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. 

 

Georgia on My Mind

Days: 36-37
Kilometres Travelled: 422
Total States Visited: 14
Total Kilometres: 9,471

After reading about Savannah in a book by Bill Bryson, Sponge was overjoyed to finally arrive in the city - and it was just as imagined. Armed with tips and a map from the very enthusiastic lady at the information centre, we set out into the heat and oppressive humidity on foot and were blown away at every step. 

We hit up the Market Place and had our first delicious cappuccino in a very long time at the Fox Catcher Cafe, before wandering down to the riverside promenade; a delight of historical buildings and original cobblestone roads (Savannah was established in 1733!). We wandered into a few of the shops before scoring the best tasting and freshly made praline in a candy store. On the sugar high, we walked back downtown and accidentally found ourselves in Leopald's ice cream store - for even more sugary goodness. And everyone was just so friendly!  

With energy abounding, we toured the squares that led to Forsyth Park and were absolutely blown away by the beauty of it all; amazing residential architecture, lush gardens and towering trees adorned in Spanish Moss lined every road and square. Words can hardly describe the feeling of these storybook streets, it was such a surreal and wonderful encounter. 

Carolina Cruising

Days: 35
Kilometres Travelled: 404
Total States Visited: 13
Total Kilometres: 9,049

After waking up in the Smokies, we scoped the rest of the Blue Ridge Parkway (its most esteemed drive) before deciding we'd seen enough and carried on to Asheville. 

We were very pleasantly surprised by this city; a walk around downtown showed it was a rare pocket of hippies and corporate resistance, a delightful escape from the corporate and consumerist driven metropolis' we had been immersed in so far. Beautiful old buildings, an abundance of natural product stores and Indian restaurants lined the streets - even the service station had no signage or ads!

As much as we liked lingering here, we had places to be and made our way south. En route we discovered the cheapest petrol yet for just $1.859 USD per gallon (about 70c AUD) and just had to fill up, a bittersweet contradiction to the sentiment of Asheville just minutes before. 

We made it to Baker Creek State Park, where $22 USD got us a lakefront site with power, water and a beautiful sunset.

Smokin' it Up

Days: 34
Kilometres Travelled: 190
Total States Visited: 12
Total Kilometres: 8,645

After a very tedious day spent in the waiting room of a local mechanic while Josie had her brakes repaired, we finally hit the road. Before long we found ourselves in the Smoky Mountains, and decided it was worth the detour to check them out (and why not test out Josie's new brakes?). 

As we ascended into the mountains on yet another epic road, we were surrounded by lush tropical-looking forest and spectacular views - and managed to catch sunset over the Smokies. Breathtaking!

Music City

Days: 33
Kilometres Travelled: 558
Total States Visited: 11
Total Kilometres: 8,455

Early on a Sunday afternoon we rolled into Nashville (after a detour past Loretta Lynn's Ranch to se the amateur AMA MX track and an exorbitantly priced Belle Meade Mansion & Plantation) and were hit with the ultimate Sunday-sesh vibe. The atmosphere in downtown Nashville was simply unreal; every single bar (and there were heaps) was featuring a live band, resulting in different genres of live music cascading onto the streets. Every few steps was another bar with another tune, and we strolled merrily along soaking it all in.

The visual backdrop of Downton amplified its auditory richness, with rustic industrial architecture making it one of the coolest cities we have visited. Definitely on the return list!

Our senses exhausted, we cruised on the i40 towards Knoxville where the struggle to find somewhere to camp became all too real. Finally, we surrendered to our fatigue, need to shower and 'over it' feelings and stayed in our first motel in over a month. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. And we got free waffles for breakfast! 

Meeting and Greeting

Days: 32
Kilometres Travelled: 431
Total States Visited: 11
Total Kilometres: 7,897

Almost as dramatically as the scenery, the people changed from state to state too - but one thing that never changed was their outward friendliness and, in our case, genuine excitement at meeting 'real Australians'. 

In Little Rock, we stopped at the visitors centre; a delightfully restored house over a century old with white weather boards, large verandah and big shady trees. We got chatting to the proud local at the desk, who not only told us where to find a magnet (we learnt our lesson) but called us a "handsome couple" and that Sponge was "pretty for all the freckles". Egos suitably inflated from such surprise compliments, we went for a walk through the marketplace area (as recommended to us) and decided we really liked it; there was a very nice vibe to the city. And yes, we found a magnet.

