Keeping Austin Weird

Somehow we made it out of Houston, complete with a record fast service and new shoes for Josie, and set off to… somewhere. A quick Maccas stop helped us find McKinney Falls State Park, which was helpfully close to downtown Austin (though we paid the price for it!). After being checked in by a nice grandma, we relaxed at our site before checking out the nearby falls at sunset.

We were surprised to discover Austin had a clean and friendly atmosphere, which kind of reminded us of Nashville and Vancouver put together. We saw the sights before enjoying some G&Ts on 6th Street, listening to a live piano battle and later, some blues. The next morning we went back into town for some coffee and to find a food truck for which Austin is renowned (and recommended to us by a friend). Much to our delight, we found a Thai truck and indulged in pad thai, tom yum and pork dumplings for the road. However, we barely made it out of Austin before we could no longer resist the smell, and practically inhaled our first Thai meal (with actual spice!) within seconds on the side of the interstate.

Extremely satisfied, we moseyed on and soon found ourselves in wine country. After a quick stop and purchase at Grape Creek Vineyards (one of the oldest vineyards there), we headed to Fredericksburg (a town evidently settled by Germans, complete with a marktplatz). Inevitably, we ended up at the brewing company for beers and a pretzel. Feeling a bit tipsy, we decided to camp at nearby ‘Lady Bird’ - which revealed itself to be a bizarre camp spot between a gridiron field and an airstrip. We watched both as the golden hour kicked in, followed by a late dinner and early bed.

Houston, We Have Arrived

After getting flooded out of our campsite, we didn’t waste any time getting back on the road and driving along the gulf. We discovered there was a whole lot of nothing on this route (not even coffee!), although every man and his dog seemed to be out fishing. With nothing but coastline (and some pretty cool houses up on stilts), we soon made our first ferry crossing along Highway 82. A pod of dolphins escorted us across, and once on land we were promptly hit with more torrential rain.

We knew we were about to hit Texas by the enormous silos and factories on the horizon, literally demarcating the state border. There followed an hour or so of industrial monstrosities and vile, unpleasant odours. Driving in Houston was like nothing we’d ever seen before - the freeways were like spiderwebs, not only an average of 8 lanes wide but also stacked 4 roads high! At one point, we counted 14 lanes of traffic. After a long day on the road, we were extremely grateful for the relative luxury of our hotel and happily indulged in TV, long showers and Panda Express.

Tabasco Tastin'

On the morning of our 100th day on the road, we begrudgingly woke before dawn to take Luke and Kelly to the airport. Still half asleep, we left NOLA and caught a magnificent sunrise in our rear view mirror. In the soft dawn glow, our surroundings took on an ethereal quality with fog hovering densely above the rivers and an enormous flock of birds that all took flight at once from a sugar cane field. We soon forgave the early start.

We made it at last to Avery Island, home of of the infamous Tabasco sauce. After a very enlightening tour of the factory, we sampled some raspberry chipotle and jalapeno ice cream (and probably never will again). From here, the road took us to Palmetto Island State Park where, despite the lush surroundings, we soon discovered a distinct sparsity of ablutions and why every rig in the park had its own golf cart! A sudden massacre by mosquitoes had us retreating into Josie early for some much needed rest.

NOLA continued…

After an even more challenging wakeup than the previous day, we set out for sustenance and discovered the therapeutic goodness of Popeye’s Chicken for curing hangovers. Greased up, we set about exploring the French Quarter at a much gentler pace and saw more great street music, sampled pralines and an abundance of hot sauce to keep us going.

The evening took us to Frenchmen St, a street known for its live music venues such as ‘The Spotted Cat’ (THE place for local music), and an artist night market. Yet again, New Orleans delivered the goods with its food, music and art and we were very, very satisfied.

NOLA

We awoke sore and sorry for ourselves the next day, but were instantly revitalised by the delicious “po’boy” we ate for breakfast at the famous Mothers’ restaurant (a quintessential New Orleans treat). More than satisfied, we explored the French Quarter by daylight including the Mississippi River, Jackson Square, Royal St, Bourbon St and the French Markets. Sponge was in architectural heaven with the French and Spanish influences abounding.

