Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 24: Mobile to Enterprise, with a token trip to Florida

This morning we headed into Mobile to see what there was to see. Unfortuatley it was Sunday and lots of things were shut. I wish we had more time so we could wait and see things on Monday, but we don't. We visited Fort Conde, a partial reproduction of a French fort, which was kind of interesting. There were some detailed dioramas of the war between the French and the British for control, but other than that there really wasn't much more to see. We drove around town some, to have a look, but as I said there really wasn't much to see as it was Sunday.

We decided to drive to Pensacola in Florida for lunch. This was really just a token effort to go to Florida to say that we have been to Florida, even though we won't be visiting any of the more famous parts like Miami or Orlando, or even venturing down the panhandle. Still, we got a skillet meal from Wal-Mart, and found a nice place along the coast to stop and have a little picnic. Alex was obsessive in her search for fire ant nests, to make sure that we were not in any danger at all of being stung. When she was satisfied we had a nice meal. We sat there until the sun went down and then started to figure out our next move. There was a tropical storm heading for the area, so we thought it best to start moving North, so that we would not get caught in it.

We headed back North into Alabama to a town called Enterprise where once again we found a Wal-Mart to spend the night it. The deja vu continues everytime we travel and walk into a Wal-Mart that looks exactly the same as the last one, but still it is a good safe place to park, and it has the advantage of an easily accessible toilet in the middle of the night (which would be horrible to otherwise try and track down in night time emergencies)

Day 23: New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama

Today we went on a guided tour of New Orleans. The tour started with a trip to the Lower 9th Ward, the area devestated by Hurricance Katrina in 2005. It was so incredibly sad to see houses in various states of decay, or only the foundations remaining, or eight foot high weeds covering entire blocks where houses used to stand. What was even more unsettling was seeing some of the Americans on our tour with us running around taking pictures and laughing like it was some tourist attraction. Made me sick and almost made Alex cry. The guide told us how houses were not properly searched when the waters subsided, so families returned to their homes and saw the markings on their house stating that no bodies were found inside, only to start cleaning up and find say, their mother buried under the fridge, or their daughter hanging from a fence post. Absolutely heartbreaking.

There was some reconstruction happening, although some of the houses seemed like wanky architechtural achievements that looked way too expensive for the area. We were told by the tour guide that for the same price of one of those houses (which can supposedly float) a whole row of the old style of houses could be built. The whole experience just made us wish there was something real that we could do to assist.

The tour guide thankfully took us to the Lower 9th first so that we could finish the tour wish some of the more pleasant aspects of New Orleans. We visited the French Quarter, the Garden District and even one of the cities famous cemetaries, where all are buried above ground. There were lots of interesting old buildings to look at. In the cemetary we noticed that there were impossible amounts of people buried in some of the crypts. The tour guide told us that when more space was required, a large ram would be used to crush the remains already present and make space for new ones. Very creepy.

After the tour we left New Orleans and headed for Mobile in Alabama. We drove the 100 or so miles in the dark, actually passing through the state of Mississippi, which we will return to later. We found a Wal-Mart just outside the town and got some sleep, which I certainly welcomed after my activities the night before.

Day 22: Arriving in New Orleans

Up at 5AM, it was time to say goodbye and continue on to our next stop: New Orleans. We drove almost straight through, only breifly stopping at a Waffle House to have some breakfast. The ground started to get very swampy as we drove into Louisiana. Much of the interstate was on pylons directly over swamp. Exactly what I expected Lousiana to look like.

After a time, we came to New Orleans. On Aunty Barbara's advice, we were going to get a hotel room for tonight. We made our way into the French Quarter around 4PM and started looking around for a hotel. We found a room at the Royal St. Charles near Bourbon St. and set off to find some dinner. It was a Friday night, so as we walked along Bourbon St, there were already many people walking around drinking and enjoying themselves. There are many little shops that sell beer to go, and alcohol can be consumed in the street so long as it is in a plastic container. We found a little resaurant and sat on a balcony overlooking the street. We had fried alligator, gumbo, jambalaya and catfish pie, all of which were quite delicious.

