It was the Wednesday evening before thanksgiving when we arrived at Jeff’s house. The fire was already blazing in the chiminea in their back garden, when we arrived with a bag of slightly soggy clothes asking to use the tumble dryer. Shannon showed us around and to the all important dryer, and also the where the keg of Yuengling was that Jeff had bought. With our clothes drying we sat around the fire outside enjoying a beer and catching up. We also met Paul and his wife Christy, while we chilled around the fire.
It was thanksgiving tomorrow, as Shannon said that they were expecting around 24 guests, she spent some of that evening and by the sounds of it a large part of the night cooking an absolute feast, which included a very good looking apple pie. When the morning came, guests started arriving at around 1pm, and there really was that many people. There tables they had only just fitted! We felt very welcomed by everyone there, considering that we weren’t family and just complete strangers to most people! Lots of people came to speak to us about our van as it was parked up right there in the garden, and were interested about our trip, so we had a few pleasant hours meeting new people and discussing where we had been and where we were going. The weather was also beautiful again, and Aimee had a great time running around the garden and being given lots of attention by various people. I spent some time talking to Jeff’s father, Howard who was an interesting guy and certainly didn’t look his age. As me and Lee discussed earlier today, we haven’t been ill since we’ve been here. Looks like all that sun must be good for you!
At around 2pm, everyone said grace before tucking into the very large buffet style meal. Shannon had done a lot of cooking include many salads and other dishes as well as the traditional turkey and her apple pie. Other people had also brought food, including some mac n cheese which is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I had been worried that as veggies we might not have too much selection, but actually there was loads. And I ate so much, it took me several hours to be able to come back for a small piece of the many delicious looking puddings (for my American readers, pudding is what we Brits call basically anything sweet that you eat after your meal. I believe in the US pudding is a specific kind of custardy thing…?). Aimee was also spoiled.
Once we had eaten, people filtered back outside, enjoying the last of the sun and warmth. Soon the fire was lit again, and as the evening drew on people began to filter away to their respective homes. In the end it was just the two of us with left with Jeff’s daughter Crystal, her husband Steve and their two adorable twins. Apparently it is traditional to watch the football, and it happened that their team, The Saints was also playing. I can’t pretend to have any idea what was happening during the match, I barely understand English football as it is. What I can’t believe is the number of adverts that occur during this process, it is literally an hour’s game with two hours of adverts in it! Lee seemed to enjoy it, probably because he understood what was going on and I was just happy to sit on a sofa with Wi-Fi for the rest of the evening.
The following day was sounding like a good one. Jeff wanted to take us out on the swamp in his boat, which sounded awesome. He said we were likely to see pigs out on the swamp as well as possibly alligators and turtles. I was looking forward to seeing the swamps up close and without a massive V8 engine 3ft from my ear. Jeff also said he knew where to boat tours took people on the river, and therefore knew the spots we were most likely to spot animals in. The three of us headed off from their house towing the boat around a mile or so to the boat launch. There was a few tour boats out as well as some local fishermen who were coming back from a mornings fishing with a giant haul of catfish.
Unloading the boat we headed out down the river, turtles could be spotting dropping into the water all down the bank as we passed.
Shortly we arrived at a small waterway leading of the main river and we turned down here. This was were the pigs normally were, Jeff explained. We had come armed with marshmallows as not only do the gators enjoy them, but so do the pigs apparently! The route was a scenic one, and we beat the main tour boat to the turning so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
This was probably a good thing as there wasn’t a load of people to see us when we managed to get stuck on a submerged bit of cedar and ended up spinning round and round on it while we tried to reverse of it with the motor, and then push ourselves free with a big metal pole. After a while, we managed to free ourselves and we reached the end where the pigs were supposed to be, but judging by the quantities of marshmallows floating in the water they had already had enough to eat and gone. I did catch a fleeting glimpse of a raccoon in the trees, but soon it too was gone. We started making our way back out, but when the tour boat started making its way down the same way we decided to hang around and see if they had better luck coaxing the pigs out. Turns out they didn’t have any special tricks either, but as we made our way out I spotted a baby alligator right next to us which was pretty cool.
I also spotted a baby woodpecker in the trees next to us.
Jeff then took us back the way we had come, stopping at a house for someone he used to work for on the river front. They had a statue of the supposed ‘swamp monster’ in their garden.
We also stopped to look at some of the very fancy and expensive house that are on this stretch of water, worth several millions no doubt. We also drove past some more run down looking buildings on the riverfront.
There was one more place for us to check out, and we went back up the river past where we had initially launch the boat to another swampy section. Although no particularly far from the other place we had just been, the swamp here looks completely different. There is none of the lush tropical vegetation of where we had just been, this was more barren with even the trees that were still alive having a dead ghostly feel to them.
The reflections on the water were pretty amazing here.
We went past a cedar tree that survived being logged due to the fact that while it is still alive, it is hollow inside and not worth using for timber. Apparently it is estimated to be 5 million years old!
We continued further on, spotting lots of turtles on floating logs. At the back, Jeff said this is where there would normally be wood ducks, but again today wasn’t the day for it. There was a lot more pretty scenery though.
This is the egg of an invasive species of snail, which can be seen dotted all over the base of the trees in the swamp. It almost doesn’t look real, being such a bright pink colour.
Having had good tour of the local swamp, it was time to head back to the boat launch and make our way back to the house. While we had been at Volksgiving, we had complained about the state of American cheese, and so that afternoon we were being taken to Aquistapace’s market in Covington where I was assured there was good cheese. There was also a copious wine selection with a ‘special section’.
