We leave Florida and we’re in a different world… hard to believe that states like Mississippi and Louisiana are also part of this huge, so diverse country. Much poorer, dingier and of course much more sparsely populated with an almost exclusively black population. On the way to New Orleans, we can still see the traces of Hurricane Catrina from 2005 in the outskirts that are not visited by tourists. In addition to the “classic” hurricane devastation, it also led to several dam collapses and thus 75% of the entire New Orleans area got flooded. Scrap cemeteries with cars, remains of houses, household appliances, etc. in unimaginable dimensions, and this disaster happened over 17 years ago.
New Orleans itself fully meets our expectations: the “French Quarter” is indeed beautiful and unique. Especially considering that we are in the U.S.A.! Many old houses with a slightly morbid charm and great wrought-iron balconies and expansive verandas: one prettier than the other and we can’t stop taking pictures. In addition, there are jazz musicians on almost every corner on the street or – even at lunchtime – in the various bars. Just as you imagine New Orleans and with a unique, very relaxed vibe! In the evening we first go to a bar – there they have an oyster special with drinks – and then we have a very good dinner. The next day we visit the Mardi Gras Factory and make a detour to the wide Mississippi Delta: Mangroves and crocodiles in the hot, humid air bring back memories of the recently visited Everglades!
What would the southern states be without a drive along the Mississippi and its old plantations! Unfortunately, the lower part up to Baton Rouge is disappointing: Oil processing industry along the riverbank as far as the eye can see. Only further north does “Tom Sawyer romance” arise and a visit to the well-known Houmas Plantation is undoubtedly a highlight – especially with its extremely lavish Christmas decorations. After we have more or less overcome our short but severe food poisoning – probably one of the oysters in New Orleans was not so good -, we continue north along the riverbank which is becoming more and more pristine. In Natchez, we visit more antebellum homes and feel like we’ve been transported back centuries. Simply romantic and beautiful.
You would think that after more than 200,000 km of driving experience in difficult terrain on five continents, you would be protected from “driving mistakes” – unfortunately far from it! In search of a place to stay overnight, we sink into the bottomless swamp of the Mississippi bank when reversing because we slide off the gravel access road. As we learn later, we are already in the riverbed, but the water level is historically low now and the boat ramp had to be “extended” by adding gravel to allow access to the water. All of this doesn’t help us at all in our situation and we have to stop our self-rescue maneuvers immediately, since Shujaa only sinks more to one side and threatens to tip over due to his threatening tilted position. Karin – usually the calming influence in such situations – is completely panicked that Shujaa flips over. On the other hand, I’m quite sure that Shujaa won’t tip over further on its own, since both rear axles are sitting on the firm, graveled area.
As always, something like this happens at the worst possible moment – a Sunday afternoon! But luckily there are locals around and so we can request a professional recovery truck with cable winches. As always in such situations, it takes forever, and Karin is convinced that Shujaa is gradually leaning over further and further. The first recovery truck and its driver is unfortunately totally incompetent, another expert is requested who in turn orders another recovery truck come. Shortly before midnight there are three recovery trucks with wildly flashing lights and then Shujaa is pulled out very slowly, in a controlled manner and completely unspectacularly in 30 seconds with two cable winches: one to stabilize Shujaa so that he doesn’t tip over, and one to pull him. An expensive undertaking for a moment of inattentiveness! At least we don’t have to stay at the hotel as planned and Shujaa survived the whole action without any scratches! Of course, we can’t sleep with the adrenaline level!
What remains is a pretty bad cold that we caught while waiting (Karin had forbidden me to get jackets from Shujaa because he could have flipped over 😉). Accordingly in rather bad constitution we arrive in Dallas, where we visit an old high school friend of mine – Pat. We have known each other for 36 years and spend two great days together. Karin is always so enthusiastic about the Christmas decorations of the American houses: the most intensively decorated house in the garden that we have ever seen is – what a coincidence – Pat’s.
The U.S.A. is a huge country… and Texas is a huge state! For the first time we drive 1,000 km west without any sightseeing point and realize the whole vastness of the country and its oil production infrastructure. At least the diesel here is quite cheap at the equivalent of 1 €/liter.
In Big Bend N.P. in the very south at the border with Mexico, we suddenly arrived in a completely different world. Wide desert, beautiful mountains, complete solitude, and extreme off-road slopes. The latter, in fact, rivals the most demanding of our routes in Africa and South America… and that in a national park in the U.S.A! We are surprised that we are allowed to drive these slopes without restrictions… especially because we are told the story of a flipped Unimog, where the recovery is said to have taken a whole 18 months. We can do without that this time and instead enjoy the beautifully secluded wild camps in the park, great hikes and a trip by boat across the Rio Grande to Mexico.
Along the Rio Grandes we continue west and later north into endless desert areas. The climate is extremely dry and there is so much space that you can always come across bizarre-looking car wrecks and other relics from bygone times on abandoned farms “in the middle of nowhere”, which make beautiful photo opportunities.