Road Trip II: Southeast US (05/2010) [Part 2/4]

2010 July 20
by Jon

SAT 05/22/10 – MON 05/24/10
Written 06/22/10 – 06/27/10

Saturday, May 22 - I woke up around 7 to go to breakfast with my work colleagues before leaving. It was evident then that Becky was in absolutely no condition to get out of bed – let alone go down to eat solid food – and so I went by myself. After eating and saying goodbye to them I was officially on vacation. Five days after Becky. Better late than never.

I roused her out of bed and we checked out and started loading up the car slowly but surely as Becky walked gingerly to try to avoid another flare-up of nausea. After having some difficulty dealing with the parking (I specifically made sure it was charged to my bill and yet the parking ticket did not show up at zero balance as I left) we pulled out of the hotel and back on the road around 9:15.

We got back on the highway without any difficulties and decided to stop to gas up before getting out of the DC area, stopping off I-395 Exit 5 around 10. It’s a good thing we did as Becky started feeling much worse and then, after voiding whatever liquid was in her stomach, much better. So whatever it was that was bothering her, it only lasted around 9 hours. Good, as we had a full day ahead of us.

We got back onto I-95 South through Virginia, exited onto I-85 South around Petersburg, and stopped for lunch at a Subway off of Exit 39 around 12:30.


Day 05 Stop 1 - Southern VA
Daily total distance: 162 miles

Before we went out to eat in the car we noticed some local delicacies, such as sassy pickles:



We also noted that, apparently, driving license restrictions in Virginia are not as restrictive as in New England:



See? In Massachusetts, there’s a separate license for campers and we only let dogs drive standard passenger vehicles!

After eating we continued on I-85 South and crossed into North Carolina – the first time Becky had driven south of Virginia – around 1:30. About 45 minutes later we arrived at our destination for the day in Durham, NC:


Day 05 Stop 2 - Durham, NC
Daily total distance: 260 miles

We pulled into the driveway at Jenny Wood-Leonard’s lovely house set at the edge of the woods and gathered up our things. As we did so we were greeted by her numerous dogs: Lovey Dog, Pillow Dog, Pissy Dog, Tiny Dog, Old Dog and Other Dog. Six of ‘em! We allowed them all to greet us as we got settled in, having reached our next home base for the next two days.


End of Day 05
Cumulative total distance: 790 miles

Though we were done driving for the day we were far from done with activities. After getting ourselves situated we decided to first head out to the Duke Homestead Tobacco Museum up the road in Durham:


Day 05 Stop 3 - Duke Homestead, Durham, NC
Distance: 7 miles

“Tobacco museum?” you ask. Why, yes. A tobacco museum. Tobacco’s a big part of North Carolinian heritage. And a big part of tobacco is Big Chief Flavor Country:


Big Chief Flavor Country

…and spittoons of all shapes and sizes:



Turtle spittoons!


Turtle dish

Panda spitoons?


Panda Spitoon

I guess. There’s also a darker side: roaming gangs of Victorian women abusing snuff:


Snuff Ladies

“Ah, q’il est bon!” they say. And then they stab you and steal your wallet. Fortunately, we didn’t come across any in our travels. We did, however, come across some of our national treasures re-created in tobacco leaf:


Touching the tobacco Liberty Bell

We came to understand the impact of tobacco, which apparently turns North Carolina:


The Impact of Tobacco

…into cigarettes!


Cigarettes!

Hooray! Tobacco ahoy!


Tobacco ahoy!

It was at this point that we met the centerpiece of the museum, this animatronic gentleman farmer:


Creepy farmer

We pressed the button on his panel. Nothing happened. We pressed it again. Still nothing. “Oh well,” we thought, “he must be broken.” Just as we were turning to walk away, he suddenly sprang to life, moving and beginning his monologue about tobacco farming in North Carolina.


Creepy farmer

Becky let out a yelp and Jenny actually jumped back in surprise. Man, he got us good. At the end of his minute-long talk he continued moving his arms and mouthing words that were no longer coming out for a solid 15 seconds, just to add extra creepiness.

