The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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New Orleans,, LA

We left Manatee Springs and stopped for the night in Panama City. It was too crowded and noisy for me, so I only stayed one night before moving on to Mobile, AL where I stayed at Buckley Historic State Park. The campground here felt like a housing development waiting to be built - it was far removed from the attractions of the park, expensive, and had a sense of isolation that I didn't care for. So I just stayed one night and decided I might as well visit New Orleans, since i had some time to kill before I was expected in Mississippi.

While driving through Mobile, an older gentleman in a pickup next to me rolled down his to window to say "..saw your plates. Welcome to Mobile!" That made me smile. (Note to self: when noticing out of towners in my hometown, make a point to welcome them.) I took Route 90, along the coast through Mississippi and saw the immense devastation Katrina had caused to the area. They were in the midst of recovering and rebuilding, and there was so much to do still. The road was being re-built, and it was tricky maneuvering the trailer through tight, narrow construction zones, but we sailed through smoothly. Those were intense and sobering miles.

On the far side of Lake Pontchartrain, the campground at Fontainebleu State Park wasn't the best - sites were very close together and there was no privacy. I decided I could live with it for five nights. My next-door neighbor, Carol, was tenting it and had been since Hurricane Katrina hit. When I first pulled in and made her acquaintance, she told me she "went a little crazy" after the storm, and I wondered if I should be concerned about living so close to a crazy lady. As I got to know her more, I realized she wasn't really crazy at all, but may have been experiencing some PTSD. She had evacuated, and came home within a week after the storm, when things were still pretty bad. With tears in her eyes, she told me about her experience coming back and wish that she hadn't come back so soon. The shock of it all left her in a state of suspension. She just couldn't decide how to proceed. With her dog, she was living out of her van and tent until she could pull it together enough to figure out what to do next. I asked her what was keeping her here, and she wasn't really sure, so I suggested, since she was already living a mobile life, why not go somewhere else and get a change of scenery. Could do a body good, traveling...

Since I was on the far side of the lake, in Mandeville, it was a bit of a trek to get to the city. The 20-mile Pontchartrain bridge was ridged at regular intervals and caused a noisy vibration that agitated Riley. The first day we made the trip, I parked the car and walked around the French Quarter for the afternoon. It was exactly like I remembered it before the storm - crowded with bars, drunken tourists and cheap souvenir shops - but with interesting places tucked in between. A clerk at a shoe store informed me that the French Quarter and Garden District actually suffered very little damage. These areas were built on the highest ground, when it was first settled. She suggested I watch "When the Levees Broke" - a documentary Spike Lee made during and after Katrina - to get an honest picture of the storm's effect on the city.

I found a Blockbuster video store, rented the 4-hour movie and watched it in one sitting. It offered tremendously valuable, but heartbreaking, insight and perspective. But like most documentaries with a socio-political bend, I eventually found it to be one-sided and by the fourth hour, I felt saturated with that point of view. Still, when I took a drive around the 9th Ward the next day, it was with a much better understanding of what the residents had been through. I could translate the spray-painted "x" markings on each house that marked when it was searched and how many dead bodies were found there. I saw many people still cleaning up, starting to rebuild, and passing the time with each other on a neighbor's stoop.

As I continued my driving tour, I stopped in the Marigny district, an artsy neighborhood in between the 9th Ward and the French Quarter. With outdoor cafes, a thriving artist community and people on bikes, I liked it there. I took a drive down Magazine Street, through the Garden District and past Audubon Park. I realized that to fully appreciate the many layers of this city, I had to stay for a while, have a porch to idle the day away with neighbors, and time to tap into the buzzing nightlife.

In my short stay, though, I discovered that Crawfish Etouffee is quite easy to prepare and stocked my freezer with crawfish. I sampled the world-famous Muffaletta from Central Grocery and indulged in Cafe Du Monde's beignets. Riley made a lot of friends from tourists who had left their dogs back home and had a taste of everything I tasted. Back at the park, Riley got his feet wet in Lake Pontchartrain, but because we were still in alligator-land, his time in the water was disappointingly limited. Peyote graciously endured the afternoons she was left behind to watch over the trailer, and when Riley and I returned, was more than pleased to don her harness and leash so that she could spend some quality time outside.


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