Our last day in Louisiana is spent with some more history sniffing along the Cane River Creole Heritage area. Along the Cane River Lake (which is basically a lake that looks like a river :-)) are 2 old cotton plantations that are very well preserved: The Magnolia and Oakland Plantation. Both are now owned and managed by the NPS, and that means they are open to the public at no charge.
As we wander along the properties it brings many of the cotton and civil war knowledge we have gained to life, and it is the perfect spot for Luc to finish his video he made for his classmates about cotton (as they are learning about agriculture back home). At the Oakland Plantation, Mr. Curtis, a lovely volunteer (there are many of those across the US keeping the NPS sites afloat) is so kind to open up the main house and give us the tour even though it was not planned to be open “but you traveled so far to see it so I might as well open up the door”. He gives us a great insight in the people that lived there and some more facts on the area and its history.
On to state no. 22: Texas!
The drive to Texas is one along another historical trail; El Camino Real de las Tejas. This trail starts from Natchitoches, Louisiana and makes its way through Texas all the way down to Mexico city. Needless to say this trail is not one that was initiated by settlers crossing the country, but it is a trail used in the former Spanish/Mexican era by those traveling up north. The actual border of the 2 states (Texas joined the US later than Louisiana as the 28th state) that we cross is one over a massive riverlake; the Sabine River. White pelicans welcome us to Texas (funnily enough the state bird of Louisiana is the brown pelican) as we drive down to Jasper for a night at the Walmart.
The morning starts bad as we have run out of water overnight which means no coffee in the morning :-(. This means we have breakfast and speed out to the closest State Park where we sneak into a camp spot and fill our tank with a straight face (don’t tell anyone!). Today we go outdoors some more in the Big Thicket National Preserve, a NPS managed preserve that is spread across the far east of Texas and runs along many of its waterways. The Visitor Center is a gem; with many displays of the different habitats and its animals, but also a discovery room that covers fire management of the park and a great corner with animal skulls and a microscope with lots of tiny bug samples to take a look at.
After some JR work in the visitor center we head out to the Sundew trail for a search for meet eating plants. We find them, but also get surprised by a small Rough Green Snake that is lying on the path completely still “if I act like a branch they might think I am a branch”. After lunch we have another land-based hike around the Kirby Nature trail, which covers many of the different habitats that we have seen in the visitor center. The weather is great autumn weather, sun is still great, no jackets needed, but chilly shade. With the sun being lower in the sky the forest really lends itself for some great pictures.
As it is such a beautiful weekend we can not get a spot at the nearby state park, which is a bit of a bummer. We reach out to a interstate side RV park which is part of the Passport America network but can not get a hold of them, so we decide to give it a go anyways. As we arrive there we see an email come in that they would not have spot with discount. The caretaker Roger however is nice enough to let us park on the driveway for the night and even has a hookup there. The facilities are fantastic so we enjoy a nice hot shower and do some more laundry. As we leave the following morning and reach out to pay for the night, they kindly gift us the night – Thanks Boomtown RV Park!
Big Thicket National Preserve by water
Our first stop today is a quick hop into NEDERLAND, Texas. One of 2 towns in the US called Nederland (we already covered the one in Colorado :-)), and the one with still some fun heritage in it, we have to of course make this little detour for some nice foto-ops. With a proper windmill it does feel like home for a split second, but then the tacky Christmas decoration wakes us up and pushes us on our way again.
With Big Thicket being all about waterways, we could of course not go by and not take out our kayak! So we drive back up a few miles to the boat ramp north of Beaumont for a paddling trail up the Neches River. As the environment here is so flat (which isn’t very helpful when a hurricane hits), the river is not a very strong one and thus is easy to paddle upstream on. There is a very cool loop made taking you upriver, then into a swamp lake, and then through some adventurous bayou back to another river to take you downstream again.
We are really getting a good rhythm on the boat (granted, Sven does most of the paddling), with the boys learning to paddle as well. While they get more comfortable on the water and with the kayak they can also sit in other places like the front or back of the boat which makes it not feel too cramped out on the water. Always disappointed that we have to go back on land again the boys enjoy watching another boat being pulled ashore while we pack in the kayak again.
The weekend is over, so the state park does have space today! It is a great site with only a few people tonight. They have a nature center where the boys discover some more about the area and get to make a bird feeder out of apples, peanut butter and bird seed. We then play the cute boys card and ask the park hosts if maybe some campers left some wood to burn?? Gathering wood in the forest is prohibited here, and we have run out of firewood, and the camp hosts are incredibly kind folks that even come and deliver what they had found to our spot! So after building a hut out of wooden sticks and leaves and eating a big bowl of pasta by the fire we melt some more marshmallows before going to bed.
Houston – Not a problem!
With one more day to go before we head out to Mexico, we have a list of chores to get through and make sure we are ready to head out. Most important visit of today is the CVS Pharmacy in Houston, to get our boys their 1st dose of Pfizer vaccine against Covid. We are really fortunate that the US has approved the vaccine already and rolled out so fast across the country. As it stands now, both Chile/Argentina as well as the US next year only allow people in that are fully vaccinated which could really have been a problem with our little boys. They were real champs – a lollipop will sooth any pain – and thus halfway through a must-do on the trip. Beyond this there is propane filling, fixing some stuff in the RV, shopping (Kim) and a final night at Walmart.
The next day we park the RV at a park for our final packing and cleaning up. The boys get to play outside while we ‘park-proof’ the RV (you do not want to come back to an ant-infested RV, rolling through a box of sugar you did not close properly ;-)), and pack our bags. We have opted to park the RV at a private property, through neighbor.com, a website where people can offer up their extra ft2 for parking. After dropping the RV and taking an uber to the airport it is smooth sailing from there. Spirit Airlines (a very low cost airline) was super efficient and the flight half empty. Immigration in Mexico was mostly paperwork and time spent, but no hassle at all. Car rental same thing, so while it all took time, it was all done as planned and we got to our apartment in Cancun around 8pm.
So the plan is quite ambitious but fun, we plan to take a roundtrip through Mexico (Yucatan & Chiapas), Guatemala and Belize. Starting point Cancun, where the weather has not fully come out of rain season yet… So the skies are grey, the temperature is high and thus humidity is something to get used to. We have an overnight stay in town, so we walk to the Parque Urbano Kabah to see if we can spot some tropical animals already. Unfortunately much of the park is lined off, meaning the boys can not enjoy the playground nor is the petting zoo still there, but we are pleasantly surprised by a coati crossing our path!
After the park we walk across town to 2 mercados; numero 28 is a proper tourist market filled to the brim with trinkets and colorful Mexican souvenirs. It gives us a good opportunity to check the prices here so we can find a good deal on our travels. As the boys have seen Coco on one of our flights, they are very excited to recognize things from it, like alebrijes and the Mexicans ever present skeleton based art. It is a shame that our original plan to drive into Mexico fell through as we would have then spent Dia de Muertes (day of the dead) here.
Mercado 23 is a more traditional market with food stalls, eateries and a small souvenir portion. Always fun to experience the smells, and hustle of a market abroad. After getting back to our accommodation we grab the car to drive to one of the beautiful beaches of Cancun. Kim drives out to the car rental agency to get the notarised paperwork necessary to cross into Guatemala later on in the trip, while the boys have fun in the sand. The water is warm but too rough to swim, and the beach time is in the end abruptly finished when a massive downpour forces us to run into the car again. Of course dinner consists of tacos, enchilladas, quesedillas, ceviche and proper CORONA… the beer this time :-).
Next week: More Mexico!