Em and Stu do America part 14: Edward Abbey’s West

The canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the roads.

Edward Abbey

Aim

Outrun winter, see 10 national parks in three weeks, focusing particularly on the ‘canyon country’ as described by iconic American writer Edward Abbey.

A new moon over southern Montana

A new moon rises at dusk over southern Montana.

 

Itinerary

Start: Las Vegas (a sort of man-made Grand Canyon of 100% neon)
California: Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite
Crossing Nevada on Hwy 50, “The Loneliest Road”.
Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef
Colorado: Rocky Mountain
Wyoming: Grand Teton, Yellowstone
Now too cold to camp (we drew the line when it dropped below 0C at night) so driving across Montana, Idaho and Washington and staying in crusty motels.
End: Vancouver, for a brief Moraday family reunion

The ancient sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

The sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

New team members:

Cheap-arse Walmart tent, with related camping accessories
The Grey Goose, a compact four-cylinder Chevy, our home until we go home.

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park.

We did it, and had an amazing time. But man, America is a weird land of contradictions…

Even in the shoulder season, when temperatures at night weren’t far over freezing, it’s not like Australia where you casually rock up at a reasonable hour and snag yourself a campsite. While this was possible in some parks, competition for campsites and even just on the roads at America’s most beloved and famous national parks is intense. Yosemite got five million visitors last year. That’s nearly 14,000 people PER DAY. I don’t know how that is even possible. Zion got more than four million. No wonder some of the roads and campsites are getting, as the Park Service describes it, “loved to death”.

In Yosemite campgrounds are all solidly booked, seemingly months in advance. You must rely on a lottery of the cancellations, called out at 3pm. We were lucky to snag a spot for one night this way but we had planned to stay two. So the system dictated we rise at 6.30am, pack up the entire camp into the car and turn up at the office at 7.30am, waiting in line to put our names down. Then we had til 3pm to do our hiking for the day, because we had to be back at 3pm sharp to hear the lottery results. Then it’s go and set up for the second night.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

At Zion, we turned up in the morning and waited in line for an hour and only just snagged a site in an “overflow” site. To stay a second night in the morning we had to pack up camp and get in “line” in our car at 5.30am. And there were plenty of people in front of us. We got confirmed for a second night by 8am, but those behind us got turned away. We then moved everything to a new site.

Every single park we visited bar one had major roadworks and we spent gobs of time sitting in our stationary car, looking out at bobcats throwing about tons of the good green Earth we came to see. While you can see American wilderness by hiking overnight into the backcountry, if you are “car camping” you are never going to get much in the way of wilderness. I was still wearing earplugs at night to block out highway noise in basically every place we camped.

Camping in the car in order to snag... a camp.

Camping out overnight in line for… a campsite?

In other words, the Americans, bless them, have somehow managed to make camping stressful!

We were conscious of being ‘part of the problem’, too, having set ourselves this task of seeing so many parks in such a short time, the only way of doing so being pounding serious pavement.

We were so conscious because of our reading of the seminal western wilderness work Desert Solitaire. Author Edward Abbey spent several years as ranger at Arches National Monument (now Park) in the 1950s and the book chronicles that time. It’s a moving, profound meditation on the nature of the desert and man’s place in it. By turns it’s also an angry, misanthropic manifesto against humanity’s apparent commitment to ruining the land at all costs, most notably by ensuring we pave big fat highways across sensitive areas to allow people to “see nature” without getting out of their cars. It should be noted Abbey’s so famous in the west the National Park Service still sells his books in the parks gift shops, despite the irony that his book is a withering condemnation of humanity in general and the Park Service in particular. I’m sure Abbey’s rolling in his grave to see his books being sold in the kind of massive visitor centres he never lived to see, but so gloomily predicted.

Pretending to be Edward Abbey.

Attempting to commune with the spirit of Abbey (despite his explicit instructions to the contrary).

With his voice ringing in our ears we did our best to feel the soul of the country he loved by getting out of our car as much as we could. We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls and beyond in Yosemite, a breathtaking hike (literally, ha!)

We climbed the challenging Primitive Trail to Double O Arch in Abbey’s beloved Arches.

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

Just outside the Arches boundaries we tasted the thrills of canyoneering, rappelling down 90 feet into Ephedras Grotto then into the canyon beneath Morning Glory, the world’s sixth-largest natural land bridge. The reward for such bravery was sweet: filling our flasks at a sweet-tasting spring, then hiking out next to the beautiful stream it became, all the way to our gorgeous campsite on the Colorado River. We did a three-hour horseback ride through Bryce Canyon. We climbed to Emerald Lake at Rocky Mountain, playing in the snow like children.

The blue skies of Utah over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Utah sky beams blue over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Most memorably of all, we did a six-hour round trip hike through The Narrows at Utah’s incredibly beautiful Zion National Park. This required hiring full gear – canyoneering boots, dry pants, wooden poles – as the hike is through the cold (6C), swiftly moving Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon. It’s at times up to your mid-thigh and can sweep you off your feet if you make one misstep. This was an incredibly special hike, a unique experience.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

This whole time was a treasure for us, though it wasn’t easy. We were dealing with abrupt climate changes, freezing nights, difficult hikes, long drives and pulling the tent up and down nearly every day. But the teamwork required brought us closer together, and the mind-boggling beauty that unfolded before us each day brought continual delight. We spent whole hours in the car idiotically repeating “Wow!” and “Oh, wow!”

The Narrows, a challenging hike upstream through the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Us in The Narrows, upstream along the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Our joy in these places, and that of all our fellow American hikers and campers, led us to conclude that despite our differences, inside we all yearn for the sense of transcendence and connection these places give us. We can only hope and pray the US government can find a sustainable way to manage the massive (and growing) demand. And that the wider world, in designing and infilling its cities, remembers this thirst for nature that remains universal and unquenched inside the human heart.

UTAH ROCKS!

UTAH ROCKS! Em at Delicate Arch.

