We arrived at Jeff and Shannon’s late on Wednesday night, pulling into their garden which they were kindly letting us park in for the next couple of night.
Jeff showed us to his keg of Yuengling and instructed us to help ourselves and then we join them around a roaring fire with their friends Paul and Christy.
I’m not gonna lie, we were both ‘over the moon’ to be invited round to Jeff and Shannon’s for Thanksgiving. We had really enjoyed their company at Vansgiving, and was looking forward to experiencing the sort of Thanksgiving meal we had only experience through American media.
Shannon was expecting over 24 guests the following morning and so left us around the fire to start painstaking prepping the mammoth amount of food she was planning for all of her guests.
We eventually bid our new guests goodnight, Shannon bless her, would be getting up twice throughout the night to continue her food prep.
I woke up the next morning with the same giddy feeling I get on Christmas day. Probably because I knew a large amount of food and drink awaited me later that day!
Offering assistance to Shannon, we were told that everything was in hand, and throughout the morning, appetising plates started appearing along the dinner table.
Whilst this was going on, Aimee was learning the layout of our hosts garden, and by midday, she had already managed to lose the collar and name tag we had only recently bought her, and she managed to climb onto a roof only to whine at us to help her down!
Eventually, all of the other guests started arriving for the celebrations. Everyone were very welcoming to the strange Brits parked up in the garden in an old VW.
We told stories of our roadtrip so far, and explained what our plans were for the rest of our time in America.
One of the guests was Jeff’s old man Howard, who was well into his retirement, but didn’t look a day over 70. Clearly these Southerners are onto something!
Eventually it was time to eat… And boy did the food look delicious!
Everyone stood to say Grace and then we were free to pile up our plates with a variety of delights. As vegetarians, we could be forgiven for worrying about our meal choices at a Thanksgiving meal, but to our delight, Shannon and her guests had prepared a variety of food, with plenty of veggie options to stock our plates with! Shannon had even prepared a Shrimp dish with a spicy side. And even Aimee got her own plate of Thanksgiving food!
The savoury dishes were SO good, that neither Willow or I had room to try the delicious looking homemade apple pie, but that’s the joy of late night feats right?
With everyone feeling like their stomachs were about to burst, the majority of the guests headed back outside. Aimee was doing an exceptional job keeping Jeff’s granddaughters occupied. Still quite young, they weren’t quite sure what to make of her, and so they kept building up their confidence to get close to her.
Soon enough, the guests started to head home, but the night wasn’t done yet. Jeff and Shannon’s NFL team, the New Orlean Saint’s were playing live on TV that night.
I had tried to get into NFL before, but always found it uninteresting, due to me not having a team to follow. I always had the same difficulty trying to watch Formula One, never really fussed if one person overtook another.
So that night was my chance to ‘nail my colours to the mast’ and become a fully fledged Saints fan. All I needed to do now was to try understand the rules a bit better.
I have to admit, that even when backing a team, I found the amount of stoppages throughout the game frustrating, and could never really get into the match as much as I would have liked. The Saints won though, so maybe I will bring them some added luck on their journey to the Super Bowl!
As Thanksgivings go. I feel like we got an authentic experience and left went to bed happy. After a cheeky late night binge on the shrimp salad, I was stuffed more than the two turkey’s were, but it was definitely worth it!
The next morning, Jeff planned to take us out on a boat tour of the local swamp. He showed us pictures of the wild pigs that he had seen whilst out on his boat himself. Obviously we were both very excited by the prospect of another boat tour. Experiences like those often cost money, and we were still walking a precarious tightrope with regards to our finances. So one paid swamp tour would pretty much use up our $35 daily budget!
Boat loaded, we made the short drive to the local boat launch, which was no more than ten minutes away. Jeff let us into a little secret, which was that he had been observing the local boat tours to see the spots where the paying guests get shown. Apparently this hadn’t gone down to see with some of the tour guides, but as Jeff said ‘They didn’t own the swamp!’.
As it was the day after Thanksgiving, the local boat tour company was busy as we pulled up. There was also a local fisherman who had just returned with an impressive catch of catfish.
The sun was out, which was great, as it meant we passed tons of turtles basking in the warmth of the daylight.
Getting close to the turn off, Jeff fired the engines off and raced ahead of a tour boat which was behind us. He reckoned they would try and cut ahead of us to get into the channel which lead to the spot were the wild pigs can often be found.
Speeding ahead of the other boat, we made it to the entry before them. Victorious, our jubilation didn’t last long, as hit a shallow point in the water, managing to get ourselves stuck!
After five minutes of spinning around, not really getting anywhere, we managed to set ourselves free with a combination of the motor and a giant metal pole. We were all glad the tourists didn’t get to witness that little mishap!
