Mandy and the World

Find out what I've been up to on my overseas adventure!

Mandaura the Explorer (with esteemed comrade Hugo)- Part III

The East Coast

Our first stop on the coast was Charleston, South Carolina. A picturesque, affluent little town on the water, Charleston has a much darker history than its appearance suggests. Back in the 1600 and 1700s Charleston’s port was the heart of North America’s international slave trade. Even when the international slave trade was ceased in 1808 Charleston was still a hub for the internal slave trade where slaves were transported from other states and sold to work the many plantations (predominantly rice) that brought Charleston its large income.

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On our first day in the area, we visited Drayton Hall, the only original colonial era plantation home surviving in the area today, managing to withstand hurricanes and the civil war (apparently by putting up small pox quarantine flags around the property so it was left alone!). It is situated on the banks of the Ashley River, which back used to be lined on both sides by plantations.

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Drayton was a rice plantation and had of course had many slaves working the fields and also helping run the grand home. The house itself has been preserved, rather than restored, which means it is being kept as is, not glammed back up to its colonial glory. It was unfurnished inside because of this, but it was cool to see what each of the generations had added to the place and see the original colonial décor.

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After spending the afternoon wandering the cobbled streets of Charleston, we indulged in a nice dinner at Fleet Landing, an old navy base on the waterfront converted into a restaurant. Laura and I tried the local She-Crab soup (like a bisque made with crab meat and crab roe), and I had a seafood platter with another local addition- called ‘hush puppies’, delicious fried balls of cornbread!

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From this part of the trip our urban camping takes a turn… I will digress a little to South Carolina, where we tried to visit Congaree State Park, but they didn’t allow van/RV camping. Then the park ranger said ‘You know you can camp at Walmart right?’ We had been told this before but weren’t sure if it was allowed… We asked, ‘So it’s legal then?’ and she replied, ‘Yes, they encourage campers!’ We didn’t go to Walmart that night, we went to another state park instead, but this conversation definitely impacted the course of our trip!

So to continue… outside of Charleston was our first Walmart camping experience… Before you judge us, let’s argue the pros! It’s actually very convenient, because 1) it’s free, 2) it’s open 24 hours so you have access to the bathrooms whenever you want them, 3) because it’s open 24 hours they have security patrolling the car park all the time, and 4) there is usually a McDonald’s or Subway inside where we can grab a coffee in the morning. Perfect! The cons are obviously that it’s Walmart, and therefore filled with monsters (especially in the wee hours of the morning and late at night). But hey, worth it for the benefits of free camping with facilities and coffee, right!? :-p

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In the morning we returned to town and visited the Old Slave Mart, which is pretty much what it sounds like- an auction yard for the buying and selling of slaves. At some point once the international slave trade had been abolished and internal trading of slaves still happened on the street, some high flyer decided it wasn’t good for the image of the city to have all this happening on the street…. So instead of abolishing it they put it behind closed doors. Nice… here you read stories of how families were torn apart as different members were sold to different owners with no respect to family ties, and more old advertisements of slaves and their various ‘uses’.

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Afterward I went to see ‘Rainbow Row’, a bunch of colourful old houses, and met ‘Spidersquirrel’…

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Then  checked out the pier and the waterfront park where I was amused at the warning signs by the fountain…

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Why it would be necessary to have a lifeguard for 1cm of water (if that) on the concrete I am not sure… On our way out we stopped at another cool old town called Georgetown where unfortunately disaster had struck. The main street was closed off and there were old school fire trucks from all the surrounding towns still fighting a fire which had broken out 12 hours earlier.

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Sadly it had burned down a row of heritage buildings housing restaurants, shops and homes above. All the people got out ok apparently, but a couple of pets didn’t 😦 We didn’t hang about too long as everything was shut, and headed on to Myrtle Beach.

