Saturday, February 27, 2010

It is raining fairly heavily here in Yuma, AZ where we just arrived about 2 hours ago. We are set up on the lot of our friends Carol & Ron Leonard, who have also graciously hosted us on their property in Sacramento, CA in the past. It was so good to see them again and we are looking forward to a nice visit here. The main reason we have hurried so much to get here is because Elaine needs her tooth repair ASAP, so we have arranged for an evaluation appointment in Algodones, Mexico on Monday afternoon. Of course, we will also take advantage of our time there to buy some booze and meds, have a haircut and eat some shrimp tacos. Yummy.
Of course, one of our problems is that we have been doing a bit too much socializing and eating of yummy food during a time that we are supposed to be getting lean and mean for our next cruise. In Austin, we spent 2 days with our cruise friends David & Diane Wilson. Not only do they have a beautiful home, where we were able to park in the driveway, but they served us a gourmet dinner on Friday. Saturday they showed us around Austin, and we ended up having drinks and appetizers at a place called the Oasis, which overlooked Lake Travis.
That evening we went to downtown Austin for a special dinner at Louie’s, and afterwards walked around so we could experience the nightlife.

And Sunday morning we walked their 2 dogs on the golf course in their neighborhood.

We then moved our rig to another part of town and drove our car over to visit Elaine’s nephew, Mike, his wife Judy, and their children, Sam & Josie. It has been quite a few years since we saw them, in fact, they hadn’t even gone to China to adopt Josie then. So we were happy to meet Josie, and catch up on all the family news. Mike is the son of Elaine’s sister Penny, who lives in Tucson.

It had been our intention, as we traveled West, to visit more of our friends along the way. But as we proceeded across Texas, the weather reports were not very good, and we realized that we needed to hurry in order to miss a batch of snowy weather headed our way. Unfortunately, that meant missing a visit with our friend Pene DeMore, who lives in El Paso. That evening we made it to Las Cruces, where we stayed with former full-time RVers, Stephanie & Paul Bernhagen. When they built their home, they made sure they had plenty of room for visiting RVs in their side yard, so we even had an electrical hookup. That evening we went out to a BBQ place with them, called Smokey Dicks. Here is a picture of all of us in the restaurant.

The forecast was for snow showers the next day but there was sunshine when we left. However, as we drove west on interstate 10, we were being passed by lots of trucks who were covered in snow, or who were dropping huge chunks of snow and ice on the pavement. So we knew it had been snowing in Texas and we were lucky that we had missed getting caught in it.
Tucson has always been on our agenda when we are in Arizona because Elaine’s Aunt Marion and sister, Penny, live there. Marion lets us park on her property and we always have good family dinners together. Here is a picture of Marion’s son, Tom, with Marion, Elaine & Penny, taken when we visited him at his office.

Marion also took us out for a delicious Mexican lunch at El Charro, and here is the picture taken there.

One of the nicest parts of this visit was that the weather was sunny and warm and we were able to get in some nice walks, as well as pick oranges, grapefruit and lemons from some of Marion’s trees and also the neighbors.
Yesterday we drove as far as Gila Bend, where we stopped at the Elks Lodge. This is Elaine’s home lodge, and when we went inside to pay her dues and have a beer, 2 couples we knew from the Boondockers came in, and then Billy & Marianne, from our Newfoundland trip last summer, arrived. What a small world it seems when we keep running into other RV friends in unexpected spots! In fact, we have learned since leaving Bayou Segnette State Park near New Orleans, that 3 other RV couples we know were there at the same time we were and none of us knew it until later, when we e-mailed or read each other’s blog.
Don’t know how long we will be here in Yuma, because it all depends on the dentist now. I will post more information next week.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blog Update Feb. 19
Hello from somewhere between Houston & Austin, TX. After a wonderful dinner party last night at the home of cruise friends, Duane & Dorothy McCarthy, also attended by Charlie & Marla, we are now driving towards Austin. Duane & Dorothy always offer such impeccable hospitality and we certainly ate and drank well!! Here is a picture of them with Charlie and Mar on the left and Duane & Dorothy on the right.