But oh, he was not alone! Though they did not move, several other models of tobacco industry workers had audio tracks playing over their locations:


Stern and silent

Stern and silent

Stern and silent

Stern and silent

They all stood over their machines, stern and silent, gazing off toward a distant horizon in their minds.


Tobacco museum

Tobacco nurse

Their overdubbed words spoke of the better life the tobacco industry gave them, but their expressions betrayed an unspoken sense of longing of a life they knew they’d never have. A life like that of the Tobacco Rave Indian:


Rave Indian

He knows how to live. Back in North Carolina, though, tobacco was the big commerce that ruled the lives of men and, occasionally, ran over dogs:


Run over dog

Ah, don’t worry! It turns out he was okay all along!


The dog's okay!

Though that farmer boy might want to consider the virtue of wearing shoes around hot embers.

As we wound out the museum we saw tobacco ads throughout the ages!*


Through the ages

* Ending in the 1960s when people discovered that smoking is pretty horrible for you.

There were all sorts of ads! Gay ads!


Gayest cigarettes

Racist ads!


Sitting Bull Tobacco

Political cartoons!


Political cartoon

Deranged cattle and lions!


Crazed cow

Crazed lion

And finally, this… thing!


Tobacco... thing

And so ended our museum experience. But wait! There’s more! Out on the back of the property there was a couple of century-old tobacco sheds and houses to explore! Becky was so excited she had to frolic in a tobacco field:


Frolicking in the tobacco fields

We went up to inspect the sheds:


Tobacco shed

Drying tobacco

There was that stuff hanging all over the place! Even a pile of it on a bench:


Tobacco shed

I tried to figure out what it was:



Jenny assured us that it was, in fact, tobacco!



It was truly a tobaccoful experience for all of us. Becky even found a bug that looked unlike anything found in the Northeast:


Isopod

Leaving the little isopod to guard his tobacco, we continued on down the road to stop for snacks at a local establishment in Raleigh-Durham, Locopops:


Day 05 Stop 4 - Locopops, Durham, NC
Total distance: 11 miles

Locopops serves hand-crafted popsicles of all sorts of different delicious flavors and it was hard not to fall in love with the place.


LocoPops

Menu

I got the amaretto latte pop, Becky got a ginger pop and Jenny got the Mexican chocolate one. They were both crazy delicious. Or should I say loco delicious! Yes, yes I should. But the pops weren’t all Locopops had to offer! There was also the artwork of various local school children describing what they want to do when they grow up, such as that of this boy:



What’s his favorite place? His bedroom. Why?


Eating chips all day

Hey, at least he knows what makes him happy. Still, his pales in comparison to the life goals of one T.J., who described why wrestling ladies is a key part of his master plan:


Wrestling ladies

He’s got it all figured out, really.

We stopped back at our host’s house for a bit after finishing our pops and then headed back out around 5:30, this time over to Raleigh for the Got to Be NC Festival at their fair grounds:


Day 05 Stop 5 - Raleigh Fair Grounds, Raleigh, NC
Distance: 19 miles

As we parked and walked in the skies had started to go from looking “cloudy” to “foreboding” to downright “threatening:”


Carnival with foreboding skies

Still, the place was hopping when we arrived, all full of Freedom 2000 rockets…


Freedom2000

…and, of course, children in a small pool running in giant hamster balls:


Child-sized hamster balls

Wayne Coyne’s contribution to the fair, I’m sure.

We thought it wise to get some food first thing, as it looked like it could rain any second. There were meat coils:



…as well as giant turkey legs being consumed by giant, cannibalistic turkeys:


Cannibalism

But for $8 bucks a leg those were definitely for the birds. We instead opted for some quick-although-not-that-healthy pizza and nachos. And I paid with a $10 but the dude gave me change for a $20, so, hey, free food.

Mere seconds after we got our food in-hand the skies opened up and it started pouring down the rain with great ferocity. We took shelter in the nearest indoor display hall. It had a football-shaped crimped roof that funneled the rain into rather spectacular waterfalls on each corner of the building:


Waterfall

Deadly rain

We decided it best to wait until the rain subsided to a force less than that sufficient to bend steel before venturing back outside. We overheard a man stating that it was a “slow-moving storm” and so we buckled down for a while. We saw what few things were in the display hall: mostly hilariously misspelled home goods and vendor displays. And a lady giving an in-person infomercial:


In-person infomercial

She frightened me in a way I can’t completely comprehend. It was like my soul got cold every time she walked by.