I was keen to spend some time out on the town. We were in New Orleans after all. Unfortunatley Alex had been feeling ill all day, and really wasn't feeling any better. She was adamant that I still go out though, so I took her back to the hotel and put her to bed. I then went back out and to a blues club on Bourbon. It was some goood music and I enjoyed it. Eventually I left there and visited a couple of other places for some live music. I would love to give more details about what I did, but I was drinking something called a Hurricane and something else called a Handgrenade, so you will understand that although I had a great time and had some good conversations with locals, much of the night is a little bit of a blur.

Day 21: Johnson Space Center

Today we went to Johnson Space Centre in Houston. It was our fist trip without Ruby. We borrowed Zabby's Jeep, which for me was a fun change from driving a big van everywhere. We followed Uncle Malcolms directions and headed towards the Space Centre. Unfortunatley we had a double whammy of directional misfortune, which made it difficult to find the place. First it seems that the road we were supposed to turn down had it's name changed from NASA Rd 1 to NASA Blvd, I guessed as much when we saw the sign, but I wasn't really sure. It didn't matter anyway, as there were road works on the exit we were supposed to take. So we got a little turned around.

I pulled into a gas station to try and use our GPS to figure out the best way to get from where we were to where we were going. It turned out to be only a mile and a half away, which was excellent. Meanwhile, Alex had jumped out of the car to do some stretching on the grass. She was standing barefoot on the grass for about 10 seconds, when I heard screaming. She had been bitten five or six times by fire ants! What luck. Luckily the pain subsided after a minute or two. I think it was mainly the shock that caused her to scream, and for a second she was convinced she needed urgent medical attention. Thankfully she didn't keel over and ruin the rest of the day.

So after the Attack of the Fire Ants, we headed towards Johnson Space Centre. After some confusion with the GPS pointing to slightly the wrong spot, we found it hidden behind some trees. The first thing we did was go on a tram tour of the facilities. We saw historic Mission Control, where the moon landings were controlled from. It looked smaller that I expected it to, but funnily enough it looked exactly as I remembered from the movie Apollo 13, which is strange. We also saw the astronaut training facilities, which include full mock-ups of space shuttles, and the international space station. The most interesting thing I saw though, was some engineers pulling apart and rebuilding a future Mars rover. The final stop on the tour was to see a Saturn V rocket on its side. That thing is massive, we couldn't even manage to fit it all into frame for a photo.

After the tram tour we looked in their museum and got to see all sorts of memorabilia, including some Gemini vehicles, and Apollo 17. It is amazing what those astronauts achieved. It would have been so scary sitting in those tin cans far above the world. The museum also had samples of moon rock, including one that we could touch (spoiler: it feels just like a rock). It was a great experience, but before long the day was over and we had to head back to Kingwood.

Ruby was there waiting for us when we returned, with a shiny new roof. I am so grateful to Uncle Malcolm for getting that repaired. It is a huge weight off my mind especially as we head into colder weather up North.

Day 20: Resting in Houston

Today was a well deserved rest day. We didn't do much of anything at all. Uncle Malcolm woke me early with an offer to fix Ruby's broken head, which I gladly accepted. We drove into Houston to drop her off. In order to fix her, the whole roof will need to be repainted. Hopefully the new paint will blend well with the old, so that it isn't blindingly obvious to the rental company that I have had repairs done. Oh well, deny deny deny I guess.

When we got back Aunty Barbara took us to look at some cowboy boots and to do some grocery shopping. While we find the idea of Cowboy boots and owning them very cool, I just know that will will never wear them more than a couple of times, so we passed on the opportunity to own a pair. After that we went grocery shopping at Sam's Club, which is like Campbell's back home. We got Alex 10 entire boxes of tissues, which I'm sure won't last very long, and a big tray of water. We also picked up a two litre bottle of hand sanatiser. Alex cannot help but observe that people don't seem to be too concerned about washing their hands here. I have noticed it too, I have to say I very rarely observe people washing their hands in public restrooms, so we will have to make sure we keep using the sanitiser to make sure we don't get sick.

That is about all we did today. Excellent ribs for dinner, and then another night of sleeping in a real bed.