The Gulf Coast

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July 17th 2010
Published: July 17th 2010
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After the whirlwind few days in Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, the pace of our road trip slowed a little over the next couple of days as we took in the Gulf Coast, oil tainted waters and damage still visible from Hurricane Katrina.

We left the Prat's farm late on Sunday afternoon, just as Spain were lifting the World Cup for the first time and drove south east towards the Louisiana Mississippi state line, skirting past the swamps and waterways we had visited on the swamp tour the day before. After an hour or so we said goodbye to The Pelican State after what had been a really memorable, touching and informative six days.

The coast opened up ahead of us almost as soon as we arrived in Mississippi (The Magnolia State) as we travelled along the US90 Highway. The scenery was perfect for a beautiful Sunday evening as we first drove through a small town called Lakeshore. The sun was low in the sky, there was a lovely sea breeze and the strange houses on 6 foot stilts, just looked "right" in this setting. The town seemed very sleepy and after a couple of nosey little detours we continued on our way.

Pass Christian (pronounced Pass Kris-tee-en) was the next town we drove through and the highway became a single lane road with grand houses and oak trees to our left and the pristine white beaches of the gulf coast on our right hand side. Again the views were fantastic as the sea sparkled and we cruised through.

After we left Pass Christian and neared Gulfport, we were still driving along a road which ran adjacent to the beach, a mere twenty foot from the waters of the gulf. We began to see two things which ruined the picture perfect nature of the area we were in. Firstly was the evidence of fallen and dead trees, left behind from Katrina which came ashore at Gulfport in August 2005. Secondly, and much more obvious were the scores of flurouscent yellow jacketed oil spill clean up crews. These groups were dotted all along the shore with various pieces of equipment and vehicles. Without meaning to sound in any way condescending, its only when you see the beautiful natural scenery and wildlife that the scenery supports, that you realise just how devastating the huge spill has been. It is also very evident (as in all cultures), because of the sheer volume of fishing boats and fishing shacks that these communities are completely dependable on the ocean for their livelihoods. And that has been taken away from these guys. A lot of the local radio stations hosted chat shows on which callers didn't so much sound angry as they were desperate for better luck and better treatment, as well as defiant that they would prevail.

Shortly after, as the sun was setting, we arrived in Biloxi (pronounced Bluxi) which would be our home for the night. Biloxi was a fairly large but sleepy town with an abundance of hotels and a few casinos. At around 11pm, we climbed back in the car for the a short drive to one of the main tourist attractions in the area, the Biloxi lighthouse. This lighthouse has survived various hurricanes over the last 150 or so years including Camille, Katrina and Rita which all devastated the surrounding area. It is over 60 foot high and strangely, it sits in the middle section of a four lane highway. Rachel thought that depsite its unusual positioning, it looked just right as it shone its light out into the darkness.

The first place we visited on Tuesday morning was the Jefferson Davis House, Beauvoir, where Davis lived during the Confederacy years. Unfortunately only the main house withstood the winds and storm surge of 2005, the rest of the site had been decimated. After seeing some of the damage wreaked by the hurricane and the rebuilding going on we decided the entrance fee wasn't worth it. Also the majority of the tour was self-guided and outside and as in Rachel's words it was 'too bloody hot to be walking around outside'. Our trip was not wasted however as a visit to the portakabin shop meant we did not come away empty-handed. We bought oursleves a couple of patches for our bags. One was the Bonny Blue flag of Louisiana (blue with a white star) and the other was the Confederancy Flag, which holds a lot of significance in the southern states we were in and would be in over the next week or so.

In the aftermath of the hurricane in 2005, a Florida artist and sculptor visited the area and carved the oak trees in the central reservation along the main road through Biloxi into the shapes of various living creatures. They were excellent and included sea horses, dolphins and eagles. Due to my brave and intrepid nature, I risked life and limb to make it to the central reservation to take photos and received a couple of large and very itchy bites to my ankle. I survived however and am here to tell the tale!

