Escape to the Country

Our latest Grand Adventure is taking place within the far northern tropical region of Queensland Australia. We have managed a move from the leafy suburbs of coastal Cairns to the clear air, cooler climes and rolling lush green fields of the tropical tablelands that hover above Port Douglas and the Daintree.

We have purchased five acres with a much smaller house than our far-too-big home in Cairns, but it is a house that is graced with a very large and comfortable verandah that sports views out over the expansive garden, our paddock and dam, and the dark and thickly rainforest-clad Mt Lewis National Park. Those dramatically steep mountain slopes harbour such unusual animals as cassowaries, tree kangaroos, white lemuroid possums and countless other rare and unique creatures.

We are still in the process of shifting our seemingly endless stores of Stuff, trailer load by trailer load, along the wonderfully scenic coastal drive north of Cairns and then up the winding Rex Range, an hour and a half’s drive each way. We are presently living out of two houses, one rapidly emptying one and another place that is gradually becoming a home that we never want to move from again.

As we compose these words the air is at least four degrees cooler than on the coast, the trees are whispering as the refreshing breeze caresses us, and multiple delicate honey eater birds chirp and flutter energetically past. Multiple flowers are blooming in the garden, every colour of hibiscus you can imagine, and the different varieties of mangoes and lychees are all ripening nicely. The grass is green, and although the rest of Australia is in the grip of a drought and terrible bushfires this tropical region has been blessed with sufficient rain.

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An early view of part of the verandah before we put more furniture on it
Bailey outside the house
The old stables, soon to be a chook resort
The dam is a bit low at the moment, but still deep enough for the dogs to swim in
A pre-dawn dog walk, with the clouds clinging to Black Mt as the brahmans come to investigate us
Returning to our drive as Bella has a scratch
Back home as the Sun rises

Singin’ the Blues

Back in Australia now, being serenaded by bird songs as the day dawns. The large numbers of wild birds that this country has is a true blessing.

We didn’t blog the last couple of days in Nyorlins for several reasons: number one we were pretty tired at that stage, a week in a crazy city like that is exhausting! Secondly we spent the final two days either riding in streetcars (trams) and viewing the city we hadn’t experienced yet, or driving in a zig zag pattern around the one way back streets viewing the pretty architecture and the outrageous colours that they have been painted. We speculated on why the house owners might have chosen selections such as orange walls with pink and lime trimmings, and could only come up with “Well, no one else on the street has it!” as a reasonable answer. Boring is not something that is common in Nyorlins.

Finally, our lack of bloggage was really down to the utter exhaustion we felt that was brought on by so many late nights ricochetting from one music establishment to another, groovin’ on the different jazz and blues styles that we came across. The live music in Nyorlins is amazing, it is a community that is rightfully proud of its fabulous jazz and blues heritage, and musicians are encouraged and promoted in so many ways.

We rode a couple of the streetcars from one end to another, viewing the scenery and the people that utilise them. Although the benches were wooden they were quite comfortable to perch upon and soak up the views outside the nice and clean glass windows. Nyorlins was going through an unusual heat wave during our stay (lucky for us) and the streetcars were all air conditioned, so we remained comfortable within their confines.

What follows a few Odd and Quirky Observations on the US:

*Before coming we were warned that ‘Everything is Big’ in the US. For example Big meals: After a feed you need to take the leftovers (called a ‘box’ not a ‘doggie bag’) home for lunch the next day. Goodness gracious, who needs to super-size? Getting a full tummy was not a problem that we encountered, even pastries were often much larger than what we were used to.

*Monster trucks: they take it to the extreme on a regular basis, lots of lo-o-ong, broad and high pickups (utes) sporting wide dual tyres on the back and throbbing V8 motors under the bonnet. Often the wheels were so big, and projected so far out from the mudguards, that they sprayed mud up the side panels. Outrageously enormous vehicles are extremely common, probably because the roads are so wide and gas (petrol) is so cheap. We paid about an average of US$1.30 per gallon (aprox 80 cents per litre Australian) whilst travelling right across the country. In Lafayette one person commented on our ‘small’ Toyota Camry and how economical it must be! Gosh, and there we were thinking that Mary car was a big guzzler!

