Kathryn - Sometimes what you are looking for is not what you find. This was my first trip to the deep south and I was desperately hoping to see an alligator in the swamps of Louisiana. Bad timing. Unfortunately much of the south has been gripped by an ‘unseasonably cold spell’, not just Louisiana but all of the states we have visited so far. The road was before us and our time to visit the swamps was now. I scoured every ditch, pond, lake and puddle for an alligator, but never saw one shred of evidence. Finally at the ranger station I asked what my chances were of seeing one… “slim to none” was the response. Apparently alligators can hold their breath for over 24 hours in extreme cold, they slow their heart-rate down and lay low in the bottom of the swamp waiting for warmer weather. Discouraged we walked away from the ranger station, but went on a body numbing hike around the swamp. It was so still in the swamp, some portions of the open water had frozen over. I imagined that it would be much more lush and brimming with life in warmer weather. The bright side was that there were zero mosquitos which is absurd in a swamp. We stayed a few nights at Palmetto State Park in southern Louisiana, and I would love to go back. As we were about to pull out of our camp site Catherine said to me “did you see these things?”
I looked to where she was pointing in the bush… and all that I saw was what looked like garbage, plastic bags mixed in with dead leaves and plant stems. “They are ice” she said.
When the frostweed plant (White Crownbeard) has sufficient water present and temperatures dip below freezing beautiful ice ribbons form at the base of the plant. The sculptures they produce are extraordinary. I have seen many ice formations in my life, but none this beautiful. I feel grateful to have witnessed a very rare occurrence. There will be alligators, another place another time.
Travel Lesson #1 – Just because that’s the way you have always known something to be done means nothing! Absolutely nothing!
Propane is elusive. In most of the states we have been in you cannot get propane at the gas station. This phenomenon does make one appreciate the convenience of being able to go to your local gas station and the attendant fills your tank then and there. Not so in many US states. Plus all we have come across are closed Saturday by noon, all day Sunday and definitely on holidays.
We are getting wiser though. It was Friday, December 29th, through one of the longest cold spells in the Southern US history, and we were running low on propane. We knew we had to get the propane tomorrow (Saturday) or we would be out until January 3rd and likely staying in a motel that allows cats. Propane is sold at really random places like some U-Hauls, some RV parks and some Propane delivery places. It is not an exact science and the internet is handy but can be relatively useless at times. We head out Saturday, not realizing that almost all businesses close at noon, to find propane. Google sends us to a U-haul, which although it says they sell propane, they do not. Nowhere in the town is open for propane so now we need to head to a different town. Google maps tries to send us on a short cut through a military base. It is difficult to sneak through a US military base in a 28’ RV with Canadian license plates so we had to find a different route.
Off we head to Natchitoches. Not the plan, but the largest town in the area. I call the propane places I can find on the internet and one is open for another hour. I let the gentleman know we are one our way and where we are because I don’t want him to decide to close early due to a slow afternoon before a long weekend. Once again, we are down some back road in an industrial park getting propane.
Travel Lesson #2
If the town is too small for Uber or Lyft, your taxi ride is going to be an unusual experience.
Kathryn, Narnia and I pull in to Morgan City and stay at an overpriced RV park. The day was long and we decided to go out for dinner. We hadn’t been out for dinner in a while and we wanted some good Southern cooking. The internet provides us the top options and we choose Rita Mae’s Kitchen based on Yelp and TripAdvisor. Quotes stated “Without a doubt, the best tasting food in Morgan City” I guess that now begs me to ask “Have you been to Morgan City.” My challenge is I don’t really like deep fried food, unless it is shrimp tempura, but that’s another story. Dinner was likely homemade at one point and then frozen to be defrosted as the food was ordered.
But that is only half the story. The best part was our taxi driver, Cody. He took an hour to pick us up, although the dispatcher kept saying he would be there in a few minutes. He was the craziest cab driver I have ever had. He talks and talks and talks, about his drug days in Austin, excuses for being late, yelling at his kid in the hospital, playing video games with his kids when he gets them, etc. For our return trip we decide to go with a different taxi company but the numbers are not in service, so Cody it is. He picks us up, much more quickly that time, which he is proud of, but we have to drive by the hospital to pick up the dispatchers mother on our way back to our campground.
These towns outside the cities I find tougher to love. There is poverty, not a lot of industry or commerce to provide jobs and not a lot of positive outlook. The towns, like Natchitoches who have revitalized their downtowns, created events and provided growth opportunities do much better than towns like Morgan City. What makes one work and one doesn’t? I don’t know but it does appear if Uber and Lyft are there the towns are doing better.
Kathryn - Another thing to see if you are travelling through Louisiana are the plantations. We visited two, Melrose Plantation and Poche Plantation. Melrose Plantation was the first plantation to be owned and operated by free blacks. Cotton and pecans were the crops farmed at the Melrose plantation, but it is better known historically as an artists retreat where writers, painters, fabric artists, wood workers and others would go to work on their crafts. The folk art of Clementine Hunter is highlighted throughout the buildings and depicts daily life at the plantation and surrounding community. Clementine who was working in the kitchen of the plantation house began painting in her fifties when a visiting artist left a set of paints behind. Two of Clementine Hunter's works now hang in the Louvre in Paris.
The Poche Plantation was partially converted into an RV park which was why we chose to visit. It is located on the banks of the Mississippi River northwest of New Orleans. Beside the plantation is a graveyard in which the bodies are buried above ground due to the high water table. I'm not saying the RV park is haunted, but next to it.