11 January 2016

A road trip through the US of A - Part II: Austin, TX - Valdosta, GA

Green Austin, TX
The camper van we rented was great and indeed felt like home after a while. But the perspective of sleeping in a real bed was still super exciting. We planned on staying with Miriam, a former couch surfer of mine. She lives pretty close to the city center of Austin -  with her boyfriend and a puppy. It really felt like home, no, like being a very welcome guest. We had a fantastic time with our hosts, who showed us around. There are soooo many hipsters in Austin, sooooo many green and sustainable projects, and soooooo many vegan restaurants. We couldn't really believe it when people told us before. But when we were there, it was a lot greener than we could imagine, in every sense of the word.


Swamps in Louisiana
On our last day in Austin we finally also met Nicky, a photographer who lived in Luzern for a couple of years. She was mainly a good friend of our friend Tonya back then. But also meeting her felt surprisingly familiar and was just a really great thing. Familiar faces push the energy extremely, when you're on the road. We experienced that a couple of times but were still surprised how strong it is every single time. We left Austin with a fantastic feeling and were ready for new adventures. And we found them. We drove for a very long time. Just forward, every day, spent nights on Walmart parking lots and drove on the next morning. Texas was not too intersting anymore and we wanted to get to the places we were looking forward to see for a long time: New Orleans!

French quarters, New Orleans
The climate in Louisiana is tropical and extremely hot. We could barely sleep during the nights, as we didn't dare to leave the windows open. If you ever go there with a camper van, make sure that you have something that feeds you with fresh and cool air during the nights. We had a tough time, even though we knew hot climate from South East Asia. Kuala Lumpur is equally hot, but we could open the windows, had a fan or even an AC that helped us sleeping. But well, we survived. An odd thought came to my mind: I finally understood, why the slaves didn't really flee from the farms back in the old days. While watching movies about those times I really asked myself why those poor guys didn't just run away. Well first, tons of crocodiles, snakes, mosquitoes and all the other dangerous animals are still there. Most of the ones we saw were actually roadkill along the highways, but there were plenty. Secondly, well, try to run on a day where you sweat already lifting an arm - that might give you an idea about the climate there. And it does not cool down at night. I really started to understand quite a lot better about life in the south of the USA when we were there.

New Orleans
We finally arrived in New Orleans, a city with a very pretty tourist area, the french quarters. People from all over the world meet here. And you recognize the Americans easily, because they drink in the street all day long as this is one of the only places they're actually allowed to do that. For us as Swiss people it was rather weird that they were so excited about drinking in public. We strolled through the streets for a while but left after about two hours. Maybe one day we'll come back. It was pretty, but not as exciting as we thought. So we decided to head to those plantations, the houses we knew from the movies. When we asked at the tourist information, they told us that we actually already passed by all the famous plantations before, so we had to drive back a couple of hours.

Former plantation mansion
When we left New Orleans, a heavy storm came up. We could barely see five meters, so we had to drive extremely slow on the highway. Most of the others stopped on the side of the road, but we wanted to see those houses and make it a couple of hundred miles to the east after that. So we kept on driving, even though the wind and the rain got stronger and stronger. The streets got flooded and we had to fight for every meter we got forward. Then, as sudden as it started, it was over, and we finally could drive on in normal rain. The bad weather and the entrance fee finally let us just drive by the plantations. They looked very pretty and impressive from the outside. But the distances you had to walk in the rain were too far and the tickets per house ranged from 25 to 40 USD. That was too much for us this time. So we just drove by, imagined what it must have been like to live there (as owner or slave) and were impressed.

Rural Alabama
After all this history we decided to speed up again and drive to Florida. There, we stayed in Pensacola for a night. We found a really nice host who had about 40 instruments in his garage. He is a veteran, just like his wife, and apparently a majority of Americans. He told us some quite impressive stories - one of them about his alcohol abuse. Also that seems to be very common in the USA. Most of the people we met actually had problems with alcohol in the past. We were very impressed about the fact that we didn't know about that before. Sure, in many movies about lower class people they talk about AA meetings. But we didn't realize how real that part of the stories is.

Montgomery, AL
After a good night sleep we drove on to Montgomery, where Tim (our next host) was expecting us. An artist in his 40s, with a couple of dogs and cats in the house and snakes in his garden that he takes care of - like the best dad in the world. He was a fantastic host and showed us all the beautiful houses of Alabama. Because there is a collection in Montgomery. Downtown you can find houses from all over the state, and they are just as beautiful as the plantations in Louisiana. We got a private tour after a dinner on the riverside - where we ate aligator tail! And we enjoyed fantastic beer. Oh it was a wonderful time!

Gumbo, fried oysters and gator tail
After Montgomery we decided to speed up again to go to Valdosta. We really would have loved to stay a lot longer with Tim, but Fab's friends were waiting for us. He hosted Marcela and BJ back in Bern, when they were on their trip through Europe. We were super excited to see them, so we had to leave. And drove on, all the way to Valdosta in just a few days.

Our friend Marcela took us to class, she's a teacher in two schools and works very hard, even though she has two little daughters. And BJ does the same as a nurse. Even though their days were crazy full they found the time to show us around, let us be part of their wonderful family and enjoy special Ecuadorian food, that Marcela's mom cooked. And their hospitality wasn't limited to their home - Marcela immediately organized us a host when she heard that we'd go to Boston later on. Her brother invited us to stay with him and get a tour on MIT - where he is doing his PostDoc. How could we say no! Another highlight of our trip was planned. And so it was not too hard to say goodbye, even though we had a spectacular time with them.

More pictures from our road trip between Austin, TX and Valdosta, GA

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