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

on November 16, 2013

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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One response to “Mandaura the Explorer (with esteemed comrade Hugo)- Part III

  1. Lelsey says:

    Great reading Mandy as always and what a time you have had xxxxxxx

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