*In our travels around the world we have encountered a variety of toilets, encompassing the indescribable abominations of Vietnam to the sordid holes in the ground of Italy and Africa. But to sit on an otherwise civilised porcelain throne and have a gentleman’s equipment dip surprisingly into the cold and unsavoury water lurking a mere centimetre or so below one’s bottom is an unpleasant and shocking experience indeed. It took Rod some time to get used to the large reservoirs held just beneath the seat.

*Disposable plastic: this is the only place we’ve encountered where each and every disposable cup – be it plastic or paper – is wrapped in its own individual little plastic bag to tear open and throw away! Effectively doubling the environmental problem! To compound it most of the motels we stayed in for breakfast used disposable plastic knives, forks and spoons as well as plastic bowls and plates! What’s wrong with washing dishes for goodness’ sake? Plus, it does look so incredibly tacky.

*We were often asked “Where you from? England?” to which we reply “No, Australia.” One person then answered us with “So that’s why you are easier to understand!”

*Advertising: in the US it is something of an eye-opener. The most commonly seen road side billboards are for rather unsavoury ambulance-chaser lawyers, frequently inquiring of the reader “Injured?” Some specialise in oil-rig injuries, others 18-wheeler accidents, others do class actions. It’s quite creepy. We saw whole suburban streets taken up by law firms advertising how to blame someone else for your own actions. Litigation, it seems, is very common and very lucrative.

TV ads are phenomenal, lots of ambulance chasers constantly plugging class action litigation for glyphosphate exposure, mesothelioma, etc, etc. But the drug companies were a big surprise with their prolific hard sell of lots of chemicals for diabetes, MS, weight loss, botox, multiple forms of cancers, and plenty of medical conditions that we knew nothing about. Doctors are so expensive that people must be forced to self medicate. Also using up lots of air time were loan shark ads extolling their ‘gifts’ of FREE MONEY!

*Sugar: oh my goodness gracious me most foods are packed heavily with the stuff. It takes a lot of ingredients list reading to buy something that is not riddled with the wicked substance.

*Coffee: over on the West coast San Francisco had fairly reasonable stuff, but purchasing a cup of coffee whilst travelling across the country was an unpleasant experience. Weak and insipid, tasting only just a tiny bit like coffee, each coming with eensy little disposable packs of ‘creamer’ (labelled half and half) instead of milk. Rod had to open and then throw away about four disposable packs to colour his weak cups of strange and insipid fluid. Luckily, in Nyorlins the coffees were often more acceptable, but to be on the safe side, Rod took no chances and brewed his own back at our little house. He has been spoilt by good Greek and Turkish coffees whilst on other adventures. And getting a cup of tea for Georgie was nigh on impossible in some places. Iced tea not a problem but hot tea was quite a challenge.

Bridges and Drag

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is supposed to be the longest continuous bridge over water (approx 38 kilometres), so on that basis we just had to drive Mary car over it. On the other side of that broad lake from New Orleans there is no protective levee, so all the houses are built up high on stilts away from potential floodwaters. There are some very nice places over there, grand old historic homes, many with water views and big shaggy trees in the garden. We trickled around and visited a conservation park (for free, as they allow old farts in without paying any fees) and Rod meandered off into the scrub again as he is wont to do.

The massive trees there were draped in enormous veils of ‘spanish moss’ and looked utterly splendid. Rod met a lady who was carrying a shed snake’s skin and he was fascinated to finally view evidence of a metre long snake. We have seen lizards, turtles and alligators whilst here but that was the first view of anything to do with a legless reptile. A little bit exciting!

We made it back to the city in time for our booking at the famous Preservation Hall for a jazz concert. The music was fantastic trad jazz played superbly by the very experienced band. The ‘hall’ however left a lot to be desired, the ‘seats’ that we had paid for were simply narrow spaces on a wooden bench that were so squishy and uncomfortable that Rod got up and moved to the back to stand up instead. In the interests of being authentic the place hadn’t been cleaned since the 1940s and Rod was too nervous to touch or lean against the walls. But the atmosphere was real and the music wonderful.