Usually social occasions last between 3 and 4 hours; because of all the travel talk and catching up on each other’s news and upcoming trip plans, we stayed for 7 hours!!! This morning they all came over to see our rig, which was parked in the Sam’s parking lot just 1 mile from their place. We will be in Barcelona with them for one day after they take a Spring transatlantic crossing on the Voyager, and we take ours on the Independence, so we will be having dinner with them on May 2. What fun it is to meet up with special friends all over the world!
Our week at Betty’s RV Park is Abbeville, LA was filled with social activities and outings. Abbeville is in the heart of Cajun country. Cajuns are an ethnic group mainly living in Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speaking settlers from Acadia or Nova Scotia, in the maritime provinces Canada). Today, the Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana's population, and have exerted an enormous impact on the state's culture. Betty arranged for us to visit a Cajun museum in Erath, where we learned about their expulsion by the British around 1755, and also saw a letter of apology from the Queen of England written in 2003. Most people learned about Cajun people from Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline”. It describes the betrothal of an Acadian peasant girl named Evangeline to her lover, Gabriel, and their separation as the British deport the Acadians from Canada in the Great Expulsion.
When we registered at Betty’s, she provided us with a very complete listing of events that were going to be held over the course of Mardi Gras, and people could decide which ones they wanted to attend. Laura and Gordon went to more of them than we did. Most of them involved Cajun music. Betty also arranged for a very good musical group from Kentucky, led by Judy Bailey, with her brother and 2 other guys, to perform in the clubhouse at her park. They sang mostly country music, but also some popular numbers from the past. Here is a picture of part of the group:

The main event which was promised to be very different from anything else was the “chicken run” and parade at Church Point. Betty had arranged for our group to park on the farm of Mr. Stanford, and watch the festivities there, because he would be one of the people providing chickens. So bright and early we carpooled out there and then waited for things to happen. The history of all this is that in the past people would go to the farms and ask for chickens for their Mardi Gras gumbo, and in order to “earn” the chickens, they had to chase and catch them. They usually visit 20-30 farms every year in this area, and they had a big wire cage full of chickens by the time they arrived at Mr. Stanford’s farm where we waited for them.
Eventually three horsemen approached, wearing very colorful and shiny capes, and they asked permission to enter the property. Following them came a couple of tractors pulling huge trailers filled with people all dressed up in rather strange costumes, and also with a couple of porta-potties because pretty much everyone was drinking beer. They all gathered on the big grassy field and the farmer threw a guinea hen up in the air and several hundred drunk, costumed men chased it until they caught it. Unfortunately, after the pile broke up, one of the teens was laying there in pain from a dislocated shoulder. Then another chicken was released and caught, and finally a third met the same fate. The field was somewhat muddy from the recent rain but there didn’t seem to be too much concern about that. Here are a few pictures of some of the costumed people and also one of the chicken catchers:

Here is the guy who caught the chicken:

Once the chicken seekers had left, there was a very long parade which went right by us with costumed horse riders on more horses than I have ever seen in a parade. I suppose it is because this was a rural town and the people in this parade were mostly farm people. Here are a few pictures:

There was even a young lady riding a PINK horse:

Following the horses, there were lots of arrangements of “floats” and/or trailers carrying lots of people throwing beads, candy, Mardi Gras cups, etc. So once again we got a major infusion into our bead supply.

Laura & Gordon also got some more beads:

At another location, there was a festival with music, and a pig killing (and roasting, I assume). We skipped that one.
Tuesday was the actual Main Event, because it was Fat Tuesday. We all drove to Lafayette where there were three parades and lots of people who had set up BBQ’s and were partying all day along the parade route. Fortunately, it was sunny with no chance of rain, but it was still chilly. Once again there were bands, Kings and Queens on floats, other floats with lots of beads and other paraphernalia being thrown, and some very fancy costumes. You have to watch out because sometimes they throw big batches of beads, even bagfuls and one of our RV people got nailed on the hand, which immediately swelled up and had to be iced. Here are some pictures from those parades:
One of the floats:

Here are some of the costumes of people in the parade:

Some of the people who came to watch the parade in costume:

That evening Betty wanted us all to go out to dinner at Shucks, an Abbeville restaurant where we had to wait 2 hours to be seated because we had such a big group. This was a farewell dinner because about 6 couples were leaving the next day. While waiting, we met a very nice local couple who personified what we have been finding in the South – graciousness and hospitality.
One of the things you see everywhere are places selling crawfish. Turns out that we had been driving past lots of fields where they catch them. The fields are flooded, and they grow rice in them, but they also have small cages spaced fairly evenly through the field and they put bait in them. The crawfish crawl in to get the bait, but the mesh of the cages is a certain size that the crayfish can’t get through to escape once they get big enough. Here is a picture of a field with the crayfish cages in it.

We also noticed that there were little muddy mounds in Betty’s lawn, and also in other fields which weren’t flooded. These were also created by crayfish, living in the muddy soil.

