Back to Vietnam

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Seven years ago we left northern Vietnam. After an amazing trip traveling to Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, and for Jason, Pleiku, where his Dad was stationed in the war, we hoped one day to return to see more of this amazing country. Well, that day turned out to be last week. This time our itinerary put us first in Ho Chi Minh City followed by the coastal city of Hoi An. We also had the added bonus of getting to bring along Wendy’s parents Dave and Linda to make some memories with us.

 

 

Ho Chi Minh proved to be a large and vibrant city. One of our first stops was at the War Remnants Museum. While it was pretty cool to see some of the old war equipment that was left behind, especially the D7 bulldozer that Jason’s Dad used during the war, the photographs and displays were more than difficult to look at. The biggest takeaway? War sucks for pretty much everyone, on all sides.

To get more history, firsthand, our next day’s destination was the Cu Chi Tunnels, a vast network of tunnels built by the Viet Cong. We took a 1-hour cruise from Ho Chi Minh City up the Thu Bon River to visit and learn about a strategically important part of the Vietnam War.

The series of tunnels that were built were quite ingenious. After crawling through a few, it’s hard to imagine actually having to spend much time living in one, but that’s precisely what people did during the war. Even more terrifying is the thought of being a U.S. soldier and having to crawl down into one of these holes looking for enemy soldiers.

Before leaving Ho Chi Minh, we had to make sure and enjoy the local food markets, coffee shops, ice cream offerings, and brewpubs.

 

Next, it was off to the gorgeous city of Hoi An.

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The only negative thing we could say about the next four days was how much we got rained on, but even that wasn’t enough to put a damper on our trip.

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Bahn Mi sandwiches are probably the best 75 cents you can spend in Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

Below is Indi getting interviewed by a Vietnamese 9th grader whose homework assignment it was to interview a foreigner to practice her English. She did a much better job than any of us would have if the situation was reversed.img_1106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We should probably also mention Dave found a cafe that served 3000 Dong “fresh” beers that are brewed and need to be drunk daily… that’s 13 cents U.S.

And we didn’t just go out to eat for every meal, sometimes we cooked it ourselves! Here we are at the White Lotus cooking school. Not only do they have a great restaurant and cooking class, all of the proceeds go towards supporting disadvantaged children in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. For our cooking class, we did a little shopping at the market to pick up ingredients before coming back to whip up several classic Vietnamese dishes. Yummy!

The city of Hoi An is truly an attraction by itself. It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site because of the well-preserved ancient architecture. Walking around at night when the narrow streets are lit up by lanterns is truly magical.

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Indi enjoying some coconut juice on our one sunny day at the beach

A trip to Hoi An wouldn’t be complete without picking up a new suit. Every other shop in town seems to be a tailor, the competition keeps the prices low. For $200, Jason got a new, custom tailored suit with three dress shirts. Dave looks even more distinguished in his.

New Years Eve Dinner was more of a d0-it-yourself affair. We grilled clams, pork, and chicken right on thebuilt-inn grill at our table.

We got to experiment on our daily trips to the coffee shop to wait out the rain. Syphon coffee looked more like a chemistry experiment than a cuppa joe but produced a great brew. And Jason even tried the local specialty, Egg Coffee; gross sounding, but don’t knock it till you try it. Creamy and delicious!

What’s that, you want one more food pictures? In case you haven’t noticed, eating our way through Vietnam was our favorite part of this trip.  How about a parting shot from our best meal of the trip, which not so coincidentally was the most local place we could find. Shrimp noodles, deep fried wontons, morning glory, Vietnamese pancakes. We could go on, but really you just need to come to this awesome country and try it all for yourself.

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23. The Long Drive Home!

Ok, so this is the lazy man/procrastinators version of our final blog post from an amazing sabbatical year that covered 30 states, 26 national parks, and nearly 35,000 miles of driving. After doing a relatively good job of blogging about our adventures, this last post will cover everything from Maine to Oregon in one shot… and is being written nearly 6 months after the completion of our journey. Once we have access to our journals from the year again perhaps we’ll write up a summary post about the whole trip, but don’t hold your breath.

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33. Scarborough, Maine 34. Montreal 35. North Bay, Ontario 37. Wausau, Wisconson 38. Minneapolis 39. Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore 40. Livingston, Montana, and finally Corbett, Oregon… HOME!!!

