Archive for November, 2009

Thanksgiving Guests

Posted on November 30, 2009 by 7 Comments

We hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving! We are still recovering from our food comas.

We made it through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana on our way to the  first of the family celebrations and our third Thanksgiving of the trip  ( #1 Canadian Thanksgiving ; #2 Thanksgiving Misgivings). We have plenty to be thankful for.

Since we’ll be visiting family, sleeping late, and eating too much for the next few weeks, we’ll fill in the rest of trip through The South next week and will get caught up with the present right now – sort of a stream of consciousness thing.

We met Frank and Iris (www.amerikando.com) online a few weeks ago. They are driving from Argentina to New York in a 1982 VW bus. Yep, they still made the vans in Argentina in ’82.

They are 9 months into their trip and we found we’d be crossing paths in Texas, so Jason invited them to celebrate Thanksgiving with us.  They learned a little about the American holiday – gluttony and college football.

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If you are a bus person, the late-model Argentinian kombi is an interesting beast.  It’s a bastardized bus, with a mix of parts from the previous year models.  It’s a bay window, but doesn’t have the sliding side door – it’s the dual door from the splittie. It has the updated dash and big taillights from the older bay window models, but has a 1600DP engine. The front seats are a bench, so no walk-through. Good fun for VW geeks.

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Jason’s dad and step-mom hosted 47 people for a delicious sit-down dinner with assigned seating and everything. There were three turkeys (roasted, fried and smoked) and the largest ham I’ve ever seen.

We ate and then ate some more. We watched football. We ate some more. There were lot’s of folks from out of town, so all beds, couches and air mattresses were put to good use.

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Frank and Iris shared some travel tips and contacts for us in Central and South America, and I’m hoping we can reciprocate. We’ll be putting them in contact with our friends along their way.

If you want to meet some really nice people, practice your French or Spanish, or help out on a great VW adventure you can contact them through their blog. Tell them Jason, Angela, and Bode sent you…

Two extremes always meet.

-Chinese proverb

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Filed Under: Texas

Manatees!

Posted on November 27, 2009 by 4 Comments

For a few years now, both Angela and I have thought it would be really cool to swim with manatees.  There’s exactly one place to do it, and we were really close.  Next stop – Crystal River, Florida.

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In the winter months, these lumbering giants float up river to the mouth of the natural springs. They pretty much just float around, eat (they’re vegetarians) and sleep. They sleep twenty minutes at a time, wake up for a few minutes to wander around and snack, then dive-bomb for the bottom and immediately fall back asleep.

They are truly bizarre creatures.  They are mammals and have hair, but a big fin for a tail instead of hind legs. They have tiny flippers in front, but they are really just fat nubs for bouncing off the bottom. They are enormous – like a ton – but are gentle and don’t’ really seem to care about anything.

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Remember this next guy? Daniel. We met him in California a few months ago. He checked-in and asked “are you guys in Florida yet?” Yep – Crystal River. “Me too!”

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He sent us out to some marsh land to meet him at a local joint for BBQ with his boss. Since we last met, Daniel drove his bus down to the Bay Area and parked it at a storage lot near Richmond, CA.  He was one of those people that grabbed the Jet Blue ‘anywhere we fly for a whole month’ deals.  He spent 30 days flying everywhere they went – Colombia, Bahamas, Costa Rica, etc.  You get the idea.

His plan was to go back to S.F. and pick up the bus, but he ran a little short of cash.  Now, he’s working for a few months to save some money and take off again.  But, he’s debating whether to go pick up the bus or bike across New Zealand. We vote for the bike trip.

His boss was a nice guy who had the memorable quote “every now and then we lose Daniel for a while.”  That’s a good boss.

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Filed Under: The South

The Oldest City

Posted on November 26, 2009 by 3 Comments

We got a nice email from Kevin from Jacksonville,FL who wanted to invite us over, but it said… “It would be cool to have you stop by, but I am currently living in Afghanistan. It would be so uncool to have your family drive here.” Yeah – we agree. Kabul or the Florida beaches?  Further south we go…

What’s the oldest city in America?

St. Augustine?

Yep, that’s what they say. First thing we found was  a park with a carousel. Bode rode 3 times. Next we went to the historic downtown. We parked next to a small median park with a few cannons. Bode now has to go around and climb on all of them. He pretends to load them, add gunpowder, light them. Then he runs off ducks and yells ‘fire in the hole!’. Usually I’ll cover my head and wait for his explosion sound. It’s pretty funny when others in the park duck and cover their heads, too.

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We went through the market area and enjoyed it. It’s kind of Spanish colonial with cobblestone streets, has a tropical feel and lot’s of tourist milling about.

