Life on the Road – May Part 3: The South

We find American regional references rather odd: as far as we could tell, we’d been in “The South” for all of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, however America considers those all “West” states. Neither of us think it makes sense, but it’s not our country. We can still have fun with it though, so from the Texas Gulf Coast we headed North up to the South, into Louisiana. There we had ourselves a hostel room booked for a couple days in New Orleans. We wanted to catch a bit of the vibrant party culture and explore the rich history of the city.

Cory devouring some beignets. Not a clean activity.

The drink (Hurricane) that started a really fun/boozy afternoon in the French Quarter

Classic New Orleans streetscape.

We arrived in New Orleans early, too much so to check in at the hostel, but they allowed us to park the van so we could make our way by transit down into the French Quarter. We spent the afternoon wandering this old part of town, reading little tidbits of history regarding the buildings and neighbourhoods, and of course imbibing in the famous food and drinks: we had beingnets (French Donuts covered in icing sugar) and chicory coffee, super-boozey to-go mixed drinks that cost way too much, and an A-grade mushroom and swiss po’boy from a little corner store. After our tour of the French Quarter we made our way back to the hostel to check-in and grab some showers. From there we tried to find some local eats and brews in the hostel neighbourhood. We bounced through a few very loud bars, quite bewildered with the seating/ordering arrangement/disorder, before we wandered into a tiny little old pub where the bartender took pity on our discombobulated state and got us settled down. We had been really excited to get a little of NOLA’s nightlife, but now that we were there we were a little shell-shocked by the spectacle. We made our way back to the hostel to see what was going on there, and passed the rest of the night chatting with some fellow hostel goers.

Collecting some window snaps.

A rare quiet moment at our hostel.

For our second day in NOLA Alex had found us a walking tour to take part in that went through the Garden District, including some of the very old cemeteries in that section of the city. We navigated public transit out to the meet up location and found the little tour group. The first thing the tour guide mentioned was that the tour would likely be cut short, or cancelled, due to inclement weather. We were thinking a little rain, no biggie for a couple Vancouverites; but no, the tour guide proceeded to show us the current weather radar and the National Weather Service issued tornado warning… This was a bit more than a spot of wet weather. Despite the grim outlook, the tour got underway and we started into one of the oldest cemeteries in the city. Our guide told us a bit about the old above ground burial system and the difficulties that the city faced dealing with the dead during yellow fever outbreaks – which occurred in the South much more frequently, and until more recently, than the rest of the US. We’d got maybe 15 minutes into our tour before the first rolls of thunder were heard, and not 5 minutes after that a bolt of lightening struck the ground within 50 feet of us. It sounded like a cannon shot. The tour group, and all others surrounding, immediately took off towards a nearby café. As we did the rain started coming down, the kind of rain that would soak you to the bone if you were in it for 10 seconds. Alex and I didn’t quite make it to the café, and instead got marooned on a couple stairs below an overhanging balcony, watching from our relatively small bit of shelter as the streets and the sidewalks flooded. We bought our time there until there was a minor lull in the rain, then made our dash across the street to the café. We hung out there and dried off while we waited out the weather, chatting with a family that was also from Vancouver who had been in our tour group.

As the rain subsided we parted ways and ventured back out to the streets, which were now being drained by the city’s pump system. We hopped back onto transit and went back out to the French Quarter to find a little restaurant that was known for serving up killer jambalaya and seafood gumbo. We got a seat in the dark little pub and ordered up some of their signature specialties. Man was the jambalaya excellent! Alex’s gumbo was pretty good too, but I definitely think I won on that one. We wandered a bit more through the French Quarter before heading out to go catch a bit of a local music festival – the Bayou Boogaloo.