Even more amazing was the live music on every street corner, with incredible musicians and all kinds of music. One in particular (Yes Ma’am) caught our attention and we purchased our very first authentic NOLA cd!

After a siesta at the hotel, we returned to Bourbon St for some more drunken debauchery. We kicked things off at Felix’s Oyster Bar where we watched oyster shucking over dinner (and ironically, no one even ordered them). We soon found ourselves with more drinks (‘grenades’) and inevitably at a strip club, where we were so poor we could only just afford the $1.25 beers between us. Needless to say, we were not the favourite patrons of the evening…

Bucket List Item #10 - live jazz in New Orleans

After a reluctant departure from our luxurious hotel (sweetened by another IHOP feast), we hit the road to New Orleans. On the drive we witnessed some of the destruction still remaining from Hurricane Katrina, which really hit home about the damage she caused.

Our arrival was an interesting one, as we were mistaken for contractors rather than guests! After clearing the confusion with the hotel staff regarding our nondescript white van and less-than-fancy appearance, we finally checked in and lazed about by the pool until we mustered the courage to head into the French Quarter.

As can be expected, we had a riotously fun evening in the action-packed Bourbon St. After several beers and cocktails, we caved to Willie’s Fried Chicken for dinner - with a hurricane slushy on the side. This was followed by another hurricane at Fritzel’s jazz bar, where finally we ticked off another bucket list item - live jazz in NOLA. Amazing! It is quite a wonder we made it back to our room that night…

Sweet Home Alabama

Days: 56
Kilometres Travelled: 262
Total States Visited: 18
Total Kilometres: 11,575

Ready to mix things up from the mundanity of the last few days we indulged in our first IHOP experience - and boy, what an experience it was! We discovered a loophole to the ridiculous portion sizes where an 'omelette with a side of pancakes' sustained us both for breakfast and most of the rest of the day. Plus it was delicious!

Finally we made it to the border of Alabama, the iconic namesake of the infamous song. After taking the obligatory photos we decided to stop in Mobile and visit the USS Alabama, a decommissioned battleship from WW2. We somehow lost 2-3 hours on the ship with self-guided tours followed by another lost 1-2 hours in the nearby hangar and submarine - besides being very cool to see, the history was absolutely captivating! 

We hit the road and witnessed the sunset from Josie as we crossed into Mississippi and arrived at Biloxi, a bizarre casino city perched on the edge of the gulf. We checked into our hotel only to discover we’d missed our booking - Sack had booked the wrong date! Many dollars poorer and vowing never to let the boys arrange accommodation again, we snagged the last available room and spent the night in 5-star luxury complete with a cheeky gamble.

Gulfing Around

Days: 52-55
Kilometres Travelled: 730
Total States Visited: 16
Total Kilometres: 11,313

We continued our exploration of the Florida coastline from the comfort (and discomfort for the rear passengers) of Josie as we soon realised there was not a lot going on in these parts.

Despite witnessing some kind of drug deal at the skatepark where we stopped for lunch, our afternoon was very uneventful and we arrived in Crystal River to discover the main attraction was closed. With poor internet, no manatees to visit and lots of rain, the highlight of our day was dinner at Denny's - and for the boys, being eyeballed by the local supermarket check-out chick. 

Coastal Highway 98 gave us beautiful scenery but not a lot else; our next hotel seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, aka Wakulla Beach. However, it did provide a very pleasant setting to swim, drink and play card games to escape the oppressive heat (an oasis if you like). It also gave us our first authentic American bbq experience at a local restaurant ''Hamaknockers" where we ate a ridiculous amount of meat and vegetables drowned in butter to celebrate more than 200 days of travelling for Sack and Sponge. The festivities continued with 1L cans of Fosters beer found at the local 7eleven, a bag of M&Ms and some riotous laughs at our hotel. 

Our journey around the gulf continued, punctuated with scenic coastal drives and bridges, plenty of palm trees, towns with cool names but terrible cafes (Apalachicola, we're looking at you) and swims at beaches the temperature of bathwater. Fort Walton Beach offered us some decent tacos and margaritas on the beachfront (enjoyed on more than one occasion), while the balmy tropical evenings invited us to stay out and enjoy the photographic opportunities of the jetty (also home to a friendly pod of dolphins).