We had received mixed reviews of Myrtle Beach, with lots of the locals telling us how fun it is, but our guidebook making it sound a bit touristy and trashy, so we decided to check it out for ourselves. We were going to be camping at Walmart again, so decided to whip up some tacos in a local park for dinner and check out town before heading out to our ‘campsite’!

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The park was pretty dodgy and appeared to be filled with bums, so we were making haste and just starting to pack up when we were approached by Timothy, a spaced out street guy who innocently came over asking ‘What y’all doin’? Oh, making tacos? I love tacos! Can I have one?’ So we donated him 2 tacos while he jumped from topic to topic of conversation, repeating several trains of thought multiple times. We backed away slowly toward the van as he attempted unsuccessfully in succession to plant kisses on both Laura and I and gave him a number of reasons why he couldn’t camp with us before he gave up and we managed to escape!

We checked out the ‘action’ in town, which pretty much ended up being a dead boardwalk, several arcades and the highlight- the Gay Dolphin gift store, which led Laura to dub Myrtle Beach ‘the place where amusement parks go to die’…

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We played a few games of Skee Ball in the arcade and Hugo tried his hand at Deal or No Deal before drowning our disappointment in an overpriced candy shop and heading to Walmart.

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We continued up the east coast to Cedar Island, our jumping off point for the Outer Banks, a series of little islands running up the coast. I never knew this area existed but it is beautiful and I’m glad we got to explore a bit of it!

On arrival at Ocracoke, the southernmost island of the Outer Banks, we were greeted by a sleepy, quaint little waterfront town which immediately felt like a perfect place to relax. We first poked around a little museum chronicling the island’s history, including the many hurricanes that have hit the area over the years, and exploring the strange local accent stemming from old English called ‘Hoi Toid’ (apparently a take off of how the locals said ‘high tide’). The accent has neutralised a lot these days with constant visitors and new residents moving across as the area is not so isolated, so sadly we didn’t really get to experience it!

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Ocracoke is also famed as the place where the infamous pirate Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) used to hang out and eventually was killed. At the Blackbeard museum we learned he apparently hosted the biggest gathering of pirates that has ever occurred in North America a couple of weeks before his death here at a place known now as Teach’s Hole. Basically a giant pirate beach party! Not a lot is known about Edward Teach before he became a pirate, but it is believed he was pretty well brought up in England since he could apparently read and write. He was apparently a gentleman with the ladies too, despite his fearsome image (he had multiple wives)! He had about a 2 year stint as a very successful pirate before he met his end off the coast of Ocracoke and was beheaded in 1718. The legend is that his headless body swam around the boat three times before it sank and that his ghost still haunts the island looking for his severed head! Thankfully we didn’t run into him during our short stay…

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During the afternoon we hired some bikes and rode out to the lighthouse and then around to a little walking trail at Springer’s point which leads to Teach’s Hole. It’s not the nicest beach, but has a calm sound where they would leave the ships and is a pretty secluded beach perfect for a pirate piss-up!

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We then rode up the coast a bit and stopped in at the beach where I enjoyed my first ever dip in the Atlantic! It wasn’t too cold but the sea was pretty rough that day, it was super windy and the waves were so strong so we didn’t stay in too long. On our way back to town we had a lazy afternoon beer at Howard’s Pub, which has been a local watering hole since 1850.

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We had a nice dinner in town accompanied by the acoustic tunes of a cool folk band, then went in for some country tunes across the road at the Jolly Roger (Wilbur Gupton could play a mean Johnny Cash cover!) before heading to the one late night establishment on the island, Gaffas, once the Roger closed at 10.  The whole town seemed to be there, we ran into both the band and our waitress from dinner as well as our bartender Jimmy from the Jolly Rodger! Things got pretty loose there with all the locals buying shots for us (or knowing the bartender well enough to get them free!) and the jugs of beer going for $7!!

