Friday, 5 January 2007, Austin, TX
We arrived in Texas yesterday and were relieved in a number of ways. Of course, this will be our last state before crossing into Mexico, and that brings a certain excitement. But we were also somewhat relieved to leave Louisiana. We found that overall it appeared to be unkempt, and as such was fairly unattractive to us. We arrived in Baton Rouge last Friday to the home of our friends, who had kindly lent us the use of their house while they were away. It was a very relaxing weekend and we only ventured out of the house on Sunday to do some shopping and then returned. The weather wasn't really very encouraging of forays into the city, but we had also explored it quite well on our visit there in March.
It was fairly cold and on Saturday it rained bucket loads - reminded us of wet season at home in intensity, but was colder. We were so grateful to be in a warm house with room to move. We even celebrated new year at 'home' in front of the TV with a bottle of Freixenet. We had thought to leave on Monday, but found it so relaxing that we decided to stay just one more day. On Tuesday we did leave, although a little reluctantly, and drove south-west through Cajun country.
We had hoped that we might find a part of Louisiana there that gave us some of the wow factor that we look for. Unfortunately what we found was a lot of water. This was to be expected since the vast majority of this land is swamp. But the worst thing about it was the amount of garbage floating in the swamps beside the road. When we came to housing areas the vast majority of them were mobile homes. Most of these settlements seem to consist of piles of rusting steel, some other trash, and old mobile homes in different states of disrepair. Every now and then we would come across a new housing estate with very stately brick homes that must have cost a small fortune to build. I began to get the impression that Louisiana has a small wealthy class of people and a very large poor class, with very little in between. I did wonder if a modern day Robin Hood might be the answer!
We drove around the Atchafalaya basin and stopped in New Iberia on the west side. I wanted to visit this part of the state because I'm a fan of James Lee Burke's novels and they are all set around this area. The only place that impressed us at all, on this whole day's journey, was a small town called Franklin which had a lovely historic antebellum part that has been cared for and restored to look quite stunning. The campground we stayed in was also relatively uncared for. It is winter and therefore there is not much passing traffic and all other rigs in the park were basically permanent residents. The woman running the place apologised for the state of the bathrooms, but she was 'tired of picking up after these people' who would leave their trash in the bathroom instead of taking it to the dumpster. This seemed to epitomise the attitude that we felt prevailed in Louisiana. To her credit she did clean the women's bathroom somewhat and then told both of us to use it - it seemed there were no other women in the park.
On Wednesday we left the campground and drove first to St. Martinsville, which one brochure called "Little Paris" - apart from French street names, the old and dilapidated buildings didn't look anything like stylish Paris, but rather like another run-down southern speck on the map. We then continued onto Hwy 14, which winds through farming communities and some rice fields, toward Lake Charles. It was mostly more of the same - swamps, mobile home parks and occasionally a new estate. I must also mention that there were quite a few failed subdivisions with fancy entrances covered in weeds and few or no houses built. We arrived in Lake Charles, did some shopping and then drove through the centre as it was supposed to have some nice old buildings. Not much of interest to be found so we drove out of town to the Sam Houston Jones State Park just slightly north from the town to spend our last night in Louisiana. Overall we came to the conclusion that Louisiana offered the most so-called "Scenic Byways" with the least scenery worth looking at.
The weather had been ok since leaving Baton Rouge - Tuesday was actually mostly sunny and Wednesday, although overcast, wasn't really that cold. The icy overnight temperatures seemed to be in the past. The Sam Houston Jones State Park campground was quite pleasant - the bathrooms were heated and relatively clean and the showers usable! We woke on Thursday morning to more rain - heavy and unrelenting just as it had been on Saturday - only this time we had to run to the bathroom and then pack up in it in order to drive on. The rain continued over the border into Texas and finally eased as we drove into Houston, which is a huge city that we explored only from the up-to-7 lane freeways on our way through.
Our goal was Austin, but even though the rain stopped and the sun shone, we couldn't quite reach there. We stopped last night in the state park near Bastrop and, although it boasts a golf course (somewhat unusual for a state park), that was where the amenities ended. The bathrooms were a long walk from the sites and not very pleasant when you reached them. The sites themselves were on such a slope that we thought we might slide out of bed! And they charged an incredibly high price, compared with other places we have been, because the entrance fee to the park is added on top of the campsite fee and it is per person rather than per vehicle (which is more commonly used). I guess it was one of the worst campgrounds we have come across in any state system, and we have tried them in almost every state we have been in.
Today we spent most of the day at a truck camper dealer - Princess Craft in Pflugerville, just north of Austin - organising the parts needed for the last few things we want to do on the camper before going south. It was time well spent, we think - the woman was more helpful than we have found at any of the RV service centres we have tried to date. We are now in the Emma Long Metropolitan Park, whose campground sits right on a river bank, and is really peaceful for a campground which is within the city limits of Austin. It is warmer than we have had since leaving Florida - about 26 today - and we are beginning to feel like Mexico is very close.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !