15 January – Nothing doing today – too wet and cold to venture out of the campground, so hunkered down with the heat on, read books and surfed the net.
16 January – Much improved day – clear, sunny and not too cold. Set off to find the Point Algiers ferry terminal – that was a bit of a mission but we eventually got there and were able to park Wanda in a paid parking lot. For just $1 each we got a short ferry ride over the “Big Muddy” to the New Orleans French Quarter. A bit of shipping going upriver – two Chinese registered ships and a couple of barges being pushed but not as busy as we expected.
Landed in the French Quarter and walked down the riverside until we came to the French Market – it had a few nice eateries and food stalls, the rest was flea market type stalls selling all sorts of stuff – t-shirts, mardi-gras masks, bags, voodoo dolls, jewellery, etc. Headed back into the French Quarter which is about 8 blocks square – loads of neat buildings with wrought iron balconies, other narrow ones with shuttered windows. At infamous Bourbon Street we turned left and walked it’s length – once was enough! It is full of bars and the streets smelled of all sorts of nasties. Even at this time of the morning people were walking around with their drinks (you aren’t allowed to carry glass bottles) – drinks are served in plastic glasses. If you get caught with anything else the booze police ticket you and we saw this happen to one visitor.
Turned back down towards the river and took another street which was closed off to traffic where we found all the buskers. This was great – all manner of music from Jazz to backcountry blues and artistes plying their talents and even on a relatively quiet day they were raking in the dollars in their buckets. Duly entertained we headed for a genuine Louisana Kitchen for lunch as we had been told we shouldn’t leave New Orleans without trying their Poboys. We had one each – 8in grilled soft french bread roll filled with fried shrimp, lettuce and tomatoes and a nice sauce for me, spicy sausage for Bob. They came with our side of choice – fried onions and potato skins. Nice lunch, but don’t particularly like getting my meal on a plastic plate with plastic cutlery.
Went back along the street to listen to some more buskers before meandering back to the waterfront to catch our ferry home.
Didn’t quite time that right as we hit the west bound rush hour and the setting sun, making driving a nightmare – we missed the on-ramp to the expressway first time round, and the second ramp a little further on, but after a little circular route finally got on and then it was plain sailing back to the camp. Enjoyed the architecture of the narrow streets and the busking but the whole party culture is not really our scene so won’t be bothering to stick around after dark and from a lot of the reports I have read – it is not the safest place after dark.
17 January – Back into the ‘Big Easy’ – made easier being a Saturday and less traffic. Parked by the ferry again and zipped across the river. Getting change from a quayside machine, after a full twelve months here found that the US does have dollar coins after all, they just don’t use them much. Plan A was to go for a ride on the ‘Natchez’ steam paddleboat, only to find that the boat is out of action for surveying until Jan 30 (I am not sure why they had advertising but no notification at the mooring or booking office). Switch to Plan B, which was to visit the WWII museum, so trundled up the road a bit and hopped on a bus to take us right to the door. First up was a 4D movie – Beyond all Boundaries – detailing the US involvement throughout WWII. With that setting the background, we spent the rest of the day exploring the different buildings and their exhibits. Closing time of 5pm came around a bit too quickly but we were getting a bit hungry by then (somehow lunch got missed) so we walked back towards the ferry, stopping off at a small pub for some eats. Nice backdrop from the upstairs dining room, with the city lights and the main Mississippi bridge lit up as well. Wanda was still in one piece when we got back (not always sure of leaving her parked for that length of time) although there was a light on inside which was a bit of a worry until we realised that we had left one on – solar power kept us charged up. Nice easy trip back to the park.
18 January – Off again to catch the first ferry of the day (civilised hour of 10.45am). Walked up the road to catch the same bus as yesterday, but his time rode it out to the Garden District – an area of the most lovely old houses on leafy streets. The Lafayette cemetery was our first port of call – jampacked with family vaults of all sizes, sadly some in a very sad state of repair, but it is still in use today and some attempt is being made to save some of the graves and their history. This one cemetery had over 1100 vaults with over 10,000 people interred there.
On then to wander around the streets and admire the array of very impressive houses. This must have been a very wealthy area in it’s time, beautiful homes – mostly wooden with lovely examples of wrought iron work on their balconies and gates. Only a pity that their pavements are in such a mess – roots of the lovely old trees have turned them into cracked and dis-jointed walkways.
Caught the bus back to town and after a spot of lunch, walked back through the busking street to take in some different performances. There are some very talented people out there and what a neat atmosphere to watch and listen to them. Art galleries and very exclusive antique shops abound in the area. Back to the ferry and over “The Muddy” for the last time – we feel we have seen enough to get a feel for this city.
