Simply Serendipity

I boarded a direct flight to Portland, Oregon. I didn’t know where I was going to stay, what I was going to do, or how long I would be in town, but I felt extremely positive vibes pulsating within me. My fate was left to the mercy of the universe.

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Portland, Oregon

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A soft breeze rustled the leaves of the thick archaic trees as old as time itself. A gentle lulling rhythm with the occasional addition of a squirrel disrupting the pattern whilst leaping amongst the branches. My long curly hair swayed to this music, with the occasional strand entangling itself in my purple lip gloss. A smile playing on my lips, I listened. Nature approved of our presence. She graced us with warm rays of sunshine peeking through lazy scattered clouds. Athena, a majestic English terrier much too large to properly represent her breed, nuzzled the sheer floor length skirt of my fairy costume as it too danced with the wind.

My attention returned. The bride and her husband-to-be clasped each other’s hands in a patch of sun-kissed grass with a semi rusted tractor as a backdrop. The ongoing construction of their tiny house sat atop the nearby hill amongst the mountains, a member of the joyous audience eager to share in the couple’s ceremony, promising to bless them bounteously in all of their days to come. The groom’s son served as an officiate as joyous tears filled the eyes of the glowing bride. Each member of the cozy wedding party experienced the tangible energy of the couple as they sealed their vows with their wedding kiss. We erupted into cheers and applause, toasting our drinks to the new mister and missus. A perfect moment within a string of serendipitous events.

My mind wandered again as I took in the scene before me. I’ve been many places. I’ve met a variety of people. However, Portland, Oregon is home to some of the most unique souls I’ve experienced so far in all of my travels. It may be the mindset of “Keep Portland Weird” that draws me in, it may be the level of acceptance that people practice towards others, or it may be the way Portlanders take the time to observe the energies and vibes of people and experiences surrounding them. The combination of all those things immediately resonated with me.

One week ago I concluded I wanted to make a return trip up to Fairbanks, Alaska. My last experience in Alaska was a mystical winter wonderland back in February and I decided I wanted to have the summer experience before the season changed. With this decision came the question of where I wanted to stop on my way. Flying from Orlando, FL I knew I had to stop somewhere and I knew I wanted to make that place count. I had no idea how much this trip would affect me.

The very next day I boarded a direct flight to Portland, Oregon. I didn’t know where I was going to stay, what I was going to do, or how long I would be in town, but I felt extremely positive vibes pulsating within me. My fate was left to the mercy of the universe.

With the help of Alaskan Air’s wifi on my 6 hour flight, I scanned the couch surfing app on my phone for hosts in Portland. I sent out a few messages to surfers in the area, but most were already booked, out of town, or busy. I continued to drink my red wine and watch my inflight movie options without concern, trusting that I would soon be provided for. About halfway through the flight, an angel entered the scene. A friend from college who I’d mostly lost touch with about 5 years ago had seen my Facebook post broadcasting my next adventure. Within minutes we were chatting through messenger, and the arrangements were made. I was to stay with Briana and her longtime boyfriend Zak for a day or two.

I landed in Portland as the late afternoon sun cast a serene glow over the mountains. The scene was picturesquely set. Using google maps I navigated my way through downtown Portland on the Max, the main overground transit system. About 30 minutes into my journey I stepped off to change lines. Hesitantly standing at the new stop, I consulted my maps. As I was doing this a man about 30 feet away began speaking to me and walking in my direction as if we were old friends. Something about the delays was said and then, “So you like to do yoga?” in reference to the yoga mat hanging from my shoulder. It was soon apparent that I was from out of town as I struggled to understand what he was saying about the transit lines and he asked where I was from.

This strange character, I soon learned, is known as Peter Pan. A native to Portland, he carried on the conversation, seemingly unaware of my surprised and slightly guarded stance. Growing up in Orlando, I was taught not to talk to strangers, especially in the city. Portland is seemingly backwards in that belief. The friendliness of the locals is wonderfully refreshing.