After departing from New York it was up the Northeastern coast to reconnect with our good friends from Warsaw the Marshalls. During this entire trip we did our best to try and remain as flexible as possible, for Indi a stop in Maine to see one of her besties Cece was the only non-negotiable. We had a great time catching up with Jim and Nancy, (more) gorging on lobster rolls and microbrews, exploring nearby islands, golfing, and catching a Seadogs minor league baseball game.

Next up, we crossed the border to visit our neighbors to the north, our third country on this leg of our journey. Our first interaction with a real live Canadian after crossing the border was with a  gas station attendant that wanted to know all about Jason’s thoughts on Donald Trump, the first of many times we’ve been asked some version of this question in the last 6 months by someone not from the U.S. It hasn’t gotten any easier to try and explain.

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The architecture and lay out of Montreal made us feel like we were right back in Europe, the rain made us feel like we were right back home in Oregon.

After a scenic drive through the great lakes region we re-entered the US and hit our next national park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. The cool, but sunny weather made for excellent hiking during our time here, definitely a worthy stop.

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Camping on the shores of Lake Superior

 

 

 

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Jason enjoying one of our last stops

And probably one of the best hikes from the second half of our journey.

At this point the whole family was starting to get the itch to get home, 4 months living together in a 17 foot trailer will do that. But we had 2 final stops that we just had to make, First was Badlands National Park. We had hoped to get here on the first leg of our road trip but the weather thought otherwise. And last but not least, what great American road trip would be complete with a stop at Mt. Rushmore.

Badlands is best described through pictures, truly a unique place.

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View from our campsite just outside of the park

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and don’t forget about the wildlife

And finally Mt. Rushmore, a person probably doesn’t need more than a few hours here, but how can you not stop by to see such a well-known national icon. A fun surprise was bumping into (at the time) presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on our hike.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince Indi to go in and ask for a selfie.

Our initial plans had a couple more stops planned, but now we were truly ready to be back home. So after 2 long days of driving, we found ourselves pulling into our driveway back in Oregon. What an adventure and blessing this last year was for our family. We were able to see so many amazing places, gain a greater appreciation for our home after living the last 14 years abroad, and reconnect with so many family and friends along the way. We’re already looking forward to our next gap year, if you live on our next route don’t be surprised to find us knocking on your door sometime during 2023.

 

 

22. New York

Over 50 million people visit New York City’s five boroughs each year and we swear they were all in town for our three days in the “Big Apple”. Since Jason and Indi put the new in New York, our itinerary consisted of a happy balance of touring, face stuffing, and literary pursuits.

We saved a lot of money by staying outside of the city in a KOA campground and parked and rode the train two of the three days into Central Station, just like real New Yorkers. It was a fun experience, but not one we would want to do every day.

The only day we drove was to catch a New York Yankees baseball game, we parked in Brooklyn and hit Sleepy Hollow on the way home. “What could be more American than the Yankees?” we asked ourselves, sitting at the only table in Mei Ya Kitchen, deep in the Bronx, eating a pregame meal of Kung Pao chicken and egg rolls. While we finished our lunch during the top of the first inning, the Yankees jumped to an impressive 7-0 deficit. By the time we sat down however the sun had come out and we found the fans in the bleacher section “happy” despite the home town team being in such a large hole. It was just not meant to be for the Yankees on this day as Tampa Bay held on for a 9-2 victory.

 

As Indi’s ‘Merican tour guides, we knew we had to get a closer look at the lady in green and, the cheapskates we are, decided to take the Staten Island ferry for a glimpse. It wasn’t the closest encounter but, hey, it was freeeee! An important consideration when you haven’t had a paycheck in nearly a year.

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Hello gorgeous!

 

Since we are all fans (Jason denies this vehemently) of Project Runway, we knew we needed to meet Swatch the dog and to see, first-hand, where the drama transpires each episode as the designers create their material masterpieces.

 

For an off-broadway show, and after hearing rave reviews, we decided on NEWSical the Musical. The Windusts gave it 4 out of 10 stars. The actors were talented and it was funny–at times– but, we can’t say we’d recommend it to friends.

On our grand tour of the Big Apple we sampled as many deli’s as possible in Hell’s Kitchen & then tried to walk off some of the calories along the High Line, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and a jont through central park

 

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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

And when all that walking around got to be too tiring, there was always the NY Public library to explore and book stores to raid.

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And luckily Wendy knew a perfect place for us to sit down and read our new books.

We left New York feeling like we had seen so much, yet at the same time hardly scratched the surface of this great American city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21. Our Nation’s Capital

It was with full bellies–and full hearts–that we departed Tennessee, a great state that we enjoyed with our fabulous family. In fact, we could have stayed a lot longer but, you know what they say about overstaying your welcome and we didn’t want to pull an Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation.

