Page Seven of our daily Tour Journal   

19th May 2004
We are rather late leaving Monticello given that we have a long drive ahead of us including a significant stop to explore the Okefenokee Swamp in Southern Georgia. To catch up some time we took an Interstate Highway for part of the distance and somehow managed to get unwittingly involved in a duel with a large semi trailer. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour we dropped back to bide our time.

Sometime later we saw our "adversary" get locked up in the outside lane and we chose that moment to charge down the inside lane behind another desperado in a big pick-up. This is the first bit of road excitement we've had in almost 2,000 miles but we can do without it.

We reached the Stephen Foster side of the Okefenokee Swamp around 3.00 pm and the sun is boring down big time. It's really hard to leave the comfort of our air conditioned vehicle to brave the outdoors. Nevertheless, we totally lather ourselves with sun block-out then follow it up with the same amount of insect repellent. Upon reporting to the Rangers Office we discover that all swamp tours are cancelled due to very low water. However we can rent a tinny with outboard motor and do our own thing. This we elect to do but we quickly receive several shocks.

The first shock is that every surface of the dark camouflage green painted aluminium dinghy is as hot as a wood fired stove. The second shock is that as soon as Brian steps into our dinghy a six inch stream of water gushes through a 3mm hole low down in the side of the boat. As this is not an auspicious start to our voyage into a mosquito and alligator infested swamps, we ask for an exchange boat. The pained expression on the face of a very disinterested Ranger plainly signals "another over reacting, pain in the butt, tourist and a foreigner to boot". However she reluctantly consents to check our complaint, then hastily changes her manner. "Oh, I guess we can't send you out like that, can we?"

A change of boat and some additional blister burns sees us finally on our way and we see our first alligator within a couple of minutes. The Okefenokee Swamp lives up to its romantic sounding name and if you're ever nearby you should definitely give it at least a couple of hours.

Hey, haven't these girls heard about the mosquitos?

There's thousands of swamp cypresses with large buttress root systems, lots of flowering water lilies, various lime green leafed trees we do not recognise along with hanging vines, spanish moss and lots of tropical succulents.

Trees and sky reflected in the mirror swamp water

In the wildlife department we are treated to at least 50 alligators, many turtles, ibises, large fish, a few deer AND mosquitoes by the squillion! It's really hard to photograph the wildlife however because the outboard motor's din spooks them before we can get really close. The vibration of the boat also spoils any photos we take using high zoom.

Most gators were between 1.5 and 2.0 metres long

A few times we got within two or three metres of an alligator at a time when the camera wasn't activated for a shot. Disappointing. And as our outboard motor had been quite hard to start back at the dock, Brian was reluctant to stop it completely to take a photo. It was getting late in the afternoon and we didn't feel like spending the night in the swamp should the motor refuse to start. It wasn't the alligators which scared Brian so much.... it was the mosquitos.

Eventually the mozzies became too ferocious. We decide to call it quits and return to the haven of our air conditioned capsule parked back at the dock.

An hour's drive later we arrived at Kingsland Georgia where we checked into a so-so Motor Inn for a one night stay. We found a place nearby claiming to be a Japanese Teppanaki Restaurant. What a travesty. It is best forgotten and deserves to sink without a trace.

20th May 2004
Our plan is to visit Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island today. These are just a couple of the many sandy offshore islands which face the Atlantic Ocean in an almost continuous line along the Florida, Georgia and Carolina coasts. These barrier islands guard the "Inter Coastal Waterway" which allows even small pleasure craft to make relatively safe and long passages along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

We once researched this area in preparation for a planned voyage from Florida up the Inter Coastal Waterway to New York, up the Hudson into the Great Lakes, thence into the Mississippi and down to New Orleans. We had intended to ship our boat "Sovereign" to Miami on a freighter for the purpose. After doing the big loop our idea was to then try to get across into the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands. Various health and other obstacles put paid to this dream but researching all those books and magazines was fun and romantic whilst it lasted.

Anyhow, what we're leading up to mention is that we're no longer disappointed that our dream was thwarted because today we discover that the Inter Coastal Waterway is quite bloody brown! It may be ocean water but it looks like coffee and apparently stays like that most of the time. The other week we also discovered that the Mississippi was much browner than we had imagined. So if we had have gone ahead with that old dream we would have ended up spending nearly a year on brown water and that is definitely NOT our idea of boating. Amen.

We quite liked Jekyll Island. It is very low key and has a nicely serene feel about it. We spent some time looking around the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, once the summer vacation home of many multi millionaires. For more info go to www.jekyllisland.com 

Stately Jekyll Island Club recalls a bygone era

We were very much less impressed with St. Simons Island. By contrast it seemed extremely commercial with lots of traffic, busy intersections and traffic lights. Not our idea of island living.

By mid afternoon we were ready to head off to the small town of Darion where we easily located Open Gates Bed & Breakfast. The proprietor was out but had left us a note, some cold drinks, wine and hors d'ouvres in the library.  We were also delighted to discover a large clear swimming pool in the garden and we wasted no time plunging in for refreshing relief after a very hot day of sight seeing.

Talking about the heat, each of the last few days have been around 90 F or a little more during the day and 70 F at night. The same type of weather is predicted for the rest of the week. Luckily all of our accommodations have been air conditioned and most have ceiling fans as well.