StuMobservations: Camping

  • 3 days of Vegas and we rent a car, buy sleeping bags and a tent, load up on supplies and flee back out to nature.
  • 10 National Parks makes for a lot of good camping.
  • Walking upstream with dry pants and poles is heaps fun.
  • Walking to the top of a waterfall is heaps fun.
  • Walking through massive trees is heaps fun.
  • Walking around rock formations is heaps fun.
  • Walking up and around mountains is heaps fun.
  • Walking through snow is heaps wet/fun.
  • Rappelling down canyons is heaps fun.
  • Riding horses through canyons is heaps fun.
  • Driving in a snowstorm is scary/fun.
  • S’mores by campfire are incredible.
  • Utah Rocks!
  • 100% of National Parks are ‘under construction’.
  • That point where $5US for a shower sounds reasonable.

Recommended campsites and suppliers*

Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP
Tehachapi Mountain SP
Potwisha campground, Sequoia NP
Lower Pines, Yosemite NP
KOA campground, Cedar City, Utah
South campground, Zion NP
Ruby’s campground, just outside Bryce Canyon
Granstaff campground, just outside Arches – the winner for sheer beauty
Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

Moab Adventure Center (canyoneering outside Arches)
Canyon Trail Rides (Bryce Canyon)
Zion Adventure Company (Narrows outfitters)
Enterprise car rental (the only place that allowed a two-month solid car rental, a cheap one-way drop off fee and for us to be able to drive all over the US and Canada. Suffice to say this was a VERY difficult thing to find).

*We paid full price for all these, so consider the recommendation unbiased!

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Em and Stu Do America Part 13: The Bright Angel Trail (in pictures)

The only way out was up, and long before we reached the Grand Canyon we were receiving warning emails.

“You will be hiking Bright Angel Trail from the river to South Rim, a distance of about 8 miles with a 1340m gain in elevation … typically takes a prepared hiker 6-8 hours (or more). Pack light. Do practice hikes. This is a long hike and ALL UPHILL. Don’t forget, Arizona is a desert and the temperatures can be extremely hot.”

Another email told us we should be doing 50 squats and 50 lunges nonstop daily in the lead up.

We do dummy practice hikes fully loaded with a week’s worth of canyon gear. We hike in boots, on a stairmaster when the land is flat, through hilly suburbs when there is no trail (or even footpath). We hike in hot weather. We do 50-lunge-and-50-squat routines in tiny AirBnBs. We do them again the next day. And the next. For weeks. We are prepared. Congratulate self on glutes of steel.

I forgot to do practice hike with: clothes half-wet from rapids, dirty from a week’s camping, suspected broken toe after overenthusiastic jump off boat, and with giant rash covering face from week of washing with sandy river icewater. Doesnmatter! Glutes of steel! (Pic by fellow hiker Pat Fielding)

Pride vanishes within two miles. I gasp and struggle as Stu leaps up trail like mountain goat. As I force legs forward I feel him tug on my pack. “What the fuck are you doing,” I turn and snarl like an alley cat. He has broken my rhythm, the only thing between me and madness. He holds up the camera, apologetically. I nod. I am broken. Stu is photographer now. Look for hikers circled!

Guides Erica, Chelsea and J-Mo are also hiking up halfway to meet our replacement tourists descending to join lower half tour. Unlike us, clad in Heavy Packs, Serious Boots, Long Sleeves, Sunscreen and Fear, clutching 2L water each, they are all in their flip-flops. The women vanish up the trail and reappear, coming down, what feels like instantly. I tell myself they didn’t really go up half way; impossibly fast even for these gazelles. We farewell with hugs and promises to return.

Stu’s view of the switchbacks we are negotiating. J-Mo the guide now accompanies us. He stays a tactful distance behind me. Then he hands us over to our new guide, Mike, who is curled cosily in a shady hollow in the rock. We hug J-Mo goodbye, feeling a little separation anxiety.

Same switchbacks, from further up. Mike provides welcome distraction with stories of his job as trail guide. Mike is nine feet tall. Possibly slight exaggeration. He lopes up the track with easy grace, fast. Way faster than I would be going given the choice. He says he does this trail several times a week! Every step is torture. Mike is forcing me faster than I want to go. Begin to hate Mike.

Mike tells us to make sure we speak up if we need to stop or slow down. Obviously I am too proud.

Same switchbacks from even further up. Irrational hatred of Mike spreads to include myself. Thought you were fit? You should have tried harder! Forced Stu into even more practice hikes. Gone on your own, if he didn’t need them. You should have been born with a different body shape. Glutes of steel? HA! GLUTES OF MUSH! You are good for nothing! This trail will never end! YOU’LL DIE DOWN HERE, FATTY!

Mike chills at second rest stop. Don’t be deceived by my smile. I have just been fed a candy bar.

Hundreds of people every year attempt the hike unprepared and must be rescued by rangers. One such rescue is in progress as we reach the second rest house.

I plod sadly behind Mike, watching his feather. It’s so people don’t lose him on the trail. Rather wished he would lose me. But I am grudgingly realising he isn’t setting this pace just because he is evil; left to myself I’d be going so slowly we’d probably have to sleep here.

The second rest house has become too far away to see with the naked eye, but a zoom in on paint just reveals it (circled).

You get the idea. It’s a long way since the resthouse.

The sweat is also covering my face, making my rashy face sting painfully. Hooray for hiking!

That red circle shows you more people insane enough to do this trail.

Dizzying new perspective on layers of rock we’ve observed so minutely over the past week.

Change mind about Mike. Mike is only thing getting me up hill. Love Mike. Stockholm syndrome?

A nice moment: my first sighting of a juniper tree in the USA, special to me since reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. It’s also a sign that the vegetation profile’s changing with the elevation.

Another sign of changing elevation: dirt changes colour from pink to white!

Back to suffering. Me resting with fellow hikers Rich and Chuck. I think Chuck and I are about equal on the pain scale, despite Chuck being 73. I console (further humiliate?) self with fact that Chuck is also marathon runner. We can’t all be marathon runners, I repeat silently, like mantra.

Stu: “Hey Emma, let me take a photo of you in this nice doorway thingo!”
Em: “I’ll kill you in your sleep.”

