Hanging out with spiderman
Spot the huge ape in the background
We've made it to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for Keith's National Marine Education Association conference. We're sharing a room with Bob, who Keith knows from past conferences, but Tessa and I get to meet him when he kindly drags himself out of bed on our arrival after midnight. We all fall into our beds, looking forward to moving into conference mode and checking out Gatlinburg the next day.
Well we're into full culture shock now after Central America. Gatlinburg is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the States. This is touristville for Americans and they certainly go all out to entertain. The town is bursting with all sorts of family entertainment options, there's a huge (2 storey) replica of the gorilla from King Kong, famous cars from films and TV shows, an upside down house, a huge titanic replica, steakhouses, bars and thousands of shops selling everything from candy and icecream to 'My Dad went to Gatlinburg and all he bought me was this lousy t-shirt' t-shirts. It's so in your face that Tessa hardly brings out her camera!
As well as conference presentations and workshops for Keith to attend, Tessa and
I get to go to all sorts of evening conference entertainment too. We go moonshine tasting, try our hand at Skeet Ball and do karaoke at Craw Daddy's bar. Karaoke here is not like at home - seems that everyone here can sing country like a professional, no matter what you might expect from appearances. Dusty Dickey from our crew adds to the entertainment by dancing along with the singers as only he can do.
We go to Ober Gatlinburg, an amusement park that is a ski resort in the winter. Access up the hill is by aerial tramway (large gondola) and we take the chair lifts further up for great views back down to the town. The alpine slide (like a luge) proves to be great fun, but Tessa and I realise we need to eat a few more steaks to get enough momentum to beat the guys. The Gatlinburg aquarium is fantastic, with a great shark lagoon viewed from a moving walkway. There are huge sawfish, guitarfish, sharks, and rays and we see heaps of other creatures like enormous spider crabs, nautili (I think thats more than one nautilus), jellies, cute cuttlefish and weedy sea dragons. Its
a magic place, really well designed and informative.
Back at the serious part of the conference, Keith's presentation goes well with good feedback, so thats his hard work over. There are lots of other informative presentations and workshops and interesting people to meet. Most of the attendees are marine science educators from the States, but there's a growing international contingent as well.
We see some great Southern bands at the conference entertainment, including blue grass from Jim Whaley and Greenbrier at the Tennessee Hoedown at Dumplin Valley. We also play 'hillbilly golf', involving tossing two golf balls joined by rope towards a short ladder. Pretty wild at times with lots of people wandering around and some slightly out of control throws.
We've been eating ourselves silly on the type of food that our systems have forgotten in the last few months. No rice and beans to be seen, its all rich and fried and huge portions of meat with sweet rich desserts. One day we attempt to find a normal sandwich, and end up wandering the streets for what seems like hours, still with only options of steaks, burgers, pizza, fries and icecream.
The entertainment reaches
The Gatlinburg Aquarium
Keith with a huge sawfish
new heights at the end of the week when we go to 'Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede'. Its a mind boggling experience, with 1000 people in the audience, each receiving a plastic boot souvenir Dixie Stampede cup on arrival (thats a lot of plastic). There's blue grass music to begin with and then a show based on the historic rivalry between North and South with lights, music, cowgirls, stars and stripes outfits, wagons, trick horse riding and even psychedelic native American Indians. While all this is happening our confederate waiter is serving us what seems like an endless supply of good ol' Southern food, topped off by the whole chicken that is dumped onto each of our plates, when we're already quite full. We do our best to get through some of it, thinking of those thousand chickens, but we're feeling a little sick at the thought of the enormous amount of food that will be wasted for the sake of this entertainment. After the show is over we're herded out, through the gift and souvenir shop of course, and its back onto the bus. Everyone's looking pretty stunned!
Central America seems like a distant memory from another planet.
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