As Peter and I boarded the Max together I found myself drawn to his genuine openness and easy going nature. Jumping around in topics he gave me tips for the city, engaged the 18 year old boy next to us in conversation and managed to offer to show me around all in a span of 25 minutes. My head was spinning by the time I reached Briana. Our reunion instantly brought back the friendship we had once shared as if no time had lapsed.

My original plan was to spend 2 days in Portland and then head to Alaska. Well, 2 days quickly turned into 6 thanks to the fascinating people of Portland. Briana, Zak and Tigger, the cat that presides over the duo, are family to me now. Their apartment has the rich feeling of another era, adorned with intricate and creatively placed antique pieces. Large canvases of enchanting trees, a tapestry of an exotic tiger and vintage photographs line their walls, illuminated by mood evoking lamps and an assortment of artistically placed candles.

Zak could be found lounging on the couch in his work clothes in the evening, pants held up by suspenders, dark rimmed glasses slightly lowered, an overall intensity of wisdom beyond his youth, the epitome of a man from another time. Briana is the perfect complement to his personality. Kind, beautiful sweet, receptive to the energies of those around her and overwhelmingly gracious. Their combined intellect and intrigue of the world made for thought provoking conversation. These two instantly made me feel at home.

The living room served as a stage for many philosophical discussions amongst us over the past few days. I was challenged to see the world in a new perspective thanks to their open mindset. Music, art, energies, the law of attraction, the state of the world, entrepreneurial ideas, conspiracy theories. . . We debated it all. I grew fascinated with the differences I noticed from east coast to west coast idealogies in America.

Each day bred a new adventure. As Briana and I did some exploring and shopping, I realized just how friendly so many people are. When they ask how you’re doing, it’s not just a rhetorical question but an actual inquiry. Everyone we spoke to along our path seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. Portland is a city by population but a small town at heart.

The natural beauty of Oregon is breathtaking to say the least. I had the pleasure of doing some hiking with Briana and we couldn’t stop singing throughout the hike from the sheer pleasure of the beauty of the earth and the amazing weather. Blue skies followed us everywhere we went despite Portland’s reputation as a rainy place.

My time was perfectly split between the suburbs and the city. I owe my city experiences entirely to that Peter Pan creature aforementioned. He is the perfect boyish gentleman and I truly feel he is the real life Peter Pan. His 6 foot, 6 inch height completely dwarfs my petite 5’3″ frame and he walks, sometimes skips, with a bounce in his step. With an overactive imagination, a charismatic personality quick to befriend a stranger, easy smile and generous spirit, he led me through his home of Portland Never Never Land.

I didn’t need to make plans with Peter Pan as my guide. I saw a little bit of every side of the eclectic city. We walked along the waterfront, waded in the city waterfall at Keller Fountain Park, explored the Saturday market, ate the famous Voodoo doughnuts, tried weird flavors and shared ice cream at Salt and Straw, and played life size chess and connect four in Director Park. We even did a bit of adventuring through the night life, enjoyed diner food at Roxy, and watched some old movies at an old fashioned theater known as the Laurelhurst. But of all of the things we did, one of my favorite experiences has to be playing air hockey and arcade games in the Avalon Theatre & Wunderland the first evening out.

As my trip continued to extend day by day with more to see and do, the Faerieworlds 2017 festival was suddenly upon me and I found myself booking a last minute ticket to attend with Briana and Zak. I figured I’d come to experience Portland with whatever experiences were presented to me and I couldn’t pass this up. What an enchanting experience it turned out to be! It began with a wedding and melded into a fantasyland of faeries, mermaids, trolls and all sorts of magical creatures.

As Briana and I strolled through the woods we came across an albino peacock preening in a tree. Mystified at the beauty of such a creature I marveled at the perfection of such perfect snowy feathers. Just as I was telling her about the positive omen of finding a single white feather the peacock suddenly looked directly at us. In that moment I felt as if the peacock acknowledged us, as if to say “I see you. You’re doing good things and I give you my blessing to continue.” As we stared back a single white feather drifted to the ground. I happily collected it, settling it into a place in my hair.