Laura went drinking with the waitress and Hugo and I ended up at a house-party with the band, going via a little Mexican restaurant which was closing down and having a party to try and sell the rest of their booze! There I practiced some Spanish and of course drank tequila (which apparently helps the Spanish…). The band’s house party got too loud for the neighbours who told us the sheriff was on his way, which led to everyone walking all the way down to Teach’s Hole for a ‘beach party’ which just turned out to be standing on the beach chatting (or passing out on the beach for Hugo). Eventually it got too cold and we walked aaaaaall the way back to town. It’s actually pretty far, I think it took Hugo and I almost an hour to make it back to the campground just before dawn!

Needless to say, the next day we didn’t get the early start we’d hoped for, and I spent most of it in a world of pain sleeping off my hangover from hell in the back of the van! The drive up the outer banks is meant to be quite scenic as they are so narrow in places you can see the coast on both sides. I managed to look out the window at the stripy Cape Hatteras lighthouse and later on even sat up to see the giant mansions which looked like blown up doll’s houses roll by.

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By the time we got to Fort Raleigh on Roanoke Island I was alive enough to come out and learn about ‘The Lost Colony’. This was where the English first tried to settle in the 1500s, so sent out a small group of colonists. Things weren’t going so great for them, so they eventually convinced their governor, a guy called John White, to sail back to England and get them more supplies. So off John went, but unfortunately for him and the colonists, war had broken out with Spain and John couldn’t get funds or a ship to get him back to Roanoke. When he eventually returned 3 years later, the whole colony had disappeared leaving only the word ‘Croatan’ etched into a tree. This was an island nearby which John tried to get to but a storm forced him back to England, so the fate of the colony (including John’s daughter and her daughter Virginia Dare- the first English child born in America) was never discovered… very interesting.

From Roanoke we drove to the nearby island Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight in 1903. We wanted to go to the museum there where you could see a replica of their original flyer, but due to our late start it was unfortunately already closed. That evening we landed in Virginia Beach, a slightly less awful version of Myrtle Beach. My first meal of the day was a giant pizza- the only available sizes were large, extra large or jumbo! We didn’t really spend much time in town before heading out to our campsite (read: Walmart) for the night.

The next day we went on a historic adventure of colonial America along the colonial parkway in Virginia. First stop was Yorktown where the last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought and the British surrendered to the American (and French) army.

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The French were integral to the American victory, though you never really hear about it… We figure it went something like this:

America: ‘Hey guys, we need some back up over here…’

France: ‘Oh really? Who you fighting?’

America: ‘The Brits’

France: ‘Sweet! We’ll be there. How many troops do you need?’

So they came, they conquered and once the battle was over they shipped off back to France…

The highlight of Yorktown was seeing an 18-pound cannon fired twice. Apparently they only do this once a month and we had come on the right day! Quite the process- it requires a 6-man team and quite a few pieces of equipment so was very impressive to see!

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Next stop was Williamsburg, the old colonial capital which today is a ‘living’ colonial city with people in period dress roaming around saying ‘Good day’ and running the stores and stuff. We had a walk around the old streets, sampled some treats in the sweet shop and took an obligatory photo in the stocks before heading off to Jamestown.

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Jamestown was the first permanent colonial settlement in North America. They picked James Island as it was on the river in a good defensive spot and there were no Native Americans living in the area. But the place was pretty swampy and didn’t have a good source of fresh water, so there was probably a good reason why the Native Americans didn’t snap it up! Not exactly prime real estate, but pretty…

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Jamestown is mostly famous for the historic characters of John Smith and Pocahontas, although their real stories aren’t nearly as romantic as Disney might have led us to believe! And Disney got their facts all wrong for the record. John Smith was a good explorer, but sounded like a bit of an arrogant prick by all accounts and he never married Pocahontas (though she did apparently save his life when he was captured by her tribe). She was actually already married to a guy in her tribe, but then married a settler called John Randolph when she was about 19. (I understand the confusion Disney. It seems like every English settler was named John.). So then our young Pocahontas changed her name to Rebecca and renounced all her traditional ways- dress, language, customs… She eventually moved to England, had a baby and then died of unknown causes when she was just 22. Not so faithful to the ‘Colours of the Wind’ huh?!