We travelled further along the coast stopping at a few little places to have a look around. There was a little jetty in Biloxi which looked out over Deer Island and into the Gulf of Mexico. It was picturesque and there were a fair few shrimping boats moored along the sides. There were signs advertising shrimping trips (going out with the fishermen and learning all about how they catch the shrimp whilst watching them at work) so we enquired as to whether we could go out on one of these. Unfortunately all the boats had been out and returned already. Carrying on our journey we stopped in a very cute little town called Ocean Springs which was a haven for art lovers and included a lot of work by a famous local artist called Walter Anderson. His work was inspired by the local wildlife, history and scenery. Although we did not visit his museum, in the adjacent local community centre he painted a mural covering the entire 4 walls. It was very impressive.
Some of the coast line has been designated a national park called the Gulf Coast National Seashore. A small portion of the protected coastline is in Mississippi with the rest on the south coast of Florida. We had our lunch and took in the views of the swamps and coastline before departing towards Mobile, Alabama where we hoped to spend the night.

Driving to Mobile, we decided that we would get off the interstate and use the roads less travelled. It meant we passed through a lot of rural Mississippi and also passed through a small, gritty fishing town called Bayou Le Batre. Those of you who are film afficionados may recognise that name as the home of Bubba in Forrest Gump and the area where Forrest set up the Bubba Gump shrimping company and made his millions. The small inlets and waterways did look like they were from the film depsite the fact Forrest Gump was filmed 1000 or so miles away in South Carolina.

We arrived in Mobile (Mo-beel) in the early evening and after driving round the city (which is situated on a busy port), decided that we wouldn't be staying here for much more than a bed for the night! We found a cheap hotel and more importantly an oyster bar for dinner! We had fresh, raw oysters for dinner and noticed that the restaurant held a competion for eating raw oysters in an hour. If you broke the record you got them free, if not you paid. We paid $9.99 for 12 oysters to share, the record was 408 oysters in a hour! We didn't attempt to break this record!

Rachel and I were in two minds whether to do the full tour of the battleship USS Alabama, which is retired and permanently stationed in Mobile now, and when we arrived and saw that we could view most of the things from outside, we decided to save our money and not go in. We had a drive round the park to look at the old airplanes and other military items that were stationed in various spots. We had a long day planned ahead, meandering through the Alabama countryside northwards towards Montgomery, so we didn't hang around and got on the road.

As we left Mobile, we had done over 4000 miles in under four weeks since we left Las Vegas and I certainly think both of us are ready for the blissful relaxation of Ocho Rios in Jamaica! We certainly aren't complaining about what has been an amzing trip so far, but the long driving journeys coupled with days jam packed with museums, sights, landmarks and parks does take it out of you after a while! Two weeks left in America and there is still plenty to see and do, we will be making the most of our 4 day pass to Universal Studios and a few days in Miami will also be fantastic.

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18th July 2010

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Hi Stu and Rach, another resounding result with the blog entry - well written, interesting, amusing and fun to read. You are both really lucky to be experiencing a trip of a lifetime - I hope the rest of the tour is as good, or better (if possible) as what you have had so far. Now as geeky aircraft enthusiast - the weird caterpillar helicopter thing is an HRP-1, or as it was more affectionately known - the flying bananna and the jet aircraft at the entrance to battleship park is a F4 Phantom - anyway enough of this nonense, your blog is more interesting and exciting. Take care, i am looking forward to the next blog already, love to you both, Dad x
19th July 2010

Hi Stu and Rach, yes it's so sad that people will lose so much due to the oil spill, no one seems to realise how severe it really is. Also as you say the nature and wildlife really suffer. Glad the weather is better and you are enjoying the Gulf Coast, shame some of the beaches are closed again due to the oil spill. I'm sure it won't stop you enjoying yourselves. Anyway looking forward to the next blog, Joobags x
22nd July 2010

Can’t tell you how impressed I am with you guys, not only with the way you are keeping up with this brilliant blog – who said other peoples holiday snaps are boring – but also with the way you both think of others whilst on your honeymoon! We were so chuffed to receive a post card from you both but this morning’s post brought the note and prayer cards from the shrine to St Rocco. I was quite moved to tears and the reference to fire & water was really uncanny. Will explain later! You really are a credit to your parents. You still have such a lot to experience so have a fantastic time for the next few months and take care. Terri xx

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