We are just about there. We have taken 6.5 hours; gloriously average. Nearing trailhead, Mike (new best friend, understands me better than anyone else, love Mike) stops at my request to make sure I can understand exactly where in this vista we came from. Answer: very far away, Frodo.

Oh God. Oh God, we are on the rim. We have done it. We stagger to a halt for Mike to record the moment. We gaze, wild-eyed and disheveled, at the hundreds of tourists who came only to snap a photo from the rim. My self-esteem, destroyed utterly just hours ago, returns in glad, smug rush. Mike gently points us in direction of the bar and melts away.

But first one more photo: it’s rubbish, because we had to fight tourists to get to the edge to take it and we lacked the energy after a week of seeing no-one. I include it because of the sweetness of the moment it represents: a moment I stood on the rim and permitted myself a few solitary tears; tears of pride that I got up there without chucking a (public) wobbly, or collapsing. But also tears of humble gratitude that I got to experience, so intimately, one of the most beautiful and special places on Earth. And I got to experience it with Stu.

 

Em and Stu Do America Part 12: The Grand Canyon

On a side-hike up the canyon

On a side-hike up the canyon

Erica sends the raft backwards into the rapid; our lean, bronzed tour guide with the easy smile vanishes, the sudden animal ferocity of her stance like a whippet braced to face a lion. She throws her whole body against the rolling water, planting a thonged foot on the steel cross-hatch for leverage, whole leg shaking wildly with the strain, hauling back on the oars, head flipping to watch all sides at once as the raft spins, brown plaits whipping, teeth bared in a grimace.

All we can do is hang on and get out the way, bums perched on the forward edge of the cross-hatch, avoiding the planted foot and the hands that punch the hefty wooden oars forward and back a full metre or more each stroke. Our torsos are pressed nearly flat against the walls of icy water that slam over us as Erica heaves us into safety.

Erica in a more relaxed moment on a side hike!

Erica in a more relaxed moment on a side hike!

We poke our heads up, drenched and exhilarated as she guides the raft into calmer territory. White water transforms to a roiling emerald green, thick like churned jelly, bubbles rising through it like it’s just come off the boil. Erica re-emerges as a grinning human, pulling the boat around so we can watch the others come through, one by one. Each is a tense wait followed by high-fives, triumph, each ‘boatman’ yelling from raft to raft to debrief each other on the choices each made under pressure.

Hard to get pics of rapids because the camera had to go away usually! But this is a little "riffle".

Hard to get pics of rapids because the camera had to go away usually! But this is a little “riffle”.

Erica has spent 20 years negotiating the rapids of the Colorado River that runs through the Canyon, and come safely through Hance Rapid, one of the river’s most technically challenging, countless times. But the crew knows better than to underestimate it. Before the ‘run’, they ‘parked’ the rafts at a sandy lip and hiked up the cliff to discuss how it looked today, the order they would go in, approaches they might take. They advised Rachel, who was crewing the supply boat and who would run Hance for the first time. Her jaw set with tension, she quietly accepted all the hints her colleagues gave her and – of course – ran it beautifully.

Bill scouts Hance Rapid with his crew

Bill scouts Hance – not the river’s largest rapid, but one of its most technical – with his crew.

Not all the rapids are high drama, but each is a thrill-ride, not to mention a glacial head-to-foot drenching. And much of the trip is spent gliding quietly through a calm river so clear you can see a leaf float by ten feet down. Below us it is deep green, but ahead it has infinite colours as the sun and rocks change overhead. The Colorado is mint green at dawn, silver as the rising sun touches it, pink and red as it reflects the two-billion odd years of Earth’s story rising on either side of it. It turns purple as the reds mix with the reflected blue Arizona sky and gleams gold at sundown. At night it turns black and roars.

The colours of the Colorado.

The colours of the Colorado.

Above it unfolds a geological history lesson I just don’t think I would have grasped had I looked down from above on just one day. The canyon has stood in its present form for roughly six million years. Each day as we move through it, the walls get higher as a new layer of rock appears, each unique in appearance and origin. The guides are full of knowledge about the landscapes that these rocks rising above us once represented. They know just as much about the present-day ecology, the impact the controversial Glen Canyon Dam has had on the place and its native species. They identify for us the bighorn ewes and rams, desert spiny lizards, does and bucks, scorpions that glow under UV light. Once we even see a beaver, fur glistening with water. And birds! It is migrating season and condors, wrens, ospreys, Canada geese and more soar overhead.

The camps we pull up at each afternoon are pristine, respected so utterly that not so much as a peanut or rubber band drops on to the fine sand without being carefully scooped up and locked in the trash to be packed out at the end of the trip. It is carefully managed so that only so many people are permitted to be on it at once, meaning that of the annual six million people who visit the Canyon annually, only about 23,000 of these raft down the river.

Our group on a side hike.

Our group on a side hike.

Our six days is a half-length trip, Upper Canyon only – from the start at Lees Ferry, near Glen Canyon Dam, downstream for 88 river miles where we will emerge to hike up and out via Bright Angel Trail. The rest of the bunch will go onwards. They are mostly Americans from all over the states, mostly around late middle age, a fit and outdoorsy bunch, all very friendly and bursting with enthusiasm for the trip. There is one other international couple, a Swedish pair around our age who are also on extended travels. We all get close very quickly. There is something about squatting to pee in the river in front of each other that erases boundaries with lightning efficiency.

This is Grand Canyon Whitewater’s final trip for the season and we have lucked out. The weather, often extreme in the Canyon, is now a perfect Fall. Nights are a breezy 10 Celsius. Brilliant blue days reach 30-35. Owner Bill is on the trip himself and has invited pretty much his whole staff along for the ride, resulting in a luxurious number of guides for us all – every day Stu and I have a different guide, usually all to ourselves, and regret only that we couldn’t make it on to everyone’s boat in our six days on the water.

The boatmen get ready in the morning. Watching them repack the boats is like watching an intricately choreographed dance!

The boatmen get ready in the morning. Watching them repack the boats is like watching an intricately choreographed dance!

The boatmen are happy and relaxed, anticipating winters working on their side businesses or travelling. They all love the job, but it’s undeniably a difficult one, done in an often harsh environment and hard on the body. A 15-minute go at the oars that I was allowed in calm water made me realise rafting is not a craft for the faint-hearted.

