We drove up and collected our pass from a border agent at the kiosk, but not before Ed turned around and enthusiastically wished him a happy Independence Day. Canada Day was a few days ago, but we were officially in America now: we had a pass to prove it. As we drove down the I-5 leading us to Seattle, it was easy to see that we were in a different country. For one, gas was far cheaper (they had huge signs peering over the border proclaiming this), people drove much faster, the flags were bluer and bigger and of course the streets were lined with all manner of fireworks. It really was a staggering welcome, but we weren’t getting special treatment- it was the 4th of July after all, and we joined in speeding down to Seattle so we could catch the famous 10.22 pm fireworks.
Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it to Seattle’s fire-show, we rolled in twenty minutes later than we should have and immediately tried to find some free Wi-Fi we could use to contact our host, Alec. After standing unsuspectingly by a ‘Jack in the Box’ drive through and somewhat successfully connecting to the Wi-Fi (all the while the police were questioning a car just by us) we got in touch with Alec and drove over to his place for the night.
A reunion with Ocean, my former roommate
The next few days were a swirl of tourism, amazing food, couch surfing, video games, and reunions. These reunions were not only in regards to Questies (there are a number in Seattle) but I also was able to meet some family members. My cousin and uncle were visiting the city whilst my cousin undertook a training program for his new job overseas. My father too took the opportunity to come visit all of us from Texas. Together we went to typical tourist attractions such as the Space Needle, which frankly we were unimpressed with… until we learned it was built in 1962. Then there was Pike Place Market, the look, taste and affordability of which reminded us of New Delhi, our hometown. There was some sightseeing to do with friends too. Whilst our hosts were out for class and work, Ed and I carried out a long and ultimately unsuccessful mission to find a Nirvana shirt that was under 25 dollars. We also watched in amusement as the new game ‘Pokemon Go’ seemed to grip the entire country, including our hosts.
Enjoying the view overlooking the world’s first ‘floating bridge’ at Evergreen Point
I was also witnessed the aftermath of the sobering tragedy of events this week, from the fatal shooting of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling to the violent attacks on policemen in Dallas. It was moving to see a country come together and set aside personal ideological differences for a few, very human, moments of silence. I felt the pain of a nation in shock every time we encountered a flag flying half-mast.
And just like this, a week passed in no time. My family went their different ways and after many late-night drives around the city Ed and I felt we needed to satiate our wanderlust further. So, we decided to spend our two last days in the nearby city of Portland, Oregon, which like Seattle is home to numerous Questies.
Portland does not have landmarks as well-known as those of Seattle, but perhaps this is a good thing- the lesser known a spot, the more enchanting it becomes. Thus, we found ourselves on numerous beaches and park benches which overlooked the city, with a good gang of Portland Questies and their friends (all of whom, it seemed, knew each other). The food here was diverse and produced on nearby farms, going directly to the food carts. Out of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, the latter is the smallest city- this all made me reminisce about Squamish a fair amount, it would soon be time to drive home.
Urban America is home to cuisines of all regions and tastes, such as this Filipino platter we sampled.
There is much I learned during this experience: in regards to America I learned that not all driving stereotypes are true (Portlandians are more Canadian than Canadians), Canada desperately needs to improve its Taco cuisine, there are too many Trump signs for comfort, car-lag is a thing and it’s exhausting, and that borders cannot change ecology but they can definitely alter society. In regards to my own life, I feel as though I got a glimpse of travel post Quest. The beauty of the international make-up at our university is that right now while I may have friends from around the world, tomorrow I might have couches across the planet I could rest on whilst travelling. I have friends that could show me the hidden nooks and crannies of their cities, which are often unseen, yet more valuable in capturing the spirit of a place than any monument or postcard. In this way, I could have a much more authentic and far cheaper world-view. I really am thankful that due to such a diverse institution, it is possible to have an authentic international travel experience.