So where were we......
About to enter the Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free!!
Arriving at the US border post, customs was basically non-existent as we did not have to do any formalities for the car - AT ALL!! We had a quick drugs check and then were pushed through to immigration. Here the USD6 each we had to pay to enter had just been paid to the Mexicans and we had hardly any money.......
"Mmm arriving in the US for 3 months and you don't have any money? Please step aside sir!!"
"Well officer, we have some Mexican money we can pay with?"
"Afraid not SIR"
"Well point me in the direction of the ATM and we will draw some money"
"Afraid not SIR, the nearest ATM is 50 miles away and you can't enter the US to go there"......
So after asking some helpful Mexicans to change what little money we had, and scrounging Kerry's little squirrel funds we found enough dollars to enter.
First stop in the USA was Laredo, a large, dusty border town inhabited by a Mexican and American mix of people. Here we spent the next day and a half trying to sort out insurance, the next 1st world hurdle. Eventually James cornered a friendly agent who spent 6 hours phoning around trying to get some insurance for us. The poor woman missed her lunch and afternoon tea, but we eventually walked away with some insurance that would only cover 1 month. Ah well, we were at least legal!
A long drive the following day took us north through San Antonio to Austin, Texas where we had arranged to stay with old school friends from Zimbabwe, Sian and Ted. The drive north was excellent fun. Texas is a whole other world to the rest of America. They go LARGE on everythang! We were introduced to SUPERSIZE like we have never seen. The cars, the boats, the RV's (recreational vehicles i.e. motor homes etc) the shops and many of the people. Just driving down the motorway you are entertained by hundreds of huge billboards every couple of hundred metres.
Arriving well after dark we were to experience Sian and Ted's overwhelming hospitality for the next 10 days of normal living. Watching super size flat screen TV and eating home cooked food and enjoying an en suite! On our agenda for Austin was to try and get Lodzi's haemorrhaging oil problem sorted out among a few other bits and bobs we had noticed wrong. After locating the Landrover dealer who did not want to take a look at it, leaving it with an English mechanic who suggested we do an oil change and change the back brake pads!!!, and finally finding a diesel mechanic who said they would do a compression test on the cylinders which we asked for, they charged us USD300 for doing some work James could have done himself!! Mmm needless to say we still have all the problems we started with.
But while in Austin, we gave Sian and Ted and Ted's folks our list of things we wanted to do while in the US and they set about giving us an awesome experience. Among the activities we managed to tick off our list are the following-:
- Watched a college baseball game at the UT (University of Texas to the uninitiated) A very family orientated and patriotic affair.
- Watched a professional indoor American football game including the CHEERLEADERS. This is a shortened version of the NFL football and much quicker. The entertainment between breaks was almost as interesting as the game and of course the lady wranglers were a big hit.
- Visited Hooters restaurant and bar and bought 2 very expensive beers and of course got a souvenir photo of James with the Hooters girls.
- Went out for a typical Texan BBQ dinner, meat, meat and meat.
- James spent the day gold panning with Ted and Jerry on the Llano River.
We also visited a camping and motor home and caravan superstore. Wow, we looked into a motor home/bus worth over USD250,000 with 3 slide out panels, a large double bedroom, a giant sitting room with full home entertainment centre, a walkin shower and separate toilet and a full kitchen to boot. Gulp, all finished to the highest standards. Not for us though! Just down the road though we found a Cable ski lake and James spent a couple of hours doing his stuff. Still able to do all the tricks, but very unfit. He could hardly walk for the next couple of days.
And then, as per usual, all good things must come to an end, so we bade farewell to our wonderful hosts and four walls and continued our journey east towards
New Orleans where we hoped to catch the world famous Jazz and Heritage Fest.
En route we visited Houston's NASA space centre where a pretty expensive tour took us through space exploration through the ages, a museum filled with genuine machinery that has been in space and amazingly we saw actual rocks that had come from space (could have come from the local tip for all we could tell!). The culmination of the tour was a guided tour to the old Mission Control where the first man on the moon landing was monitored and successfully completed you know the old, "Houston we have a problem"
Just before we left Texas we were lucky enough to be in the town of Beaumont where that very evening there was a professional rodeo happening. Held in the local Ford Arena, what an excellent performance we were witness to. We watched the full repertoire of events including, bare back Bronco, saddled Bronco, calf wrestling, calf roping, barrel racing and the best - bull riding. As the finale the crowd was awed by a display from a touring Extreme Motor X team of two motorcycles doing large jumps in the arena with the highlight being a full 360º somersault. A very authentic Texan evening to finish off our visit.
