Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Orlenas--Post Katrina

We’ve never seen New Orleans, except in movies and news coverage of Mardi gras. And then there was Hurricane Katrina. We expected to see the destruction that hit the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

As we drove in, we did see that. FEMA trailers in the front yards of damaged houses, blue tarps covering damaged roofs and walls. That is what we had seen on the news and it still exists.

In our highly rated KOA in Kenner/River Ridge, near the Mississippi River, nearly two-thirds of the units were FEMA trailers—with steel bands tying them down to the concrete, cinder blocks supporting them instead of metal leveling devices, pvc sewer lines and metal stairways. This is 18 months after the hurricane.

We hear periodically about conditions in New Orleans on the national news. Monday night at least 10 minutes of the local New Orleans news concerned Katrina reconstruction and deadlines for removal of FEMA trailers from Jefferson Parish.

But the French Quarter is different. The trolleys operate. Bourbon and Canal and Decatur Streets are alive and serving locals and tourists. There was a huge convention at the Marriott and I walked down the street finishing my beer from lunch—it was in the obligatory plastic cup. Life seemed normal. And we saw French Quarter balconies and St. Charles Avenue trees decked out with Mardi gras beads.

We can’t speak to how far the city has come, but it still has a long way to go and it is better than we expected or imagined.

When in need

Most of the time, RVers want their privacy and respect the privacy of others. When we encounter our neighbors, we say hi and may ask where they are from or where they are headed. If it looks like someone is new to this activity and needs some help, we might go out and offer some advice. But when your yard if only six feet wide and your patio is fully visible in the next RV’s dining room, it is important to keep some distance.

Sometimes, though, an event occurs that breaks down those privacy barriers. Sunday we were eating our steaks in the trailer when a woman came to our front door and asked, “Is anyone in there? Are you home?” I went to the door as I said, “Yes, we’re here.” She told me a woman across the driveway had fallen and she wasn’t able to help her get up.

John quickly went out with her and told me to bring the cell phone. We crossed the drive to find a woman, probably in her 70s, lying on the ground at the base of the steps into her RV. She was confused and unable to sit up. John talked to her. The woman who had summoned us asked her if she was diabetic. She said she was, and the first woman said she was, too, and they discussed her blood sugar levels, medication and food intake.

I got a glass of orange juice for the fallen woman. After John ascertained that she didn’t feel she had hurt herself, she thought she had just fainted, we helped her sit up. By then the husband of the woman who had found her on the ground and a man from another trailer also had gathered. The woman who fell used her own cell phone to call her husband. We helped her up into a lawn chair. And then we stayed with her till her husband returned.

This incident broke down our privacy barriers. The next morning the woman who had found the fallen woman came out to talk to John before they left for their day’s activities. And the man from the neighboring trailer came over to see if we knew how the woman was doing. We discussed how important it is to help each other out when needed.

What we saw was that we need our privacy. But we also aren’t alone and others are there to help when someone needs it. That gives us a sense of security.

Texas and Louisiana

“Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas any more” is our response to new surroundings. We’ve sure found new surroundings in Louisiana as we visit for the first time. We see azaleas blooming in the wild and in most yards here in Lafayette. It’s green—meaning spring has arrived. And the accents are quite distinctive.

We toured the Tabasco bottling plant on Avery Island—who would have thought the chili mash had to ferment for three years before the hot sauce in that little bottle could be made? Mr. McIlhenny was quite a Renaissance man, with interests in hot sauce, the snowy egret, and cultivating camellias, among other things.

The Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, laid out by McIlhenny, were amazing. There we saw small alligators living in the wild, turtles, a Buddha in a temple, an oak tree used as a survey marker almost 200 years ago and still growing. And there are azaleas, wisteria, camellias, bamboo and holly growing in abundance. Another feature was Bird Island, a breeding place for snowy egrets for nearly a century. The once nearly extinct birds are flourishing and amazing to watch in such large numbers.

We also went on a swamp tour on the Atchafalaya Basin south of Lafayette. There we saw cypress trees and houseboats and got a little feel for living in bayou country. For two days we also sampled local foods—ettouffee, gumbo, deep-fried catfish, alligator, crawfish, oysters and shrimp, boudain and sausage. We think we will pass the next time such things are offered. We are pretty set in our eating habits. But we did give them a try.

Our last day in Lafayette, we drove to New Iberia on Bayou Teche to tour a plantation owner’s home that was built in the 1830s. We have spent a lot of time in two Colorado Historical Association historic houses in Trinidad and know that much of the furniture and appointments are not really associated with the house. But Shadows on the Teche is operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and about 80 percent of the furnishings actually belonged to the Weeks family that built the house. We had a great tour, given by a teenage boy, Matthew, who really knew his stuff, and the house is wonderfully maintained and fascinating. The gardens and the views from the house are wonderful.