19 January – New Orleans – DONE! Time to head off again. After doing a last load of washing in their free laundry we packed up once again and set sail. It took us about 45 minutes to get finally clear of the New Orleans environs, before leaving the freeway and heading south on LA1. This was an interesting drive – for about 30 miles we followed a bayou (river) with water on our left and a ribbon of development on our other side. The bayou was lined with shrimp boats moored along the banks and the housing to our other side was fairly basic.
After about 30 miles we crossed over the Intra-coastal Waterway and very soon after we hit the most amazing highway built over the water – with a very large new toll bridge. This road took us right to the end of the world. Not like Florida Keys – the settlements from here on were just holiday homes (all on stilts – as this region got wiped out by Hurricane Rita) and then as we came within sight of the Gulf – all was revealed – this fancy road was built because just out in the Gulf are myriads of oil rigs and this road links to the port towns that service them. Right at the tip where the road comes to an end is the Grand Isle State Park – it was just getting dark as we arrived but we had time to get a quick glimpse of the Gulf and a nice sunset. Yet another nicely cared for park (Louisiana would have to rate among the best States for their parks). Will stay a couple of nights so that we can spend some time exploring the little town of Grand Isle as well as the park. Only one helicopter has gone over so far – hopefully they don’t run all night.
20 January – Great sunny day – warm enough to get back into shorts. Set off on our bikes to ride back into the town of Grand Isle, morning tea at a little diner and then a little bit of exploring of the side streets to view their historic homes (not nearly on the scale of New Orleans mind you!).
Back home for lunch and then a walk out to a pier a short distance from the camp where we got to watch dolphins before walking back along the beach. This area was greatly affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill 5 years ago but you wouldn’t know it to look at the nice clean white sand beaches today. The owner of the diner told us that a lot of the work to clean up was done by convicts who were bussed in and put up in local motels, but they created havoc during the time they were there.
21 January – Returned back to the freeway today to head westwards towards Morgan City, Franklin and then down to Abbeville. The roads through this part of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have traversed a lot of swamp land and for a lot of the time we have been travelling on roads raised up over the swamp on stilts or bridges. What a tremendous cost to put in infrastructure like this. To get to the State Park we had to go via a convoluted detour as a bridge was under repair on the direct route. 180 miles was one of our longer days that we have had for many a long while, but it was easy enough travelling. Palmetto State Park is only a few years old and again very impressed with the facilities. Decided to have a walk around soon after we arrived before it got dark – of the 100 sites only about 10 were occupied and by the time I had walked around them all it had started to get dark (can’t get over how early it gets dark!). Had a real treat though as the park is teeming with armadillos and at dusk they come out to feed.
22 January – Murky start to the day. Went out to explore the park and managed to see some of the wildlife. Nice walk through the palmettos and larger trees. The palmettos make up the undergrowth and have palm like fronds but are more like a shrub. Many of the armadillos were still out and about, but tricky little things to try and get a photo of. On reaching the last of the ponds we could hear a crashing around in the undergrowth on the other side followed by grunting and squealing. Caught a quick glimpse of the culprits – wild pig with piglets. Just got back to Wanda before the 80% chance of rain came to fruition. Nothing to be done except hunker down and do some serious investigations for our coming trip out of the ‘States for a second ‘meaningful period’.
23 January – With weather still cold and miserable we decided to stay on another day, bit the bullet and made some bookings for our next major adventure to Central and South America, returning via the Panama Canal. As the day wore on the campground got busier and busier with all the locals coming in for the weekend. It is good to see that these parks do actually get well patronised some of the time – by dark it was full.
24 January – The rain has been blown away and a clear albeit cold start to the day. Checkout time came around quite quickly as we were busy doing more internet planning. Set forth on a southern route running parallel to the Gulf coast, but a few miles inland. Through a lot of farmland with flooded paddocks which we think are for growing sorghum and then on a very straight stretch through marshland with nothing much to commend it but the odd drawbridge as we crossed over yet another river. Also crossed over the Intra-coastal Waterway again – what an engineering feat that is. Our hope of finding a diner for lunch was not met and it took a long while to even find a place where we could pull off the road, as it was basically a raised road with canals on both sides. One small spot did finally eventuate so that we could have lunch chez Wanda and then proceed on to Cameron, where a small car ferry was waiting to transport us to the other side for the princely sum of $1 and had Bob been driving it would have been free! Didn’t have far to go on the other side, where we came to the settlement of Holly Beach and a beach where we could park on the hard sand and setup shop for the night. What a backdrop – the Gulf of Mexico spread out all around us – oil rigs visible on the horizon and a perfect sunset over the water. If we had warmer weather this would have been a great place to stay for a while.