Meeting them all and hearing their stories was one of the highlights of the trip. They are not just committed environmental advocates. Many have river research backgrounds. Erica is a fine artist, exhibiting regularly. Chelsea, LA-bred, has a background in ballet, acting and music. Brian, with more river trips under his belt than perhaps anyone in history, appeared in Into the Wild and The River Wild (both awesome movies… we have already re-watched The River Wild). Brian shares a vast ecological knowledge from his research background and also owns a ski outfitters’. J-Mo (StuMo’s American equivalent who reminds us strongly of Luke) has built 17 houses in his home town of Flagstaff. Walt is a music expert and owns a Spanish-language and outdoor adventure school in his home, Costa Rica.

Brian!

Brian!

The bunch share decades of experience of the Canyon waters and are prone to throwing concerts of an evening, singing Western classics and new local music, accompanying themselves with guitars, a mandolin and bongo drum – and, of course, a pair of spoons. Sometimes Brian will give us a natural history lecture; other times, a guest will stand up and sing a song or read a poem. We dance on the sand at night under a ripening moon in the shadow of rock walls more vast than we could ever have imagined. It is all touched by magic.

The coldest swim I've ever had in my life...

The coldest swim I’ve ever had…

On the final night the moon rises full, and we dance a conga line around Brian’s ingenious homemade ‘campfire’. Stu and I don’t really want to leave. All that is luring us out of the Canyon is the promise of more starry skies ahead in the West’s most renowned national parks – Yosemite, Sequoia, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and the Rocky Mountains. We look ahead to these places with renewed vigour, and a renewed sense of all that can be possible in life.

But first, we must hike up and out via the Bright Angel Trail. And that is another story.

StuMobservations: Grand Canyon

  • Roadrunners are real.
  • Scorpions glow in black light.
  • Mice are jerks.
  • Beavers actually make little dams. Did not seem angry tho.
  • No bugs = no tent = sleeping under the stars.
  • Dilution is the solution to pollution.
  • Jar + lid with hole + paper towel + lighter fluid = camp fire.
  • Camp toilets are now called “Groovers”.
  • Every morning should start with the cry “HOT COFFEE!”
  • What did Stu get out of the Grand Canyon? Sand.
  • We have to come back for the second half. Who’s in?

Em and Stu Do America part 11: New Orleans

It sure is.

It sure is.

Stu and I fall into the iconic French Quarter entirely unprepared for its notorious Bourbon Street: sheer overwhelm edged with a sense of barely controlled danger and Kuta-esque hilarity.

Street drinking is not just allowed but encouraged. Each corner has its own stench. Music pounds. Neon glows at night, glares in the deserted daylight. Revellers and drunks, locals and tourists, surge and stumble. They can walk the street or sidewalk, Bourbon Street being closed to cars, but construction everywhere forces them into each other’s paths. Cars on the cross streets waiting to cross Bourbon wait listlessly to inch through gaps in the crowds. Potholes are filled with murky maybe-water.

Realities collide!

Realities collide!

Stu and I soon re-employ the warning system developed in New York: code word “MUDDLE” a warning to leap on or off the curb over a muddy puddle of what could be water, but might just as easily not be. Bouncers yell drink specials from doorways.

Drinks of choice are a world away from the traditional Vieux Carre found inside the jazz clubs, and most notably include the Big Ass Beer (comes in own novelty 1L bottle); Hand Grenade (green mystery fluid served in plastic grenade); Hurricane (red mystery fluid); Fishbowl (red mystery fluid in giant fishbowl, later seen slung round neck of drag queen keeping her tips in it); and the ever-classic $1 jello shot.

Only in NOLA are even the mannequins falling-down drunk

Only in NOLA are even the mannequins falling-down drunk

Street performance abounds, but we learn not to linger and watch because they will demand payment. Tiny children bang drum-sets made from sticks and upturned buckets with prodigious skill. We learn not to stop and listen to anything everyone says because they will manage to get money out of you through a breathtaking mixture of opportunism, charm and aggression. Tall, scary teenage boys with muscles and hard eyes stand silently with snakes around their necks. Real snakes. Big ones. Wizened old blokes stand around with big colourful parrots. We are pretty sure it’s another moneyspinner, so we don’t ask questions. We just laugh, enjoy the ride and try to keep our feet and clothes dry – we are invariably on our way to a restaurant.

We have largely stayed out of fancy eateries in the USA, finding early on that generally the style of food is international and prices (once you add tips, taxes, exchange rate) are too high to be worth it, given the similar styles and class of dining available in Perth. This is why we have concentrated on the more iconic, regional and less costly American dishes.

Every day is Mardis Gras

Every day is Mardis Gras

But it’s always been the plan to let ourselves go in NOLA. It’s home to Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s, Creole institutions. It’s my birthday week. It’s

Restaurant Week, when such places offer price-fixed menus that will let be high rollers for a week. We visit Goodwill. Stu gets a slinky black suit and I get a slinky black dress. We walk out $15 later and ready to get classy for the first time in months.

We’ve got a long list of cuisines and dishes to try, thanks to NOLA’s eclectic cultural history:

Not bad for a $7 suit.

At Galatoire’s. Not bad for a $7 suit.

Creole and Cajun (jambalaya, andouille, gumbo soup); the po’boy sandwich; the Italian Muffaletta sandwich invented here (filled with mortadella, salami, mozzarella, provolone, and a special olive ‘salad’ of olives, cauliflower and carrot, all in an oil that soaks deliciously into the big round soft Italian sesame loaf, cut into quadrants for easier guzzling).

And that’s not counting the sweets; we have to try beignets (deep-fried choux pasty covered in powdered sugar); bread pudding, the local dessert of choice; pralines, king cake, snoballs, mile high pie…

The Muffaletta at Central Grocery. Note how the oil that the vegies have been marinating in sinks into the bread.

The Muffaletta at Central Grocery. Note how the oil that the vegies have been marinating in sinks into the bread.