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All you can see of Jamestown nowadays are ruins of the original building foundations though there is a museum exploring relics that had been found and piecing together the life of the settlers. We learned about the kind of things they resorted to eating during ‘the starving time’ from remains discovered, including turtles, shoe leather and each other! A recent find was the skull of a young girl dubbed ‘Jane’ which has cut marks in it, hypothesised to indicate someone tried to get into the skull to eat the brain! They think she was about 14 and recreated her appearance to bring it home too…

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We had dinner in Richmond at a little hipster café called Black Sheep which was on Man vs Food at some point. They make enormous sandwiches out of an entire baguette and call them battleships instead of subs, so Hugo felt obliged to tackle one! The final result? Man: 1, Food: 0.

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We got into Washington D.C. pretty early the next day and hit the ground running after hearing about the potential government shutdown in the next 24 hours (don’t even get me started on how silly even the concept of that is!). We went to the state capitol and walked 1.9 mile-long park up to the Washington Monument. Washington is really into it’s reflective pools… Lots of significant buildings and monuments seem to have one. Taj Mahal inspired maybe?

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Anyway… after that we made the mandatory visit to the White House where Laura and Hugo thought it would be fun to play ‘spot the Mandy’ taking pics with all the tourists…

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On our way down to visit more monuments we noticed that one of the main roads was closed off by police, traffic at the crossroads stopped both ways. We got an inkling that something was going to happen so stood around on the corner for a while. Another police car rolled up. A helicopter flew overhead… Eventually after looking down the empty road for another 10 minutes, a police motorcycle with lights flashing came around the corner. Followed by several more motorcycles, police cars, and then the presidential limos followed by yet more police cars. We caught a brief glimpse of President Obama as he drove by which was a nice addition to our day in the capital! Though these guys might not have been as excited as us…

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From here we visited the Vietnam War memorial, engraved with the names of the whopping 58,195 soldiers who died in the line of duty, the World War 2 memorial- very pretty, and the Abe Lincoln monument. This one took me by surprise… I was expecting a statue of Lincoln with a little plaque or something, but instead there was a large staircase leading up to a giant columned building housing an enormous 6 metre tall statue of Lincoln! Wow. The site is also famous as the place where Martin Luther King Jr made his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

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We spent the afternoon in a few of the national museums in case they were closed the next day. We got stuck in the Holocaust Museum for several hours, a very well put together but very confronting exhibition that was hard to draw yourself away from. We checked out the Air and Space Museum’s exhibit on the Wright Brothers where we got to see the original flyer from 1903, so that eased our guilty conscience about missing the replica in Kitty Hawk! The exhibit was awesome- it really is incredible how they worked out the science of flight. Their flyer has been re-canvassed which is why it looks so new, but the frame is original…

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Lastly we had a quick run around the Native American Museum- my favourite bit was hearing stories of creation from the different tribes. After that we caught up with Healy who we’d met at Burning Man and was very kindly putting us up while we were in town. We hit a nearby bar to watch some Monday night football and learn some of the rules from Healy while indulging in some beers and nachos. At midnight we found out the government shutdown was going ahead because the US Congress still couldn’t come to an agreement…This meant all ‘non-essential’ services (including national parks, monuments, museums, etc.) would be closed til they could sort their shit out! Grrr!

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Luckily for us the International Spy Museum is privately owned so that is where we headed next morning. This museum is AWESOME. It is set up so the first part you go through is like you are going through spy training. You have to pick a cover identity and memorise the details, then you’d get tested on various parts of you cover story as you went through. You also learned about disguises, hidden cameras, transfer of information (codes, dead drops, microdots, signals), escape… it was really hands on and lots of fun. There were also heaps of displays on real spies, double agents, blown covers, spy activity during the wars, and a whole James Bond exhibit. Sign me up for spy school!

