Maniacal Monday

The folks of SDH are hard-core Jagermeister drinkers. Personally, I can’t stand the taste of this liquor … it’s sickly sweet with overtones of liquorice. Ewwww! But the weather was foul and Maniacal Monday was planned. slaDE~ was keen to jump on board.

The rules go as such: at 1:11 pm = 1 shot of Jager; 2:22pm = 2 shots of Jager; 3:33 pm = 3 shots of Jager; 4:44 pm = 4 shots of Jager and at 5:55 pm = 5 shots of Jager. With the amount that I drink, I’d be on the floor, blitzed beyond comprehension or throwing up from the overdose of alcohol to blood content (if I had joined in).

And, believe it or not, the participants drank beer along the way, and well in to the evening (considering they were done the game before darkness had even fell!). Glad to watch from the sidelines, and be amused by the crazy antics of Team Jager and company :), especially when we’re cruising around on the golf cart!

Nothing like home

The weather was miserably cold and rainy from the day’s beginning, and the beer light was turned on quite early, considering all the tandems had been turned away and most skydivers had either packed up shop to go home or had declined to even show up, with the carry-over from yesterdays shifting weather front. Another day of no-jumping meant more time to hang out with friends and catch up on the year we’ve just had.

Being the social drop zone that Skydive Houston is, an invitation to Nate and Amy’s house for their traditional Sunday dinner gathering was offered and we happily accepted. An entertaining laughter-filled evening with friends was had. So happy to be back, experiencing the growth of this new burgeoning home for Skydive Houston.

Fuel tips

Having overnighted in Houston, it was only a short travel day to Skydive Houston at their new drop zone in Eagle Lake. We made a pitstop at the Super Wal-Marts in Katy for fuel and staples. We discovered just only recently that some of the Super Wal-Marts offer diesel at remarkably cheaper rates than any truck stop prices we’ve come across. Almost 15-20 cents cheaper! When filling a 30 gallon tank each time, that savings adds up quickly.

My two tips of the day ….

  1. The website maps out the truck stops along your designated route and lists the latest (and cheapest) diesel prices at each stop that publishes their rate — the option to list ALL truck stops, with or without price also exists. This is a great resource in planning out a long haul trip, especially when crossing state lines. For example, we were debating whether to fill up yesterday either before leaving Louisiana or upon arriving in Texas. We chose the former, and it turns out diesel is much cheaper in LA than TX. A great savings!
  2. Super Wal-Marts that have a fuel island offer substantial savings in filling up your truck compared to the local truck stops or gas stations. If you have a Wal-Mart credit card, an additional 3% savings can be had.

From my RV Travel weekly newsletter ( Issue 466), here are the latest U.S. average prices per gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel.

  • Regular unleaded gasoline: $3.10 (on January 28) Change from week before: Down one cent.Diesel: U.S. $3.43 (on January 24) Change from week before: Up 2 cents

The price for our diesel at the Katy Texas Wal-Mart was $3.15 per gallon. That’s a huge savings from the weekly average. Last year at exactly this time, diesel averaged around $2.78 per gallon. Yikes! That’s quite the leap.
Hope this tidbit of information helps to save you money on the road :).

Our arrival at Skydive Houston was like the sweetest homecoming ever. Many of our friends from last years visit (who were on the ground, not jumping) surrounded us, full of hugs and smiles. It was an incredible welcome. And so good to see them all again. With a new airport location and temporary spacious facility for Skydive Houston (a new hangar and loft is in the planning and building stage on the ginormous airport lot, where a 4000 foot paved runway already exists), it was awesome for us to witness the fresh start to such huge potential for our beloved Texan drop zone. And of course, trailer hookup (water and electricity) was available to us for our stay whilst here. Sweet! We celebrated our arrival with our friend Stacey and enjoyed a yummy Mexican meal …. luckily, the camera that I had left behind at the restaurant was later retrieved. Thankful for honest goodhearted people.

Texas bound 2011

Checkout time from the RV Resort was at 11am, sharp. So trying to make the most of our time in New Orleans, we hopped on our bikes to catch some final last photographs — the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. The tombstones and crypts in this fascinating and historically significant cemetery created a photographer’s dream canvas to this incredibly diverse Louisiana city.