Castillo de San Marcos was a big hit… it had lots of cannons, a drawbridge, and stories about pirates. The kid loves pirates.

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Filed Under: The South

Like An Old Sweet Song…

Posted on November 25, 2009 by 9 Comments

Savannah is now on my list of potential places to live. Beautiful architecture, southern hospitality, nice people and all around good vibe. And don’t forget Moon Pies!

Jason had gotten some recommendations for Mrs. Wilkes restaurant and we decided real southern food sounded pretty good. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when we got there, there was a sign outside saying the 3rd seating would start at 12:30. It was about 12:15, so we sat down behind a few others in line. By 12:30 the line was down the block. We entered, sat down family-style at a table with 22 dishes of food. No joke, 22. And sweet tea. The most amazing BBQ pork, fried chicken and meatloaf I’ve ever had….and 19 other tasty sides. Okra, Collard greens, squash, sweet potato, etc. Someone at the table asked where we’d found the best food on the trip. Uh, this is it. Bode even tried some new dishes, AND liked them.

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After a meal like that you have to walk it off so we walked around town. It’s a very walkable city – another requirement for living anywhere – but we’re not sure we would want to stroll around in the July heat and humidity. While Jason’s favorite part of Savannah was the meal, my favorite was the park-like squares. Bode was really interested in the Colonial Park cemetery (they stopped burying people here in 1853,) but that was short-lived. There was a playground next to it. The cemetery was creepily beautiful, with moss hanging from the old trees. Most of the dead seemed to be Savannah VIPs of the 1700s, but also a few with interesting headstone stories, like those who died in a duel. Back in the old days when people defended their honor by shooting at each other from 20 paces.  Good times.

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So we go inside and we gravely read the stones,

All those people, all those lives, where are they now?

With loves and hates and passions just like mine,

They were born and then they lived and then they died.

-Morissey

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I’d love to spend some more time here someday, but we’re expected at 3 more Thanksgiving dinners. We drove down to Jacksonville, FL and camped right on the white sand beach. Since we pulled in at night, we didn’t notice the Navy base across the river until after we set up camp. Helicopters and planes took off all evening, but it was pretty impressive to Bode. Giant boats floated by so quiet you couldn’t hear them. You’d look up, and there was the biggest boat you’ve ever seen right in front of you. Crazy.

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It was pretty dark, so we couldn’t really see what these ships were up to, but they were not the usual container ship fare we were used to seeing in the Bay Area. Jason’s insists that all container ships are full of toilet brushes. When we lived in Bay Area, we would constantly see huge container ships from China float under the Golden Gate Bridge – nonstop. What do you think is on that one?  Toilet brushes.

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Filed Under: The South

Do the Charleston

Posted on November 23, 2009 by 5 Comments

Since we never planned to be this far east, we were left without a plan in Charleston, SC. Turns out, we were just as happy without one. The town is gorgeous and has a rich history. We spent some time in Battery Park where Bode could climb on cannons. From this point onward, Bode now refers to these places as ‘Cannon Parks.’ He has a whole routine that includes saying “fire in the hole!” and taking cover.

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We had a pretty specific ‘No weapons allowed’ rule back in California, but honestly, that never worked out very well. I’d go to three stores to find water ‘squirters’ not shaped like guns and Bode and his friends would still pretend they were weapons. Light sabers, swords, pistols – all things that can be fashioned from a stick by any imaginative kid. And guess what? The kids who have these toys are totally normal. While I’m still not a fan of my son mimicking violence, I’m realizing it’s part of being a boy, and yet another California parent disconnect.

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We drove Red Beard through the historical areas, the French Quarter, etc. It’s a very nice place, but we just didn’t find anything specific that we wanted to do. There was also the persistent smell of chemical refinery wafting around town – maybe the wind was blowing in the wrong direction – so we just decided to bag it. Refineries are pretty common sights and smells in The South, especially on the coasts, and something we had conveniently forgotten. The city was beautiful, but after a few hours we decided to get in a little more daylight drive time.

Savannah was our destination, but we were losing light and we were getting tired. We made it to Beaufort. Beaufort is a pretty little town with a little old downtown shopping area and a scenic harbor.  Nice place.

That night we got an email from JT, saying “Hey, did you guys just drive into Beaufort? I think I saw you!” The second official Red Beard sighting that we know of. Pretty cool, but also kinda strange. Anyway, we wanted to meet up, but he was in the middle of some intense firefighter training and we were headed out the next day, so no dice this time.

We’ve been able to make connections up and down the East Cost and could probably just hop between hosts for this part of the trip, but we haven’t been capable of planning anything or giving anyone advance notice, so we’re just winging it as usual.