We spent two nights in Beaumont, Texas, before coming to Lafayette, Louisiana. There it rained for hours at a time over a 24-hour period. No severe storms, but in Houston, about 90 miles southwest, there was flooding. We were glad to be in Beaumont.

Beaumont was not a planned stop. But Tuesday was a day for changed plans. We were headed out for a run. On the way, we stopped at the RV park office to find a local park to run in and to sign up for another day in Houston. We were told we could only stay if we moved to another site—there was a rodeo in town and our site was reserved for the next 10 days. Even though we planned to visit the Museum of Funeral Service in the afternoon, we decided it wasn’t worth spending an hour moving the trailer first.

So, instead of going for a run, we returned to the trailer, prepared to leave and were on the road by 9:45 am. We called the Louisiana state park we were planning to stay in and they had vacancies. But as we drove east on I-10, I suggested we could stay in Beaumont, Texas. After looking in the Trailer Life Directory, I called the Gulf Coast RV Resort and made reservations. As luck would have it, they accept Passport America, so we would be staying two nights for $30, instead of one night in Houston for $25.50.

Wednesday we went running in the Beaumont RV park. We dodged and ran through puddles, but it was good to get the exercise. This was our second run at sea level and it’s great. I can run for 3 miles and not be out of breath—tired, maybe, but not out of breath. There is so much oxygen.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On the Road Again

The day we took to the road again was long and a lot of work. We weren’t sure if we would leave that day or not. All day Monday we had been busy picking up the trailer from RV Interiors, then waiting at Camping World while a Shur-flo fan was installed. Tuesday morning we did our workout, went for a run, and then said, yes, we will leave today. That meant spending nearly three hours loading personal belongings and food for the seven-month trip, then driving 150 miles to Lathrop State Park in Walsenburg, Colorado.

We have camped at Lathrop numerous times, but never this early in the year. Other than the camp host, we were the only unit in the campground. It was cold and windy, but we were relatively snug and warm inside, once the furnace worked for a while. Because of the cold, we didn’t de-winterize. We had three gallon jugs of water—one to flush the toilet, one for washing and cooking, one for drinking water. We would have liked to go on after one night, but we knew that the Texas Panhandle had high wind and wildfire warnings and we didn’t want to face that. So we settled in the three nights. Part of the good news was that this year John turned 64 and is eligible for an Aspen Leaf Pass to the Colorado State Parks. That means we get half-price camping Sunday through Thursday, so we were only paying $9 a night. The savings for three nights paid for the cost of the pass.

By day two at Lathrop, we had water dripping out from the covering on the trailer underbody. We thought that must mean the holding tanks were leaking. After talking to Montana dealers in Loveland, Colorado, and Amarillo, Texas, we decided to go on to Texas to have the problem fixed.

The overnight low had been 14 degrees Tuesday to Wednesday, 19 Wednesday to Thursday, and 20 Thursday to Friday. When we broke camp on Friday, the slides stuck three times before all the ice fell off. But that morning we left early and drove to Amarillo, stopping at Jack Sisemore RV on our way into town. They couldn’t look at the RV till Monday, but said we should go ahead and de-winterize. After setting up at the Amarillo KOA, that is what we did. And for three days, we saw no dripping. Whatever the problem, it wasn’t our water or sewer system, so we left on Monday for points south.

This is the third spring we have come to Texas. The last two years we volunteered in state parks here. This year we are passing through on our way to volunteering at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. We know we are in Texas because we’ve seen cotton fields, long-horned cattle, oil rigs and jack rabbits. We’ve also had our first meal of bar-b-cue.

RV Makeover Complete

It’s wonderful! We love the colors we chose for the carpet, vinyl and day/night shades. And the workmanship of the installation is great. The color of the carpet, vinyl and sofa pick up the light background of the floral print already in the RV. And the new, lighter colors really brighten up the area. It seems larger inside the living/dining area. The previous green carpet, floral couch and wood flooring were darker. The new sofa is also much more comfortable.

We had been searching the yellow pages and the internet for someone to do this work. When we met Bob and Donna of RV Interiors by Donna at the RV show, we were excited to know it could be done before we left on our travels. But, since we didn’t know them, we didn’t know how it would turn out. And we weren’t sure about our choice of materials. But when we walked inside the day we picked up the trailer, we knew everything had turned out well. We are so pleased.

We loved this trailer from the minute we walked into it. We don’t understand why it had sat in the lot for months and no one bought it. But that meant we got a really good deal in 2003. We still love it. We haven’t seen another unit we like better—meaning we have never been tempted to buy something new. But it was getting a bit shabby after five to seven months of use each year. And the sofa was sagging. Now it is renewed and beautiful. We can set out for seven months in a fresh, attractive 5th wheel trailer.