By then it was getting dark so we wandered off down Bourbon Street in search of more music. We listened to piano players and a couple of rock bands before stumbling upon a brilliant and high-energy jazz band that entertained us wonderfully through a couple of sets. We would have stayed on, but a drag show was about to begin on the next block, so we shifted venues again.

A couple of ladies kindly offered us to share their pre-booked table, so we had front row seats at that crazy show. It was lots of laughs, totally outrageous and Rod was grateful that they didn’t play any gruesome ABBA songs.

A good time was had by all.

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The 24 mile long bridge stretching off to a watery horizon
Unimpeded water views on the other side of the lake
Gorgeous shaggy trees
High energy jazz band
Drag show emcee

Mississippi Dreaming

It was a trip out of the city today as we headed up bush, driving back roads beside long winding mega levees that follow the meandering course of the Mississippi River, itself a mega highway for slow chugging cargo ships. To view the river one needs to stop the car and climb the grassy slope to look down on that broad murky expanse of water, its banks mostly lined with wharves and oil refineries.

We stopped for a picnic on a plastic bench near Baton Rouge and bought pina colada and black cherry snow balls. Brain freeze on a warm humid day.

The road took us past many stately and grand old plantation mansions, with enormous lawns and old mossy trees surrounding the huge columned fronts of the old homes, beautiful buildings open to the public and re-creating the glory days of slavery and ill-gained wealth.

We picked up a hitch hiker, a garrulous old Louisianan, an entertaining guy who chatted constantly the whole way, although we barely understood a word he said, his Southern accent was so rich.

Driving deep into the Atchafalaya Basin we finally found some suitable and accessible wild bushland, and Rod took himself walkabout. Pacing silently and alert amongst the scattered shadowy swamps, exploring some of the myriad dead-end shallow rises, marvelling at impressive cypress trees with buttressed trunks and tangled bundles of pneumatophores, hard woody roots projecting darkly from the duck-weed covered calm water. The weedy surface was sometimes languidly disturbed by mysterious large water denizens, briefly glimpsed. Catfish? Turtles? Alligators perhaps?

That was another box on the bucket list ticked.

There were long bridges that literally stretched for miles, spanning huge areas of swamplands. Well maintained super highways that only were lacking in corners, passing over massive areas of low lying swamps, the famous bayous. Buried pipelines abounded, each carrying oil or gas: the wealth behind the local economy.

All along the highways there were clusters of roads on sticks, curving over each other in multiple layers. We came across no roundabouts, instead enormous arching concrete cross overs, huge and yet fragile-looking.

We arrived back at our digs after dark, having negotiated fast and busy multi lane highways with manic city drivers swapping lanes and tailgating each other, brake lights glaring.

It was another big day.

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Grand old plantation mansion
Down in the bayou

On the bridge where Georgie sat and waited patiently as Rod scrabbled about in the swamp lands


We took a ride on a paddle steamer down the Mississippi River, but the views along the river bank were mainly of flood damaged wharfs and warehouses. Not the most attractive stuff. Luckily the view ON the boat was much more entertaining, there was a group of gorgeous voluptuous African American women from Miami all done up in fancy and revealing frocks that accentuated their beautiful curves, and they were all laughing and having a wow of a time. That sure brought smiles to our faces.

There was a good quality Dixieland jazz band playing on board, which also added to the enjoyment.

After disembarking we tried a few beignets (French donuts) and listened to some more great live jazz. Then we wandered off down to the French Markets for a browse for trinkets and souvenirs. Following that it was a meander over to Bourbon Street to do another music venue crawl and some window shopping. We called in to B. B. King’s Blues Bar for a blast of blues, then on to The House of the Rising Sun where Rod had his first whiskey in many weeks as we listened to the rock band.

Just a bit exhausted we returned to our digs for a rest.

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Gorgeous girls and their one man chaperone
A big paddle steamer
Jazz with beignets
Cafe Beignet
In the House of the Rising Sun

Alligators and More Jazz

It was a late start to the day due to a bit of a sleep in, then we drove Mary car out to the Jean Lafitte National Park and took a tourist boat out onto the bayou in the hope of seeing some cute little alligators. We were not disappointed as the little fellas ended up almost climbing into the boat with us. It seems the tourism industry here is not as regulated as it is in Australia, the guide was throwing marshmallows (for goodness sake) to attract the little reptiles! And the ‘gators were actually eating them! Marshmallows!