We also have a list of musicians to hear provided by a journalism contact of mine – pianist David Boeddinghaus we were lucky enough to see twice, once at the Bombay Club then again aboard the Steamboat Natchez, where he played with the fantastic trumpet player Duke Heitger, who had also been recommended. We didn’t manage to track down pianist Tom McDermott, but we made up for it with a dinner at the Palm Court Jazz Café, where the band sang me happy birthday!

Bloody Mary at the Commander's Palace jazz brunch.

Bloody Mary at the Commander’s Palace jazz brunch.

I’ve put a list of the winners food-wise at the bottom for the curious but overall the most spectacular meal was at Creole classic Commander’s Palace. The jazz brunch – where the band wandered in to each dining room and took requests – was was followed by a walk through the garden district: a far cry from the chaos and poverty of the French Quarter. A self-guided walking tour took us past some jaw-dropping homes, including the homes of Sandra Bullock and, drumroll, John Goodman! His house had double coolness, being previously owned by NIN frontman Trent Reznor.

Anne Rice's house, according to Free Tours by Foot.

Anne Rice’s house, according to Free Tours by Foot.

We also saw Anne Rice’s house, which looked just like you would want expect the author of Interview with a Vampire’s house to look. We ended with a walk through Lafayette Cemetery, crumbling and beautiful, evoking the spooky scenes from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula in which terrified men wait by the tombstones at night for the vampire to emerge.

Lafayette Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery

On a sunnier note, we spent a day on the bayous, kayaking with Canoe and Trail Adventures swamp tours. An unexpected bonus in getting there was driving for nearly half an hour across the world’s longest bridge, across Lake Pontchartrain.

The vast and shallow Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary

The vast and shallow Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary. Feels like driving across the sea.

Our passionate local guide told us all about the ecosystem of swamps, bayous and estuaries, and the roles these wetlands – or rather the loss of them – played in the scale of devastation Katrina wrought in 2005. The wetlands are disappearing in Louisiana at a rate of a FOOTBALL FIELD EVERY 90 MINUTES, which sounds unbelievable but was confirmed by a visit to the Katrina museum. The museum featured apocalyptic footage of the floods surging round roofs of the citizens, and told the harrowing stories of overwhelmed and unprepared authorities herding 12,000 of the city’s least fortunate citizens into the Superdome. Here they lived for days on end, surrounded by their own excrement, in the suffocating heat, in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the roof disintegrating around them.

On the swamp!

Sign in back left reads “DEAD SLOW”, hehe. Front left you can see an osprey nest in tree.

And the worst part? Scientists had been warning for a long time that the risk of flooding was high and that the loss of the natural wetland buffer zones would mean the flooding would be catastrophic. And people wonder why I bang on about wetlands disappearing into subdivisions in Perth. We lack respect and understanding for the subtle roles ecosystems play in keeping our planet hospitable. Happily, New Orleans seems to have somewhat learned from its experiences, and there are wetland recovery efforts underway, but of course it will take billions and meanwhile the money is in the hands of politicians.

Anyway, back to dumb tourist mode: paddling behind our guide, we see two alligators! One a head, the other one a slinking tail! And then a turtle! Turtle gets all shy and belly flops ungracefully back into the water when we say hi.

Em does a momentary book nerd with statue of Ignatius Reilly, the main character from the Pulitzer Prizewinning New Orleans novel A Confederacy of Dunces

Nerding out with Ignatius Reilly, hero of Pulitzer-winning NOLA novel A Confederacy of Dunces

We love New Orleans, our most intense experience of America since New York City. Its cracked and crooked streets and paths are marked by flood lines and devastating evidence of rampant homelessness, but they are also full of beauty and colour and life, and above all music. Tubas wander the streets, taking their humans for walks. Jazz spills from restaurants, houses, bars, cars. We arrived wondering why people wanted to go back and rebuild after Katrina; but we leave understanding. There’s just nowhere else like it.

A week’s not enough, but we’ve got a date with Austin, Texas, and then… with the grandest of all canyons!

Stumobservations: New Orleans

  • The first night in any new place is spent finding somewhere to eat.
  • Rest of the week is spent discussing where we should have eaten on first night.
  • Light American beer has the same alcohol content as full strength Aussie beer.
  • Blood and Sand cocktail tastes exactly like its name: like you’ve tripped at the beach and smashed your face in the sand.
  • Do not put inedibles in my food. #Gumbo
  • Hand Grenades and Hurricanes are reminiscent of unrefined rocket fuel concoctions from early-days drinking.
  • Birthday drinks are even classier when consumed on a working carousel bar.
  • Birthdays last 36 hours when there is a 12-hour time difference.
  • 50 squats and 50 lunges are horrible. #Canyonprep
Beignets. Enough said.

Beignets. Enough said.

Winners food-wise:

  • Po-boys: Killer Po-Boys at Erin Rose – famous Parkway Po’Boys didn’t compare. 
  • Beignets: Café du Monde. It’s legendary for a reason. Bonus points for cafe au lait, the closest I have come to a flat white in a long, long time. We share a single portion, but get all giggly and high on sugar anyway.
  • Muffaletta: Sorry, Frank’s, but Central Deli and Grocery won this fight.
  • Best gumbo: Galatoire’s
  • Best bread pudding: Palm Court
  • Best meal overall: Commander’s Palace (Creole)
  • Highly commended Creole: Dooky Chase’s and The Gumbo Shop

 

 

Em and Stu do America part 10: Tennessee

Biscuit Love, Nashville

Five days in Tennessee were planned on the fly, given Hurricane Irma smashing our plans, but they were certainly a gift for us, after what was really becoming a bit too long sitting around in Florida. Thanks to the outflow of Irma evacuees, the 4-hour bus ride to Nashville from Atlanta ended up taking 8 hours, so we sure were glad to hop out of that Megabus and into one big fat Nashville party.

Everywhere you look are “pedal buses” (can’t think why no one has discovered Perth would be prime market) catering to an apparently booming bachelor and bachelorette party scene. Everywhere you look, hilarity and good-natured stumbling abound.

One or more of these goes by you every 30 seconds.