Another prolonged day of driving on the road. For us, 6 hours of driving could extend itself to a road trip of anywhere between 7-10 hours dependant on the length of our stops (fuel, food, bathroom and tourist), and that makes for an extra long day. So interesting pitstops along the way make an extended day of sitting in an affixed position go faster. Two places worth mentioning:

  1. The Welcome Centre on the eastern border has a really interesting educational boardwalk through the Bayou with amazing historical and educational placards. It was incredible to witness this piece of sanctuary in the middle of the I-10 freeway bypass;
  2. Beaumont Texas is home to the World’s Largest Fire Hydrant (and as is tradition with slaDE~ and myself, we MUST stop at every LARGEST ever tourist trap to grab the mandatory picture).

Oh how I love taking pictures! At times, keeping up with my blog is more about trying to decide which pictures to include (which includes editing and selection of the best). I hope you enjoy my photographic eye as much as I try to capture the moment by moment journal of our Airstream dreams.

New Orleans Adventures

Arising early in the morning to catch photographic trails of the rising sun is, in my books, well worth the efforts. With last nights sunset, I couldn’t help but think that today’s sunrise would be just as magical on digital ‘film’. Disappointed, I was not! Beyond the manicured short stretch of beach near the casino lay a fenced off area that hid the remnants of previous storms and strewn out garbage. Shells of all shapes and sizes littered the sand as did residual garbage washed or cast ashore … plastic and glass bottles, old tires, plastic bags, PVC piping encrusted with barnacles, weathered rope, a tattered blanket, an old fan blade and metal shards of pipe et al.

With 45 minutes to explore the area around the casino, we chose to tour the St. Michael Parish Catholic Church, otherwise known as the Fisherman’s Church. In my opinion, this Church is the most beautiful and inspiring architectural masterpiece in a cathedral with such incredible stained glass. Reflections of grandeur indeed. “St. Michael’s has served the people of Biloxi’s Point since it was established as a mission in 1907. Ravaged by the two most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the Gulf of Mexico, Camille in August of 1969, and Katrina in August of 2005, St. Michael Church has stood 200 mile per hour winds and a 28 foot tidal surge.” Today this unique cylindrical church with it’s clam-like shell roof still stands, celebrating Biloxi’s once thriving fishing industry (which post-Katrina is now pretty much non-existent) whilst also symbolizing the strength, resiliency, dedication, faithfulness and struggle of this parish’s devout Catholic families. With the storms came devastation to the Church’s structure. The bottom two panels of stained glass were wiped out with Katrina’s 30-foot storm surge that washed through the bottom third of the round church, and only in the last year have they been replaced, on a pulley system, which allows for the windows to be raised if another storm surge were to come through and knock out the windows. A volunteer worker from Ohio was telling me that the force of the tsunami busted up the pews and sucked them out. The pews disappeared … there was no sign of them whatsoever. The restoration of St. Michael Catholic Church in East Biloxi is nearly complete, from the repair of its 36 columns of distinctive scalloped roof to the replacement of the bottom portion of the Church’s stained glass windows. The stained glass panels carry a recurring theme: that of the sea, depicting both men and women gathering their catch in nets.

With New Orleans being only an 85 mile drive away from Biloxi, we packed up quick and made route for our next destination. New Orleans |ˈôrlinz; ôrˈlēnz|:a city and port in southeastern Louisiana, on the Mississippi River; pop. 484,674. Founded by the French in 1718, it was named after the Duc d’Orléans, regent of France. It is known for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations and for its association with the development of blues and jazz.