We have arrived in Austin and been spending some enjoyable time with David & Diane Wilson, friends from several of our cruises. We also visited them last summer in Wisconsin, at their lakefront cabin. I will tell you all about our Austin adventures in my next update.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2/11/10 Today this report comes from Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, LA. Betty is infamous amongst RVers, especially the Boomer's because staying here always involves lots of Happy Hours and special events in the community, all organized by Betty. Her place is "party central". There are only about 20 RV spots here and it is basically Betty's backyard turned into an RV park. We arrived yesterday and are the only ones here who are boondocking. The weather today is very chilly (in the low 40's) and rainy, with a forecast for more of the same cold weather in the next 5 days or so. UGH! Yesterday we attended the Happy Hour in her enclosed gathering room, and then after dinner everyone carpooled to a private club about 8 miles away called Touchet's. In the daytime it is an adult daycare center and at night it is a bar. There was a band there playing typical Louisiana music (very catchy) and our group was warmly welcomed by everyone. The music didn't start until the end of the business meeting of the Acadian Culture Club, and there were at least 80 people in attendance for that, so the dance floor was very crowded the rest of the evening. Laura Bornkamp didn't let that stop her and the whole crowd was enchanted with her enthusiasm. Earlier Gordon had fixed a nice BBQ rib dinner for all of us, supplemented by Elaine's wonderful salad and also sliced tomatoes in balsamic vinegar. So it was another fun-filled evening with good food and good friends.
The evening before we had also had an awesome time with our cruise friends, Jim & Jan Sylvester, who live north of Baton Rouge in Zachary. Happy Hour was held in our rig, where we were able to talk non-stop and catch up on all their events since last seeing them in Dec. on the transAtlantic. Then they treated us to a delicious seafood dinner (with Louisiana twists) at their favorite restaurant. Happily, they will be joining us for the Spring transAtlantic on the Independence in April, so it won't be long before we all are together again. Here is a picture of them:

Before going to Zachary, we had spent 9 days at Bayou Segnette State Park across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. It was a lovely park with very nice amenities and lots of wildlife. Last time I posted an armadillo picture, and we continued to see lots of those. There were many different kinds of birds but my favorite was the cardinal:

Nearly every day we went into New Orleans on the free ferry at Algiers Point.

The first day we walked to the French Quarter and had a cafe au lait and beignets (which are French doughnuts) at Cafe du Monde. We hardly ever eat this stuff, and nearly collapsed from sugar overload, but they were tasty.

After walking through the French Market, where there was lots of Mardi Gras related items for sale, of course, we went to the French Quarter for the first parade of the day. Here is a picture of some of the beads, and feather masks that were for sale:

The parades which go through the French Quarter are the ones which do not involve big floats and marching bands. The first one was the Krewe of Cork, which we learned was a group who enjoyed wine and who walked in the parade in costumes related to that. They also had several golf carts pulling large ice chests full of wine and most of the parade participants were pretty inebriated by the time they reached the place where we watched the procession. A lot of the costumes involved corks:

Some of them were just weird and colorful:

Others were grape related:

In the French Quarter there were lots of balconies that had been decorated:

And some of the balconies were full of people who were throwing beads and other things down to the crowds of people on the street:

After the parade, we bought a sandwich which is supposed to be "typical" New Orleans - a Mufaletta. As you can see in the following picture, it is a huge bun with salami, cheese, ham, and some pickled veggies, also olives. We split it 4 ways and it was pretty tasty - but also rather salty.

Of course, one of the reasons people go to the parades is to collect a bunch of beads. Here is a picture of Laura & Gordon on the ferry on the way home after only 2 parades:

The next morning we attended three parades on the west side of the river, so we didn't have to take the ferry over. It was pretty cold that day, although sunny, and here is a picture of us at the parade:

The first parade was the Choctaw Parade, so there was an Indian theme:

Here is another float from that parade:

The next parade had a mythology theme:

On Superbowl Sunday we took the ferry over to experience some of the energy of the city and to see 2 more parades. Here is an example of a few of the fans:

And there were people everywhere yelling "Who Dat", which comes from their saying, "Who Dat saying dey going to beat dem Saints?" Here is a typical poster:

The first parade we attended had some really fancy floats and had people on them who had fabulous costumes, such as the King:

I guess the guy following was one of the Knights:

And another guy on a different float had some fancy feathers in his costume:

We then walked through the French Quarter, which even at this early hour was already packed with people:

Think about how impacted it must have been later on, after the Saints won the game!
Laura made a real effort to get into the spirit by wearing her mask, which blinked
colored lights in 3 different patterns:

The parade we attended in the French Quarter was called The Barkus Parade because it was for dogs. People dressed up their dogs, and sometimes themselves, and paraded through the crowd:

Here is an alternative animal who attended the Barkus Parade:

On the way home we stopped at the seafood stalls near the state park to buy some fresh shrimp.

Laura & Gordon were fixing a special dinner for us in their rig while we all watched the Superbowl Game together. They made a really delicious dish called Coconut MacNut Shrimp with Guava Sweet & Sour Sauce.

Of course, we were cheering for the Saints and were happy when they won. We were also glad that we were NOT in the huge crowds in the city which were shown on TV!
We have now established ourselves here in Abbeville, where there will be different events for Mardi Gras. Hopefully, the very cold and rainy weather will improve so we can get out to enjoy them, and we will tell you all about everything in our next report.