Sunday March 19, 2006 - Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Now it really starts to feel like we are "on the road". We drove from Oklahoma through Arkansas and Mississippi to Louisiana, leaving Thursday morning and arriving Friday afternoon. Thursday was a trip that taught us that taking it slowly is the travel method of choice. We left Tulsa shortly after 8.00am and arrived in Lake Village, on the eastern border of Arkansas at 6.30pm. I'm not sure how many miles we covered and we did take some breaks, but it was still a long and exhausting day. Leaving Tulsa, we decided to travel the Turnpike to the Arkansas border. For those of you who don't know, a turnpike is a toll road. This particular road was actually one of the worst highways I have ever travelled on - and then we had to pay for it!
We left this highway somewhere near the end of it to look for a place to have a second breakfast and happened upon a little town called Gore, population something in the 700's. We spotted a cafe - 'The Old Glory Cafe' - and went in. The woman who ran it was very friendly and we ordered breakfast. She had made the cafe into a tribute to the American services, with the walls covered with names, and companies and wars they'd participated in. And there, right in the middle of it, was a poster of Sydney - the Harbour Bridge and Opera House with fireworks going off overhead - and another poster with a map of Australia. It turned out that she was married to an Australian. When the local deputy dropped in for breakfast and she introduced us, mentioning my nationality, he said - you sure do seem to attract them!
We drove on South from there and eventually came into the National Ouachita Forest. It was very pretty, with the signs of spring everywhere. Coming from sub-tropical Australia, we haven't seen real spring for a long time. I think Juergen found it particularly uplifting as it reminded him of the European springs of the past - the sign of new life and warmer weather after a long cold winter. We crossed over into Arkansas and continued through this forest until we reached the area of Hot Springs. In some ways we felt as though we didn't do Arkansas justice as we hurried on across it towards the border with Mississippi and the river itself, but the scenery was certainly beautiful and the further we went, the greener the countryside became - I always find green uplifting.
We stopped for the night at a small town called Lake Village on the shores of Lake Chicot. The highlight of this overnight sojourn was the Mexican restaurant across the road from our motel - it served really simple and tasty food, and for me it was a mmmmmm! experience - Juergen tells me that whenever I have food that I find really good, I say mmmmm! with almost every mouthful...
On Friday we crossed over the Mississippi river into Mississippi state - that river is sure wide. I suffered from vertigo driving over the bridge, which was quite high as well as very long and narrow. We had decided to follow the river south and took the closest road to it. Unfortunately, we soon realised that you don't get a look at the river itself, but only know it's there by the view of the levee banks. We did take a detour off the main road to drive along the shore of Lake Washington - a very tranquil place and the largest natural lake in Mississippi, as we were informed by a local, Perry, who came out of his house to chat with us when we stopped opposite to take some photos. We are still always pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the people we are meeting along the way here. It makes one feel very welcome. We stopped for a short while in Vicksburg, which has a pretty, historical main street. They even offer free wi-fi in the area - we couldn't get it to work, though - and they have speakers in the gardens along the street playing very easy-listening music.
We kept on southwards and, with a couple of brief stops, arrived in Baton Rouge late afternoon. It was really great to see Lisa and Rich again, and also Ganesha, gorgeous dog that he is.
On Saturday, we went out to see the St Patrick's Day parade - the very reason we rushed our trip from Tulsa. Parades in Louisiana are really something to experience. If you can't make Mardi Gras, then it seems St Patrick's Day is the very next best thing. Some of the locals even profess to prefer it. The floats and marching bands come by and beads are thrown - the object seems to be to get as many beads around your neck as there is room for. I haven't yet discovered where this tradition originates, but it is a lot of fun, especially since the event is definitely not an alcohol free zone and everyone is yahooing up a storm! Juergen took a few photos so I hope they will give you a good idea of the atmosphere.