon State Trooper

We shyly put our thumbs down when we realized the car headed towards us had the ominous stamp of a state trooper vehicle. That did nothing to stop them from doing a u-turn in the middle of the highway and slowing to a stop just in front of me. Like an angry parent, the driver motioned for me to come to the car with his index finger and reluctantly I poked my head in to the passenger window and said hello.

“What on earth are you girls doing out here?” he asked.

We were approximately halfway between Yachats and Florence, OR. In other words, no where.

“Well, we were hiking rather unprepared and by the time we arrived at this camp site it was already too late in the day to continue hiking to Florence, and, well, all we have is some hummus and half a cucumber and need to get more food.”

They cracked a smile at my pathetic story and gave me the usual speil about how dangerous hitchhiking is before turning to each other and saying “well I suppose we could give you a ride down to Florence.” They acted as though they were going far out of their way but somehow I got the feeling they had been planning on giving us a ride the whole time.

Locked safely in the hard, plastic back seat of the state trooper car, Marian and I had the uncontrollable urge to giggle. The kind where one glance at the other person is enough to bring the laughter re-surfacing to a hilarious uproar. 

“Hey, hey, did you tell them about the drugs?” Marian joked.

Tears threatened to pour out.

“Ready?” the troopers shouted through the grate before speeding back down the snaking 101, classic rock blasting from the speakers. As we made our descent, they pointed out major attractions alongside the road and we joked that the driver should be a tour guide upon his upcoming retirement. Further down the road, the other went on about how crazy his son was for camping in the woods with nothing but a tarp.

Fifteen minutes later they dropped us outside of a Safeway and wished us luck on or journey. Safely away from them, we burst out in laughter. Besides the absurdity of our ride, I felt pleasantly surprised in the realization that the authority figures of my youth are human too.

Adventure Travel North America Oregon The Nomadic Life

Hiking in Cascade Head, Oregon

Neskowin to Lincoln City

Photo Credit: Marian Mclaughlin

The trail unofficially known as Phil was closed for good reason. But since our new friends in Neskowin who had dragged a plastic dining set to the beach to share a sunset pasta dinner with us had assured us it was OK to hike, we trekked on. A mudslide perhaps had strewn tree trunks and branches across the path and stream-fed weeds grew tall enough to render it invisible in parts.

On the other hand, boot and dog prints made us think we weren’t alone. Someone with a hatched (who we frankly referred to as hatchet man) had cut slits in the logs to make them passable, encouraging us to continue. However, when the dog prints clearly enlarged to bear prints my body tensed with anxiety and I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out and hitch a ride to Devil’s Lake.

Sure, I’ve been on sub-par trails and traipsed through the habitats of animals who sometimes maul humans, but I’d always had someone more experienced to defer to. My anxiety welled as I realized I was the experienced one.

I had forgotten to tell someone other than the Neskowin pair we’d known for less than a day about our whereabouts and the list of things that could go morbidly wrong raced through my mind. I suddenly felt foolish. So when the trail opened to a gravel road that cut through it, we abandoned our nature trek for the highway — too nervous from following bear tracks and tired of clapping our way up a mountain to say the hike was still enjoyable.


How Travel Teaches Minimalism

Credit to micmol @ flickr

This time next week, all my possessions will be in boxes and backpack again as I prepare to leave Seattle. Yet, last night when I invited a few friends over for a party — all my things still happily lapping up fresh apartment air on shelves and floor space — several of them joked about how little I owned. Regardless of the fact that I moved to Seattle via airplane (and therefore a restricted amount of luggage I could bring) and with the intention of staying less than a year, minimalism and living with fewer possessions has been one of the many unexpected lessons of vagabonding.

Through traveling we learn to be resourceful. We are forced to dump our backpacks out on hotel beds and create “need” and “don’t really need” piles. When you carry your home on your back, buying anything suddenly becomes a weighted decision. Do I need this enough to carry the extra bulk? Is it worth the money I could be spending on a nicer meal or putting towards sleeping in a bed instead of a tent? Couldn’t I use my [insert item here] that I already own for that purpose instead? After enough time, most travelers, especially of the budget/backpack variety either wittingly or not become minimalists. We want versatile, multi-purpose items. We want less. At some point we realize that we’ve lived perfectly fine without most of our old possessions for X months, years, on the road, so why would we need to accumulate just because we’re stationary again?