With not a lot going on besides gentle warm beaches, tropical air and plenty of indulgent food, we were practically ready to join the rest of the Florida population in their retirement...

Clearwater Revival

Days: 50-51
Kilometres Travelled: 160
Total States Visited: 16
Total Kilometres: 10,583

Back on the road and in need of a little RnR, our next stop was Clearwater Beach - a quintessential beachside town that invited warm sunny days and relaxing by the water. Unfortunately we didn't quite get either, but still managed to unwind with long walks on the beach, some hacky sack and very good coffee. 

4 Days, 3 Theme Parks, Unlimited Fun

A visit to Orlando, Florida would not be complete without visiting a theme park or 3 - and that is exactly what we set out to do over the next 4 days. 

We kicked things off at Universal Adventure Island with some thrilling rides that seemed to leave us either legless or soaking wet. Our adrenalin eventually gave out around 4pm, and resembling drowned rats, we retreated to the comfort of Hooters to revive our spirits and fill our bellies. 

Day 2 saw us at Universal Studios, where we indulged in more thrilling rides and marvelled at the incredible stage sets and props for every 'land' within. Each of these themed areas had incredible attention to detail that made the whole experience so much more captivating and immersive - we felt (and probably acted) like big kids. 

The next day we mixed things up and visited Disneyworld Magic Kingdom (just 1 of the 6 parks!). Although definitely aimed at a younger demographic, it was no less impressive to see the characters and stories of our childhood brought to life with simply stunning accuracy. We ended the day with drinks in Downtown Disney, before dragging our exhausted bodies on the 4 legs of the journey back to the car - a mere ferry, bus, monorail and tram ride to get from one Disney world to another. 

With one day pass left we hit up both the Universal lands again, utilising the 'Hogwarts Express'' ride that connected the parks to literally get the best of both worlds. We went on all our favourite rides until the thrills could not be surpassed and our spirits were satisfied (and yes, adrenalin depleted). Mission accomplished.

Landlubbers Return

It seemed our time on the ship had come to an end when we were woken from our food comas by some very insistent staff, who had no doubt had enough of us by then! We rolled ourselves out of bed, down the gangway and back onto solid ground feeling much more relaxed and a little bit relieved (having left with a few more kilograms and a lot less money than we boarded with).

We walked out our sea legs at the infamous outlet malls of Orlando, treasure-hunting for bargains, and soon discovered a very real weakness when it came to the Vans outlet... any pains from the cruise were quickly forgotten. 

Island Adventures

The next day we arrived at Port Nassau, a much bigger centre with a vastly different atmosphere to the tiny island of Cococay. Once we had made it through the peddlers and tourist scammers at the port entry, we courageously started exploring - without a map. 

After some time, we noticed that the street seemed to be getting quieter, more desolate and downright dodgier, so we turned and went back the way we came. A carpark that we had walked past moments before was proudly displaying a vehicle very much ablaze and suddenly we couldn't walk fast enough. It wasn't until we were back where we started - and one block further - when we realised the importance of knowing when to turn right and not left (we had totally missed the tourist bit!). We checked out Fort Charlotte and the Queens Staircase, before rewarding ourselves (and celebrating our survival) with a beer overlooking the marina. 

Still slightly traumatised, we returned fairly early to the ship and spent the afternoon enjoying our new favourite pastimes; overeating, drinking too much and the odd hand of Monopoly Deal. 

An Evening of Grandeur

After a hard day relaxing in Cococay, we rewarded ourselves with a night out (onboard the ship) to share in the 'Captain's Dinner'. This required a strict dress code, so we dressed in our finest and made our way to the restaurant for yet another 3 course meal (3.5 in our case - it pays to make friends with your waiter!). Copious levels of ingestion were followed by some luck in the onboard casino, making it a very grand night indeed.