After 2 uneventful hours heading east on the interstate, we finally crossed the Mississippi into Memphis! It gave a spectacular greeting from the bridge, followed by a spiderweb of freeways that left us a little disoriented and desperate to get out. We stopped briefly at a mall to find Sean some new thongs - a task harder than it sounds. In the one store with the one affordable pair of 'flip flops', our sales assistant must have been suitably intrigued by us; we saw him speak into his headpiece and moments later, another staff member approached us with a look of sheer wonder on his face as he learned we were Australian, and driving all the way to Florida. Crazy, man!

This sense of wonderment we seemed to evoke carried through to evening, as we set up camp in Chickasaw State Park. Sack was becoming especially good at making friends with the neighbours, and by the time Sponge had made 1 round trip to the toilet we were already invited over to our camp-neighbours for some beers around the fire. We spent the rest of the evening in the company of 3 very real and very local Tennessee folk, who were about our age. There were many moments of incredulity as we learned a lot about each other's countries and social habits (especially around weapons and gun laws), and many good laughs were shared. Nothing like learning from locals!

A Change of Scenery

Days: 31
Kilometres Travelled: 365
Total States Visited: 10
Total Kilometres: 7,466

One thing we consistently struggled to get over was the sudden change of scenery the moment we crossed a state border. Oklahoma into Arkansas was no different - within moments, the prairie style farmland gave way to lush, almost tropical forest and winding roads. It was pure joy to drive. 

We left the main highway to find some state parks, and stumbled upon Steel Creek. We indulged in hotdogs as we explored the secluded riverbed and towering cliffs - eerie, but very photogenic.  

Although we were enjoying the winding, hilly roads through the forest, Josie's brakes started to concern us and we detoured south towards some flatter (we hoped) driving. We passed through the Buffalo River region and a few towns with lovely postcard-worthy neighbourhoods; big shady trees, white houses and lush green lawns. 

Comparatively spoilt for choice with campsites, we ended up at Sylvia Lake in Ouchita State Park and found ourselves in yet another epic, secluded site. 

The Mission (aka 'Angry Day')

Days: 29-30
Kilometres Travelled: 349
Total States Visited: 9
Total Kilometres: 7,101

As we approached the state border, we realised we still needed to purchase our signature magnet for Oklahoma (we collected one for each state) - and that's when things got ugly. We stopped counting after our tenth stop in 50km, pulling off and getting lost at almost every service stop along the interstate to fulfil our mission - and not a single magnet was found. At the last service station before the border, we got a token 'Kum'n'Go' stubby holder (Sponge found the servo chain name hilarious) as a last ditch effort for some form of souvenir. 

After making such slow and angry progress, we decided to camp at Natural Falls State Park just inside the OK border and found a lovely campsite - AND A MAGNET!  

Furious at the universe for playing such a trick on us, we went on a twilight stroll to the falls and saw our first fireflies, and soon we were much more calm and at peace. Clearly Oklahoma wasn't ready to see us go!

A True Okie Experience

We made it to Stillwater in the early morning, after a very warm start (humidity and the burning sun had set in fast at our nearby lake campsite). After exploring several department stores and other delights of the town, we headed out to find a campsite at Wild Wood RV Park just out of town. Turns out in some (many) places, RV park means RVs only - but we struck it lucky and the owners offered us a lovely private piece of lawn behind the ablutions for just $10. Further conversation with the very friendly owner revealed that we were in Tornado Alley, and he took great delight in spending the next half hour vividly describing the number of near death situations he knew of from spontaneous hurricanes and tornadoes in the area. We drank a lot of beer after that.

Once it had cooled down a little, we headed to the local county fair for an evening of firsts; our first county fair (obviously), our first corn dogs and a first prize from a dart throwing game. Honestly though, it was much smaller than we expected and left early, if a little disheartened. We headed into town for our first Sonic drive-in experience, where you order at individual car park bays and the 'carhops' serve you on roller skates! 

With county fair ticked off the bucket list, we were about to get back on the road when one of the RV park residents asked us over to her trailer for a coffee and a burrito, to show us some true 'Okie hospitality'. How could we say no? We had a great time touring the RV (surprisingly spacious!), eating burritos, drinking coffee, sharing stories (and learning about football-mania) and receiving yet more travel tips, finally hitting the road about 2 hours later...

The Cone of Eden

After a couple of hours browsing the op shop and TJ Max's, we discovered our own Eden in Eden, in the form of Braum's Ice Creamery. For just $1.79 each, we had the biggest ice creams of our lives. The glee on Sack's face speaks for itself.