But hey! There was also a giant, gas-powered shopping cart!


Giant shopping cart

For the serious shopper.

Now, in New England, “slow-moving storm” means that it’s going to be raining for the next four days. Apparently in the South, though, prone to more mercurial bouts of weather, it means that it’ll be raining for maybe an hour. And so, before long, the deluge had subsided to a manageable light rain and we hustled on over to another building that hopefully contained some more interesting things. We would not be disappointed: it was the local food vendor floor, chock full of all different kinds of ways to eat pigs and sauces with which to eat them:


Local flavor

Pork rinds

Did you know that freshly-cooked pork rinds are delicious? I do now! There were so many vendors selling their sauces on samples of meatballs, wings, and whatever else one can put sausage on that we probably could have filled up on food there and didn’t even need the pizza and nachos. Oh well. Amongst all that, though, was the souse and liver pudding table:


Souse and liver pudding

Looking at the two, it was clear we’d need to try one. Of course, “liver pudding” sounded wholly unappetizing and so Becky and I both went for the souse. Mistake. It was cold and had the texture of cat food. It tasted like chewing on ground-up pig intestines, which is probably what it was. Ugh. I’m sure it’d make great specialty dog food, but for humans, I don’t think so. Must be one of those acquired tastes. Jenny said that the liver pudding was better but I didn’t fancy giving it a shot after that.

By the time we finished there the rain had all but stopped completely. It was about 6:45 and so we headed across the way to where the main draw was for us: the tractor pull. It was scheduled for 7 and the guy selling tickets assured us it would be going off as planned, and so we settled into our seats. The grounds were clearly very muddy and I figured it might be delayed a bit as they cleaned things up.


Muddy fair grounds

Muddy tractors

Sure enough, the announcer – a North Carolina good ol’ boy whose words were barely intelligible as English – got on the microphone and informed us to wait just several minutes as they cleared the track.


Tractor pull announcer

I figured “heck, how long can it take? I’m willing to wait it out ’til 7:15, 7:20, no problem!”

And so they started grooming the field with two tractors:


Passed by 8,000 times

Passed by 8,000 times

And back and forth they went! Back… and forth… back… and forth… back… and-for a freaking HOUR they did that. By that point we were staying purely on principle. Meanwhile, the carnival had started back up:



And Monster Truck Santa? He just sat there.


Santa in a monster truck

Finally, things started getting going when a 12 year-old boy started driving out tractors and lining them up in front of a sled we assumed they used to determine pulling power:


Kid on a tractor

Tractor pull

Antique Tractor Man mentioned something to the order that the first pull would be an exhibition. And so, as the first tractor dug in, it belched out an immense amount of diesel smoke and tore down the track, sled in tow:


Tractor pull

It was actually pretty exciting! The rest, though, wasn’t up to that level. The actual competition tractors moved at a crawling pace, with the only bit worth seeing toward the end when they would finally lose traction and pull up on their back tires:


Tractor pull

And the setup time? Gracious, don’t get me started. We thought this was going to be a sort of demolition-derby like display of rednecks hootin’ and hollerin’ around dangerous machines, but instead it was a carefully-measured competition that came down to inches of difference measured with scientific precision. Not exactly what we were expecting. And so we decided to call it quits after a half-dozen or so pulls revealed to offer much of the same. Perhaps as tractor pull greenhorns we just couldn’t savor the art form. But to us, the nearby petting zoo seemed to contain much more promise. And so it did:


Becky with a camel

Camels!


Pigs

Pigs!


Lonely kangaroo

Kangaroos!

Wait… kangaroos? Yep, there was a lone kangaroo hopping around his enclosure in the center, where no one could reach him. Presumably kangaroos are too bitey or scratchey to be pet, but there he was anyway, complementing a second off-limits enclosure containing a pair of porcupines. At least it was evident why they could not be petted.