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Between crossing the Mason-Dixon Line and the long driving days, we’ve given in to fast food occasionally,  but my stomach was clamoring for something not fried and possibly even healthy. Sushi in Beaufort, SC? Right on! I’m not sure how many other kids say this when asked about dinner, but I can guarantee that I didn’t until around 35: “Sushi! Sushi…I LOVE sushi!”

Bode ate 6 rolls, edamame, and then asked if we could order another roll. We did—and he ate 3 more.

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Filed Under: The South

Myrtle

Posted on November 21, 2009 by 3 Comments

We went back to the mainland and headed south.

Cotton fields ready for picking. A drive-through beer and car wash combination called ‘Buds and Suds.’  A place called Dismal Swamp. A gun shop with a sign that said ‘Vote Democratic – it’s easier than working.’

We managed to stumble upon the best hot dog in North Carolina in Washington. The wiener was unnaturally red and the chili was oddly beige, but it was a pretty darn good dog.

We drove and drove and made it to Myrtle Beach in time for dinner.  Pulling into the town at night was a bit like pulling into Vegas – lots of lights. Excessively bright lights. And, as we had been warned, lots of miniature golf. We didn’t count, but 35 mini-golf courses seems accurate. Huge miniature golf places – with caves and volcanoes and dinosaurs. The kind that a 4 year-old boy doesn’t miss. (Un)fortunately, like a lot of our trip, most of the tourist things seemed to be closed down for the winter. No golf in miniature or water parks for us. The bummer for us was no boardwalk rides either.

The next morning on the ride out of town, Bode was a little forlorned in the back of the van looking at all the possibilities of what could have been (had the season been right AND his parents been cooler).

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We went back to the mainland and headed south. We drove and drove and made it to Myrtle Beach in time for dinner.
Pulling into the town at night was a bit like pulling into Vegas – lots of lights. Excessively bright lights. And, as we had been warned, lots of miniature golf. We didn’t count, but 35 mini-golf courses seems accurate. Huge minature golf places – with caves and volcanoes and dinosaurs. The kind that a 4 year-old boy doesn’t miss. (Un)fortunately, like a lot of our trip, most of the tourist things seemed to be closed down for the winter. No golf in miniature or water parks for us. The bummer for us was no boardwalk rides either.

The next morning on the ride out of town, Bode was a little forlorned in the back of the van looking at all the possibilities of what could have been (had the season been right AND his parents been cooler).

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Filed Under: The South

The Trek to Nag’s Head

Posted on November 20, 2009 by No Comments

Our next goal is making it to Texas for Thanksgiving and we were trying to decide how to get there. South through Florida, or west through Tennessee. Both had their benefits so we decided to ask folks at the Thanksgivings Misgivings campout.

The answer: East – for about 6 hours. We were told we simply could not miss The Outer Banks and Ocracoke Island.

Some of our favorite places have been recommendations that were not on our original route plan, so this was a no-brainer. It seemed unanimous, so we headed out early on Sunday for the drive to Nags Head.

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Once we got to the eastern-most island of North Carolina, we went a few miles north (probably the furthest we could go in trying to get to Texas). Kittyhawk – as in where the Wright Brothers discovered the 3 thingie-maddoodles that allowed controlled flight. Bode and I thought it was pretty cool, but Jason was a bit harder to impress.

The most interesting thing to me was that the interval between the first manned flight and space travel was only around 60 years.

We drove down to Bodie Island to impress our Bode with the lighthouse. He was only mildly amused.

A campground right on the beach was recommended, but when we got there the road was closed. Apparently, that hurricane/tropical storm we witnessed in DC hit the Carolina coast worse. Not news for those with a TV (or those watching news instead of The Andy Griffith Show.)

So, we found a cheap motel in Nags Head. The combination of off-season and recent hurricane meant that the hotels were hurting and cheap was REAL cheap. Luckily it had a kitchenette and we were able to cook without use of the coffee maker.

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The next morning Bode and I headed to the beach. There had been some damage to the piers and the stairs that lead over the dunes to the beach. We even saw a dead baby whale that had washed up on the shore. As good a time as any for that cycle of life talk.

The police officer that was blocking the road the night before seemed to have no information about when the roads would open, so we asked around the next day. There was a route you could take with 4-wheel drive, but Red Beard didn’t come with that option. I knew that a Syncro would have come in handy, if only we had the cash.

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Our next goal is making it to Texas for Thanksgiving, and we were trying to decide how to get there. South, through Florida, or west through Tennessee. Both had their benefits so we decided to ask folks at the Thanksgivings Misgivings campout which was a better route.

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Filed Under: The South

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