Festival goers “floating” on the Bayou // Bayou Boogalo Stage with Tab Benoit

I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone to know that New Orleans is well practiced at dealing with weather and water. The Hip sang that it’s sinking, and I’m sure it is, but it’s a slow ordeal and the locals are good at pushing past it. The morning’s weather had delayed the day’s opening of the music festival by the bayou but it hadn’t completely sunk it. By this time the sun was back out and people were making on like the rain had never happened. We wandered the festival a bit, catching some of the early bands, checking out the artist displays, grabbing festival food, but mostly watching drunk people float on and around every kind of ramshackle vessel imaginable – on the bayou that had plenty of signs posted to stay out of it due to the risk of gators. I think it would have to be one crazy or desperate gator to be in the bayou with that many people around. As the sun set the headliner came on – Tab Benoit. We’d read that he was kind of like a Cajun Stevie Ray Vaughn, and I think the comparison holds true. Him and his band played a wicked blues set, with guest appearances by a local harmonica player who could absolutely wail. They put on a great show.

More New Orelans streetscapes

The next day we put in what is likely to be our biggest drive of the entire trip. We drove from New Orleans, LA, to St. Mary’s, Georgia, covering just shy of one thousand kilometers in a day. Our drive included passing over the longest continuous bridge in the US (and the longest road bridge in the world) – Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. At over 38 kilometers long, there was a stretch in the middle where you couldn’t see either shore – blue water cruising in a van! We basically went from the front seats straight into the bed when we arrived in St. Mary’s, and set our alarms very early to catch a ferry the next morning. It was my birthday the next day, and Alex had splurged a bit for a trip to the Cumberland Island National Seashore. We awoke at 4:30 am after little more than 5 hours sleep, packed up our camp gear, and dragged ourselves down to the ferry dock for a trip out to Cumberland Island. With bikes and bags in tow we walked like zombies onto and off of the ferry, heading straight to camp to have a morning nap before exploring the island.

The Lac Ponchartain bridge at mile 16, around halfway across!!

Beautiful Georgia Oaks and old mansion on Cumberland Island

After a little rest, we hopped on the bikes and headed off on the sandy roads that traverse the island. We set off to the North end to check out one of the old mansions that are left on the island. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Cumberland Island was privately owned, and most of the island was owned by a single, immensely wealthy family that used it as a winter home. Changing of times and other maladies beset the estate and it fell into disuse, but the land and buildings were eventually donated to the National Parks service with the hope to preserve the island’s natural attractions and some of the surviving buildings. We by chance arrived right on time for one of the guided tours of the mansion and tagged along. The house was massive, I’m pretty sure the entry alone was the size of our apartment back in Vancouver. It had a library, an indoor pool and an indoor squash court, a kitchen fit for a large high-end restaurant (of the time), and another side of the house for “the help” – which was again, many times the size of our apartment. After the tour of the mansion we rode back to camp, nearly melting in the process, and grabbed swimsuits before going to the beach. It was a quick walk to the long white sand beaches off the Atlantic side of the island, with open ocean surf crashing onto the beach. We could have stayed in the water forever with the heat as it was, but we settled for an hour of swimming and playing in the surf. We spent the night camped in a very tropical feeling forest, with insect chirps and birdsong a plenty. The heat felt tropical too – I don’t think it dropped below 25 overnight.

Birthday boy perfecting his bike tricks on Cumberland Island. “if there are no hills I must do tricks”

The next day we caught a morning boat off the island and made our way up to Savannah, GA. Everyone had told us that it was a must-see for our US leg and we were looking forward to checking it out. We got ourselves a hotel room (mostly for the A/C) and spent a night exploring the historic downtown. We treated ourselves to some authentic Georgian pralines (seriously, so good), had a pint, checked out a dive bar, and took a wander through some of the garden squares that dot the downtown area. It was a beautiful city and we meant to the next day poking around more, but the A/C at our hotel couldn’t quite keep up with the heat outside, and when we woke the next morning we agreed that we couldn’t handle the heat any longer. We packed up quick, cranked up the van’s A/C, and set our course North for the Appalachians. Goodbye southern heat, it’s time for us to run to the hills!

Birthday boy melting in the hammock – while we wait for birthday beers to cool in our neighbours cooler!! Happy 26!

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