Check-in time for the French Quarter RV Resort was 12 noon, and we wanted to make the most of our available time touring the city. With the success we had in cycling around Savannah Georgia and discovering the heart of the city with limited daylight hours, we wanted to experience New Orleans in the same way. So after setting up shop in our beautifully groomed RV slot in the French Quarter, we hopped on our bicycles and headed for the action and music. Within 6 blocks, we discovered a plethora of unique and colourful street performers …. musicians, statuesque live mannequins (literally, human statues standing perfectly still, mid-motion beside a bucket for tips of any sort), singers and dancers, magicians, psychics, palm and tarot card readers. Horse drawn carriages, souvenir shops, ‘gentlemen’ bars, genre-wide music clubs and ‘3 for 1’ discos lined the streets of downtown New Orleans, vying for the tourist dollars which seemingly help to keep this city afloat after Hurricane Katrina. A sense of quiet despondency seemingly filled the musical air at times, while at other moments, a sense of hope and strength flourished with the colour and vibrancy of this legendary city. Alcohol and music is the main theme of this 24-7 party town: 3 for 1 drink specials abound alongside frozen daiquiris dispensary bars — think 7-11 alcoholic slushy dispensers of a gazillion different flavours. About 15 years ago, I was lucky enough to experience the New Orleans Jazz Festival with a crew of skydiving friends. It was an amazing cultural experience, but very different from what I imagine Mardi Gras to be — if it’s anything like the experience of Bourbon Street :). I can’t imagine the craziness of Mardi Gras after experiencing how important alcohol is in creating the dynamism of the ‘Big Easy’.

Trying to absorb as much as possible, we weaved and surged through the streets (so many one way roadways), stopping to listen, watch and photograph. I was in heaven with the canvas before me. Impossible to recreate such beauty and dynamic energy, so I snapped away as if this were the last moment to live on earth. Fire stoked my peddle strokes as we skirted the Garden District, circling through Audubon Park and wobbling back through the narrow busy pot-holed streets of  Magazine Street. Darkness had fallen quickly, and without our headlights or reflective vests, we opted to head back to the RV Resort before exploring the nightly music scene. It was on Charles Street that we literally bumped in to a marching band (numbering maybe 50 musicians?) in full regalia. What was most surprising was the sound and their sole sudden appearance, seemingly with no apparent reason. They were their own parade, with numerous followers gathering suit to line the streets of the ‘Vieux Carré’. The hip hop / big band music magnified off the narrow streets of the French Quarter like a ping-pong ball on steroids, and my earbuds felt alive with the giant reverberation of their colourful performance. A different sensation of aliveness fell true and centre. The experience was earth-shaking in its intensity and happiness.

After relieving ourselves of some belongings, trading for the requisite safety garb, we headed towards Frenchmen Street — this is the ‘it’ scene for locals and music supreme. We wandered from club to club, catching the luxury of guaranteed quality music of a varietal assortment of genres. We stayed for a while at the ‘Spotted Cat Music Club’ savouring the earthy and light jazzy blues tones of Miss Sophie Lee. It so happens that a large Canadian contingency packed the bar as we enjoyed a few drinks while absorbing the scene and musical greatness. Truly lovely.

Before heading home, we made one last loop down the length of Bourbon Street, captivated by the alcohol frenzied happiness which bounced off the vibrating fluorescent lights. New Orleans is one happy cat city on the surface when the tourists are out in full force.

P.S. For those curious about staying at the French Quarter RV Resort during Mardi Gras, these are the prices for 2011 (and they are usually booked almost up to a year in advance for this time period):

  • 2 night minimum stay: 2 days = $199 per day; 3 days = $179 per day; 4 days = $159 per day; 5 days = $139 per day

Biloxi Red, Yellow and Oranges (no Blues here!)

Breakfast with the kids (Melody and Family) consisted of freshly squeezed organic orange juice, scrumptious steel cut oats and a yummy organic fruit salad. Truly, when I feed my body well, I am lovingly feeding my mind and soul. It was a wonderful albeit quick visit to begin our sunshiny Florida morning.

An exciting addition to our new family was made as well! An Android Smartphone that was no longer needed by Erez became an inexpensive purchase that will hopefully prove to be a useful tool in our travels. Currently, we own a basic Net10 flip phone — no bells and whistles here, and for the most part, we’ve been quite happy with its efficiency and cheap 10 cents per minute calls, no contract, no fees. Sadly however, the pay-as-you-go SIM card will not transfer over to the newly acquired smartphone. Bah humbug. So for now, until further research is done, we’ll use our ‘Desire’ Droid for Wi-fi access and the Net10 for basic calls and text messages. I wish that a phone company would come up with a phone plan that encompassed all of North America. It’s difficult to swallow paying 2 separate plans, for both the US and Canada, especially when 1 of those accounts will be ‘inactive’ for 6 months. We maintain our Canadian phone during our travels, year round. One telephone service contract is enough, thank you very much!