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For our last evening in the capital, I got to meet up with Lindsey, another of my study abroad friends from first year uni who I hadn’t seen for 8 years. We had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant and talked non-stop for several hours. It was so good catching up! Sadly it was again very brief, next morning we were on the move again, heading into the mid-west.

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But that’ll be in the next chapter… 🙂

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Mandaura the Explorer (with esteemed comrade Hugo) – Part II

The South East

From Houston, we landed in New Orleans – ‘The Big Easy’ as they call it, where it’s legal (in fact, encouraged) to purchase take-away alcoholic beverages and roam the streets with them! In New Orleans we tried out Airbnb, a website where you can rent out a room in a house (kind of like couchsurfers, but you pay), and met our friendly host Lawrence at his conveniently located house within walking distance of the trendy Frenchmen Street and the famous French Quarter.

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Our first night was spent checking out Frenchmen St, where we found a little bluegrass band playing in the doorway of a closed café, on the next corner saw a jazz band complete with sousaphone and then had dinner accompanied by more jazz. We ended the night at a little dive where Lawrence used to work, offering 24 hour karaoke!

After a few more beers, Laura agreed to sing with me only if they had ‘our’ song (Party All The Time, by Eddie Murphy and Rick James). We were in luck and it was apparently the first time this amazing tune had ever been sung on the Cajun’s stage! Hugo followed up with a rousing rendition of Get What You Need by the Stones, and Lawrence serenaded us with George Michaels’s Careless Whispers before we headed home.

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We kicked off our Monday morning with a typical New Orleans brekky- beignets (a French pastry that is pretty much a glorified doughnut without a hole under a mountain of icing sugar) and coffee, at the famous Café Du Monde, which has been serving this local specialty (and nothing else) since 1862! We roamed the French quarter which has plenty of cute shops that I was strong enough not to buy anything at (very difficult) and also saw the oldest catholic cathedral in the US overlooking the perfectly manicured Jackson Square.

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On the banks of the Mississippi we found out what a gamble it was taking a paddle steamer back in the day, with a >50% chance of a crazy accident occurring which would most likely sink the boat! Also learned this fun fact: did you know that by the time it gets to New Orleans, the Mississippi carries silt and run off from 30 US states as well as 2 Canadian provinces? How crazy is that! File that one away for the next trivia night peeps…

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Once our travellers brains were tired from this learning overload, we hit up a street corner dive called Johnny’s for some real deal shrimp po’boys (basically a baguette sandwich filled with battered shrimp, mayo and salad) and some gumbo (a thick stew often with seafood in it), both typical of New Orleans. On our walk home we were offered cocktails (to go, of course!) by a friendly bar girl on Bourbon St, and we indulged in a Hurricane to accompany our several block walk back. This blend of rum, fruit juice and grenadine was apparently invented in New Orleans in the 40s by the owner of O’Brien’s pub to get rid of rum (which was not so popular at the time), and distributors made him sell the rum before he could get in more whiskey!

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Our dinner was at a more fancy restaurant where I tried yet two more New Orleans specialties on this short Louisiana foodventure- the jambalaya (a rice dish kind of like paella) and some crawfish étouffé (which is Louisiana for crayfish smothered in a spiced sauce). We checked out the renowned Bourbon St, which was a disappointing hive of neon trashiness and cover bands, but we did indulge in some cocktails in novelty take-home glasses! After, we retreated to Frenchmen St for an awesome jazz jam to wind up our night.

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My Louisiana foodventure was completed with a southern soul-food breakfast of grits, cheese, eggs and sausage with a side of biscuits and gravy- neither very attractive to look at, but both pretty delicious! Our next stop was Jackson, Mississippi, for which we were repeatedly asked ‘Why?!’ by locals and interstaters alike… And when we arrived we began to understand. Not the most beautiful city- on our approach we weren’t sure if we were still in the industrial outskirts or the city itself. But no, it was the actual city…

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We visited the prettiest building in town, the State Capitol, for a rundown of Mississippi’s history- slavery, plantations, the making of laws, values of the population back in the day.