This is how the travel mindset seeped in to my stationary life and I came to have nothing but a table, a futon, and a milk crate full of books in my apartment. (Minimalist or not, books are still a guilty purchasing pleasure I attribute to my parents buy-whatever-book-you-want attitude when I was a kid.) In part, I wanted to get off the road and post up somewhere for awhile so I could indulge in the aspects of a stationary life, of which not caring about the total weight and space of my possessions, own an herb garden and a nice large french press, was one. But somehow in despite of this I never really accumulated. Herb garden and french press, check, but then that was it. Once a traveler always a traveler I suppose, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever stop avoiding a car purchase like the plague.

Long term travel teaches us a plethora of habits and mentalities we carry with us into every day life. Seriously rethinking material possessions was a major one for myself, although I do have daydreams of someday owning a bed AND a couch… *shhh*

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Couchsurfing Beyond Travel: Getting Involved in Local CS Communities

Couchsurfers at an art galleryThe Seattle Freeze
“So, you’re new here?” the obviously drunk girl in front of me in line for the bathroom asked, “have you ever heard of the ‘Seattle Freeze’?” “No, I haven’t,” I replied, and as though she were purposely continuing the mystique of the question, she merely said “look it up,” and went to the next open stall.

According to a Seattle Times article (and not the drunk girl), the Seattle Freeze is a sort of “have-a-nice-day-(elsewhere)” mentality that many transplants to Seattle experience. People in the Pacific Northwest are notorious for their polite, laid-back demeanor, but newcomers to the city find it difficult to get past these initial, superficial interactions and form a circle of friends.

Breaking the Ice
My experience of moving to Seattle felt nothing like the frustrations transplants in the article and at various temp jobs spoke of. In attempt to make friends, I decided to tap in to one of the many resources for meeting people I use while traveling: Couchsurfing (CS). If it works when I’m on the road, why shouldn’t it work when I’m relocating to a different city?

I approached moving the way I would traveling and in the process discovered that although Couchsurfing generally has a reputation as a resource for connecting travelers and locals, local CS communities put like-minded travelers and travel enthusiasts in touch who, for whatever reason, aren’t traveling. “Couchsurfers are naturally curious people,” one friend theorized, “and I think you have to have a sort of open mindset to sign up for the site in the first place that makes it so easy to befriend strangers.”

How Local CS Communities Connect
Seattle’s Couchsurfing community celebrated their second annual camping trip (which I was lucky to be a part of!) a few weeks ago and more than 45 couchsurfers and friends drove out to the Olympic Peninsula for a friendly take over of 5 camp sites and to meet new people living in and around Seattle. Although some travelers joined the epic camp trip, most attendees were either transplants or natives to Seattle. Some found linking up with fellow CS-ers at home a way to cope with coming back from a long trip, while others were simply interested in making friends with other well-traveled, adventurous people. Either way, the trip demonstrated CS’s ability to be more than just a travel resource.

Find CS-ers in Your Area
In both Washington D.C. (my hometown) and Seattle (my new town), regular CS happy hour events were posted on the “groups” forums as well as other random hikes, yoga sessions, or outings to art galleries and outdoor cinemas. There’s even a CS camp at Burning Man now. Sift through community posts by location or theme, or browse events in your area. Alternatively, if you have an idea of something you’d like to do, create an event or post yourself — even if you don’t know anyone, you may be surprised by the responses you receive.

However, while Seattle has a unusally active group — with at least 2 or 3 meetups with great turnout each week — not every city has such a strong bond between local CS-ers. Maybe it’s the Seattle Freeze or high rate of transplants that pushed us towards alternative ways of making friends, maybe not. In any case, I’d like to think Seattle is living proof of the potential CS has for bringing people together, both on the road and off.