A Little Place Called Cococay

Our first onshore excursion was to the secluded, private Cococay Island. The moment we set foot ashore, we knew we were well and truly in the Bahamas - it was just like a postcard! White sandy beaches, warm turquoise waters and glorious sunshine made it difficult not to relax, especially when we found our own private beaches to enjoy. We rounded off our visit with Coronas on deckchairs, with uninterrupted views of the tropical ocean... 'from where you'd rather be'. 

Cruising and Boozing

Our first few hours aboard the Enchantment of the Seas set the trend for our next 4 days of cruising the Bahamas; after checking out our lodgings and briefly exploring the vessel, we soon found ourselves on the deck consuming copious amounts of food and alcohol and having a rip-roaring good time. In fact, the only thing that really changed the entire time was the location of our food and alcohol consumption and rip-roaring good times. We were on a BOAT!!!

The Reunion

What better way to spend a day of waiting than shopping at an outlet centre - or two. That is exactly what we did while we waited for Luke and Kelly to fly in that night, easily losing most of the day scouring for bargains and our 10th pair of Vans shoes (each). Battling thunderstorms and torrential rain, it was a quite a feat - but by 8pm, we were finally organised and ready to go to the airport.

Our first ever drive to an international airport in another country was a little terrifying but went surprisingly smoothly; we learned just how much we appreciate adequate signage, and our new familiarity with airports did not go astray. We waited excitedly but a little nervously at the arrivals lounge; Luke and Kelly were the first contact with home we had in over 6 months and the first opportunity for us to hang out with anyone but each other in a very long time. Then, before we knew it - there they were! 

We made it out of the airport and to our hotel in one piece, where we talked, drank beer and caught up until the early hours.  

 

Finish Line in Sight

Days: 39
Kilometres Travelled: 354
Total States Visited: 15
Total Kilometres: 10,057

The coastal drive got much more interesting the closer we got to Orlando, as the A1A took us through Ponte Vedra Beach - and we discovered the $$. It was 30 minutes of continuous luxury mansions, each bigger and fancier than the next, and 30 minutes of getting our minds blown. It felt like we were in an episode of Entourage.

After a brief (5hr) delay at an outlet shopping centre, we followed the A1A all the way through Daytona Beach - aka crazy town. Perhaps it was the national holiday, but there was a definite party atmosphere as we cruised the main street (we even caught a glimpse of the race track - phenomenally huge!).

Finally, we arrived in Orlando and saw the city (and Disneyland in the distance) by night. We had made it! 

Death by Mosquitos

Days: 38
Kilometres Travelled: 232
Total States Visited: 15
Total Kilometres: 9,703

We crossed the border into Florida with a couple of days to spare, and decided to take the scenic route down the coast to Orlando where we were meeting our friends, Luke and Kelly. 

It was a pretty cool but long drive along tidal flats and river inlets until we reached Little Talbot Island State Park, our intended camp for the night. We got one of the last few sites in what we thought was the coolest campground yet - it looked like a zoo, it was so tropical! The thousands of bugs that immediately started crawling over us would surely retreat overnight, we thought.

Humidity at 1000%, we wasted no time in getting ourselves to the beach for our first swim - and learned that the ocean was like a bath. Still, it was refreshing enough and best of all, no bugs! Our swim was followed by beach carpark chilling and a couple of beers, enjoying the bug-free atmosphere. 

At sunset we returned to our camp for toast and death by mosquitos - no amount of clothing (it was so hot too!), mozzie coils or Bushmans could keep them from mauling us and we quickly retreated into the stuffy confines of Josie for the rest of the night.  

The onslaught of mosquitos hit us again the moment we stepped foot outside the next morning, and our patience broke. No pack up, clean up or even breakfast before we hightailed it out of there, but carefully removing the 10cm spider and his web that blockaded our campsite first!

Coast to Coast

Unable to take in any more of Savannah's cultural richness, we headed out to Tybee Island and finally made it to the coast. Our cross-continent quest from west to east was officially accomplished! 

We celebrated with a dip in the strangely bath-temperature brown ocean, followed by beers and nachos in the beachside bar "Fannie's".  

It was here we discovered the anomaly that a motel was the same price as camping, and so on the back of a wonderful day we indulged in another night of luxury with 4 solid walls, our own shower and a television.