Feeling somewhat restored we go looking for a Laundromat. Although Lynn has occasionally availed herself of of these institutions during past travels, it's a neglected part of Brian's education. The one we found in Darion was a real eye opener. It was quite large with badly neglected rusty equipment and spider webs all over ceilings and walls. Ambience wise it was like coming in the side door of Hades and almost as hot. It was over 90 degrees F out in the street and at least 20 degrees hotter in the laundry. Next door to the laundry was a package liquor store beside a hole in the wall shack which sold soul food. Brian read the menu on the wall and was instantly smitten with a desire to try "Deep Fried Gizzards - 10 for $1.99". The interesting personalities hanging around outside looked like they were gizzard eaters from way back. In another town we might have felt a tiny bit threatened but here in Darion we just took it in our stride.

After sitting in hell for 30 minutes Brian left Lynn to keep an eye on the tumble drier whilst he browsed the air conditioned Liquor Store. In due course he returned with two chilled 200 ml miniatures of Pina Colada, passed one to Lynn and said "get this into ya". Lynn only hesitated long enough to say, "this is supposed to be poured over ice and we happen to have ice and some drinking beakers in the trunk of the car". A couple of minutes later we were toasting each other and having a high old time. Just goes to show that there's an adventure waiting around almost any bend if you look for it.

We consider our dining plans and opt for "Mudslide Charlies", a restaurant built out over the marshy banks of the  Altahama River, just out of town. Despite its obscure location it's quite a large place and it's really pumping by the time we arrive. In spite of the crush we luckily get a table within 20 minutes. We settle back to enjoy the repartee between many of our fellow diners. They obviously all know each other well and there's plenty of backchat between the various tables and with the staff.

The view from Mudslide Charlie's Restaurant

We opt to start with the Crab Stew appetizer which turns out to be a very thick kind of creamy crab soup. Delicious! Then we decide to follow with fried oysters. "How many pieces to a serve?" Brian asks our waitress. "We measure 4 ounces of oysters" the girl replies "but I don't really know how many". Brian then recalls that it is the American custom to measure shucked oysters by the pint or quart rather than by the unit as we do in Australia. Well, even though the oysters were a generous size, 4 ounces turned out to be a lot of fried oysters. They tasted great in crisp fine bread crumbs. We then shared a plate of super fat freshly boiled Snow Crab legs which gave up thick cylinders of crab meat for dipping in melted butter, salt and pepper. The whole evening only came to about $50 including a couple of glasses of Chardonnay. We were well pleased.

Kelly and Geoff were our hosts at Open Gates B&B and they were the most hospitable Inn Keepers we're encountered thus far. This antebellum establishment is spacious, friendly and well maintained. We thoroughly recommend it to anyone needing to rest their head in Darion Georgia. Check it out at www.opengatesbnb.com

21st May 2004
It's only an hours drive from Darion to Savannah but being in our increasingly slowed down vacation mode it's almost 11 am before we hit the road. We make the mistake of stopping at a WalMart to buy some stuff we need and by the time we exit two hours have gone by and we're a few hundred dollars lighter. And judging by what's in our shopping trolley we'll soon be a few hundred pounds heavier!

Today is a bit of a red letter day because we're starting a six day period in which we will be staying in self contained apartments. We have three days in Savannah then three days in Charleston. This means we can cook and eat Aussie style and not have to face a never ending stream of cafes, restaurants and fast food chains. Hallelujah!

Our one bedroom apartment turns out to be reasonably placed in the historic section of town amidst many old and picturesque parks and town squares. The apartment itself has the size and layout we expected but it has not been properly maintained and is quite shabby. There aren't many windows so you need to have lights on all of the time. Some lights don't work, some power plugs don't work and it's all pretty gloomy.

Reading the Guest Book we discover that every visitor to this place has come with a couple of dogs or cats. No wonder the carpet is such a mess. Lynn says she remembers the website saying that this place was "pet friendly" but the implications of that statement hadn't really sunk in.

To top things off, the place is full of mosquitos, there's no insect spray and precious little other inventory as well. There's not even a broom, pot scourer, brush or sponge. The only knives are some toy steak knives which probably came as a bonus free gift with a pack of 4 hamburger patties. As the owner lives over in Kentucky it's not much use seeking a quick remedy to our woes.

We've also discovered that several elephants live on bare timber floors in the apartment above. All this stuff is quite disappointing but we'll just have to be philosophical and tough it out for three days. We'll laugh about it in the future but we don't feel like laughing right at this moment.

22nd May 2004
We took a walk around the historical streets near our apartment and admired the many small squares which were all grassed, surrounded by low hedges and shaded with lovely trees. The streets are very quiet in this district and it is most pleasant to sit on a park bench under the trees and escape the heat.

Early in the evening we joined a Georgian business associate and his family for a lovely dinner at the "Sapphire Grill". Despite the restaurant's rather pedestrian name, the dishes were quite in a quite creative nouveau style and unlike typical American cuisine. Lynn had wild salmon and Brian had a duck breast. Both were cooked perfectly, well presented and served with delicious sauces. Furthermore the service was absolutely impeccable. This was indeed an impressive effort, especially given the huge size of this multi floored restaurant which was full to overflowing on this Saturday evening.

 

 

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