After leaving our eastbound friends to head west towards Louisiana, the next decision was an attempt to find inexpensive accommodation before our planned ‘high priced’ day (tomorrow) in the French Quarter. We discovered an RV park right in the heart of downtown New Orleans that appealed to us with our 1 day stay in the city called the French Quarter RV Resort. By far, this will be one of the most expensive RV parks we’ve stayed at during our travels, but because they honour a ½ price discount for Passport America members, the fee is affordable, and well worth the convenience of being smack dab in the bosom of New Orleans. The touted beauty of this RV Resort lay in the security features offered, with gated 24 hour video and foot security. Needed, I think, with the city projects on the outskirts of the French Quarter. Big shiny objects like an Airstream trailer might attract unwanted visitors. And thus, I like to play it safe. slaDE~ was comfortable with staying just outside of the heart in a Walmart parking lot, boondocking for the night before checking in to the Resort. However, I didn’t feel as secure in such surroundings.

With this in mind, I was scouring the map for a relatively close-to-New Orleans pitstop for the night. And Biloxi, Mississippi had our name all over it. On the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Sound, Biloxi is a noted deep-sea fishing and tourist centre which seemingly thrives with big name Casinos by the waterfront (Katrina and the tanking economy devastated this once opulent metropolitan centre). Upon closer inspection, it certainly appeared to be a really cool part of the world that neither of us had visited. And with a few quick phone calls, we found that the Grand Casino could offer us complimentary parking for the evening with 24 hour security as a bonus. Sweet!

After parking Airabella, with the sun barely skirting the horizon, I managed to catch some truly gorgeous sunset shots on the still Gulf waters from the man-made beach’s edge. You be the judge …. tell me what you think of the photos!

As with any Casino, many offer perks when joining as a club member. The 2 for 1 seafood buffet sounded like a divine treat. Crab legs out the ying-yang and lots of decent food made for a perfect ending to a great day!

We HIGHLY recommend the Grand Casino as a wonderful spot to boondock whilst visiting the Biloxi coastal area. Several nights stay here plus the option to unhitch ones trailer is allowed.

Casino camping (a form of boondocking, where no camp services are provided) is an wonderful option when looking for free overnight parking. The newsletter pledges: “Forget about shopping centers or interstate rest areas — you’re apt to get a middle-of-the-night knock on the door asking you to move. Even many Wal-Marts have posted “No Overnight Parking” signs. Some truck stops are okay, but they’re noisy. Casinos, on the other hand, are hospitable to campers.” However, calling the Casino in advance and checking in with security is a common courtesy and preference. Our boondocking experience thus far in our Airstream travels has been, for the most part, positive and safe. Our Airstream is well insulated from noisy truck stops, so we don’t mind staying there. Wal-marts are good in that security cameras usually scan the parking lots 24-7, but finding businesses with Overnight Privileges is few and far between.

Moving Day

Moving day, again. It’s been an amazing week in Sarasota with our friends. But as the hours tick by, it’s time to make headway towards Texas. The draw of big ways, a wedding and Belize is beckoning us with a persistent whisper. I’m personally hypnotized by the gorgeous weather factor of Florida, but as consistent with the rest of the country, winter clothes need to be unfurled from the closet, and tucked at the ready. Sigh, at least we had a piece of Florida heaven whilst we were here.