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Moving on, our next destination was Washington, D.C.–or more specifically Annapolis, Maryland–where Jason’s Aunt Sally lives.

But, first, a bit of Virginia

On the way, we spent a few days in the state that wins the award for “Best Motto”.

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Did you know the motto used to be “Virginia is for History Lovers”?

 As we ambled down the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway we rested our weary heads at The Meadows of Dan (awesome town and campground name!) and Shenandoah National Park, our 21st national park visited on this trip. Seriously, how have we been to 21 national parks? What a long, strange trip this year has been.

The Blue Ridge Parkway afforded forays into postcard perfect towns such as Floyd and Meadows of Dan, where you would have found us poking around the Poor Farmers Market, asking about the “Possum Pie”, having tastings at a dog-inspired winery (see Chateau Morrisette), and exploring the Riverstone Organic Farm, with their own honor system farmers’ market.

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Jason & Indi checking out a waterfall on a hike through Shenandoah National Park

Annapolis and Aunt Sally

We arrived at Aunt Sally’s gorgeous and well-appointed apartment overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland in typical Snell-Windust vagabond style… in need of showers and with a bag chock full of laundry.

Aunt Sally, the consummate hostess, graciously showed us the highlights of Annapolis (the Naval Academy) and the best parts of Washington, D.C. (on her birthday, no less!).

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Another highlight was Sally’s birthday lunch with most of the family (we missed Brent and family!), complete with a delicious meal and lots of laughter. It was wonderful not only getting to catch up with Jason’s cousins Amy and Cara, but also meeting Cara’s family for the first time.

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Where’s Sally? Taking the picture, of course!

 

We have written it here before but, it’s worth repeating: we are so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with so many fascinating, fun, and generous family members on this journey.

In fact, when Sally wasn’t showing us around the city, we felt fortunate to learn a great deal about the family’s history through Sally’s memoirs, both written and told over a glass/bottle of wine.

Our time here was truly special, due largely to Jason’s amazing aunt. Sally was not only an awesome tour guide but also a gracious host and we can’t wait to repay the favor in Singapore.

One of the last things we did was watch an IMAX film at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on our country’s national parks.

Both Wendy and Jason found themselves getting slightly emotional at the film’s conclusion as they ran through photos and video clips of people enjoying our various national parks, set to a sappy soundtrack.

I think it gave us a moment to reflect on our year thus far.

After driving nearly 20,000 miles through 23 states (and counting), this was one of the first times we felt the end of our trip approaching. Living in close quarters for such a long time isn’t always a bed of roses, but we are so, so grateful for the past 8 months.

Next up: can you say “The Big Apple”?

20. Tennessee

If you find yourself in Justin Timberlake’s hometown, in his hood, make sure to head to the famous Shelby Forest General Store for breakfast. Okay, maybe it’s not so famous, but we loved this local hangout just outside our campground– Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park–nonetheless (even though Justin did not show up–much to Wendy’s chagrin). During our first visit, we met the owners and eavesdropped on the “old guys'” conversation at the next table. Our favorite local sounded just like Forrest Gump. Seriously. Just like him. It was uncanny.

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Where it all happens.

Jason returned a couple of days later and was greeted by name, brought into the kitchen to meet the high school girl who was cooking (because she had a Polish last name, and the word on the street is that he lived in Poland), and was scolded good-naturedly for almost leaving town without saying goodbye.

Love, love, love southern hospitality.

Graceland

I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland

~Paul Simon, Graceland, “Graceland”, 1986

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Where else?

Really, this was a fun tour. First of all, it was narrated by Uncle Jesse (John Stamos, not Denver Pyle). The house was kitschy, as was to be expected, but, as we shuffled room to room with our headphones and ipads, we learned a lot of interesting and weird facts about the King.

The biggest takeaway was that Elvis sounded like he would be an awesome guy to hang out with. We know he would have been a very, very good friend–whether we were riding horses or playing raquetball or just lounging on the green shag carpet in the jungle room together. Between his music (both rock and gospel), military service, movie career, and little publicized charity work, he certainly led a remarkable life.

Other highlights

There was so much to do in our three days in Memphis. One highlight was a visit to the Civil Rights Museum located at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. The museum was incredibly well done; moving, gut-wrenching, and educational all at the same time. A must see if you are in Memphis.