One or more of these goes by you every 30 seconds, complete with whooping and singing (see video at the end).

“Is it always like this?” I asked our Uber driver as crowds eddied round the car.

“Always, baby, always,” Yolanda told me.

We happened to coincide with Wizarding World Comic-Con, AND, a live discussion with Brian O’Halloran (Dante from Kevin Smith cult classic Clerks) and Jason Mewes, Jay of ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ who shot to fame in Clerks and remain a beloved element of most Smith films since. Yep, Mewes is just as silly and lovable as his on-screen persona and, amid teasing the sign language translators with his potty mouth, told some awesome insider stories about working with Smith and the gang, including about what it was like to meet the legendary Stan Lee and what it was like to work on the Mallrats set!

Stu and I both fan-girled

Stu and I both fan-girled for Jason Mewes, AKA Jay of Jay and Silent Bob 

Snoochie-boochies aside, Nashville was all about the music. Even their bus seats are upholstered with treble clefs. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and scored last-minute tickets to the Grand Ole Opry, a live country music radio show that has been going for the best part of a century, and was for many decades the principal way new music spread throughout the state and beyond. We wandered the streets – there is live music in just about every bar, all day, every day – soaking in the vibe.

The vibe continued all the way to Memphis, which is also all about the music, but with a stronger focus on the blues and rock’n’roll. The excellent Rock and Soul Museum continued our crash course in modern music history, continuing the story of how such elements as slavery, the cotton picking industry, the push for civil rights and the development of independent record labels and recording studios all helped usher in new styles of music for a new era, culminating in the birth of rock’n’roll.

So much country.

They also sell shirts in Nashville that say KEEP CALM AND CARRY GUNS :/ 

Yes, we went to Graceland and were amazed to find that even Elvis’ legendary extravagance was frankly rather elegant and restrained compared to the flagrant festival of consumption we see in many American households we pass through. Looking at his way-out but gorgeous furnishings really gave a sense of Elvis the person and was unexpectedly moving.

Memphis, not to be outdone by Nashville, also has live music streaming from every pub, particularly on the legendary Beale Street. The street is now a glitzy tourist trap rather than a beating musical heart, but is still worth a walk and a bar-hop, just for the bands. But you don’t have to be on Beale Street to hear a band in Memphis – we stayed not downtown but in Midtown’s Cooper-Young, an area that reminded us a lot of Perth’s inner-ring suburbs, and this was not only a welcome feeling but an awesome place to stay just for the wealth of music and food options to choose from.

Memphis had a lovely vibe - the suburb Cooper Young felt very Perth-like.

Memphis had a lovely vibe – this suburb, Cooper Young, felt very Perth-like.

Speaking of food: Nashville is famous for its hot fried chicken, and our biggest success in town was the heavenly Biscuit Love in The Gulch – well worth the wait. For those who missed a previous StuMobservation, Americans call scones “biscuits” and in the south, traditionally eat them with fried chicken and/or a kind of white gravy laden with sausage as part of a savoury breakfast. Crazy Americans and their delicious craziness.

Example courtesy of Biscuit Love.

Example courtesy of Biscuit Love. Sausage gravy can be seen in background. 

Memphis, on the other hand, is all about the barbecue. A quick lesson: in America, barbecue is the art of slow-smoking meat, particularly pork, until it is falling apart and flavoursome, and is close to a national religion. It also varies by region. In the Carolinas and Georgia we ate “whole hog” smoked in a vinegary sauce with the fat “chopped” into the final product. In Memphis, barbecue generally means pork ribs, either “dry” (rubbed with dry spice mix pre-cooking) or “wet rub”, basted with a liquid-based sauce during cooking then doused with BBQ sauce to eat. We won’t even go into the sauces right now. In Texas, it’ll be another barbecue story altogether.

Dry rub at Central BBQ, Memphis.

Dry rub at Central BBQ, Memphis.

The best food by far was the dry rub at Central BBQ (visitors, don’t listen to all the hype about Blues City and Rendezvous – go directly to Central). Banana pudding and peach cobbler are the big names in desserts in this part of the south, as well as the pecan pie – pecans are plentiful as they are grown in the south and they feature on most dessert menus. We hadn’t managed to find a peach cobbler, yet, but indulged at length in banana pudding (Central also wins for banana pudding). In case you’re wondering, we’re tending to share meals in order to limit the damage 😉

Elvis fabric-panelled pool room!

Elvis had a fabric-panelled pool room!

Meat aside, it was really beautiful to see cities nurturing and honouring musical culture, and it certainly made going out nicer – not just all about the booze, despite what the pictures might suggest!

StuMobservations: Tennessee

  • Would come back just for the pork.
  • The pork is so tasty it doesn’t need BBQ sauce.
  • The BBQ sauce they have goes really well with pork.
  • The pork ribs just fall off the bone.
  • You can get pork crackle as a side with your pork.
  • Central BBQ has better pork than you.
  • I ordered the pork sausage instead of dessert, they chopped it up and served it in a bowl with a spoon. #Porklife
  • We did other things between porks that weren’t boaring.

 

What we’re reading
Em: Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
Shania Twain’s Come on Over as a soundtrack for a lot of punishing squats. We learned this album was the best selling record by any female artist of all time!

What we’re watching
Twin Peaks finale… what the hell was that?! We wanted closure, David Lynch! Also, the IT movie rocked. Everyone in the cinema clapped at the end. It was a lovely moment of solidarity with the Americans. Go see it.

Em and Stu do America part 9: Miami Beach

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

We’ve fled Florida and the Miami Beach we describe will be sadly damaged. Residents just got let back in to see their homes today. But we thought we’d do this post anyway to encourage – eventually – tourism dollars back to the area when the time comes.

We had planned eight nights in Miami and chose to stay on Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. Miami Beach is actually an island off downtown Miami and South Beach is the portion of it that the rest of the world imagines when it imagines Miami: the palm trees, Art Deco, fancy vintage cars parked on the streets, sun-bronzed people on rollerblades, neon and nightlife. We chose to stay “where the action is”, conveniently forgetting we are old farts in training who don’t appreciate “action”.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

Miami Beach is expensive, and our inability to find somewhere close to South Beach within our budget led to our first negative AirBnB experience. We’ll save the hair-raising stories for home, but advise anyone needing budget accommodation in the area to search well in advance and take precautions. We would also recommend avoiding the Instant Book feature – take time to message the host first and check them out.