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We then went to the Smith Robertson Museum which was Mississippi’s first school for Negro children, opened in 1894, and now home to a cultural centre housing exhibits on different aspects of African American life and culture.  There was an unfinished exhibit on the journey from Africa which looks like it will be really good. Currently you can see the plans for the layout of slave ships and how many people they could fit on each, stacked away on ‘bunks’ barely more than half a metre high for the long journey. They also had a life size model of what the inside of the ship would be like. Very provoking.

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After Smith Robertson, we planned to go get some more soul food and head out of town to a state park on the way to Memphis, but Bernadette had other plans… She broke down just around the corner from the museum! Laura managed to start her again but she died again at the next intersection. Hugo and I got out to push her to the kerb, and a local guy came by to help, telling us luckily there was a mechanic around the corner. Hugo walked over and came back with Bud, the owner of Stokes Repair Shop, a tall lanky man with a thick accent we struggled to understand! Bud had a quick look and then got some of the guys from the garage to come and push Bernadette round to his shop- quite the operation! We had to stop a bit of traffic to cross over, but made it!

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While Laura and I sat out of the hot sun on some dusty chairs in front of a huge fan in the garage, Bud’s investigations determined we had a problem with either the ‘core’ or the ‘scrivnut’ (at least that’s what it sounded like he said…) But all we knew for sure was ‘She got no fire!’ which Bud kept repeating animatedly, so we assumed an issue with the ignition. We had to wait til morning til he could see if he could get the parts to test her out, so looked like we were spending a night in Jackson!

Bud got his lady to come and pick us up and drive us to a hotel. On the way we asked her if there were any parts of town we should avoid, to which she replied, ‘You’re in it!’ We got a room next to a cheap and dirty restaurant called Shoney’s and since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast headed over there for dinner.

So at this restaurant, you could get the all-you-can-eat dinner buffet for $9.99. But because it was steak night, we were informed you could buy any steak and get the buffet as well for free. We asked the waitress, ‘But what about this steak that’s $6.99? Is the buffet still included?’ to which she replied ‘Yes, the buffet is free with any steak.’ We were a little baffled by this and clarified at least two more times (the waitress must have thought we were a little bit mentally challenged) but we finally accepted that it was cheaper to get a bacon-wrapped steak AND the all-you-can-eat buffet. So we ordered 3 of those. How could you not?!

The buffet was ridiculous, including all the southern favourites like fried chicken, mash and gravy, battered deep-fried okra, and even had a salad bar and a dessert bar. Needless to say we all overindulged. And went back again for the breakfast buffet in the morning! In our defence, there were actually no other food outlets nearby, but still… No more Shoney’s for the rest of the trip!

We basically had to wait for Bud to call after that, so checked out of our cheap hotel and walked into ‘town’ to find a McDonalds (aka, the universal centre for free wifi, cheap coffee and toilets). This involved walking along a dirt road in what felt like rural America, at which point I asked Laura if she was sure we were going the right way. She assured me we were and sure enough, we emerged back onto a paved road with cars and the golden arches in sight. Jackson is like no other state capital I’ve ever been to, that’s for sure! Around midday Bud called with the good news that Bernadette was fixed. We cabbed over to the garage and after a bit more of a chat, lots of thanks and some long goodbyes, we hit the road to Memphis, Tennessee.

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We made it to Memphis just after the 4.30 tour at Sun Studios had taken off, and jumped onto the tail end. Sun Studios is famous for launching the careers of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and BB King to name but a few. It is still a working studio too. We got to listen to some original studio recordings (including Elvis’s first demo which cost him just $4 to make back in the day!), look at a whole bunch of old music paraphernalia and stand on the spot where Elvis stood to record his first single for Sun. Very cool!