The Nomadic Life

Goats, Tajine, and Rock Climbing in Toudra, Gorge, Morocco

Old, familiar muscles in my forearms begin to wake from a long hibernation as I wrap my fingers around the porous, red limestone of Morocco’s Todra Gorge. I never realized limestone could feel so rough, but relish the satisfaction of letting it carve calluses in my fingers and the sticky ease with which I move 60 feet above the valley. My body remembers the movements but nothing about the stinging smell of smoke and the day’s first shouted greetings between souvenir shop owners fits my registrar of what-it’s-like-to-rock climb.

I am a dot on the wall of the massive, towering, rock face that all but engulfs the gurgling Dades River that long ago dominated the landscape before cutting the gorge into existance. It feels unconquerable, yet each year hordes of climbers gather to clip in to the ancient stone. Gracefully, they balance, crimp, and grip their way thousands of feet upwards to where the rock meets the sky. I set my goal lower.

My feet find refuge on a wide ledge while I scan for my next move, but call and response bleats among a herd of sheep interrupt my focus. They lethargically envelop my partner Mohammad, like an army of invading clouds, led by an elderly Berber wrapped in the traditional, hooded, djellaba, and an uncanny resemblance to a Jedi master. Before climbers began trekking here for steep ascensions, nomadic pastoralists like the Jedi followed the natural eating patterns of their livestock throughout the High Atlas Mountains. I pause to watch these representatives of modern and tradition collide before yelling, “Take!” and continue along the vertical route millennia of weather has constructed and only recently humans have attempted to conquer.

The bleating fades out, the rush of water becomes a meditative rhythm, and intuitively my body sends me higher and higher until… “Fin!” I shout to Mohammad. Immediately, a burst of claps and shouted applause from a group of urban Moroccan teenagers shatter my peaceful sense of accomplishment and I snap to attention. It isn’t just the rock and me today – it’s me and the rock above a whole microcosm of life; the quiet gurgle of glacier water competing with young children splashing each other and the muffled hum of tourist vans. He slackens the rope while I try to pretend it’s totally normal to repel down from a climb to the congratulatory soundtrack of picnicking youth who gather here each Sunday. My expression, unsurprisingly, gives me away.

My arms, pulsating strained energy, prevent my fists from closing and urge an end to the climb. I coil up the rope and my partner tosses the heavy load of gear on his shoulder to prepare for a slow shuffle down the black tarmac that runs through the gorge; the river demoted to a curbside attraction. Off the wall, we re-immerse into the activity brought on by the mid-afternoon sun; the gorge has awoken.

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Local Lunchtime Discoveries in Ballard, Seattle: End

Monday’s Find

So, you know how sometimes you travel to a new corner and discover something so good you can’t be bothered to explore past that something? That all you want to do is indulge while you have the chance? Well, that’s kind of what happened today — instead of venturing out into Ballard to see what new stuff it had to offer, I ended up at El Camion once again, but this time with some spectacular company and a good dose of sunshine. I won’t bother telling you how delectable their food for the second time, so enjoy a few photos from the morning (bike) commute instead:

Taken near the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union.

Taken in Old Ballard

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Local Lunchtime Discoveries in Ballard, Seattle: 20twenty & Second Ascent

Friday’s Find


Initially, I was determined to track down some of Ballard’s Scandinavian roots for my Friday find, but aside from the Nordic Heritage Museum and a couple of shops/restaurants too far away for me to reasonably visit on a lunch break, none of the neighborhood’s more central Scandinavian staples still stand. Instead, I settled for pursuing affordable vintage clothes at 20twenty and geeking out over discount outdoors gear at Second Ascent.

From past experiences, I’ve found that Ballard is h0me to quite a few unique but pricey (!!) boutiques so stumbling on 20twenty — with $10 t-shirts, shoes under $50, and a whole host of other wallet-friendly vintage goodies — provided a happy contrast to its higher end neighbors. Finally! A Ballard clothing store broke office temps can afford!