Miami Beach is scorching hot. Temperatures climbed above 37C by 10am. I have yearned throughout many muggy, cloudy eastern states for blue skies and white sand, a real summer holiday, but I realised that Miami, far closer to Cuba culturally than it is to the rest of Florida, is also a climate unto itself, with us arriving in the wet season, rather than summer as I understand summer.

Green lizard!

Green lizard!

Miami is exotic. Extreme humidity and frequent rainstorms allow for thick, lush vegetation, tropical flowers and palms everywhere, the smell of wet greenery thick in the air, lizards scattering at your feet; tiny ones, big ones, curly-tailed ones, bright green ones. There is a World Erotic Art Museum and gorgeous old art deco architecture everywhere, the preservation of low-rise heritage buildings throughout most of South Beach adding to the feeling that you have left the United States far behind. The famous South Beach itself is, to give credit where it’s due, the first Australian-quality beach seen so far in terms of white sand and clear water, though the water is very warm.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

Looks are vital. The stores have big-breasted mannequins, and mannequins of little doggies to display the clothing choices for your doggy accessory. People-watching should be done in the afternoons and evenings. Before midday, empty streets are peopled by tourists, recognisable by their protective hats and clothing (residents walk around wearing as little as possible to prevent tan lines forming). We concluded locals have more in common with the lizards everywhere than they did with us – protected by their browned skins, they waited until the sun warmed their blood before hitting the streets each day.

But when they do it’s a sight to behold and they quite agree, taking so many selfies you’re as much at risk of collision on the sidewalk as you are on a street. They work out, half-naked, on full outdoor extreme gym equipment in the sun, doing one-armed pushups on baking rocks and sand. And bars and restaurants are all open virtually 24 hours, maybe to relieve the stress of looking so good. One Cuban we talked to, Jeffrey, said the women in Cuba were “needy”, explaining he meant expensive, needing a lot of investment in their hair and nails.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

On Miami Beach we spotted lots of bare slow-cooking boobies, one skin-diver-suited man with a metal detector, one particularly gorgeous siren of a woman taking selfies with a full-on tripod and SLR setup, and of course, plenty of ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ situations, in which hapless men contort themselves trying to take the pictures their women require for social media.

One example was an older man in his 60s being instructed in photography by two girls in bikinis. Whether he knew them was unclear. Stu and I observed closely and are able to report for you the rules for looking hot in a photo (Emma models these in the gallery below):

  1. Pop butt upwards and forwards
  2. Somehow keep front knee bent?
  3. Ah! It’s by keeping feet together.
  4. Twist so boobs and butt face same direction
  5. Pout.
  6. Repeat until satisfied.
The only place I've ever seen a DD mannequin.

The only place I’ve ever seen a DD mannequin.

I also witnessed a hilarious ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ incident when I went kayaking around the Sunset Islands, four little islands in Sunset Bay off the main island. These are some of Miami Beach’s most exclusive addresses, home to the rich and famous. The immense, mostly Mediterranean-style homes are big enough to serve as hotels. Most are worth $15 million plus and one, the former home of Lenny Kravitz, sold last year for $25 million. It was a peaceful and beautiful time, me dragging my feet in the cool water, contemplating how much nicer it was to kayak past such a mansion on a Monday morning, instead of working to pay for one.

Presently I was joined by a man and woman on stand-up paddleboards. The woman gave the phone to her boyfriend to snap photos of her from behind. Geez, she looked gorgeous, slender and bronzed in a blue bikini, paddling between towering mansions, a Velcro strap around one tanned and toned ankle, blonde blow-waved hair shining as it fell past her waist.

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Her boyfriend did his best to capture this moment on the phone as instructed as well as paddle to keep up with her. For my part, I tried to get my kayak as far to the edge of the canal as possible so that I wouldn’t wreck the shot.

My short kayak and I passed easily under the low bridge between two of the islands. The guy was busy checking he’d got the shot; the blonde, preoccupied, did not see the giant metre-wide pylons she was headed for and got knocked clean off the paddleboard, landing in the water with an almighty splash.

I managed not to giggle as I asked her if she was OK. I felt for her, losing that nice blow-wave, but I also knew that Miami Beach features “blow bars” where you can go and have cocktails mixed for you while people blow-dry your hair.

Super-chill Miami - the lovely bloke at South Beach Kayak skaeboards back and forth to the water with the kayaks.

The super-chill bloke at South Beach Kayak skateboards to and from the water with the kayaks.

But enough about the eye candy when there is food to be discussed. We ate and cooked as much Cuban food as possible: Cuban sandwiches (Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles; Juji, it really depends on where you get them); Cuban espresso (Juji we couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular espresso).

We ate empanadas, linden flower tea, yuca fries, stuffed yuca, various meats with black beans and rice, guava pastelito (pastry), enormous avocados, tamales, cheap mangoes, street corner empanadas and plantains in all sorts of guises, sweet and savoury, including tostones.

We can recommend the Cuban and Cuban-inspired food at the Ocean Deli (cheap), Havana 1957 (mid-range), Puerto Sagua (cheap), The Cafe at Books & Books (expensive, but a great take on the Cuban sandwich, and the bookshop itself excellent) and Mas Cuba (mid-range).

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner.

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner for the Cuban sanger. That’s yuca fries in the background.

But the highlight was Moreno’s, owned by singer Jorge Moreno. It’s hard to find. You have to walk through the driveway of the Dorchester hotel and pass beneath an enormous twisty tropical tree that frames the restaurant awesomely but also shields it from the street. It outshone everything with its pastelito, its Imperial Rice – a must-have! – and its live Cuban band. A word of warning – it recently moved from its old location which has now been occupied by Mas Cuba, which has remarkably similar signage and styling to Moreno’s. We would urge visitors to ensure they seek out Moreno’s.