25 January – Another lovely clear day. Made our way along the Gulf and we could tell we were getting close to Texas because all of a sudden there were cacti growing in the fields. A nice drive along the coast for several miles with no habitation, then we began to come across the oil/gas refineries – not quite such a pleasant sight and the smells not too great either. Crossed over the Sabine River and hey ho we were in Texas. A whole lot more refineries at Port Arthur. We stayed on Highway 82 until it hooked up with the I10 via Tx73 to Winnie, and from then on it was the outskirts of Houston – what a nightmare to get through to our destination – one of the roads was in the process of being upgraded so we had to detour alongside the roadworks for several miles together with all the local traffic. Finally made it out into the ‘burbs and away from the heavier traffic (this was Sunday so I would not like to do this on a weekday). We are sure going to find a different way out of this city!! Our stop for the night was in the northern suburb of Cypress with a boondocker, Troy, who happens to own an RV rental/service business with a storage facility next door. Works out perfectly – we can leave Wanda there (whilst we are overseas) when we return here in three weeks time and it is not too far to the Houston International Airport for our flight out to Costa Rica.
26 January – ‘Work on Wanda Day’ – with access to assistance, advice, loan tools and a place to work – Bob spent all day getting all the niggly things tidied up whilst I took advantage of the time to check out flights, etc. for our forthcoming trip. Decided that it would be easiest to stay put in the carpark overnight so that Bob could finish up tomorrow. We were offered water and a power hookup, which was kind of them.
27 January – Bob got everything finished soon after lunch then with a quick trip back to Troy’s home to say our goodbyes we were off out of this busy city. We only had a short but slow way to go to Sugar Land on the edge of the city for an overnight at Wallies. Our computer decided it would have some sort of meltdown and started chewing up our data on the internet, so after a couple of calls to the Verizon tech’s, established that something serious needed to be done with the computer. That something needed a clear head, so put it aside for tomorrow.
28 January – Well, it took me all of the morning after trying unsuccessfully to restore to an earlier point in time, to bite the bullet and do a factory reset on the jolly thing. Of course once that is done it takes even more time to get all the emails and essential programs into a form that we can use. Finally got on the road well after midday and motored for a while to get properly out of the city (not really possible as it goes on and on!) so when hunger got the better of us left the freeway and parked up for a while. Our route once we left the outer environs of Houston got us into cattle country – nice to see livestock out in the open air enjoying the sunshine.
We are now back to using our very effective boondocking guide book with our first stop planned for a riverside park (really just a parking lot at a boat ramp) on the Colorado River. This is not the big river that goes through the Grand Canyon, but a smaller namesake that rises and empties in Texas. We could stay here free of charge for up to three days, but better places beckon down on the coast so it will be an over-nighter only. The river is still big enough for barges – one came through as soon as we were settled, an empty benzine tanker on it’s way to a refinery up river.
29 January – A nice leisurely day as we only had a short hop to our next camp. There was a steady stream of visitors to the boat ramp – some for fishing, others for dog walking and others just having a break. Had a chat with the fisherman – they were hoping to catch catfish (which can grow to the size of a person) but the river was quite muddy from recent rains further upstream which didn’t seem to be helping them. Another of the visitors – a woman electrician – was looking for somewhere she could park her RV while she was working at the nuclear plant just down the road (we didn’t know that was there!) but she had to have hookups so that she could leave her dogs with air conditioning!! They were two cute miniature Schnauzers (rather like Millie and Cooper – Trish). Visitor No. 3 who stopped to chat was working at a chemical plant and also living in an RV.
Set off down the road and out to the Matagorda Nature Park again right on the Gulf. Free RV parking is allowed in their beachside carpark overnight despite the nearby campground and we had the place to ourselves. A long pier out into the water was lined with fishermen and they were having reasonable luck. The Intra-coastal waterway comes out to the Gulf here and extensive work had been done to create a stabilizing seawall either side – huge blocks of granite each about 1.5metres cubed lined the banks – the cost to transport them in from up north would have been enormous but I guess the oil company made a big contribution to get them built.
30 January – The end of the nice weather for a while. Destination today is Magnolia Beach – to reach there we retraced our steps past the boat ramp camp of yesterday then on through on Hwy 35 to Port Lavaca – stocked up on supplies then back down to the Gulf. Lots of open farmland through this region, even recently harvested cotton fields.
We have a spot right beside the beach – no limit to how long you can stay – the view out of our dining window is across to Port Lavaca, with strings of barges cruising past in the bay. As night is falling the lights of the town are starting to twinkle at us. Quite a few other rigs parked here, but rather cold to be too sociable – in warmer weather I am sure this beachfront site would be packed.