41 South Eastern USA

SOUTH EASTERN USA Apr. - Jun. 2009

Friendly Americans

After a long flight from South Africa, we retrieved Dipli form the storage near Phoenix, Arizona. When we stopped to check the GPS for the Wal-Mart parking lot, a young guy in a pick-up, pulled alongside and said: “come and park at my place rather” and took us to dinner too. The next day we collected the diff which had been sent from Germany.

It was 40ºC in Phoenix, and we sought a higher elevation – once again – at our friends’ place in Prescott. 9 days and 3 “Overlander travellers”-parties later, with ratchet hoist and hard work, the new front diff was installed.

Southern Arizona, near Tucson had towering Saguaro cacti and a park with mountain lion, peccaries, bobcat, ocelot and grey wolf. As our interests always take us from the natural to the scientific, we had to see the Titan Missile Site left over from the cold war of the 1960’s.

When we were crossing New Mexico, we wished we could once again detour to the farm where we had been to twice before.

Texas has large landscaped rest areas with wireless internet and barbecues for the good Texan steaks. At the Houston Space centre we were amazed at the length of the Saturn V rocket. The International Space Station, the size of a football field, was duplicated exactly for training and for us to gawk at.

On Avery Island, Louisiana in 1868 Edmund McIlhenny had harvested his own crop of red chillies. The sauce he made was so sought after, that he started bottling and selling it. We saw how 700,000 little long-necked bottles of Tabasco pepper sauce are produced there now each day!

Central New Orleans has restored or unscathed (by Katrina) ornate balconies, pubs and seafood restaurants. Mardigras shops have multi-coloured costumes, beads and masks. Jazz buskers play in the square.

On the Gulf coast of Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina had destroyed the buildings and had washed the beach sand onto the road, the Vorsters were parked by the sea! The bliss lasted until the next day when we found ourselves covered by itching sand fly bites.

After the hurricane, some houses were rebuilt but many lots with just a concrete slab were for sale. The palm trees were tilted and some trees were still sheared of branches on one side. From a kiosk we bought a book and a doll which had survived the hurricane, although the shop had not.

In Biloxi, MS, we could not check email because one library was just gone, and one was still having the roof repaired.

Battleship Park in Mobile, Alabama encompasses a submarine and the massive USS Alabama Battleship which had served from WWII until Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ammunition storage, engine rooms, living quarters, huge kitchens, work shops and movie rooms took us half a day to explore.

Northern Florida’s beaches are so gorgeous! Long causeways across bays connect spits of land to provide even more holiday accommodation on the built-up coast. Leone’s practiced eye spotted the perfect parking next to the fine quartz-crystal-white beach overlooking the fluorescent aquamarine sea. Swimming and snorkelling were divine too.

Soon after, Jan had to weld a bracket by the roadside. Then we had two flat tyres in two days.

One evening over sundowners in a forest we were viciously dive-bombed by blood-sucking deer-flies. Inside the camper, the extermination rendered more than 20 ‘attackers’.

In search of some history, we photographed the cannons of the fort of St Augustine, FL, continuously inhabited since 1672. It was raining and “Huddle House” seemed to be the right spot for lunch.

We had a number of rainy days and, due to Dipli’s scarred body, wet clothes and bedding had to be contended with; until we found a “Spin City” Laundromat between a “Piggly Wiggly” supermarket and a coffee shop called “Vinny Van Go Go”.

In Savannah, Georgia we came upon a Memorial Day parade next to the epic Savannah River. Flags, military uniforms and marching music honoured the departed and the serving.

South Carolina, founded in 1670, epitomizes the gracious air of the old South. Antebellum houses line the streets of Charleston and in the country we saw grand mansions of past cotton plantations with landscaped gardens and rows of slave cabins.

Where once the Cherokee roamed in North Carolina, stands the magnificent, most sumptuous 250-room French Renaissance-style chateau. Biltmore was constructed by the van der Bilt family (of railway riches). We needed a full day to wonder through the exquisitely furnished 5 levels and magnificent gardens. (It is also the largest private home structure in the US).

Kentucky Fried Chicken started in Corbin, Kentucky. The café with the original kitchen is still there. Colonel Sanders started the pressure frying of chicken with the special spice mixture, in a small café in 1940. Later he sold his business for $2million.

In a fragrant honeysuckle field, when Dipli had a starting problem, a curious passer by happened to be from an RV repair shop nearby. He invited us to his work shop on 85 acres where he also has a large house with pond and pool, and a cabin in the woods. He tracked down and delivered a special large battery for our vehicle.

Kentucky is horses and whisky distilleries and Blue grass music and Steven Foster’s songs like “My old Kentucky home”. In Bardstown we camped out with a friendly crowd at “The Kentucky Blue Grass Country Music Festival”.

In the capital of country music, Nashville, Tennessee we enjoyed a sold-out performance at the Grand Ole Opry Hall, which seats 4400 people.

“H2Oh!” advertised the aquarium. The restaurant’s tables were placed right around a massive tank with ornamental fish.

From the home of new friends, we went to the Parthenon – a full scale replica of the one in Athens, Greece, complete with a gold leaf-covered statue of Athena - 14 m tall.

In Memphis, Tennessee, at Graceland “where Elvis lives” we heard the music, saw the house, cars, Priscilla’s wedding dress, concert outfits, awards, planes and his grave next to the swimming pool. Flowers from fans are still delivered there every day. We read that in the 20 years after his death in 1977, 400 million music albums were sold.

After the forests and rivers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park we stopped at Oak Ridge,TS where 75 000 people had worked on the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bombs.

At a NAPA dealership in Perryville, Missouri, where Dipli had to get a new alternator, we once again received the friendly American help with parking, electricity and even a lunch at the American Legion.

Beneath the famous Arch in St Louis, Missouri, we were trying to catch the late night breeze next to the Mississippi, when the police moved us along to a spot beneath 3 railway lines and a freeway…

Compensation was: to be received in a handsome home on a 4000 acre farm with soy beans, corn, wheat and hay and the best farm machinery, near Shelbina.

We crossed the Mississippi river 9 times. We never ceased to be amazed at the size of it! In Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain had been a steam boat pilot and had written “Huckleberry Finn”, etc., we took a river boat excursion on the Mississippi.

President Abraham Lincoln’s life is portrayed in a most modern museum in Springfield, Illinois, depicting history by means of wax figures and voice recordings. Mary Lincoln’s sumptuous dresses have been re-made in fine fabrics, using paintings of the 1860s as a guide.

We loved Chicago and its parks and beaches next to Lake Michigan. While we were gaping at the skyscrapers and the biggest T Rex, young artists had left a note on our camper and invited us to use their house as a base. They took us to a typical Chicago music bar, to a lakeside concert in Millennium Park and at midnight to a foundry: roaring, hissing, sizzling and glowing with molten steel. (Seldom a dull moment!)

This journey up to June 2009:

Time on the road (excluding home visits): 5 years, 7 months

Kilometres driven: 238 000 Countries visited: 88 (with Dipli). US States: 30

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