From my travel journal: Saturday 9 April, 3.45 pm

Somewhere in southern Texas

Yesterday was the first day that’s been mostly boring, but it did have its highlights. The main aim of the day was just getting from Lubbock to San Antonio – a very long trip mostly across more wide flat plains with not a lot to see.

Just outside Lubbock was a vast wind farm – thousands of wind turbines that went on for miles along the road and seemed to stretch right out to the horizon. Later when we stopped for petrol, we were told it’s the biggest wind farm in the USA.

There was the odd animal on the side of the road too – we saw a few more deer, some buffalo, squirrels, and smelt a skunk (though we didn’t actually see it).

Once again, new food experiences made up a large part of the day – strawberry slushie from a drive-in restaurant (where each car park had its own menu board and microphone so you could place your order, then they would bring the food out to your car for you), and catfish and hush-puppies (a menu item that inspired a lot of discussion and speculation about what they were – they turned out to be fried balls of corn dough) for lunch in a soda fountain in a gorgeous old bank building.

Of course, the real highlight of yesterday was meeting MartiP and her family in San Antonio. It’s always such fun to finally get to meet people you feel like you’ve known on-line forever. (And she provided even more new taste experiences, giving us all sorts of tasty nibbles for dinner.)

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away to check into our motel. Then we headed into the centre of San Antonio to visit its river walk and the Alamo. The river walk was very nice – all the bars and restaurants along the river have outdoor seating on the walk, which is right down almost at the water level, so there’s lots of twinkling lights on the water, and the walk meanders under the bridges, some of which have artworks under them. Colourful barges drive up and down the river, and best of all, there’s a bit of coolness that comes off the river, much needed in the heat of the southernmost point of our trip (and this is only spring! I’d hate to feel what it’s like here in summer!)

The name of this restaurant seemed appropriate, somehow :-)

It was too late at night to see inside the Alamo, but the outside was all lit up. Historically it doesn’t mean a lot to me (I know vaguely what it signified to Americans, and to Texans in particular, but it’s not really part of my culture), but I could at least appreciate the architecture :-)

Back on the road early again this morning, aiming for lunch in Houston. There being at least three space geeks in the car, it wasn’t so much Houston we were aiming for as the Johnson Space Centre. The Space Centre was almost an expensive waste of time, being mostly a gimmicky overly-interactive “museum” of replicas, very much in the vein of the Antarctic Centre, but one gallery totally made up for it by having a display of real stuff, like actual moon rocks and dust, and a Gemini command module. And best of all, you can touch one of the moon rocks and part of the module. I don’t care how good the replicas are, there’s something totally magical about touching something that’s actually been into space! Big smile on my face after that :-)

I got to touch this one :-)

That’s bits of the moon!

We’ve just crossed the state line into Louisiana. First state line we’ve crossed that is a river, which means we couldn’t stop and take a photo of the “Bienvenue en Louisiane” sign, because it was too close to the bridge exit and it wasn’t safe to stop.

(We cheated and got this photo when we were leaving the other side)

The countryside since Houston has been very different to what we’ve been seeing up until now. Houston is pretty much on the coast, so instead of desert it was suddenly a lot greener, with swampy-looking (bayou-looking, actually, I suppose) heavily treed areas along the sides of the road. All this green is a bit of a shock to the system after a week of brown and red.

Three and a bit more hours to New Orleans. We couldn’t find anywhere to stay in the centre of town, so we’re going to be out on the outskirts, but we’ve got a plan… (probably one that will involve another very late night)

From my travel journal: Sunday 10 April, 4 pm

Somewhere in Florida

Today has been a day of many states. We started in Louisiana this morning, and have been through Mississippi and Alabama (or at least, through the little bits at the bottom of them), and now we’re in Florida, about four hours from tonight’s stop in Gainsville.

We crossed the Mississippi river yesterday in Louisiana (which confused me a bit, because I expected to cross it in Mississippi, given the name). It wasn’t as wide as I thought it would be, either – it was wide compared to NZ rivers (except maybe the Rakaia when it’s in flood :-)), but I’d expected something more like the Congo, where you can’t see the other side. There’ve been some pretty wide bays we’ve crossed on bridges and causeways that have almost met that criteria, though.

New Orleans was amazing. There have been a lot of perfect moments on this trip, and a number of them happened last night. After checking in at our motel we drove into the city centre and found a parking building, then walked to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. The atmosphere there was incredible – I’ve been to a lot of “party” towns, and most of them have a faint undertone of desperation – everyone trying very very hard to have fun. Lots of drunk people of course, but almost nobody was being aggressive (we did see one fight start, but policemen on horses broke it up before it even really started (that was really impressive to see, actually – they basically used the horses to create a physical barrier between the aggressors, and then when one didn’t calm down, they squeezed him between two horses to hold him)). It may have been that highly visible (but friendly – they were letting people pat the horses) police presence that contributed to the generally good behaviour, but there seemed to be more to it, like a contagious good mood in the crowd.

The policemen weren’t the only ones with horses – we saw two men taking a tiny shetland pony for a walk! They didn’t look the sort to be into ponies, but the mystery was soon solved when we saw how young women were flocking to them :-)

We wandered along the street listening to the music (almost every bar had live music) and watching the spectacle, and even managed to acquire a few strings of beads each (we’re not telling how we earned them, though!*)

We had a late dinner in an oyster bar, where as well as oysters we sampled all sorts of local delicacies. There was much swapping and sharing between plates so we could sample everything: crawfish ettouffe, soft-shelled crab, gumbo, alligator burger, mint julep (that contained a lot more bourbon than mint!), a dangerous-tasting cocktail called a Category 5 Hurricane, and beignets. The waitress had the most gorgeous southern accent, called us all honey, and gave us each a hug when we left :-)

Even though it was way past midnight and we had an early start ahead of us, it was hard to drag ourselves away from the party and head back to the motel and our beds!

* Oh, alright, we found them lying on the ground.

This trip really is turning out to be all about the food. We stopped for lunch in Mobile, Alabama, in a restaurant on the shore that looked like it used to be a fishing shack.

Felix’s Fishing Camp

It served mostly seafood, of course, and the food was amazing again. We shared a crab and spinach dip, then I had some sort of fish (I never did figure out which variety – the waitress’s accent was rather dense!) with hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. Even though we were all so full none of us had finished our meals, we decided that this time we had to have desert (an aspect of American food we’ve not sampled up until now, the mains always being so big that we’ve never had room), so shared a moon pie a la mode betwen us. Definitely worth squeezing a few extra mouthfuls in for :-)

I still can’t get over the cheapness of eating out in America. Our meals today, including drinks, taxes and a generous tip, still only came to about $20 each. I’d have probably paid closer to $50 for an equivalent meal at home.