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Amazingly, between eating at mind-blowing barbecue joints, tasting local brews, browsing bookstores, and doing our laundry, we still had time to take in a few more sights.

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A tour through the Gibson guitar factor (photos inside not allowed) to help inspire our aspiring guitarist. After seeing all the craftsmanship that goes into these guitars their price tag becomes much more justifiable.

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An unexpected treat was getting to go to a Memphis Grizzlies game. To help spike Indi’s interest, we bet on the outcome. If Jason won, Indi had three days of doing the dishes; if Jason lost, a new book for Indi… we stopped by the bookstore the following day.

 

 

 

Our next stop was Nashville, but to break up the drive we made camp at the Natchez Trace State Park near Lexington.

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Not a bad camp spot for the night.

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We didn’t have much time to explore this area, but an evening trip to the local bowling alley proved interesting. Wendy and Indi both got an impromptu bowling lessons from a helpful employee, who looked a lot like Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies. Once they got over his lack of teeth (he had four) and neon yellow, blood spattered bowling shirt (!?!) he proved to be a good teacher. Indi bowled a personal best and Wendy edged out Jason 127-125.

Nashville was our next stop to see another of Jason’s cousins Sarah Wright, her husband Matt, and boys Thomas and Jack. Also, while in town, we were able to reconnect with Wendy’s cousin Tiffany, her husband John, and son Drew (once again, we failed to get a picture–aargh!). Had so much fun catching up with both cousins and their families.

Must be about time for a family reunion.

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More family opening their home (and bottles of gin) to us.

Sarah and Matt gave us a great tour of Nashville, teaching us the cultural significance of Nashville’s infamous bachelorette party scene (we encountered several groups of drunken young women at 10 in the morning), peddle taverns and party barges.

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Thanks to our tour guides, we are also, now, conversant in hot chicken. After a long wait for a taste of Hattie B’s, it was all worth it after that first bite of poultry goodness.

Seriously. If you come over for dinner this summer, it will be on the menu.

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Our last stop in Tennessee was the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, we had a sick child who wasn’t up for hiking, blustery weather, and admittedly unrealistic expectations after the barrage of dramatic national parks we were treated to out west.

Also, we didn’t heed the sage advice of our cousins and ventured into the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park–but more like the gateway to hell, aka Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. If you like things like the Smoky Mountain Opry, the Dixie Stampede, miniature golf, or Dollywood, you should make your way to one of these cities. As for us? We couldn’t drive away fast enough.

So we’ll just say the jury is still out, which means a needed return trip sometime in the future, to more fully explore the most visited national park in the U.S.  Perhaps when we  get around to hiking the Appalachian Trail that runs through the heart of this park.

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A scenic meadow near our camp spot at Cades Cove.

So much to see and do in the great state of Tennessee.

19. Mississippi

It was with heavy hearts that we departed Louisiana;  wanting more swamps, music, and Cajun cooking. It felt like we barely scratched the surface of this colorful culture. But, we were also really looking forward to traveling The Blues Highway up through Mississippi and let us tell you: it did not disappoint.

To set the mood as you read further, blues, blues, and more blues from one of the Delta’s favorite sons.

 

“Son, I hope you are ready to bring it this afternoon; this is some good chicken you are about to eat.”

Maybe we thought the whole fried chicken in the south thing was just hype. However, after tasting Mr. D’s “Heavenly fried chicken” at the The Old Country Store, we realized the South’s reputation is well-deserved.

How to describe it? Well, it was as if we’d never really eaten fried chicken before that first crispy yet juicy, flavorful bite– and don’t even get us started on the side dishes of mac & cheese, collard greens, corn bread, and cobbler, washing it all down with that sweet, sweet tea. What we also found out later is that people drive from far away (Canada, even!) for a taste of Mr. D’s poultry goodness, right off of US 61, in Lorman, Mississippi, in the middle of nowhere.

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Jason knew he was in for a treat when Mr. D (pictured, smiling down on us) walked up to him before he entered the buffet line and said, “Son, I hope you are ready to bring it this afternoon; this is some good chicken you are about to eat.”

Natchez

Drawn to the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River, we opted to spend a few nights at  Natchez State Park . Usually, we stay at state and national parks to get in a few hikes. However, that once we read that we needed to don an orange vest while hiking to identify ourselves to hunters in the park, and the sign telling hunters to stay 100 yards from the trail (last time we checked, a bullet can travel more than 100 yards!) we decided to give this activity a miss.

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“Call me after deer season”. One of the many signs we found advertising hunting services in Natchez.