Into Louisiana, passing through Baton Rouge and into the swamps we booked into a hostel just near the French Quarter in the home of Jazz, New Orleans. We had timed our arrival for the last day of the Jazz and Heritage festival held at the local race track just a 10 min walk from the hostel.
Joining thousands of local and international festival goers we were spoilt for choice as there were 7 stages of music running simultaneously, two enormous food areas catering everything from traditional Cajun specialties to run of the mill burgers and fries and an oversize Gospel Tent ringing out religious songs as only African American choirs can.
After a quick walk through the entire presentation, we were entertained for the next 8 hours solid by traditional Senegalese music, Jazz and Marimba bands, a Native American Indian tribal dance, spine tingling harmony in the Gospel tent, Paul Simon going through all the golden oldies, unfortunately the star of the show, Father of Jazz, Fats Domino was taken ill hours before the show but Lionel Ritchie gave a very energetic round up to a brilliant day.
We spent the following day walking around New Orleans sights, the French Quarter being the most cultural experience of the Deep South we were to experience. We feasted on a traditional Cajun lunch in front of live music, wandered the red light district of Bourbon Street and even managed a stroll down to the banks of the very muddy Mississippi River.
On the flip side of the coin, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still "in your face" Thousands of "drowned cars" still line the streets, many suburbs we drove through have not been cleaned yet let alone lived in!, The waterline mark can still be seen over 10 feet high on some houses and buildings. However as all good entrepreneurs know, there is always an enterprise somewhere. In this case, souvenir shops are packed with T-Shirts carrying hilarious slogans such as-:
Katrina gave me a blow job I will never forget.
New Orleans Evacuation Plan - Run mother F****R… RUN
Our favourite - Hurricane Katrina visited and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt, a brand new Cadillac and a Plasma TV.
Turning north, we meandered with the Mississippi river into Mississippi State passing through some very hick towns, gorgeous country side while ultimately tracing the steps of the North vs. South civil war. Our highlight of this area was in the quaint "colonial" town of Vicksburg where cobbled streets over look the Mississippi river, exquisite mansions and old plantation estates are numerous. We did a tour through Cedar Grove mansion, built and once owned by an extremely wealthy banker and business man in the late1800's. Restored as a B&B but containing almost all original furnishings from that period, James jumped on the bed in the master bedroom, the same bed General Grant, whom led the North to victory in the civil war, had slept in.
Also in the ballroom was an old piano worth over USD1.5m Wow! We also indulged in a traditional Mississippi pork BBQ meal - very tasty.
And then there were three……On reaching our next destination, Memphis Tennessee, we picked up Russell, James' brother, from the airport as he had joined us for just over two weeks for a road trip. He had also brought over numerous spare parts for Lodzi and the two brothers set away attempting to replace what they could on the vehicle including exhaust rubbers, and various suspension rubbers.
In search of The King we visited Graceland the following day. A tour through the lower half of Elvis' old mansion included the kitchen, basement and of course The Jungle room. A walk through his hall of fame was surreal; the amount of awards, accolades, concerts, shows and over 1 billion records sold was a very sobering thought as to why this man was called The King. The Machine would have been more appropriate. At the start of his career he was doing 25 days a month of 2 shows a day!
At the end of the tour we visited his grave on the grounds of Graceland. The sheer number of visitors there every day, thousands, is a testament that Elvis lives!! Another highlight in Memphis was Beale Street home of the Street Blues and a cool to scale relief model of Ol' Man River - Mississippi.
An about turn west, we entered Arkansas and were amazed by how green and lush everything was, the state park camping provided excellent facilities and was very cheap, apart from visiting the town Bill Clinton spent his childhood in, there was not much to report, we did however do our first wild camp in the forest and woke up the next morning to puncture No. 9 caused by a mean shard of glass, so Russ got a puncture repair lesson.
Oklahoma followed where we hit the longest surviving stretch of historic Route 66 from just south of Tulsa to Oklahoma City, including a stop off for lunch at an obligatory Route 66 Diner for a scrumptious "Gator Burger". Russell was getting his kicks on Route 66……snoring as loud as possible. After passing through Oklahoma City we visited the Route 66 museum in Clinton before dropping due south to re enter the northern part of Texas to attend another professional rodeo in the country town of Vernon with Russell.
Arriving just before the entire town came to a standstill for a parade, we were witness to every man and his dog entering a slow procession through the town. Interesting! The evening was spent at the Santa Rosa Roundup Rodeo which had a lot more of a small town feel and family atmosphere. Once again we were entertained with the full repertoire of rodeo events and the Motor X display. Pure Texan!
Then we were back on the road again due West.......