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That evening we tested out some Memphis-style BBQ (even though Texas is the most famous, several other states have their own spin on barbequed meaty delights). They use a dry rub on their ribs which is different to Texas, but it was pretty damn delicious too! After dinner, we checked out an old, haunted burlesque club-cum-bar in town called Ernstine and Hazel’s. Downstairs it was open mike night, so pretty full of people and quite warm and lively. Upstairs though it was totally empty and creepy. We went up to have a poke around and use the old bathroom (complete with ancient claw-toed bathtub) and took some pictures to see if any showed up some ghosts (which they didn’t).

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While we were up there, a ghost tour came by so we eavesdropped on several stories, the most disturbing about how apparently a prostitute had her throat slit in the bathroom (that very one I had just been in!) and there have been numerous reports of people getting locked in there, seeing blood stains appearing in the bathtub, and hearing knocking coming from the inside of the door!! Ahhhh! So glad I hadn’t heard that before I went in- I was creeped out enough as it was!

And to top all this off, one of the locals told us that the owner of the bar had shot himself in there just a week earlier. We looked it up and there was a news story on it, just saying he had been found dead on site. Even though we didn’t see any evidence of the supernatural, I can totally believe that place is as haunted as they come!

After all that excitement, we went to check out the famous Beale St. We saw some ‘duelling pianos’ – two pianists at two grand pianos on stage playing requests from the crowd, and saw some awesome bands play at BB King’s Blues Club and the Beale St Taphouse.

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We ended up camping in a proper camping ground for the night after asking our new local friends at Ernstine and Hazel’s if there was anywhere safe and out of the way we could urban camp… We received the answer: ‘Well there’s plenty of places you could pull up that the police won’t bother you, but no-where that’s really safe…’ Luckily we were able to camp right outside Graceland so we would be raring to go for our 9am tour next morning.

The home of the King is as extravagant and outrageous as you’d expect it to be, and was totally worth the visit. He had 3 TVs installed in his basement side by side (because he heard President Johnson watched all 3 news channels at the same time and thought it was a good idea) and covered the walls of his pool room in drapes of colourful fabric.

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He even had a ‘jungle room’ put in inspired by his love for Hawaii. This room’s walls, floor and roof are covered in green shagpile carpet, and it is decked out with carved wooden furniture and an indoor waterfall (naturally…)!

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Elvis enjoyed racquetball too so had his own court built, which has now been converted into a homage to the ’68 comeback special and a fantastic display of jumpsuits. We saw his trophy room, of course brimming with awards spanning his extensive career in both music and film.

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And you can also visit the graves of Elvis and both of his parents. Here is a random fact that I didn’t know before visiting Graceland- Elvis had a twin brother! Sadly he was stillborn (he is buried in their hometown Tupelo in Mississippi), but can you imagine two Elvis’s?! Wow.

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The other exhibits we went to showed off Elvis’s car collection (I want his purple Cadillac so bad!)…

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…and also his pimped out private jets. The Lisa Marie had 24ct gold sinks, a kingsize bed on board and sitting room with a bar installed! Luxury. It was a really enjoyable morning- I probably could have spent a day there, as there were more exhibits we didn’t get to, but such is the nature of our whirlwind trip!

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We had a Memphis chopped pork sandwich for lunch (AMAZING) before checking out the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King Jr was shot and killed- now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. It was very interesting to find out more about the event and the investigation and conspiracy theories that followed too. From there, we hit the road to Nashville.

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We were lucky to be put up by my friend LeighAnn, her hubby Mike and baby Ezra in Nashville. LeighAnn and I realised it had been 8 years since we’d seen each other! We met back in my first year of uni when we lived together at Deakin and LeighAnn was studying a semester abroad from her uni in Ohio. It was so good to catch up but was sadly very brief! That evening there was a festival on in town, and we went to a free ‘backyard party’ at a local record store where some Canadian country artists were playing. They were also giving away free beer and free gourmet grilled cheeses from a local food truck, so it was pretty much the epitome of amazing events for a backpacker whose finances are dwindling!