Back on track, we headed down to the end of the channel. We clearly weren’t the first people there, as the area was littered with marshmallows, and as we learned on the airboat tour in Florida, is that alligators really quite fond of marshmallows.
No sign of alligators or pigs, Jeff resorted to calling out to the pigs, apparently he had seen some of the tour boat operators use this trick successfully in the past.
Sadly, there were still no signs of wild pigs.
We guessed that with all the tour boats coming, the wildlife had probably had so many marshmallows thrown at the, that they were sufferer it their own Thanksgiving food hangover.
Disheartened not to have seen any gators or pigs, we were still having a great time being out on the boat with Jeff. We turned around to head back out of the channel, as the tour boat was finally making it’s way down to ‘the spot’.
Shortly after passing them, Willow spotted a baby gator lurking in the water.
After taking some pictures, we hung around to let the tour boat leave the channel, in had been able to lure any other wildlife to the viewing spot. They didn’t!
Feeling confident that we wouldn’t be seeing anything else, we finally made our way out of the channel, back to the main river.
Jeff took us back up past the boat launch, first to show us some expensive house built by a former NFL player, and to an area containing lots of cedar trees.
The northern part of the river was completely different to the section we had been in early. This part was baron, full of deathly looking cedar trees.
As we passed one tree, Jeff informed us that it was estimated to be 5,000 years old.
We noticed strange pink lumps on some of the trees, that looked like someone had stuck used chewing gum all throughout the swamp. Apparently they were the eggs of an invasive species of snail!
With the site seeing complete, we headed back to the house to collect Shannon to go cheese shopping.
Whilst chatting them at vansgiving, we had mentioned how disappointed we had so far been with America’s cheese selection. Explaining that in the England Aldi, they had a vast selection of cheeses, and the some of our extra sharp cheeses are crumbly and make your face dribble as though you are having a stroke.
Well, Shannon and Jeff reckoned they had a local supermarket called Aquistapace’s which would satisfy our cheese cravings. Not convinced, we would travel to the end of the world in search of good cheese.
Before tackling the cheese isle, we had a ‘quick’ nose around the alcohol isle. I say ‘quick’, when we realised they had a whole section for Scottish whisky, we both knew we would need a while to process.
The store had a commendable selection of Scottish whisky, however the price was a little higher than it would be in the UK and as a result, it was way out of our price range. We couldn’t leave without a bottle though, so we settled on a bottle of Canadian single malt which was a lot kinder to our purse strings… We may have bought a few other items as well!
With enough bottles to keep our drinks cupboard full for the upcoming weeks, we next made our way to the opposite side of the store, where all the cheese was.
We hadn’t eaten much due to the boat trip, and so we were grateful to see that the store had cheese samples. Not a few crumbs of the latest cheese that was on offer. No,no,no! Aquistapace had samples for at least twenty cheese varieties. Big pots full of cheese, with picks to apparently help yourself to as much free cheese as you hand muster.
Well, it’s needless to say that being well practiced in the art of cheese consumption, we made our way around all of the cheeses…TWICE!
Our guides had been correct. The store’s cheese selection was sensational. We even managed to sample a cheese that came close to making me loose the function of my saliva!
As much as we would have liked to have bought all the cheese, money and space limitations meant we had the more difficult task of narrowing down the selection to a few blocks. Which we did, after a fe more tasters to be sure.
I wish we’d have had Jeff’s luck. He managed to find a block of cheese that had been wrongly priced as $0.13. I think someone got their place value s is why you must always listen to your teacher at school kids!
From the supermarket, Jeff drove us down to Lake Pontchartrain, to see some fancy house where crazily rich people lived. We also stopped off at a pub called the Barley Oak, which had a definite British feel about it.
The cheese we had at Aquistapace’s, managed to briefly numb our hunger, however one pint later and I starting to eye up a dirty peanut on the floor as a potential snack, so it was probably time to find something substantial to eat.
We settled on more Vietnamese food, and fortunately Jeff and Shannon knew just the place, after one quick detour.
During our time in Anna Maria, I had hoped to get a tattoo of a paw print added to my arm in memory of Molly. That time, the high price had put me off, but I was still determined to get it completed as soon as possible. Shannon’s hairdressers boyfriend apparently worked in a tattoo shop, so we made a quick drop in to enquire about prices. Apparently he no longer worked there anymore, but we did get the name of the new shop that he worked at.
That evening, we dined at Pho Bistro, a small Vietnamese restaurant in Slidell. We timed it just right, as there was only one other soul dining there when we arrived. However, by the time we had finished our meals, the restaurant was full of other people seeking solitude fromleftover thanksgiving leftovers.