Eventually he stopped the boat in a place where about five of the animals gathered around the vessel and he started feeding them chicken legs, which we must say was an improvement over giving them lollies! As alligators are not a threat to humans, it seems there is not such a problem with teaching them to associate people with food, something you don’t want to do with the larger crocodilians.

The swamps were beautiful, the trees impressive and the Spanish Moss (not actually a moss) was stunning. Plus we finally got to see the wild alligators. They are mild mannered and entertaining little beasts, nothing like our more single-minded prehistoric crocodiles.

Another trip into the city to do a live music venue crawl was our evening treat. Once again we wandered down Frenchman Street popping into establishments where jazz was playing and enjoying the sounds and the ambience. The crowds had thinned out from what we’d experienced the night before, which made things a little easier to move around and to get a seat where we could see the bands. The people-watching was just as entertaining.

A big grid-iron game was on so everyone was keen to watch the TVs where the invading Dallas team was being beaten by the local New Orleans mob. “Who dat!” the audience would all blurt: which is a kind of Nyorlins war cry.

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A colourful golden orb weaver along a foot track

A two metre beast leaping
And almost climbing aboard
Reaching for a bit of chook
Evening jazz

The Big Easy

The day began with a stroll around the City Park Sculpture Gardens admiring the amazing artworks and their pretty setting. There were lots of fantastic modern sculptures of all different styles, many nestled under gorgeous mossy spreading trees. Then, after relaxing with a cuppa tea for Georgie and a reasonable coffee for Rod, we shuffled around the art gallery soaking up the varied pieces on display.

Following that we indulged in some ‘wildlife spotting’ in Walmart, but were very disappointed in the normalcy of the customers we encountered. So we resigned ourselves to just concentrating on shopping.

We explored the the French Quarter and trickled Mary car slowly down the very famous Bourbon Street and many of the surrounding streets as well, watching the crowds and the goings-on, knowing then that we were truly in the ‘Big Easy’.

As the evening began we ubered back into the French Quarter again and visited Frenchmen Street to indulge in a crazy music venue crawl. Six different establishments with six different genres of music to enjoy, starting with a loud rock band whose vocalist’s voice was reminiscent of Joe Cocker, then on to some great traditional trumpet and vocals jazz just a couple of doors down. After that we found a brilliant band that really hit the spot with the harmonica howling out the blues, then next door the Washboard Chaz band played some fantastic acoustic jazz, much like the sounds of Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. Then it was up to a loft to listen to more jazz with slide trombones and a saxophone, and finally on to another jazz band with tuba further up the street. Everything was just a few steps away from each other and they all were throbbing with great music. It was a blast!

We will definitely be doing that again! There were lots of venues on the other side of the street we never got to. Probably tonight we will return, searching for a female African American jazz singer, that one is on the bucket list.

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We passed through mile upon mile of tall swampy forests before arriving at the city outskirts of New Orleans (or Nyorlins as it is known locally). Our airbnb we booked for the next nine days is a traditional structure, quite cute and very comfortable.

The first night we wandered down the little-bit-shabby street to a nice French/Japanese fusion restaurant and enjoyed an absolutely superb meal, we even got to have a couple of glasses of Tusker beer! Yum! Tusker is a Kenyan beer that we haven’t tasted since lounging on the verandah of Africa House on the island of Zanzibar. Coupled with the delicious food it made a wonderful start to our Nyorlins adventure.

The next morning (on Georgie’s 60th and Rod’s 62nd un-birthdays,) saw us wandering the streets marvelling at the brightly coloured and beautifully crafted architecture that it was too dark to notice the night before. The Cajuns (French-Canadian settlers) have created wonderful building styles that echo the elaborate wrought iron, slatted window and door shutters and the fancy timber work of their French origins. Plus, people have painted many of the buildings in loud colours that would normally be garish, but in these settings it works just perfectly.

We drove about the city, getting just a little bit lost in all the narrow one-ways, and soaked up the architecture and art of this special city. Tonight we had planned to return to town and enjoy a jazz concert, but we are a touch travel weary and probably would be better off postponing it until tomorrow.