By that point it was getting dark and, furthermore, starting to look like it was getting ready for another bout of rain, and so we decided to head on back home. We stopped briefly at a grocery store along the way, where we seemed to have walked into the checkout woman mid-argument with her significant other, who was also there. Awkward. We high-tailed it out of there and got back to the house around about 9:45.

We decided to finish the evening by sitting on the couch, enjoying a couple of the local beers our hosts had picked up in anticipation of our arrival, petting several of the many dogs, and watching a few episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse on DVD. I don’t know why, but it really seemed to hit the spot just then in terms of relaxing and feeling like I was very much on vacation and no longer nominally at work.

We headed to bed on the air mattress in the office but later that night decided to shift back out to the couches as the mattress kept slowly losing air. Still, it was perfectly comfortable for us and we had no trouble dozing off after a long, very busy, and very good day.

Sunday, May 23 - I mentioned two things about Jenny’s house. One was that we slept on the couches, which were quite comfortable. The other was that she and her husband have some six dogs. What I didn’t mention is that they also have three cats. One is an outdoor cat and one more or less keeps to himself, but the third? The third decided that, starting around 4 or 5 in the morning, it should meow in 10-minute stretches every half-hour until we finally conceded to getting up around 8:30. The dogs, meanwhile, were perfect angels. I do not like cats.

So, anyway, we were up. We showered, got some coffee, and headed out with hour hosts to go get breakfast at a diner-type restaurant down the street:


Day 06 Stop 1 - Honey's Restaurant, Durham, NC
Distance: 6 miles

It was called Honey’s and we got there just in time to beat the church rush. I got a good omelet with some grits to South-ify it up a bit. I ate it while tinkering with my car’s keyless entry, which had managed to become stuck on “unlock.” After a few minutes of futzing with it I was able to “fix” it, which was good, because I like it when my car locks, especially on a road trip.


Honey's Restaurant

After finishing breakfast, Jenny’s husband Richard went back home and the three of us went out to find our next attraction: Clyde’s Critter Crossing in Bynum, NC. Or… we tried to. We hit some snags on the way down. Clyde Jones is an outsider artist who makes wooden statues of animals with a chainsaw. Apparently his works are spread all over Bynum. The trouble for us wasn’t in finding Clyde, though, it was in finding Bynum. It wasn’t on any maps and my GPS only sort of tangentially recognized its existence via one “Bynum Road” that was near where it was supposed to be. Roadside America claimed it was right off of the highway, but we wound up driving all the way down to the nearest town to speak of, Pittsboro, without finding hide nor hair of it. Finally, we tried to shoot for that “Bynum Road” the GPS talked about. We found it and hit a snag relatively early on:


Bridge to Bynum

That’s the road from the highway across the Haw River leading to Bynum. Or, it used to be the road; it’s been downgraded to a walking path and concrete pillars prevented driving across it. We searched for other local roads, though, and managed to find our way across to the other side, whereupon we found a clue:


Clean up have fun

Not really a critter, per se, but definitely a calling sign from Clyde. We seemed to be getting closer. Next to the road-turned-footbridge we saw that, apparently, bridges in disrepair was a bit of a thing in Bynum:


DeathBridge

Becky on DeathBridge

We parked and decided to walk around a bit to see if we could find any more clues as to Clyde’s whereabouts. Instead we found these:


Guinea fowl

Guinea fowl

A bit of googling on Becky’s iPhone revealed that they were helmeted guineafowl, which was a bit of a let-down as it meant they were almost certainly domesticated and not some sort of indigenous North Carolina wildlife. Apparently farmers will sometimes keep them to eat ticks to stop the spread of Lyme disease. Wild or not, though, they were extraordinarily friendly and started following us around everywhere. We had to jog a bit to give them the slip before getting back in the car for fear of running them over.

Before that, though, some more clues kept leading us closer to Clyde. First, Jenny found a pair of stylin’ glasses on the ground:


Free glasses!

That led us to discover an old, run-down but elaborately-painted building halfway-consumed by the overgrowth:


Haw River Assembly

Haw River Assembly

It looked like Clyde might have been there at some point – it had a white tin roof that Roadside America said was a hallmark of the Critter Crossing – but he wasn’t there now.