They weren’t lying, the cheese selection was impressive and the best part, free tasters. Also not the kind of tasters where someone gives you one in a little cup and you can’t come back for more. These had special cheese holders, filled with cheese samples and cocktail sticks to hand. I made sure I ate a large amount of cheese, and we treated ourselves to one nice piece, as although it was very tasty, paying $10 for a piece of cheese hurts me. Jeff didn’t need to worry though, as he somehow managed to find a piece for 13 cents, which I am rather jealous of.
Our alcohol haul:
The route home, we diverted past Lake Pontchartrain to look at some more fancy houses. Here on the side of the lake, everything is built on stilts as you can imagine it probably needs to be. You also have a view of the causeway that crosses the lake which is the longest overwater bridge in the world.
We stopped off for a drink The Barley Oak, which had a definite English pub feel to it. I ordered a milk chocolate stout, which was so good that everyone else ended up drinking it too. It was about time to eat, and we’d all had enough of thanksgiving leftovers so it was suggested that we went for some Vietnamese.
Back on Anna Maria island, Lynne and I had agreed that I was going to get my tattoo done in New Orleans and she was going to go down to the local tattoo shop there. I hadn’t really had the time in New Orleans, so I asked our hosts if they knew of any decent places. Shannon said she knew someone who worked at a tattoo place so we decided to stop off and get a quote. They guy was nice and friendly, and told us that the person Shannon knew now worked at a different place. We decided to go get a price at that one too, after some food. The place we were initially going to go was shut, so we drove on to another local restaurant. The food was really good, and it was nice to eat something different as we rarely order out this kind of food back at home. The spring rolls were definitely the highlight, these were freshly prepared with tofu and fresh vegetables in rice wraps, not the usual deep fried affair. So good, that they converted Shannon to enjoying tofu!
Afterwards, we headed to the other tattoo shop and spoke to some very friendly guys. They gave a us a decent price, and we tried to think of the best time to do it. We had been told that we could go shoot a load of guns tomorrow and Jeff’s friend’s house, and in return for their hospitality we had said we would cook and Indian curry afterwards, this didn’t leave much time. They then said, well we should just do it now. Neither of us wanted anything particularly complicated or time consuming and before we knew it we had filled out the paperwork. My tattooist, Randy, was a lovely guy who was also into VW’s so it was easy to chat to him. The other tattooist did Lee’s at the same time, so it didn’t take long before we were both finished. They even gave us complimentary hoodies, and I think they made a good job of my design!
After a day jam packed full of new experiences, we were about ready to call it a night.
The next day was an exciting one… I don’t feel like I can say I have experienced the deep south until I’ve shot a few guns. Now compared to a lot of English people, I have shot one before so I’m not a complete newbie, but I’ve never shot anything semi-automatic, or a handgun. We were heading over to Tom’s home built shooting range around midday, and I had asked Jeff if I could do some bits and bobs to the van in the morning, including an oil change. At around 7,000 miles, I think it’s a good time. I also wanted to check our gearbox oil level, adjust the wheel bearing after our new tyre was fitted and sort the leaking door card. Jeff drove us to Walmart so we could buy a new filter and some oil and he could stock up on ammunition. Once we got back we got stuck into our van maintenance. Before long I was happy that everything had been adjust and checked, except that coolant leak which I will never ever defeat.
It was time to head to Tom’s, accompanying us was Paul who we had met when we arrived at their house initially. He had a gorgeous 1966 Chrysler, and he drove me and Lee over to the shooting range in that which was quite the experience too!
Once at the range we met Tom, and had a look at some his project cars including a newly purchased Ghia. Then it was time to shoot stuff! We went down to the range where Jeff and Paul showed us how to load the different guns and use them safely. We had a good few hours shooting a range of different 22 rifles, a 38 pistol, some 22 pistols and an AR15. We enjoyed the necessary beer alongside this and it was great fun. I was surprised at how loud some of the small pistols actually were and that AR15 does kick a bit! I turned out to be a pretty good shot too, for a newbie.
Tom invited us to come in the house and meet his wife after we were done. Which ended up involving some more beer and some very nice Christmassy biscuits. We had to head off soon though as we needed to go the shop and pick up the necessary ingredients for curry marking, as well as actually making it. We had decided to go all out with our menu consisting of fish pathia, sag paneer, vegetable korma, Bombay potatoes and pilau rice. We had a bit of difficulty getting some ingredients including paneer, which we never did find and swapped for tofu, but on the whole we were ready to get cooking.
Jeff watched over us, making enthusiastic noises about the smell and keep our beer glasses full and a few hours later we sat down to enjoy what I think was a fairly good representation of English curry. They certainly seemed to enjoy it, and it was nice to be able to give them something back after they had been so friendly and taken us to so many new places and activities we hadn’t done before. We watched some comedy on TV for a while and then leaving their house smelling very strongly of curry, it was time for our last night in their back garden.
It was the morning of our departure, and before left Tom and his wife had come round to see Ruby. Once they had departed, we set about getting ready for putting some distance between ourselves and the south. Jeff brought out his Ghia and let me drive it (badly) up and down the road. It was the first time I’ve drive a convertible, and I think if you live somewhere where it’s sunny it must be a great car to have. Although I’m not sure owning one back at home would be good, I’ve seen several people in the UK getting thoroughly soaked by a surprise rain shower when driving something open topped.
We were now keen to head west for the canyons. After making the most of having a hosepipe and access to proper showers, it was nearly time to say goodbye. The van was packed at the cat retrieved. As Jeff had let us drive his car, he then took Ruby out for a quick spin before we headed off. It’s always sad to say goodbye to people, but at least we leave Louisiana knowing we have friends we can come back and visit. Thanks so much to these guys for inviting us to their home and then taking us out to do so many cool things, we’ve definitely ticked of some things from our bucket list while staying here!