Each year thousands of people descend on this town to make the “pilgrimage” to view historic antebellum homes in the surrounding neighborhoods, where owners don traditional dress and give the home’s revisionist history.

As exciting as that sounded to us (yawn…), we opted instead for a different kind of culture in the form of a satirical play depicting this annual event at the Natchez Little Theater, Mississippi’s oldest community theater. Afterwards, while the Windusts gave the play “Southern Exposure” 3 stars, the overall experience brought this night up to a solid rating of 5 out of 5.

Southern Exposure Play at Natchez Little Theatre MS

And a bottomless glass of wine to go with our $10 ticket, that’s what we call southern hospitality

Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg National Historic Park is worth a visit as it is the very site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863. You can drive the 16 mile road to see the 1,340 monuments, markers and plaques, the U.S. Cairo, museums, and a national cemetery.

 

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Cleveland

On our way from Natchez to Clarksdale, we made sure to stop at Dockery Farms, a former cotton plantation established in 1895 and home to  Charley Patton, father of the delta blues.

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Clarksdale

While on the road to our next stop in Clarksdale, Wendy and Jason debated whether to stay at the super cool Shack Up Inn or the super cheap county fairgrounds. Those of you who know us even a little already know who was voting for what.

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Hey ,it isn’t that bad.

But marriage is all about compromises, so after setting up camp we stopped by the Shack Up Inn for a tour and drink at probably the coolest bar we’ve visited.

The next time we come through Mississippi, we will stay here to fully enjoy the live music on offer every night, just paces from where you sleep. Paradise.

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90 minutes south of Memphis and touted as the birthplace of the blues, we chose Clarksdale as a destination to check out juke joints and to experience this history, firsthand.  We hit up Levon’s Drugstore Diner for dinner and live music from Deak Harp. As we were just sitting down, an altercation broke out between the musician and a spectator, asking said musician if he could please turn down the music. Well, you can imagine how well that went over.

Next stop was a visit to the Delta Blues Museum. We got lucky and visited on Muddy Water’s birthday celebration. This meant we got to scarf down delicious cupcakes as we walked room to room, soaking in the history of the artifacts from the musical lives of the legendary musical artists, who were born and raised in and around this area, such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Ike Turner, and Sam Cooke–to name just a few.

Must return–soon

We didn’t know what to really expect of Mississippi, but ended up spending 3 great days driving up the Delta. Some other observations.

  • We know this is the “Bible Belt” but were still surprised by how many packed churches we drove by on Sunday.
  • They take their music very, very seriously.
  • For what the south lacks in variety with their cuisine, they make up for (in a big way) in quality.
  • Southern hospitality is legit! We encountered too many examples of super friendly locals to list here.

All in all, though our time was short, we found Mississippi a pleasant surprise, especially in the shadow of lovely Louisiana.

Next up: Tennessee!

 

18. Louisiana

You don’t fall in love with this southern state at first sight. What you think you know beforehand—of beads and Mardi Gras madness and badness—can be underwhelming, to say the least. Rather, it is when you are fully present, feeling every beat and strum and tap and taste, when the layers of this culture get beneath your tongue and under your skin. You realize that, like most places, what you thought you already knew isn’t reality, not at all.

Often, as travelers, it is easier to figure out what you want to see and where you want to go far ahead of time, as you plan out your itinerary. It was in Layfayette, our first stop in Louisiana, that we threw away our checklist and decided to explore by word of mouth and discovery.

What we found were bayous and beignets, Po’ Boys and chicory coffee, drive-through daquiris and boiled crawfish, plantation history and toe tapping jazz and zydeco, and too many examples of genuine southern hospitality to recount.

Lafayette

After doing little to no research to find a place to stay for a few nights, we opted to stay at Bayou Wilderness RV Resort in Carencro since it was the only RV park we could find that wasn’t a year-round trailer park (not that there’s anything wrong with it and we really liked how the name engendered visions of lonely swamps and gators).

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Waking up our first day, we headed into town for a slow feast of beignets while sippin’ on Community coffee at T-Coons. With full bellies and high blood sugar, we decided to take in some history at Vermillionville and were, once again, pleasantly surprised by the organization of this organization (an early Cajun and Creole heritage village).

We learned about the birth of Creole and Zydeco music and more about the colonists and people indigenous to this area. If you find yourself in this part of the world, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours in Vermillionville.