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The grey building is our accommodation

See the butler statue on the verandah?

Down on the Bayou

The next morning we drove out of Beaumont Texas and meandered down towards the coast, taking, once again, the road less travelled. Huge oil refineries dominated the landscape as we neared the Gulf of Mexico. The land was very flat and very wet, there had been big rains just before we arrived in the region and some flood debris had been evident the day before, strung up along some fences, and there was still lots of water lying about.

The coastal stretch was low lying and swampy, primarily reedy freshwater swamps with the occasional low outcrop of small-tree be-speckled dryer land. The road followed a narrow spit that threaded through these bayous. After following one small track down to a long empty beach we got out of the car and wandered bare foot along the sand that stretched off into the distance, with only a few birds running about and a couple of high-set beach houses set well back. Not another soul in sight. We counted over twenty off-shore oil rigs hugging the horizon, and read a warning sign that described elevated bacteria levels in the water.

We drove through absolutely miles of reedy bayous, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of those cute and elusive alligators, as it sure looked to be an ideal spot for them. In fact at one ‘gas station’ we stopped at the lady seemed surprised that we hadn’t seen any these ‘pests’ warming themselves on the actual road! But no luck, however we did get some nice photos of stunning moss-laden trees, coated in more ‘old man’s whiskers’ than their own leaves.

By that time we had crossed out of Texas and into the state of Louisiana, and had stopped at a bird and butterfly’s sanctuary, hoping to view a few of the afore-mentioned animals. We did espy a couple of pretty butterflies, but that lush and soggy sanctuary was actually more heavily populated with starving mosquitoes, so after donating a litre or two of vital fluids to the hungry skeets we high-tailed it out of there.

Eventually we arrived at La Fayette and checked into our comfortable accommodation. We had decided to pay a little more for a motel that night, as the cheaper dives we’d mostly been stopping in were very noisy and a touch grotty. For dinner we had a real cultural experience by eating at a recommended traditional restaurant with a Cajun band playing violin and accordion music and people zydeco dancing to it. That was a bit of fun.

Unfortunately it turns out that the traditional recipes of the region always contain what they call the ‘holy trinity of vegetables’: onion, celery and Georgie’s nemesis capsicum! This left very limited menu items for her to choose from, so she ended up with a plate of deep fried ‘crawfish’ (freshwater crays). Rod was fortunate that the ‘chilli-free’ meal he ordered had only mild chilli in it.

Click the pics to enlarge

Reedy bayou
Long empty beach
With rigs hugging the horizon
Little birdies on the beach
And high-set houses in behind

More moss than leaves

Flora and Fauna

The day began with the regulation morning cuppa tea served to Georgie at an alarming 7 am, so that we could beat the crowds at the very famous Magnolia Table for breakfast. Mission accomplished! We just strolled in with no queue, no waiting and ensconced ourselves in a beautifully renovated and decorated room, light bright and airy with lovely fixtures and fittings. The sweet and cheerful waitress soon brought us what turned out to be the best meal we’ve had on this continent so far, and reasonably priced too. A bucket list box ticked for Georgie, who left with a big grin on her lovely face.

We opted to veer away from the main roads and only take the smaller four lane divided super highways, until we found some nicer two lane country roads that meandered through tall dark forests that were not just dominated by pine trees, but instead had a variety of different species intermingled together. After exploring a couple of small quiet side roads we stumbled upon the beautiful Lake Conroe tucked away in Little Lake Creek Wilderness. A stunning place with masses of gorgeous mosses draped from the trees overhanging the water. The bird and insect life there was the best we had come across to date, including a couple of regal looking vultures perched upon a log. That was pretty special. Butterflies, dragonflies, bumble bees and the like entertained us as we watched the eagles soar overhead.

Later that evening we went wildlife spotting at Walmart, ever hopeful of seeing the legendary weirdos that apparently frequent its bright aisles. Luckily we were fortunate enough to see a couple of strange and exotic humans, so we returned triumphant to our motel room quite satisfied with the day’s explorations.

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Magnolia Table for brekkie
Draped mosses at Lake Conroe
Egret on the lake
A male cardinal
Regal vultures