Once again truly stuffed,we set off in search of No Kings, the other tattoo studio in the area. I was quoted $70 for my Molly tattoo, and Willow was quoted $80 for her Anna Maria design. Neither one of us wanted to delay our tattoos anymore, and with some subtle persuasion from Jeff and Shannon, we agreed to just get it over with there and then.
My design was complete fairly quickly, as it was only a small outline and some filling. Willow’s took about 15 minutes longer to complete. We were both chuffed to have the work finally completed, and to top it off, we received some complementary hoodies for visiting from a far! Definitely 5 star treatment from a top notch tattoo studio.
We returned to the house to spend the rest of the evening recommending stand up comedians for each other to watch, seeing a visible difference between the two cultures take on comedy.
For the Saturday, Jeff had arranged a real treat for us! At the VW gathering, the conversation eventually drifted to guns, and we informed Jeff about the strict gun policy in the UK. I think he was surprised to hear that we had never really held a gun, let alone fire one.
So after calling a mate, he had arranged for us to spend the day shooting a selection of guns down at his friend’s firing range. Now although the idea of guns has always slightly terrified me, I was deeply fascinated to understand how it felt to fire off an actual firearm, as opposed to Willow’s dad’s air rifle.
We spent the morning productively working on Ruby. She had completed a lot of miles since arriving in the US, and so we felt it prudent to give her a bit of maintenance. After the worn front tyre, we had another look at the wheel bearing, and adjusted it some more, in case it was responsible for the heavily worn tyre. We weren’t in a position to pay for a replacement tyre after every long drive.
We also used the time to complete an oil change, check the gear box oil level and reseal the passenger door card which was leaking due to poor installation by one of Willow’s former students.
Soon we were ready to go shooting. Jeff’s friend Paul, who we had met the night of our arrival, had turned up to join us. He brought along a classic car of his own to transport us in. His 1966 Chrysler 300. Not a shabby way to get around in.
We arrived at Tom’s house, ready and eager to channel our inner John McClane. It was Christmas after all.
After a quick look at Tom’s recently purchased Karmann Ghia, we were ready to start unloading some bullets.
After a quick demonstration, it was my time to shoot my first real deadly weapon. I. started with a rifle that had a manual sight, thinking it would be better to learn to shoot accurately with that first.
Taking my time to aim, I slowly pulled the trigger for my first shot…
It hit the target, but was a long way off the bullseye.
The rest of the cartridge went quickly, and although I was getting closure, the bullseye alluded me.
Frustrated, it was Willow’s turn to have ago. She was using the same rifle, but with a telescopic scope. Taking her time she did a great got hitting the target. Obviously having to out do me, she managed to hit the bullseye in with her first round.
We spent the next couple of hours firing off rounds, using a variety of rifles and handguns. The experience was intoxicating. Constantly trying to better your aim, was addictive, and whilst neither of us were experts, I reckon we did alright for our first attempts.
Before heading back, we popped into Tom’s for a quick drink and a chat, and invited him to come and see Ruby in the morning before we left.
To say thanks for being such great hosts, we offered to cook Jeff and Shannon a curry, as Jeff had mentioned how much he had enjoyed eating curries during a visit to the UK.
After a quick trip to get some supplies, Willow and I set about creating some of our favourite curry dishes from back home.
On the menu that night, we prepared a korma, pathia, bombay potatoes, pilau rice and naan bread.
It was so nice to cook in a full size kitchen again. Cooking in Ruby is manageable, but it does limit us to what we can cook.
Overall, we were both chuffed with our results. It was probably the best curry we had ever cooked, and I think Jeff and Shannon really enjoyed it, which was even more satisfying.
The next day, we made use of the facilities we had available before we would eventually set off once again on our journey west.
One final kind gesture, was for Jeff to let us drive his Karmann Ghia around the block.
Making sure we gave Jeff the recipes for the curry’s, we thanked them both for their outstanding kindness and hospitality over the last four days.
They had made us feel so welcome and I felt humbled to have had the pleasure to have gotten to know them better as a result.
We promised to keep in touch, and told them that they had to come and visit us back in England one day, so that we could repay the gesture further.
And then it was just the three of us again.
It felt strange to be on the road again. Since our windscreen exploded, we had pretty much spent the last week in the company of others, and so to finally be heading away from all of our new friends felt strange. But we were getting closer to the west and all of the deserts and canyons that we had been longing for since arriving in the States.
We drove a good couple of hours, to a town called Natchez. A recommendation from one of the campers at Wilderness Landing.
Parking in the visitor centre, we faffed about for ten minutes, trying to get the van as level as possible, as the car park was on a slope.
Finally content, we hooked our van up to the hookup, using our new transformer that we had delivered to Jeff’s during our stay, and quietly reflected on the past couple of days.
The weather had dropped noticeably, and there was now a harsh chill in the air.