An ethereal orange sunset dripped through the enchanted forest, setting the tone for the evening with a sprinkling of faerie lights in the trees. Their was an alluring hum of middle eastern instruments supplemented with belly dancing and hypnotic singing throughout the booths and tents selling potions, crystals, faerie eggs and magical trinkets. By the time the folk band Omnia took the main stage I was completely entranced in this otherworldliness. We danced to the primal drumbeats and lost ourselves in the mystical strumming of the harp. As the band preached the fight for protecting nature in some of their songs such as Earth Warrior I felt myself becoming one with the earth and the collective energy of the spirits dancing around me. It was an evening to remember.

My serendipitous experiences this week have grounded me in the truth and reality of the person I hadn’t fully realized I’ve become. Talking to the people in Portland, I’ve learned to see things more organically. Modern western civilization as a whole has a tendency to focus on material things that are often destructive to ourselves and our world. Immersing myself in a like-minded culture has given me a newfound peace and resolve to focus on living within earth’s blessings as part of a regenerative process rather than abusing and destroying the natural resources we’ve been provided. Thank you Portland for revealing to me a new appreciation for the purity of raw life. The friendships I’ve made in this chapter of my journey are priceless.

*Many of these photos are largely credited to the beautiful Briana

 

Tales of a Friendly Irish Stranger

Take the time to get to know someone. You never know how it might affect your life.

 

8 months ago I wandered into a quaint hostel in Dublin, Paddy’s Palace (a hostel I highly recommend if you happen to travel there), with my friend Andrea. We were nearing the end of our backpacking trip together, well in to country number 5 on the journey. We had just come from the island of Corsica so we were relaxed, happy and tan, but also lazily tired. It was midnight by the time we checked in to our hostel in Dublin.

Just as we were approaching the dark building, wondering if it was too late to check in, the door flew open and an extremely cheerful young man with a ready smile almost smacked us with the door, apologized and greeted us. In a Dublin accent so thick I could barely understand him, he happily ushered us in, promising to be back as soon as he unlocked a door for someone.

Long story short, after checking in we talked until well after the sun rose and I ended up sharing one of the most memorable 6 hour conversations to date with this amusing gentleman that I came to know as my friend Patrick, better known as Paddy. Speaking to each other about all of our similar interests and the experiences that have shaped us into who we are, we quickly found that we were mirror images of each other, just one American and one Irish. Little did I know that this chance meeting foreshadowed a grand adventure to come later.

Fast forward 8 months later to the present. Paddy and I had lost touch for a while, but thanks to Facebook, randomly reconnected 2 months before my planned return trip to Ireland with my sister. With no set plans I returned to Paddy’s Palace where Patrick happened to be helping a customer outside as we walked up. Expecting us, but still, surprised to see us he happened to drop the door on the customer, quickly apologizing as we giggled from the sidelines. Any chance of awkwardness from not seeing each other in so long evaporated in that moment. Once free he reemerged with a smile and a hug and we were welcomed back to Ireland. He handed me the key to the hostel that he’d arranged for us for 4 nights, an early birthday present to me.

Ireland immediately felt like home. The Irish believe in an assortment of wonderful fairytales and legends and I could feel the magic upon stepping outside the airport. Everyone my sister Stephanie and I came into contact with had a welcoming smile and greeting, inquiring as to where we were from and how long we would be around. This usually led right into suggestions on what to see and places to go. We soon realized not to be in a hurry to go anywhere, to factor in impromptu story telling time. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a population in which the majority of people are as friendly as those in the Republic of Ireland .

Thanks to Paddy’s recommendation, Steph and I had the opportunity to be a part of two days of bus tours through Paddywagon: One to see the Cliffs of Moher, northwest of Dublin, and another to Blarney Castle on the southern coast. If you ever get the chance to go to Ireland, these are must sees. If you don’t want to spend too much time planning, I highly recommend the Paddywagon Bus Tours that offer a glimpse into many different sides of Ireland, from the Republic to the North with hilarious and knowledgeable locals as guides. Be prepared for the possibility of some impromptu singing led by your guide along the way.

