“Are you Bob?” I asked reaching out to shake the hand of the owner Bed, Breakfast and Microbrewery at Lago de Yajoa.  “And is it true that you’re from Timber?”

He looked at me quizzically.  “I’m from Gales Creek,” I added.

Then he looked at me as if I had three heads, turned to a friend and said, “These are not big towns we’re talking about.”

They’re hardly towns at all.  Nestled in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, Gales Creek has an official population of about 650 people.  At its height, it had a couple of taverns, a store, a volunteer fire station, a school and a church.  Most of that’s no longer functioning.  Timber, about seven miles away is even smaller, with a population of 131.  But it has a stop sign where the train tracks cross the highway, so that makes it more official.

And now I was at Lago de Yojoa, in the middle of Honduras, introducing myself to Bob From Timber.

This kind of thing happens all the time.  My parents (from the same booming metropolis of Gales Creek) met a couple from the next valley over in an elevator in Shanghai.  And prior to introducing myself to Bob, I’d met two young men from Vernonia, another Coast Range town (a “big city” of 2,000 people, located 15 miles from Timber). Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.  I’d met quite a few people from the Pacific Northwest traveling in Central America – all of us enjoying being warm in February.  And of course, when the guidebook says that an”Oregonian Brewmaster” has set up a good place to stay, we flock there like flies on shit.  But you just don’t expect to meet people from places that small, that far away.  Traveling makes the world seem bigger and smaller at the same time.

Dominic Sherony's photo of a Gartered Trogon.

Gartered Trogon. Photo by Gartered Trogon.

Lago de Yajoa is for the Birds

I’m a baby birder (it’s me that’s the baby, not the birds).  I don’t really know anything about bird watching, but a friend’s enthusiasm has leaked over and I’m starting to get into it.  I like being in nature, trying to refine my powers of observation, and being dazzled by the brilliant colors.

Lago de Yajoa is home to around 400 species of birds.  Sitting in the courtyard, sipping my beer, I met up with a naturalist who takes folks out on bird watching tours at the lake.

I saw five different kinds of toucans that day and learned, to my delight, that the Spanish word for woodpecker is “carpintero”.  (And saw three different kinds of carpinteros.)

Adalberto.H.Vega' s photo of a keel-billed toucan. Like one I saw at Lago de Yajoa.

Toucan! Like one I saw at Lago de Yajoa. Photo by Adalberto.H.Vega.

The area around Lago de Yajoa includes three National Parks and a 43 meter waterfall.  You should go there.  (Even if you’re not from a microscopic town in western Oregon.)


Welcome to the City of Roses. Portland is so quirky, progressive and politically correct it has earned the distinction of being satirized in a sketch comedy series (Portlandia – Independent Film Channel). Bring your sense of fun and your all weather shoes.

Where to Eat?

At a brew pub, of course! You’re in the Pacific Northwest so sud-sipping is required. Portland prides itself on local micro-brews and beer lovers will not be disappointed.

Beerwise, I’m very fond of Deschutes Brewery (210 NW 11th Ave).  Their Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Amber are both excellent choices.

If you’re a dog lover go to Lucky Lab (915 SE Hawthorne Blvd).  You can enjoy good pub fare while being in the company of man’s best friend, as many people bring their canines to the pub.

McMenamin’s Beers (photo byChristopher)

For atmosphere, no one does it better than McMenamin’s. Pioneers in micro-brewing, the McMenamin brothers had such success that they expanded into theaters, hotels, and dances halls- all serving their famous beers.  Many of their properties are historic buildings which they have restored, adding luscious gardens and delightful artwork.  You can drink in the name of historic preservation.  Their pubs are ubiquitous.  Here are a few of the best known Portland locations:

Bagdad Theater and Pub – 3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Kennedy School – 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave
Crystal Ballroom and Hotel – 303 S.W. 12th Ave.

For more information on Portland’s Beer scene checkout Beer Advocate.

Don’t like beer? (Really?) Try one of the many food carts.  A few years ago the city revamped their regulations making it much easier to own and operate a food cart.  The phenomenon blossomed and the streets of Portland now offer a plethora of ethnic delights for relatively little money.

Where to Stay?

The AAE Portland Downtown hotel  is perfect for the budget traveler with excellent rates and a convenient location.

Staying at a  bed and breakfast  might put you out a few more dollars, but offers a chance to enjoy some of Portland’s scenic neighborhoods.

McMenamin’s has three hotels in Portland, all located in historic buildings and allowing you easy access to that most important of amenities- beer.

What to Do?

Washington Park dominates the hills on the west side of Portland. In addition to a great view of the city, it’s attractions include the International Rose Test Garden, Japanese Garden, Oregon Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, Portland Children’s museum and the world Forestry Center.  There are picnic areas, tennis courts, even an archery field.  The amphitheater near the rose garden hosts concerts and other performances in the summer and the zoo also hosts weekly concerts.

Endless options in Powell’s City of Books by Malcolm Tredinnick

That’s all well and good, you say, but it’s raining.  Naturally.  All that greenery has a price.  To while away a soggy afternoon, head to Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside). Powell’s is a Portland institution and the largest new and used book store in the world.  It has multiple stories (no pun intended) and occupies an entire city block.  You can easily spend hours here, and if you stick to used books you may be able to escape without spending too much money (no sales tax in Oregon!).  When you enter the store, head for the information desk and ask for the maps.  They’ll give you one of the store as well as a walking map of downtown Portland.  Then let yourself get lost amidst the shelves…

City Explorers Tip:

Trimet, the local public transport system, offers some useful free applications for your smart-phone or i-thing:

“PDX Bus” has a trip planner, maps and arrival times for all Portland public transit.

“Walk There!” is a free app which guides you through ten walks in and around the Portland metro area – a great way to get familiar with the city.

If you want to experience something truly quirky- time your visit for Trek in the Park, an annual event in which a local theater group performs episode from the original Star Trek series.

Or if you happen to be in Portland in mid-September, head to Chapman Elementary School at twilight to see the incredible spectacle of thousands of birds entering a chimney within a matter of minutes.

A Day Off the Beaten Path:

Portland’s Forest Park covers over five thousand acres, making it the largest park within city limits in the United States. It connects with various other parks and together they offer a 40-mile hiking loop.  The most famous trail, the Wildwood Trail meanders through more than 30 miles of lush woodland.  Get a map, pack a lunch and dress in layers.

At times you will be rewarded with beautiful vistas of the city.  Most of the time, you won’t remember that you’re in a city at all.  The trail can be accessed from multiple points.  I like to start at Pittock Mansion (a historic home/museum which is also worth a visit), or from Cathedral Park to enjoy a view of Portland’s loveliest bridge.

Wildwood Trail by Robert Nunnally

Either way, the only disappointing thing about the trail is that you probably won’t have time to do all of it.
So there you have it- beer, books, nature. Wildlife and wild life.  Enjoy your stay and follow the advise of a popular local bumper sticker: Keep Portland Weird!