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So in January, we got our first visitor ever from Mauritania.

beachNo, not Mauritania. This is Ecola State Park, on the Oregon coast. Where the Ewoks were filmed, where the forest planet of Endor is .

No, scratch that, that’s not true. This guy’s best friend actually came–remember?–with a group of people from all over the world. But this was the first time we knew someone was coming ahead of time, and we planned on it. (well sort of.)

We saw him in November in Nouakchott, on that trip that I’m taking so very long to tell you about. “I’m coming to America in January,” he told us. “I’ll see you then.” We gave him all our contact information. He’s a great guy, genuinely nice, a former student who’s doing really well and has far outpaced us in life.

On January 1st, he wrote me privately on Facebook, telling me he’d arrive in San Francisco on Jan 10th and come to Portland 2 days later. I wrote back, welcoming him, and asking him to send us his flight info and itinerary. He cunningly maintained radio silence. I wrote again on the 8th, 9th and twice on the 10th, since this was the only contact info I had for him. Finally on the 10th I wrote his friend back in Mauritania, who told me he was supposed to arrive in New York that day. He contacted me late that night and told me he was going to buy his ticket to Portland next day. And so he showed up at the airport about 10:30 on the night on the 12th, Monday. He had hoped to arrange several meetings with some local government officials, but they were unable to fit him in when he called them on Tuesday morning.

Things he experienced for the first time on his first trip to America:

  • wearing a seatbelt
  • Thai food
  • wearing a seatbelt every time he got in the car, no really, every single time, it’s not optional, put it on please
  • Mexican food
  • sitting next to someone who was drinking. (Mauritania is a dry country, and he had never seen someone drink alcohol before. He flew Air France. He told Donn he was afraid his seatmate would go beserk after the small bottle of Merlot. He had no idea what to expect)
  • forests
  • fish and chips
  • how to successfully put on a seat belt (clue: it doesn’t go behind your head)
  • jet lag
  • indoor heating

The weather was glorious, freakishly warm, in the mid-60s. We took him to the Oregon coast, where Donn and I walked round in shirtsleeves and he wore a thick parka that we’d loaned him. He commented on how much he liked that the sun wasn’t as warm, the light more diffused this far north.

trees at oswald

We walked through a small bit of old-growth forest on the way to the beach. He was amazed–he’d never seen trees like this before, thick and hoary, moss-covered, reaching far into the sky overhead. We all enthused about the air, so sweet and refreshing, and we all took great gulps. He commented on how great trees are–“except at night, when they can kill you,” he said. What? we said. Kill you? we said? What? we said.

Yes yes, he explained. Everyone knows that trees put out oxygen during the day but carbon monoxide at night. Um, no. No they don’t, we said. Really. Truly.

We knew Mauritanians didn’t like trees. They don’t have many of them, living in the Sahara desert as they do, and the few they have they tend to cut down. It’s common to visit a house and find the entire yard has been paved over. But we thought this was because they believe trees attract mosquitoes and because they needed the wood for charcoal.

I think we convinced him.

He also told us tales of life growing up in a small village. When he was in high school, his mother paid a local woman to serve him zrig every morning on his way to classes. Zrig is a mix of milk (usually powdered, in the city at least), water and sugar. It sounds innocuous but I never really liked it and my kids all hated it. The story he told us gave us a reason why. Apparently in parts of the country they add sheep’s urine. No that’s not a typo. Even he agreed it was gross. He said it gives a sort of astringent quality to the drink. I say it gives me an excuse to never drink it again.

On another day, Donn took him down the Columbia River Gorge, an area of breathtaking natural beauty, lush with green ferns and flowing with waterfall after waterfall. They stopped at Multnomah Falls, the biggest, and hiked up to the first lookout, along with many many other people. We’ve been there countless times, and have seen prom pictures and wedding pictures and myriad tourist pictures being taken. (aside: don’t people taking photos with tablets look silly? Remind me to never do that)

A woman and a photographer were there, and her top fell off–twice. So this was the first experience of topless photos done–and it would be done in front of someone from one of the most isolated and inhibited cultures in the world. You just can’t plan things like this. I can only imagine the stories he’s telling.

He left on the Friday, early, still jet-lagged. He is, always, unfailingly polite, but I think he had a good time. Overwhelmingly new, but good. I think he’ll be back.

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When Michelle and I knew each other in Mauritania, we both went to the beach pretty much every single Saturday. We all did (we being a large-ish group of expats). There wasn’t a lot to do otherwise, and it was a fun family and friend day. Here is a sample story of a fairly average week, except for the shark and the car being on fire. Although honestly, it was a fairly average day since that level of “excitement” wasn’t unusual. (edited to add: i just added in the link. Sheesh. Why didn’t someone tell me?)

Michelle now lives in Kansas. (I need more coffee since I wrote “Michelle know lives.” Be right back) For those of you a bit vague on your American geography, Kansas is right smack in the middle of this vast, continent-wide country, big on amber waves of grain but low on shining seas. She hadn’t been to the beach in 3 years, and she had never seen the Oregon coast. Naturally, we had to take her.

We also took Eve and her artist husband. I have been very worried about Eve lately. I think she’s been quite depressed. She won’t leave her tiny dark apartment, even when we invite her places. She sleeps a lot, and doesn’t get up even when we come to visit. So I was very happy when she allowed herself to be persuaded to come with us. Her husband deals with past horrors through painting beautiful pictures, but Eve doesn’t have that outlet.

We drove to the middle of the State in order to visit my favorite beach, Fogarty. We went here last month with the kids and it was gorgeous and sunny. Yesterday was foggy and overcast, but warm and not raining. For the Oregon Coast it was enough.

Fogarty has lots of driftwood and kelp.  There are enormous tangles of kelp, like ropes or intestines.

Sometimes the kelp is stinky, but always, it is interesting.

It lies in swirls and loops; it attaches itself to rocks and wood.

heap o’ kelp

Fogarty also features lots of driftwood, offering places to sit and relax and enjoy the view.

Aside: Those steps did not used to be there. (what horrible syntax) I am a horrible cantankerous grouch when it comes to beachside development. This would ONLY be good if I lived there!

I call this one “dragon driftwood.” It has been there for years and years, lying there through storms and sun while I was off gallivanting round the globe and living in the desert where the beach has no such logs. (It looks more like a dragon from the other end, but I liked this angle. Squint a bit and use your imagination.)

We explored the bottom of the cliffs and got our feet soaked in the process.

We looked at strange protrusions in the rock face.

We took lots of pictures, even Michelle, who still has pictures from 3 years ago on her memory card.

looking north

I love how the incessant wind shapes the trees.

Even though it wasn’t sunny, it was pleasantly warm. After a while we left the coarse sand and kelp

and drove further south, stopping to look for whales. All that kelp bobbing about in the waves does make the Oregon Coast a good spot for whale watching. In fact, when we came down with the kids for the day last month, we spotted 3 whales! Yesterday we had no luck though.

We went as far as Depoe Bay, where we bought enormous ice-cream cones and coffee, then we drove home. Eve was the happiest I have ever seen her. “I am so happy,” she kept saying, as if amazed at herself. “This is Paradise,” she said at one point. Who cared if the sun actually shone, rather than merely peeping through the fog? Who cared if the whales spouted and showed themselves? It was another perfect day.

May 2018
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