My guide to the Cliffs of Moher loved to sing traditional Irish songs over the PA as we drove, our group bursting into applause with the finality of each song. To reach the cliffs, you have the opportunity to drive through the scenic, windy mountain roads in a picturesque part of the country which I’m sure has been a backdrop of many rom-coms. If you’re as lucky as we were, on a clear beautiful day you will receive breathtaking views as you stroll from one peak to another. Make sure to stop by the remnants of an old tower that sits atop one of the peaks. The cliffs aren’t the only scenery however. Turn around from your vantage point and you’ll get a gorgeous view of the countryside, sprinkled with cows and livestock. It’s truly mesmerizing.

Blarney Castle is an entirely different but equally interesting experience. The old castle grounds offer a plethora of activity. Of course, the biggest attraction is to kiss the Blarney Stone. Legend has it, that if you lie on your back, tilt your head back and kiss the stone, you’ll be given the gift of the gab. For those women who need a little encouragement, they also say if you kiss the stone twice you’ll become pregnant. Doesn’t hurt to try! The grounds of the castle offer colorful gardens, archaic architecture, caves to wander through, places to eat and so much more. I myself need to return to truly see it all.

My previous trip to Ireland I took a tour also through Paddywagon through northern Ireland to Giant’s Causeway. I had never seen anything like the pentagon shaped rocks that make up this area. The legend behind the formations of the rocks can get anyone in the story telling spirit. If you’re a Game of Thrones fanatic, this tour may interest you for a stop at the Dark Hedges, where some of the filming was done. Don’t just take my word for it though, go experience it.

This time around I had the privilege of having my own personal tour guide. There’s nothing like wandering the streets with someone born and raised in Dublin. Paddy made sure Steph and I got a little taste of everything. We walked through the city, learning the history behind the harp bridge, the theater (where The Beach Boys just happened to be performing), Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar, the parks, and local hangouts. There is much to see and experience in the heart of Dublin.

I came to frequent a wonderful pub around the corner from the hostel called The Celt. The Celt offers live music from traditional Celtic to more modern covers of popular songs every night. On top of that, the traditional home cooked food is some of the best that I’ve ever experienced in my life. There was not one evening that I had a bad experience there. The bar tenders and staff are charming and cheerful, always encouraging another round of Guinness. Paddy and I enjoyed a number of pints over good conversation, breaking out into song when the occasion required it. All we had to do was nod to the bar tender and the next round was brought over. It was over Guinness that I began to probe him on the history of his people.

The Republic of Ireland has a unique and rich history. It amazed me to learn what the country has been through and has given me a newfound respect for the way the people look out for their brothers and sisters. The general population has an air of optimism and acceptance of all kinds that is hard to find. There is a sense of community that the rest of the world should model themselves after.

Walking through the streets you will see many homeless people, but turn a corner and there’s equally as many or more people raising money to help them, holding signs, ringing bells, bringing around meals. It was moving to see such empathy from people in comparison to the jaded version of humanity I’ve come to know. It’s not unusual to see people stop to ask someone lying in a sleeping bag if they need anything or to offer them food and money. Sometimes people will simply just sit down next to them and ask them to tell their story. Even more fascinating to me is that the government has a system in which they provide housing and a small wage to people who are in need, giving them a basis to help themselves out of poverty. While this can only make a dent in the number that need it, and it has its faults, it’s still a step forward. It’s refreshing to see a culture that cares to make a difference.

I am extremely grateful for my time in Dublin and the regions I’ve had the privilege of traveling to. I’ve learned so much from the culture, the people and experiences I have had. Never did I expect that randomly connecting with an Irish stranger would have this sort of impact in enhancing my travel experience and gaining a truly genuine friend for life. It’s amazing how one chance meeting can turn into something so much more. Being open to learning and getting to know people can be the biggest catalyst for growth. If I’ve learned one thing from all my travels, it’s that the people you meet along the way can make your experience significantly more memorable as well as exciting. I will be back to Ireland and I’m excited to see what will happen next.