Another tip for tourists seeking nice bars and hangouts away from the hustle of South Beach – we found this No Nonsense Guide to Doing South Beach like a Local, invaluable.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

The charms of Miami Beach take some time and detective work to uncover if you aren’t born to party and are on a strict budget. But once the place is back on its feet, we would encourage you to visit – it’s totally worth it.

StuMobservations: Miami Beach

  • The buildings are like an 80’s version of the future.
  • Rollerblading down Ocean Drive in shorts is acceptable if you have your own soundtrack.
  • $17US + tip for a bourbon and coke – not cool bro.
  • It’s like Bali but with black beans.
  • Do not put solids in my drink. #Mojito
  • Are selfies a hobby/sport/activity now?
  • I do not like pina colatas or getting caught in the rain.
  • Sex museums should have blank walls for time-outs/regrouping/safe eye-contact.
  • Miami Beach = 50% Eat and Drink, 25% Drink, 12.5% Eat, 12.5% Sleep.
  • Airbnb hosts ARE obligated to provide clean bedding.
  • Cuban food is now called Stuban food. (See Cuban Sandwich).
Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

What we’re reading
Em: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket; French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano; The Magic World, E. Nesbit
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
A southern crash course: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Riders in the Sky, Elvis Presley

What we’re watching
Today we’re going to the movies to see IT! Very excited…

Em and Stu do America part 8: Special hurricane edition

This post was supposed to be about Miami Beach, but as Irma bears down on that city we thought we would write this instead.

It was pretty amazing to see all the army convoys and signage getting set up on the road north to Atlanta. A massive operation to evacuate so many people.

It was pretty amazing to see all the army convoys and signage getting set up on the road north to Atlanta. A massive operation to evacuate so many people.

We left Miami last weekend for a weeklong house-sit in historic St Augustine on Florida’s northeast coast, caring for two Scottish terriers and a vocal parrot named Dixie. But we barely got to do more than kayak on the canal looking, sadly in vain, for manatees before getting the news that a state of emergency was being declared in Florida. Our hosts told us they would be coming home to batten down the hatches and we were welcome to stay, but their advice would be to get out of Florida as soon as we could. So we celebrated Stu’s birthday on the 5th, Tuesday, with roast BBQ pork from my new Mrs Wilkes cookbook and cheesecake from the Cookbook of Juji, and got up on Wednesday to pack. But where to go? Our next booking was in St Petersburg on the Gulf Coast, home of the Dali museum. We had also booked our rental car until September 15, and the earliest we could return it to Atlanta for a refund was the 8th according to their terms. If we returned it before that we would be paying for a car we couldn’t keep, and we also couldn’t really make the drive to Atlanta in a day anyway.

Clyde and his little protege, Cassie.

Clyde and his little protege, Cassie.

Lo and behold, in comes a message from the lovely Lisa of our awesome Savannah AirBnB, offering us a place to stay for as long as they were able to stay themselves, given Irma was now looking towards that coastline too. We gratefully accepted, but Lisa and Tammy wouldn’t even take our money – and this really helped us, given we had been counting on the week of free accommodation in St Augustine to soothe the wounds expensive Miami had inflicted.

This beautiful couple insisted we were friends now, and so as friends, we left Florida then and there, rocked up with booze just in time for their pre-hurricane party at their backyard tiki bar on Wednesday evening.

The pre-hurricane party ended rather late.

The pre-hurricane party ended rather late.

Traffic had been heavy coming out of Florida, but Irma was still an abstract to us, and we slowly realised the reality of it as we sat listening to our new group of mates in Savannah discuss their plans. What would they do with their pets? Would they stay or leave? Who had a generator? What would their insurance cover or not cover if their cars, their houses got hit? Should they board up their windows? When? Now?

Meanwhile, Stu and I had no place to stay and no plan beyond that night and perhaps the next. As the night developed into debauchery I sought the help of those around me. Bethany had the strongest suggestion – if we had to leave Atlanta Friday, she said, bus to Nashville for a few nights, bus to Memphis. Then it was a hell of a trip to our next booking in New Orleans, but she flattened my idea of seven nights in Jackson Mississippi and I was happy to take her word on that.

Stu gets out before it hits.

Stu gets out before it hits.

We devoted the rest of the night dancing to old Broadway hits in the backyard. It was 2-3am before we went to bed and we awoke Thursday stupidly hungover to the news that Irma had killed people in the Carribbean and was definitely headed to Savannah. I blearily hit the internet and booked a bus for Friday to Nashville and an AirBnB that would do. Surely we could stay here another night. Tammy and Lisa as yet had no plans in place themselves with Lisa particularly occupied attempting to manage the wholesale shifting of her office, staff and company’s equipment to Atlanta, where word had it there was no accommodation left.

But an hour later we got word that an evacuation order would take effect for Savannah from Saturday morning. They would even be changing the flow of traffic on the interstate highway so all roads would lead west. Just imagine…

You can see here the signs taped on to the bowsers that just say "out of gas".

You can see here the signs taped on to the bowsers that just say “out of gas”.

Amid news of gas stations running out of gas and supermarkets water, we thought we would be idiots to wait another night and rely on getting to Atlanta on Friday. So we messaged the Atlanta host we had stayed with recently who was no longer doing AirBnB but took pity on us and smuggled us in for cash-money, unbeknownst to the snoopy neighbours. We’ll leave now (4pm) and be there by eight, we told her…

It took three gas stations before we found one with gas so we could fill the tank. The shelves were empty, the traffic insane, with traffics and breakdowns strung along the packed highway. It took us nearly seven hours to complete the trip even with no rest stops – we were just barrelling along this unfamiliar highway in the dark, sometimes at a standstill, sometimes going 112km/h – a white-knuckle trip for sure. We arrived around 11pm, apologising to our host, and fell into our bed.

You can just see the line of cars stretching out behind us in the mirror.

You can just see the line of cars stretching out behind us in the mirror.

We hope Irma will spare our hosts in Florida and our new friends in Savannah and we pray all Tammy and Lisa’s work on their beautiful home (especially the tiki bar – ha!) will be protected.

Headed to Nashville this arvo, over and out!