After contemplating a polyester rainbow-striped and sequined skirt reminiscent of a circus tent (among other things), I headed across the street to Second Ascent outdoor retailers. In a city where the uber-outdoorsy has a prominent place in everyday fashion you don’t have to travel far to find stores like Second Ascent. However, their used gear selection is worth sifting through before caving to the incredible convenience of REI’s mega selection. North Face soft shell jacket for $60? Sure, I’ll skip working on my REI dividend for that. And besides, REI doesn’t let lazy dogs nap at their store’s entrance…

Visit Second Ascent @ 5209 Ballard Avenue Northwest and 20twenty @ 5208 Ballard Ave

Previous finds: one. two. three.

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Local Lunchtime Discoveries in Ballard, Seattle: El Camion Taco Truck

Still at large and exploring Ballard; catch up and view Tuesday and Wednesday!

Thursday’s Find

Photo Credit: El Camions website

Just when I was about to make a run back to the office and call this lunchtime tourist attempt a rain-drenching fail, thumping Latino music and a large “Now with tacos!” sign on a billboard lured me in the other direction.

Maybe I didn’t see enough of them growing up, but now the mere sight of a taco truck is enough for me to stop what I’m doing and approach said taco truck. And since the rain was getting heavier and this particular truck had covered tables, I really couldn’t resist. Turns out, I had stumbled on one of El Camión’s Mexican food trucks that dot the parking lots of several Seattle neighborhoods and turn out tacos and comida auténtica mexicana mouthwateringly delicious enough to win them several “Best of” awards with Seattle Met.

They’re well deserved. After spending far too long trying to decide on what to order, I opted for their grilled veggie mulita (something I’d never even heard of before…), which is essentially a cheesy, avocado and veggie-filled, mound of spicy goodness stuck between two fresh, corn tortillas. However, a few peeks at the enticing-looking yellow rice and generously sized burritos on other customers plates makes me think I couldn’t really have gone wrong with whatever I ordered. Disappointingly though, they were out of their  Champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate) but since they provided even further reprise from the rain with the heated dining tent next to the truck, I think I can forgive them for this one!

Visit El Camión @ 5314 15th Ave NW or one of their other 2 locations

North America The Nomadic Life The United States

Local Lunchtime Discoveries in Ballard, Seattle: Cafe Besalu

In continuation of my lunchtime tourism in Ballard…

Wednesday’s Find

Founded with the hidden, backstreet pastry shops of Europe in mind, family owned Cafe Besalu was the real reason I ended up on the corner of 24th Ave NW and 59th St NW yesterday. Unfortunately it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays so I had to put it off for a day, which ended up being yesterday! I didn’t find anything special about the atmosphere, but that’s not how they earned their 5-star yelp rating and multiple “best of Seattle” awards. Rather, it’s their croissants, pastries, and coffee.

I wanted to order everything. But instead opted for one of their vegetarian quiches, goat cheese and leek, a croissant, and pain au chocolate. Since their website touts that Besalu is “possibly the best croissant bakery on the entire American continent” I felt I couldn’t leave without one (or two). The quiche was rich and flavorful, and while I still prefer the croissants of Bakery Nouveau, Besalu did not leave me disappointed. They were flaky, buttery, soft, and just-out-of-the-oven fresh (Besalu makes their goods in house) — in short, everything a croissant should be. I may have to return to sample their cardamom pretzels, however…

After Besalu, I continued to wander about the historic section of Ballard, which still carries traces of its Scandinavian-influenced past in the architecture and of course, elements of Seattle’s quirky personality. Historically, Ballard has had a large fishing, boat building, and lumber industry, and even today large ship yards still dominate the waterfront. Possibly I’ll post a photo tomorrow… but for now the camera is dead :/

Visit Cafe Besalu @ 5909 24th Avenue Northwest

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Local Lunchtime Discoveries in Ballard, Seattle: Java Bean

I seriously don’t talk about Seattle enough, but since moving here in October I’ve really fallen in love. Problem is, it takes far too much effort for me to leave the hill (Capitol Hill that is) and explore elsewhere. However, this week I’ll be in Ballard on an office temp assignment and have decided to take advantage of my longish lunch breaks and play tourist.

