Random RV thoughts on the south:
– It’s so great, that even animals have fun. I’ve seen gators sunbathing and big otters playing in estuaries. I’ve watched dolphins cavorting in the early morning. Deer and raccoons have been feasting. I heard coyotes yipping way out in the barrier islands. And I ain’t fibbing, when I tell you I saw hundreds of Manatees moseying along , rolling around and enjoying the warm, clear springs of Florida.
– The first recommendation locals give us tourists, is where to eat the “best” something or other. There’s an awful lot of fried stuff. PoBoys, oysters, shrimp, oysters, catfish, oysters, crabs, oysters, chicken, oysters, sausage, oysters, boudin and finally, oysters. Don’t forget the crawdads, also known as “mud bugs.” My good friend and “Godfather of the Gulf,” Pogo, along with his darling wife Vicki, hosted an amazing mud bug and shrimp boil Mardi Gras, which was well attended and cause for much napping later. He also smoked some pork butt that went so quickly, I missed out.
– In Abita Springs, La., I voraciously consumed what may be the best dessert of my entire life. I had asked the waiter what the desserts were and he said, “bread pudding.” I declined. Then he said to the couple seated at the table next to me, “I never met anyone who didn’t like bread pudding.” The lady turned to me and told me I had to try it. You can see, I was forced to order! The sugar high lasted a good 48 hours and I might go back today for another one… Just saying…
– Plus, there is all the usual Cajun fare like gumbo. It’s delicious, whether you order at a gas station, a roadside stand or a sit down eatery. It would be a travesty to come down and not sample local dishes. Fried pickles anyone? There is also quite a bit of BBQ. But I’m from Kansas City so I am not allowed to comment, but you should check it out, that’s all I can tell you.
– And people are always trying to feed you! A fisherman on his boat at the docks invited me for drinks and food – believe me he wasn’t trying to pick me up – his girlfriend was hovering in the wheelhouse.
My friend Les stood outside his camper every morning, handing out his freshly baked biscotti. Another guy gave me some grilled Boudin on my way to the shower down at Grand Isle. It’s a good thing I am walking about five miles a day.
– I’m a birder so I am in hog heaven. (There are also wild hogs but I haven’t seen any.) So far I have over 100 species and I’m not trying very hard. I sighted a couple of lifers – species I haven’t seen before. In Florida, Sandhill Cranes are as common as Robins and walk around like they own the place. Plus – they are noisy and crabby and probably eat dogs. I wonder why elegant birds like the crane and heron yell like a foghorn with a sore throat?
-There is an unbelievable amount of water everywhere. Ba-Zillions of swamps, lakes, streams and then ocean. Plus it rains sometimes. But you don’t want to actually get in the water. There are signs everywhere about the possibility of becoming a reptile repast. Dogs are called “gator bait.” It’s a giant wet sponge from Georgia to Texas.
– Lake Ponchartrain is saltier on the east side and more freshwater on the west. A boy was bitten by a bull shark, last year while swimming, but that is an incredibly rare event. You can fish for freshwater bass while on the lookout for sharks. The lake is only 17 feet deep and the bridge across the middle is the longest, a 24 mile causeway. It gets so foggy sometimes, that commuters have to be escorted by police.
-Even in February, there are mosquitoes and nasty biting gnats, some of which are so small they get through screens. I had a minor freak out one night when I realized there were roughly 10,000 in my camper and ended up cleaning sticky bug spray off of my cabinets and ceiling for three days. I passed out Deet wipes at one a parade to a family, but only after I swabbed myself first- sort of like on a plane when you have to put your oxygen on first or you might croak and then you can’t help anyone else.
– Mardi Gras is insane, just dress up and go bonkers. Fat Tuesday is broadcast live on TV, if , like me, you don’t want to fight the crowds. The floats, amount of marchers and costumes are astonishing. The social and public service clubs, like Zulu and Rex are very old, have a lot of double secret traditions and their very own parades. To be a king or a queen, you have to do a lot of volunteer work and be a really good person, maybe own a giant conglomerate and probably “know someone.” But you would never recognize any of these high society people because they dress up and go bonkers.
-Everything is closed on Fat Tuesday; a day I decided to go to a small town to dine and visit a museum. Call me an idiot greenhorn Yankee tourist.
-Parades are everywhere for a couple weeks. I attended two smaller ones and was invited to ride the mayor’s float in Gautier, Miss. I have never been in one and I recommend riding Mardi Gras. Everybody seems excited to see you – until you realize they just want you to throw beads, cups, toys, medallions, coconuts or pretty much any knick-knack made in China – stuff you would never think of buying and, when home, immediately toss in the basement or give away. It’s a junk frenzy. But a blast and at the other parade, I frenzied too. Some people, I won’t mention any names, Dan, will leap in front of you to get the best junk.
-I have two giant bags of beads. They are every color, size and some have hanging doo-dads. Even my dog wore beads. People tried to throw them on my camera. I think I nailed a couple of people when I was on the float. You could get your eye put out by flying beads. I have bead fatigue.
– Mardi Gras trees are decorated like Xmas trees in gold, purple and green. Do people cut a new tree or just save the old one? And I don’t think you get gifts, it’s right before Lent when you have to give something up which seems a little like a gyp. But the King Cakes are pretty good and don’t forget those Moon Pies.
– In New Orleans, they used to measure the success of Carnival by the amount of trash it generated. It is smelly and there is something like 15 tons a day. All that junk and after a night of hundreds of thousands of people drinking – I can only imagine. A special drink called a Hand Grenade probably contributes in ways I don’t want to contemplate.
-Even south, it can be cold at night, down to the 20’s. (Have a couple of Hand Grenades – you won’t care.) Then it can climb to 70 during the day. I had to pack everything, from swimwear to parka, suntan lotion to gloves. I have become a quick change artist.
– Place names are fun to say – Atchafalaya, Ponchatoula, Okeefenokee for example. But along the gulf in Florida, where snowbirds flock, they’re different: “Brilliantly Sunny Getaway from the Hideous Winter Back Home Condominiums” or “Pelican Pooping All Over My Balcony Time Shares” or “Shores and Shores of Sea Shell Stores.”
– Southerners, truly, are very polite and friendly. They actually say “Y’all”. A guy running past me on a trail said, “Have a nice day, Ma’am.” A little girl came up and gave my dog a big hug and I got all choked up she was so cute. The man at Pep Boys who checked my tires said, “I can’t take your money, Ma’am.” Even after wrangling my hubcaps for 20 minutes. And don’t forget they want to feed you all the time.
Enough of my musings. I’m ready for a long hike around a swamp and then back to hit the kitschy Mystery Museum, which was closed on Fat Tuesday. Bye Y’all!