On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Gulf Coast - Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle - April 2007

We’re in Panama City Beach now and, as you can see, it’s just about perfect! The beaches here are some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen. Miles and miles of white sand, and the shallow water close to the shore is a brilliant emerald green. Of course, we’re not the first to figure this out, so the coast has a real Miami Beach quality with lots of high rise condos, restaurants ranging from plain to fancy, and the requisite tee shirt shops, goofy golf courses and bicycle rentals. Our second day here we gathered up chairs, towels, ice, beer and snacks and carted it all down onto the sand to spend the day. The breezes were balmy, the view was stunning, we checked out all the boats going by with our binoculars – and I got the worst sunburn I’d had in years. (Yes, I used the sunscreen, but I missed a few spots that don’t usually see the light of day!)

Our RV park is nestled away from all the hustle and bustle – a great little hideaway with lots of grass and palm trees. The folks here are a lot of fun – the day we arrived they made us feel welcome by inviting us to dinner with lots of tasty food and an assortment of adult beverages. We’re so crazy about this place, we even picked up some info about their winter rates in case we decide to come back for an extended visit!

Another day we drove back west toward Destin, Florida on the coast road through tiny towns like Rosemary Beach, Grayton Beach, and Seagrove. With their pastel colors, white trim and neat, flower-lined streets, they look like Disney towns or Stepford-on-the Beach – very cute but almost too perfect. (Wish I’d stopped to take some pictures!) Of course, many of them are the typical slightly run-down, need-a-little-work beach rentals – but they’re still just steps from that fabulous beach! I guess that’s why even the seedy ones cost over a million bucks..

Panama City Beach is a real contrast to our previous stop on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. We had planned to drive along the coast road from Louisiana to our next stop in Gautier, Mississippi. Unfortunately, we had to change our plans because two major bridges along this road were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and were still being rebuilt. This was our first clue to the extent of the damage along this part of the gulf.

We’d heard stories about how hard Mississippi was hit by the storm, but we weren’t prepared for what we saw over 18 months later. I knew that many of the historic homes on the beach in Biloxi, Gulfport and Pass Christian had been destroyed, but we were shocked to see whole neighborhoods that stretched blocks and blocks away from the beach that were now only foundations. It reminded me of the photos of the tsunami damage in Indonesia. You could see from the narrow streets, huge oaks, and ruins of tennis courts and swimming pools that these had been lovely areas. Today you see dozens of for sale signs and only a few new homes under construction. (Again, I forgot my camera so no pictures - drat!) We talked to people who told of us homes half a mile from the beach that had suffered storm surge damage up to 14 feet. The storm surge on the coast was as much as 28 feet!

In the business districts, many of the big Biloxi casinos are rebuilt, but most of the other businesses are still boarded up or even just piles of rubble. The story was the same when we drove along some of the smaller roads along the beach. Here’s a picture of some homes along the golf course near the beach in Gautier. Their beautiful flowers are still there, but all that’s left of the homes are the foundations. Many people we talked to said it would be 10-12 years before the area is fully recovered. I guess we’ll have to come back then.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cajun Country - April 2007

We were glad to head out of Houston and into the heart of Cajun Country – home of crawfish, alligators and drive-through daiquiri stands. It was after 8:00 p.m. when we rolled into Betty’s RV Resort in Abbeville and we knew immediately we were in the right place. A group of fellow RVers were gathered in Betty’s Louisiana room sharing a few adult beverages and listening to a couple of local musicians playing Cajun music. Happy hour at 4:00 o’clock was a daily occurrence at Betty’s where we all shared stories about the day’s adventures.

And we always had a story to tell. We enjoyed exploring nearby New Iberia, the home of detective novelist James Lee Burke and the setting for many of his tales. We visited our first antebellum mansion here – Shadows on the Teche – located right on the banks of the Bayou Teche, and drove to Avery Island where they make Tabasco sauce. The Tabasco factory wasn’t very exciting, but we were in for a surprise when we drove through the 200-acre Jungle Gardens created by McIlhenny family. The gardens were certainly lovely and we saw our first alligators here, but the real surprise was the thousands of Snowy Egrets we saw nesting in the preserve here. The McIlhennys built platforms over a pond and now over 20,000 egrets and other water birds come to breed every year. Some of the nests held two or three pale blue eggs while other pairs were busy caring for their fuzzy little hatchlings. The McIlhennys now bring in truckloads of sticks and twigs every year to provide nesting materials for the birds. A really amazing sight. .

