Tampa, St. George Island and New Orleans
After I visited the Everglades national park, I drove up to Tampa for the weekend and more importantly, my good friend Dennis's marriage to Meenu. I have known Dennis for over a decade; he helped out my old band during shows (though often lost my drum equipment) and lived in south Florida when I lived in Miami. Since then, we talk on the phone often and have become very close over the years, so I was excited when he asked me to be a groomsman. Friday night was the rehearsal at the church and then we went to Dennis's parents church for some ceremonies that are important to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (think Indian catholic church). One of the more interesting ceremonies was the bride and groom being fed sweet food and drinks by their friends and families which was interesting to see. The wedding the next day was beautiful, followed by pictures at the church and the University of Tampa. I had a great time at the reception, practically dancing the entire night. I always look forward to dancing at weddings, but I have no idea how to dance, so I may need to take some dance classes once I get back home to hone my skills. Overall, the wedding was great and I am so happy for the bride and groom.
After Tampa, I drove to St. George Island on the Florida pan handle along the gulf coast. There is only one bridge in and out of the island, and it is mostly a tourist location. However, on one end of the island there is a state park with amazing beaches and campsites. I spent the night there and met a lovely couple, Ricky and Tracey, who showed off their sleeper van to me. Given that I have been sleeping in a tent in the hot and humid Florida air for several nights in the past week, getting a van with air conditioning is something I am seriously considering for future adventures. Given how beautiful the beaches were, I think I need to come back to the island sometime in the future for several days to relax and have fun, not just a quick stop on my way to the next location.
After St. George Island I made my way to New Orleans. I stayed in a bed and breakfast called the Burgundy. The owners, Joe and Fredrico, are amazing. They went above and beyond in the area of hospitality to make my stay stress free and I am so thankful for all of the nice touches, advice, and help they provided. My first night in New Orleans consisted of me exploring the city on foot: first the bars and restaurants on Frenchman street, then the French Quarter and Bourbon street. I did not stay out late on Bourbon street so I never got to see it too busy, but I enjoyed watching some bands play in the bars before heading back to the bed and breakfast.
The next morning I got up early because I had an ecological tour of the swamps near New Orleans in a kayak. I ended up over estimating the time it would take to get to the location, so I ended up taking drone video footage of the swamps while I waited. Eventually, me and eight other people were led by a guide names Kelly through the swamps and he told us about the different animals, trees, and ecology of the region. I did not see any alligators (which I am thankful for) and really enjoyed the experience. At one point, on the way back I was all alone from the group and got to relax in the stillness and calm of the swamp which was wonderful.
After the kayak tour I drove back, showered the swamp water off of me, and then headed to downtown New Orleans on foot for my two hour walking tour of the French Quarter. To my surprise, I was the only person that had signed up for the tour that day and I had the guide, Libby, all to myself. Libby is an excellent guide and gave a great history lesson of the city along the way. She even had a binder full of pictures of people, buildings, and other things to show during the tour to bring the past to life. New Orleans has such an interesting past that involves France, Spain, and the USA that I was not aware of. I am incredibly happy that I took that tour. Once it was over, I spent a little more time exploring the French quarter on my own, and then headed back to Frenchman street. There I found my favorite little bar called The Apple Barrel and ended up chatting about Game of Thrones and other nerdy topics with the bartender and patrons. The bar also had great music, so it was a wonderful night overall.
The next portion of national park road-trip takes place in New Mexico, but that is a bit far from New Orleans. So the next stop on the way was Shreveport Louisiana where I stayed in the El Dorado casino. Unfortunately the casino did not have my reservation, so I had to re-book on the spot. Then the Wifi in the hotel was terrible, so I was not able to upload a new blog. Also, the parking garage had a height limit of 7 feet, which is exactly the height of my car with the tent, so it was scary driving through the parking garage. Overall, the night was fairly uneventful and I relaxed, and then left early the next morning for Oklahoma City.
I lived in Oklahoma city for two years, teaching business at the University of Central Oklahoma as my first professor job before moving to Augustana College. I made several good friends there, one of them being another business professor named Willis. Willis let me stay with him for the night, and we reminisced about my time at UCO and he caught me up on the drama and politics of the college at the moment. Willis is such a wonderful person and I am really thankful he let me stay with him for the night.
Well I am off to Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico, then onto the Sand Dunes National park and then Aspen Colorado. These should be the last few days of long drives, so I should have more time to write blog posts from here on out. I am really enjoying the trip and hope the rest of the trip is just as good as the beginning has been!