Tuesday’s Find:

Enticed by a super-friendly Golden Labrador hanging around the rows of old-school metal sun chairs outside Java Bean, I used my first lunch break to sample some of this cozy cafe’s coffee — after getting covered in dog hair from petting the lab, of course. According to the outgoing barista behind the counter, the Cafe Vienna (a cinnamon infused vanilla latte) and Cafe Mole (the chocolate version of a Cafe Vienna) have been in house specialties since opening 21 years ago.  In attempt to satisfy my sweet tooth, I went for the Cafe Vienna which ended up being super creamy, tasty, and of course, chocolaty. It kind of lost the cinnamon flavor after the first few sips, but the chocolate held on strong. Extra props to Java Bean for having (*gasp*) comfortable sofas too!

(Visit Java Bean @ 5819 24th Avenue Northwest)

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Sunset at Gasworks Park

Because when the sun’s out in Seattle, we all spring to life… These are from a recent bike ride to Gasworks Park in Wallingford. As the name suggests, the park’s main lure is an old, unused gasification plant. While a good portion is barred off by fences, some of it is still fair game for monkeying around.


The Nomadic Life

Thumb Journeys: Riding for Free Across Three Continents

A collection of memories traveling across Africa, Central America, and Europe told through the generosity others gave me.

Lugano – Berlin

Biglietto, per favore,” (ticket, please) the ticket collector said.

I took a breath and tried not to look as nervous as I felt. “Um. Er. Do you speak English?” I asked before launching into a pathetic explanation about why I didn’t have a ticket. “I have a flight back to the U.S. in Berlin in 14 hours… I need to be there… my wallet was stolen… I have no money for the train.”

He looked at me sternly for a few seconds and finally replied, “do you have your passport?”


5 Things I Learned From Sleeping on Couches

Like most of the website’s some 2.5+ million members, I first joined in order to travel differently, meet people living in the places I planned to visit, and possibly host a few. Over the past three years, couchsurfing (CS) has definitely facilitated more than a few adventures and sent some wonderful characters my way, but it also had the unexpected side affect of refining some serious life skills through the unique social interactions it creates. Who knew sleeping on strangers’ couches would later help deal with things like doing temp work or relinquishing some control in kitchen? Here are 5 skills CS helped me improve:

Teaching Abroad

The Guilt Complex of Teaching English Abroad

Imperialism is dead, right?

We certainly aren’t grabbing land in the way our colonialist forefathers were, but I still can’t make this statement with absolute certainty. And it’s just this thought that inspired a discussion with other English language teachers and students about whether our presence in other countries is OK — morally sound and the like. As ESL teachers, we are also passing along our cultures and values, not just our language, and some worry that by doing so we are replacing equally valid cultural practices. That by making English the de facto language of international business, we are likewise creating a sphere where British and American standards of business conduct take precedence over others and become the “norm”. It implies hierarchy and hegemony.

But if we are to assume that, what linguist Phillipson refers to as “linguistic imperialism” — or the concept that a one-way transfer of language demonstrates assertion of power — is taking place, we are also making the assumption that non-Anglophone countries have no part in deciding if they want their populations learning English. We are also ignoring the value the international community has placed on knowing many languages, not just English.

Lesson Planning with Shaina in Costa Rica

Furthermore, this idea that ESL teachers may be doing something wrong and oddly neo-colonialist didn’t occur so much to my students as it did to my colleagues. Instead, the English language learners I’ve worked with and befriended have continually expressed that they view English as a way to interact with an international community and advance within their careers.

“With English, I can travel anywhere, talk to anyone” a student at a Korean test prep center told me last summer. And its (mostly) true. Unlike many other languages we have the option of learning, English gives students access not just to English-speaking cultures, but almost any culture they’re interested in.

So, should we feel guilty about teaching ESL abroad? Probably not — as language teachers we have the creative freedom to touch on a vast array of topics, meaning, if English has become the first step towards entering an international community, why shouldn’t our classrooms be as well?

Globally Focused Lesson Plan Ideas: This is a collection of “talking point” ideas aimed at getting your students to discuss a variety of topics. Not all are globally focused, but it’s worth sifting through. Mostly geared towards adult learners.

ESLflow: Here you can find a good collection of materials and ready-made lesson plans for discussing cultures and customs.