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Later we went into town to check out Broadway, the main street for all the honky tonk bars. We went to Robert’s Western World which was the best music of the night, checked out a trailer-park themed bar (complete with AstroTurf and college 80s party going on), and found a grizzly in a neighbouring bar…

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On our way out of Nashville, we hit up Third Man Records, Jack White’s recording studio which was pretty cool to see, and also went to the Johnny Cash Museum. Johnny lived a very full life- like Elvis, very much a family man- and I learned he was very passionate about prison reform. He performed a lot in prisons and also advocated for better penitentiary systems- he had a lot of great ideas around this.

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Our next stop was Atlanta, Georgia, where we had tickets to the Midtown Music Festival. We were hoping to arrive by 6 to see Phoenix but got stuck in a traffic jam on the way in which had us crawling for almost an hour! We eventually arrived at our fancy sounding hotel ‘Savannah Suites’ which was in a not-so-fancy part of town, requiring 24-hour security and ID recorded and checked for every person each time they entered the property!

From there we walked up to Piedmont Park, about 20 minutes from the hotel, and managed to catch the end of Cake’s set. We then got to see Journey play which was pretty awesome. We were kinda confused to see such a young, energetic lead singer up there (he sure didn’t look like he’d been singing since the 70s…), but we learned from Google the band had discovered the Filipino singer via YouTube in a Journey cover band and since they were after a lead singer and liked his style, they asked him to join! Gee technology is amazing!

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The next day it was sadly pouring with rain so we delayed our departure for the festival so we would definitely last til the end to see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers play. We sacrificed Weezer (who Laura and I had recently ‘seen’ for free anyway… by picnicking out the back of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl when they last played in Melbourne!) and planned our arrival for the Arctic Monkeys at 4.30. After packing our vodka in Ziploc bags for smuggling (like the classy citizens we are), in we headed in all our rain gear.

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Laura and I wore thongs but when we saw the state of the ground decided we would be better off to suck it up and go barefoot, or risk losing our shoes forever in the piles of mud! The festival was great despite the weather and how dirty we were by the end! The Chillies were definitely my highlight.

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From Atlanta, our musical escapades were complete for a while and we headed back to the wilderness at Poinsett State Park in South Carolina. We had a campfire and made smores (which consist of a toasted marshmallow and chocolate between 2 graham crackers which goes all melty and delicious in the middle for those who have not had the pleasure…).

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We got out for a hike the next day which was very welcome given our sedentary lifestyle (and all the smores the night before!). We took a trail north which had a few interesting things to see according to the ranger. We started on a wide sandy track, but after a couple of enormous spider-webs in the face (and corresponding spitting-out-web while hitting ourselves all over and dancing a crazy jig to make sure there were no spiders on us) it became apparent these trails were not often walked… This led to us each brandishing a large stick and waving it around in front of our faces the whole way as we forged ahead- would have been quite the sight to see!

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We saw some monster spiders, a lot of little frogs, a stash of old moonshine barrels rusting down by the creek, and the interestingly named ‘Screaming Shed’ – a creepy abandoned old house in the woods. There was a memorial to a man who died in 1969 who presumably used to live there before it fell into disrepair.

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We ate lunch on an old railway bridge over a small waterway inhabited by hundreds of fuzzy caterpillars. Beyond the bridge, the railway-line-turned-trail looked even less well-worn than that along which we had come, so we decided to head back, sticks in hand! We hiked back into the park and around the lake which was pretty before returning to camp exhausted.

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Laura made us a delicious tinfoil meal of chicken and veggies in the campfire that night, and I did choc-caramel bananas in the fire for dessert (we won’t mention more smores for second dessert…)

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Being in the woods for a couple of nights was a very nice end to a run of cities and busy days, which prepared us for our next leg of American history touring up the east coast…

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