Betsy and I wandered further down South, via Missouri and Arkansas’ Ozark mountains. It was pretty dry so their magnificent gorge rivers were low, and the waterfalls were mere trickles, but the mountains, caves and river cliffs were all fantastic. A lot of locals were admiring the nice fall “colors” of browns and yellows; it was pretty, but nothing in comparison to our bonfire of colors in NH. After a few very cold nights in the Ozarks we ended up at the First Eden Baptist Church in Arkansas. We got permission to stay the night from a local parishioner and reaffirmed our permission later when the local sheriffs stopped by for a visit. In the morning we went to the worship service and were greeted by the church-folk with open arms, some real southern hospitality, almost everyone in the church came up and introduced him/herself and shook our hands. They were all quite nice. After a sermon about there being no room for common sense and reason in the Gospel, we were heading further south again (with a minor hornet skirmish just before departure).
The next day proved adventurous. We headed through the northwest corner of Mississippi on our way towards the toe of Louisiana’s boot, New Orleans. Along the way we met some nice folks at restaurants and discussed how veggie oil is pretty cool when diesel prices are at $3.30/gallon. We filled up our tank and reserves on veggie oil from a fried chicken place and drove for several hours, settling down for the night in a National Wildlife Reserve in the bayou of Mississippi. Around ten o’clock we met the park manager, and he told us we couldn’t camp there for the night (the first time this has happened all trip), so we headed out to find another temporary abode. There was a campsite about 15-20 miles away on another highway, so we decided to take a cross road to that highway. The road started out nice enough, and then we started going over some rather rickety bridges, soon enough the pavement turned into a two lane dirt road with some washboards. This twisted through the dark Mississippi woods, past some older shack looking buildings with lots of stuff in the overgrown yards. Eventually the two lane road turned into a one lane road with lots of pot holes and the houses started looking more run down and dark. Scenes from Deliverance and other prejudices about the Deep South swamps crept into our minds as the road started getting rutted and rather affected by erosion. Right around the time that Betsy, who was looking at the map, told us we were heading into a swamp we saw an orange sign signifying that the road was closed. We were only two miles from the highway we wanted to go to, but we had to turn the bus around on the narrow swamp road, being careful not to get caught in the mud on both sides. Otherwise we would have been in a position requiring us to hike through the bayou to go ask for help from one of the unknown creatures living in the shacks (probably very nice people, especially during the light of day). So we eventually made our way all the way back down the dirt path to the dirt road, over the rickety bridges and back onto the highway where we drove around for quite a while more (on paved roads) before finding a nice quiet, well-lit downtown to park the bus in for the night. Needless to say, we’re glad that this doesn’t happen every night.
After the night in bayou hell we made it to New Orleans and the comfort of a rustic little house belonging to my friend Faithe and her friend Woody. Since then we’ve done all the touristy stuff, gone to see some good jazz music, wandered around the French Quarter drinking cheap beer from plastic cups while skirting around drunkards, con-men and scantily clad woman. We’ve had some beignets from Café du Monde and strolled along the Mississippi. New Orleans is slowly recovering after Katrina, mostly due to the tourist district and Tulane coming back on line so quickly. Everywhere you look construction is going on, mostly done by hard working illegal immigrants, who are basically the workforce responsible for rebuilding the city. The return of the St. Charles street car has given a sense of normalcy back to the Big Easy, but all is still not well. The street car only runs halfway down the garden district, after that you have to catch a bus. Many families have moved out of the city, in fact the population is half what it was pre-Katrina. Many who have returned are young people who cannot find jobs in the recovering economy; as a result crime is worse than it has been in a while. East New Orleans was completely decimated by the flood, 19 out of 20 houses were simply bulldozed after the storm. Two years later, perhaps 3 of every 20 houses are there, most people have not bothered to return and rebuild. And why should they, the levees and pump systems are back on line but there is no plan to make them stronger or better. Another hurricane could fill New Orleans up for a second time. There are several signs and protesters around the city shouting out “Make levees, not war.” One wonders what would happen to the future of this city should it be wiped out again.
From here we head on to Texas to store the bus, and then to southern Mexico for a few weeks. We won’t be bringing the computer, so we probably won’t be updating the blog a whole lot, but we’ll still check e-mail occasionally, so keep in touch everyone. We’ll be home on Dec. 15th for Christmas, so hope to see some of you then. In the meantime, we love you all, and don’t worry, we’ll be safe.