What an amazing few days we have had! And how frustrating to be without internet access and unable to tell you all about it. As most of you know, our reason for traveling up into the heart of Georgia was to visit my pen-pal who is on death row there. But I'm not going to talk about that yet, or I will get carried away and forget to mention everything else.
The drive from Okefenokee to the area of Jackson took about 4 hours, but as usual we made regular stops to eat and stretch our legs. It was a scenic drive through pecan orchards and cotton fields. I didn't get a photo of a cotton field, but I did manage to sneak a bit of cotton from one of them. The kids will stick it into their travel scrapbook. We traveled up on the Friday morning, but it was only on Thursday afternoon, after many phone calls, that we were finally authorised for our special visit with E. Dan made reservations at High Falls State Park, purely because it was near the prison and reasonably priced, but we didn't have much idea what the RV park would be like. The area around the park was pretty run down, but enthralling for any non-American, as every building looked so much like something from an old western film set. There were little shacks that would be condemned to less than garden sheds in England, that were selling boiled peanuts or hot dogs! The drive down into the RV park was very steep, completely wooded, with occasional glimpses of the Towaliga River. The area was originally inhabited by the natives who killed and scalped the first settlers to arrive here! But eventually it became a thriving industrial town until the late 1880's when a rail bypass devastated the the businesses and created nothing more than a ghost town.
The RV park turned out to be a beautiful, peaceful place. Full of trees and right next to the river. Once we had booked in and paid, we could drive round and pick a lot to park up in. We picked a spot opposite the river, with a large green area of trees behind for the kids to play in. I was really impressed with the park. It was spacious. Each lot was quite some distance from the next lot. Obviously the emphasis was on enjoying the area, rather than making as much money as possible, as they could have easily squeezed 5 times as many RV lots into that space. The people staying there were all quiet, respectful, nature loving people. No one made noise at night or early in the morning, and there were no trains! (Here is a picture of Thelma parked up with the grassy area behind). Each lot had a picnic table and a fire pit, as well as electric and water.
As soon as we got there the kids wanted to explore. I decided that Jimmie and Annabelle were old enough to be trusted by the river, whilst Barney and I took a walk up to the play area. I left them with a host of questions "how close to the edge are you?" - not close - "is it slippery?" -no- "is it deep?" - no mum, I can see the bottom - "if you fell in, is the edge too steep to climb out?" -no, but I won't go near the edge anyway. So off I plodded with Barney, after all there were plenty of children at the river, and plenty of parents too. However, 4o minutes later when I returned with Barney (yes, you've guessed it!) I discovered to my horror that Jimmie had fallen into the river and spent a good 20 minutes trying to clamber out! Annabelle had been desperate to get help, but Jimmie wouldn't let her as he was embarrassed. Poor Annabelle half thought he would be eaten by an alligator and was in a bit of a panic. The funny thing was, when I went to see how they were, Jimmie just tried to act if nothing had happened, despite being soaked to the armpits, covered in bramble scratches, and bathed in muddy orange slosh! In his desperation to get out before being eaten alive by a gator, he had had to grab onto a thorny bush and climb through it, as the silty edges of the river bank just kept coming away in his hands. Poor kid. I was none too pleased when I found him, but soon felt rather sorry for him.
Despite that initial mishap we had a great 3 nights stay at the High Falls State Park. The area was outstandingly beautiful, and the weather was pretty good (apart from the last night when the camp host came to tell us of a Tornado warning, and we sat through a 6 hour thunder and lightening storm!)
On both the first and second nights there we had a bonfire and BBQ. This was the first time in our trip that we'd been able to sit around a camp fire, so we really enjoyed it and made the most of it. All through the camp ground we could see the glow of various camp fires. The people next to us had their guitars out and were singing old American country songs. Although it was barely audible from our lot, but it added to the ambience of the camping experience. Dan tried to dry the trainers that Jimmie had fallen into the river wearing, by the bonfire. The steam was rising out of them and I kept worrying they would melt, but was told they were just fine. Moments later they burst into flames and were burnt to a crisp in front of our eyes. But not to worry, at least Jimmie had some flip-flops to wear. But no, the next day he fell into the river again (with his Dad by his side) and soaked his flip flops! So he put them on the fire grate to dry (the fire wasn't lit). Dan came along and lit the fire, and didn't notice the flip flops, so they melted! So Jimmie then spent three days wearing my spare (ladies) shoes!!!
Most of Saturday was taken up with the visit to see E, but I will write a post all about that. On Sunday Leslie came to visit us. Leslie is a very special kind lady and without her our visit to see E never would never have happened. She phoned the prison and organised our special visit. She sent forms, phoned the prison countless times, and basically nagged them until our visit was approved (with minutes to spare!) And all because she also writes to a prisoner, in another state, and understands what the letters and visits mean to them. She went totally out of her way to help us, and when she visited she even brought two HUGE boxes of real American do-nuts with her (which I have to say, I could totally get addicted to - so if I come home twice the size, you know what's happened!) Here is a pic of Leslie and I outside the RV. We sat for several hours and talked about prison life and the death penalty etc. She told me lots of stories about prisoners who were found innocent after years on death row. She is going to see her pen-pal in Texas this week who she has also been writing to for many years.
After she left we headed out for a bit of a nature walk with the kids. We walked down by the waterfalls and over the rocks. At the start of the walk there was a big sign saying that people had died on the rocks and water, climbing and dieing from falls or in flash floods. So I sat the kids down and told them that under no circumstances were they allowed to climb on the rocks, or go into the water. I shouldn't have worried about the kids, for it was Dan that immediately sprang out onto the rocks and started hopping from one to another across the river! My heart was in my throat the whole time while I waited for his certain death, and I gave him a good telling off when he got back to safety!
Today (Monday) we drove 4 hours back down to the bottom of Georgia, just close to the border of Florida. We are spending the night in a very cheap, not very nice RV park, purely to sleep and use their wifi access! In the morning we plan to drive down to Mexico Beach which is on the Gulf Coast of Florida and begin our 16-17 day journey across the Gulf Coast through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It only takes 3 days to drive it, but we plan to relax lots along the way and take in a lot of scenery.
Georgia was a lovely state to visit. It reminds Dan of Ireland in some ways, but the soil is really orange (like in Australia). It is dotted with pecan orchards and cotton fields, with thousands of the cutest run down little farm shacks. A lot of the people we drove past lived in permanent mobile home estates and seemed to live a very modest lifestyle. There were gospel churches on nearly every corner, and everyone was kind and friendly to us. On our way out of the RV park this morning we were invited to dinner at the home of some other campers. I'm glad to have visited Georgia, to see the area from which my penpal and friend E comes from, and to understand his passion for the place more.