Yesterday (Oct. 27) was a relaxing day at the beach for all of us. With no electronics or wallets or keys to worry about, V and I hit the shallow surf, body surfed, played with the sand and the waves while E read on shore and started her own sand sculpture. (I suspect that, after hearing about the local varieties of sharks, she wasn't interested in getting wet at all here, but she really wasn't willing to specify.) As we approached the water, V said, "What's that? In the wave?" She'd spotted a $20 bill and we hopped into the warm water to retrieve it. We stayed out of the deep water and had a great play time before heading to dry land.
There we sculpted a manatee, giant sea star, some baby alligators and forts before the tide came in and too, our manatee away, threatened the babies and our fort, and started a shallow pool that ran yards and yards along the beach for exploration and splashing fun. We stayed again 'til near sunset before heading back to camp for our last "in camp" meal of this trip - their favorite: walking tacos.
Today, we put on some miles toward home. We passed through Alabama at lunchtime, so we headed for Panini Pete's in Fairhope, Alabama. Our friends in Virginia loaned us Guy Fieri's "Diner's Drive-Ins and Dives," a guide to some of his favorite spots on the nation's byways. I was leery (I'm not a huge panini fan), but was rewarded with not only a fantastic lunch (the special of the day: cheeseburger cooked TO ORDER topped with a slice of grilled green tomato, light drizzle of barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese), but friendly, quick service and a busy, fun, friendly atmosphere. The girls shared a rosemary chicken panini which, after my taster bite, changed my entire attitude about panini. Then we all shared the cinamon-apple beignet pudding.
While walking through this lovely old town the girls spotted a consignment store dedicated entirely to teen and preteen clothing. (Youngnique). The sale rack out front ($1 for a girls' shirt, like new. Really?) drew us in. An hour and two VERY happy girls later we left with some nice, apparently new dresses for each girl and a nice dress coat for V. They danced, bags in their hands, out of the store and back to the van.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. Still, 6 years later, the effects are clear. Along the beachfront, no original homes remain standing. Most of the properties remain for sale. Several have been rebuilt, most on stilts (shoring) varying from about 8 feet to well over 15 feet. Ruins of previous homes remain - their shoring,their stairs, their driveways, bits of picket fence, someone's dream home along the Gulf shore. In the state park where once a thriving water park stood, now a waterslide to nowhere creeped out the girls. ("That looks dangerous," V said, before I told her about the events that took place here.)
After making camp, we took a drive east along the coast to old town Bay St. Louis. Here, all that remains of the old bank is the vault, its door reopened after the storm, the lot now for sale like so many others. The town's old brick structures have been cleaned up and reoccupied. It's a quiet, walkable, entirely friendly place where neighbors greet each other around every corner. We stopped two teenage boys on the street after dark (carrying coffee cup from Mockingbird Cafe) for a dinner recommend and they pointed us to Sloppydogs Cafe where we were fed, entertained and adopted. The owner, Aaron, entertained and occupied his own boys while feeding the masses, locals and otherwise, who wandered through his door. Great place for comfort food and a good beer, root or otherwise.
On our way back to camp (and after dark) we stopped to take a walk on the Garfield Memorial Pier in Waveland. It's a beautiful new bit of construction that juts out into the Gulf. The pier offers several fishing stations that extend from each side of the pier, nice evening lighting, shade structures, benches, fish cleaning stations, fish nets and, when the volunteers are on hand, fishing opportunities for beginners. We had NO idea, so when a couple on the pier asked if we wanted to try fishing, we were surprised when they led us back to the pier-base office, picked up rigged rods, a bag of shrimp and handed it all over. V, who loves to fish, was all over the opportunity and she and I fished for a little over an hour while E read the fishing guide and her own book. I caught the first fish - perhaps a young mullet about 5" long - and the second, a 12" catfish. V was next with a 12" Black Drum and finally with a 15" catfish. We threw back all of our catches. (The catfish are, reportedly, no good to eat. The mullet was too small, and the drum, while large enough we were told, will grow to some 3 feet, so we opted to let it develop for a fisherman of the future.) A GREAT opportunity along the way...so glad we stopped for the walk.
With a few hours to kill in the morning, we returned to Bay St. Louis to walk the town and take part in Barktoberfest, the local animal shelter's autumn awareness and entertainment event. Dogs in costume. People in costume. Animal tricks. Animals for adoption. Bounce house. Good times. Relaxing morning in fine Small Town America.
We stopped in to Sloppy Dogs again before heading west to Belle Chasse, just south of New Orleans (who KNEW there were cities south of New Orleans?!) to visit good friends, good kids, great company.