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Since the beignets only go so far, we were happy to get to our next stop, Olde Tyme Grocery for some shrimp Po’ Boys. We all agreed that apart from the calamari sandwiches in Madrid, these sandwiches were the best we’ve ever tasted. No wonder this joint has won all sorts of awards for this very sandwich.

Anyone know a good place to get Po’ Boy sandwiches in Singapore?

So, after a bit of culture and happy guts, we headed to Lake Martin Rookery for some exercise and in search of swamp creatures, snakes, turtles, birds, and gators. And, while we did find turtles and snakes, we also found a gaggle of kids on spring break, taking a hike with grandma, calling us ma’am and sir as they told us all about life in Lafayette.

When we asked these local experts for dining recommendations, Popeyes and KFC were their top two faves.

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We didn’t get more than a few miles in when Jason’s sandal broke. Yes, this meant walking back through the tall grass with snakes and all sorts of creepy crawlies. Jason wins the hardcore award (or the dummy award for hiking in a swamp in flip flops).

After the “swamp incident”, we stopped in to Parish brewery for just a taste to compare their draft to Oregon goodness. Indi liked the water.

For dinner that night, although we passed on the fast food recommendations, when we saw a sign for crustaceans at one of the many daquiri drive-through shops (Stuff Cajun People Like #12), we indeed, did drive in and dove right in with orders for drinks (virgin for Indi, of course), boudin balls and three pounds of crawfish to go.

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How has the rest of the country not caught on to this? Oh yeah, there’s that whole drinking and driving thing.

After getting back to camp and watching a YouTube instructional video on how to peel and eat crawfish, we were still going about it like west coasters. Fortunately for us, a kind local neighbor came to our rescue and showed us how to correctly (how to not waste the majority of the good stuff inside) peel and shuck and suck out the guts of the little fellas.

The next day, we hit the road for New Orleans and real beds in an Airbnb rental close to the Garden District. When we rented the place, the owner sent several emails warning us about the location. When we checked it out online, we saw that the Central City location seemed just about right for us, since our favorite thing about renting a place is the opportunity to live like a local.

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We were a little worried when we inputted our Airbnb’s rental address into our GPS and it led us here… luckily our place is the one on the right.

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Our hood

Southern Hospitality in New Orleans

We must have been at the house for an hour before someone pounded on the metal security door. The door opened to a guy in his 50’s, standing there rocking the middle aged Harley look (bandana, black t-shirt and a vest, black jeans, motorcycle boots, scraggly long hair and mustache). He seemed harmless enough so we opened the door and he rushed in, excited to tell us that his Harley was on the sidewalk next to our trailer on the street and that he would be watching Cicak for us, to make sure that “no one messes with it”.

This was the first of many friendly encounters with our neighbors, including a sweet woman in her late 70’s who wanted us to know that she couldn’t believe that the police would be inhospitable enough to go and put a boot on our trailer! We explained that the boot is ours and is a theft deterrent (like a club for a car) and then went on to have a  conversation about her fascinating life, growing up in New Orleans.

In our days and nights in New Orleans, as you might expect, we did a lot of walking, gawking, and stuffing our faces.

Jason even tried something new.

 

One highlight was a meander through the oak-lined Garden District and the antebellum Victorian mansions that transported us back to the time– just after the Louisiana Purchase–when this neighborhood was built to separate the cotton, sugar, and shipping magnates from the Europeans down in the French Quarter. This is also where we found the Lafayette #1 cemetery.

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We also took the trolley into the city, walked the prerequisite block down Bourbon Street and though the French Quarter for a taste of the city.

Later, we happily departed for Frenchmen Street, feeling far away from the neon of the French Quarter as we followed the rustic wooden bar signs to the live music—blues, jazz, funk— pumping out of every doorway. Great music, food, and dancing? Yes, please! We could have spent days sampling the music on offer.

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Music, Cotton, and Ribs in Ferriday

Our destination for this day trip was the Frogmore Cotton Plantation. We learned more about life on the plantation, cotton growing (including Eli Whitney’s gin, of course),  sharecropping, and slave culture. This was another time that we felt so lucky to experience the links to the past. We will leave this year feeling more deeply rooted to our American history and hope that Indi will continue to feel grounded even as we live far away from home.

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Before heading back across the mighty Mississippi, we stopped at the Delta Music Museum to learn more about the musical heritage of the Mississippi River Delta Region. After the museum, we just had to stop at the Butt Hut, for some of the best pulled pork we’ve had–so far.

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If we had to choose one state to explore more deeply, it would be Louisiana. We left reluctantly, with the dual promise to return one day and the siren call of Mississippi calling us north.