We saw more wildlife when we took a swamp tour a few days later. Our guide was a local fellow who took us deep into the swamps that surround Lake Martin. I think I saw most of the herons and egrets in my bird book, plus nutria (like a cross between a beaver and a rat!), snakes, turtles, and a barred owl with three fuzzy chicks. Of course, the big attraction is the alligators and we saw several – from little two footers to big guys about twelve feet long.

There are lots of beautiful antebellum mansions in this part of the country and we’ve seen several. Sometimes our tour was made up of twenty people or more, but other times we’ve been lucky enough to be the only two. One of our favorites was the tour of Oaklawn which is now home to the former governor of Louisiana. They open up the first floor of this glorious old mansion to tours while the family lives on the second floor. We said hello to the guv while he was loading the car for a weekend trip. Here’s a picture of Ez sitting at a desk formerly owned by Napoleon Bonaparte!

Most of you have probably seen pictures like this one of the moss-covered oak trees at Oak Alley, but we thought the gardens at Houmas House were even prettier. (Plus Miss Norma made some dynamite mint juleps in their quaint Turtle Bar.) That's Houmas House at the top of the blog. After leaving Abbeville, we moved on to Convent, Louisiana (near New Orleans) where our RV park was next to the Mississippi River on the grounds of a plantation formerly owned by a Judge Poche. According to the current owner (who took us on a fascinating tour of the house) the judge was probably a Union spy who built his home using artifacts looted from the homes of his neighbors. He never felt welcome in the area and left the house soon after it was built and later became a Supreme Court justice.

Our final stop in Louisiana was in Robert on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain. From here we drove across the Causeway for a day trip into New Orleans. We made many of the traditional tourist stops – coffee and beignets at Café du Monde, a carriage ride around the French Quarter, and watching the ships moving up the Mississippi. Fortunately, we were here for the first day of the French Quarter Festival so there were bands and music groups playing in streets around the quarter. After exploring for a while, we settled in on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street and listened to jazz and Dixieland from the street below. What a great place to people watch!
We’ve really enjoyed the people and sights of Louisiana, but in a day or so we’ll be headed to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and then down into Florida. Stay tuned. .

Friday, April 06, 2007

Disaster Strikes - March 27, 2007

After almost a year of relatively uneventful travel, we finally got a taste of bad luck. We were leaving Galveston and looking forward to our first stop in Louisiana at Betty’s RV Park in Abbeville. To avoid the Houston traffic, we decided to take the ferry from Galveston to Port Bolivar. We were directed to the dock where the ferry was loading and, after watching a couple of other RVs cautiously drive onto the deck, we were motioned forward. There was a sharp slope from the dock down to the ferry deck. Ez told the crew member that it was too steep for our long rig, but he insisted everything was fine and we should just drive ahead.

There was a sickening scraping sound as we drove down the ramp. We got out to inspect the damage and watched as all the engine oil drained out onto the deck. The oil pan had been ripped open when it dragged across the ramp. Ez let loose with the most inspired stream of invective I’ve ever heard from him. I would have tried to shush him, but I figured his anger was totally justified. Then two other motorhomers came over and told us that their rigs had also suffered damage (although less severe) while boarding! ARRGHH! We traded names and phone numbers with them to share with our insurance companies.

With no oil in the engine, we couldn’t drive the coach, so the ferry had to be moved to another dock and a wrecker was called to tow us off. We followed in the Durango as it was towed to the nearest Cummins shop 60 miles away in Houston. The tow truck guys told us they had towed several other motorhomes with similar damage in recent months! ARRGHH!

We settled in to a motel for the next three days while the Cummins shop worked on the coach. I imagine there are some cool, interesting places in Houston, but we never saw any of them. We did meet Don and Marianne, a fun couple who were also having their coach worked on at Cummins, and enjoyed a nice dinner with them.

As you can imagine, we were real happy to say good-bye to Houston a few days later. Our insurance will cover most of our expenses and then they’ll work to recover all of the costs from the Texas Department of Transportation. With luck, we won’t be out any cash because of their incompetence – just time, irritation and inconvenience!

We headed out for Betty’s a few days later than planned. More about that next time. . .