Freshly squeezed organic orange / tangelo / mandarin juice helped to stoke the Florida fires, and without further ado, we were off, with many hugs, a promise of a return (someday) and a burgeoning storm to the northwest of us. And WOW, did the tempest hit, with a vengeance! Pelting rain enveloped our Airstream bubble, to the extent that 10 feet in front of us was a blurry haze (could have been I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but you get the idea). It felt like we were advancing through a torrential cleansing truck wash, but this, at 60 miles per hour! Seemingly unscathed (apart from jittery nerves hat lulled me in to a deep oblivious sleep), we stopped for the night just outside of Tallahassee. And then I walked in to the bedroom. Eeeek, a flood! Well, rather I should say, a leak. Through the rear improvised bedroom vent closure, water had made its way through some crevice, dumping the deluge on to our once dry bed cover. Sigh, more water repairs. But at least we have new Fantastic Fans ready to be installed when we return home. Lesson, you can never caulk to much! Makes me a tad bit nervous on our Fall caulking attempts which seemingly had been waterproof!

Like passing RVs in the night, we were gifted with a surprise text from our Canadian friend’s Melody and Erez, who happened to be only a few miles away. Within 30 minutes, a reunion between skydiving friends led to an evening of entertainment and big belly laughs, with little crawling Riley grinning up a storm and humungus Bender brightening our visit. Wonderful to feel the smallness of this planet, which at times seem beyond big, diverse, and at times lonely and without familiar faces.

Gastronomical Delights

Our last full day with visiting our friends Patrick and Ann Egan here in Sarasota. And the adventures continue! Morning yoga enlivened our waking bodies before attending to a piece of citrus heaven.

We made a trek out to Mike’s homestead (Patrick’s brother) … 10 acres of burgeoning citrus trees waiting to be plucked of their lush and season-heightened fruit. We must have picked 40 lbs (1 full grocery bag and knapsack filled to the brim) of organic oranges, madarines, grapefruit, tangerines and lemons. Juicy and seedy lusciousness which undoubtedly has proven to be the best and sweetest citrus I’ve ever had the pleasure to savour. The trick will be to see if we can eat them all before they perish! Vita-Mix a.go-go. We however need electricity for Vita-Mix creative concoctions, and our next shore power stop won’t be until our weekend Houston arrival. I do believe that the fresh citrus pickings will survive for a few weeks. I must admit, this truly has been the most delightful end to our Florida stay-cation.

It’s been an incredible culinary delight over the past week, with succulent (and more often than not seafood) dishes either cooked or ordered each and every day. What a gastronomical treat! It truly feels as if we have been on vacation, with our retired hosts spending the week showing us around the city, by car, beach and boat. Today, we wanted to offer a decadent meal offering in return. When in North Carolina, we were gifted with a Venison roast that has been waiting patiently in our freezer for the opportunity to be slow-cooked. Today was the perfect day.

The garden out back of our host’s home was filled with fresh herbs that adorned our creation …. oregano, thyme, rosemary, coriander, and a hot chile pepper gave the stewed concoction a remarkable kick. A can of beer, a swig of wine and water with garlic and red onion provided a gravy of complete decadence that excelled beyond my best culinary masterpiece to date. Patrick offered a Mexican pot of pinto beans to the mix. 9 hours of simmered preparation led us to a meal of incredible taste bud divinity. A beautiful savoury spread, with plenty of leftovers for the journey ahead has completed our week of heaven in Sarasota. We’ll be back … the question, as always, is when!

On the road again tomorrow …. I so need to get back to my normal routine of earlier meals with will-power and fervent detox dedication. I swear I’ve gained 15 lbs just in the past 3 months!

Life is a Beach

More beaches to explore with Siesta Key and Turtle Beach  … parasailing, shell collecting, siesta fiesta (afternoon power nap), tube dude searching, Thai food savouring. All with the great company of our friends. It’s been an amazing week, and I’m somewhat sad to leave! Having an open invitation leaves me satisfied that more exploration and discovery is in order for our next visit.

A Frivolous Day of Shopping

A Day at the Market provided for a wonderful backdrop of colour and shopping. Organic foods were plentiful and reasonably priced. The seasonal flowers are far different that what we have in Canada. I love that tropical blooms abound everywhere. Bouquets of hanging Heliconia, Orchids and Birds of paradise filled my senses with desire. I’m growing attached to life here on the southwest Florida coast.

The evening was spent eating our luscious jumbo shrimp and watching the movie Avatar in our Airstream (so nice to entertain Patrick and Ann in our home).