Haw River Assembly

We started to worry that perhaps Clyde had passed on in the several years since the last visitor to the Critter Crossing wrote about it on Roadside America and that it was no longer there. But then we found a small sign indicating that the Haw River Assembly had moved to an address on Bynum Hill Road. We were then on Bynum Road. The people of Bynum enjoy simple, utilitarian names.

We drove a short while and found Bynum Hill Road. After a few hundred more yards we saw a sign:


Clyde's Critter Crossing

And then…


Clyde's Critter Crossing

We found him! Well, we found the Critter Crossing. If Clyde himself was there he did not come out to greet us nor the small group of other people there walking about his sculptures in the hot North Carolina sun. Still, after all that effort, we were happy to have found our destination!


Day 06 Stop 2 - Bynum, NC
Total distance: 40 miles

We parked the car and set about touring the statues without any further delay:


Clyde's Critter Crossing

Clyde's Critter Crossing

Clyde's Critter Crossing

Clyde's Critter Crossing

Clyde's Critter Crossing

Clyde's Critter Crossing

By that point it was getting close to 1 PM and Jenny had to get back to prepare for her band practice and so we bade farewell to Clyde’s Critter Crossing and headed back to Durham.


Clyde's Critter Crossing

When we returned we had the rest the afternoon to ourselves as Jenny packed up her keyboard and went off to practice with her band for the next several hours. We first took care of our laundry using our hosts’ washer and dryer, as we were a week into our trip, almost, and would be on the road for another week before we’d have another shot at a laundry machine. Around 2 we decided to head out again. On our way out I noticed how lovely the early afternoon sun looked coming through the trees and snapped a couple of shots of our home for the weekend:


Jenny's house

Jenny's house

Man, we have to move some place to have a house with a yard some day.

Our next destination was just a few miles up the road in Durham: the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science.


Day 06 Stop 3 - North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, Durham, NC
Distance: 6 miles

What did this museum have to offer? Well, the usual.


Becky with chimes

Windchimes.


El burro triste

Being the pig

A.k.a., "Duck"

Sad donkeys, curious pigs and uncleverly-nicknamed ducks.


Smell this compost

Vaguely suggestive signs about compost.

The usual, in other words. But they also had… a dino trail!


Dino trail!

Some of the dinosaurs were invisible, it seems:


Nobody knows where it went...

Others, though, were quite visible and roaming about!


Dino trail

Dino trail

Dino trail

That last one there was guarding her eggs. Though apparently she’d been doing so for so long that a small amount of standing water was building up in her mouth:


Standing water

It’s how the species gets its name: Mosquitolarvaemouthosaurus. It’s one of the lesser-known dinosaurs. Sort of like the Boringosaurus we also encountered:


Boringsaurus

Careful readers might recall that we also found a Boringosaurus in South Dakota:



This one in North Carolina was a juvenile, but was still every bit as boring as an adult. Still, this nosy Sauropod tried to look over my shoulder to see the pictures I took of it:



We wound our way down through the dino park, content that we had found only gentle giants without any real dang-oh no!


Oh no!

Clever girl! She totally sneaked up on us! We didn’t hear her coming because we didn’t have a glass of water in which to observe ripples! And other Jurassic Park references!

We narrowly escaped with our lives and wandered into a wildlife preserve full of animals after which 90% of all indie rock bands derive their names:


Being the bear

Red wolf

Red wolf

Those last two are a pair of red wolves. Critically endangered due to over-hunting and interbreeding with the more-common gray wolf, red wolves are nearly extinct in the wild. These two were obviously intended as a breeding pair, but in the hot sun (it was a sort of zoo trip, after all) they didn’t seem interested in much but lying in the shade. That or maybe they were too weirded out to think that this guy was watching:


Weirdo

Nobody likes it when the wolferfly (or lepidolupus) ruins the mood.

As we needed to take a break from the heat, we decided to head indoors for a bit and walk through the museum’s butterfly garden, whereupon I figured out why every camera ever uses a picture of a butterfly as a demo:


Butterfly

Because of that. Makes it look like I know what I’m doing, right?

Butterflies weren’t the only sort of bugs the museum had, though. They also had this big ol’ beetle:


Clumsy beetle

He was probably a solid 4 inches from the tip of his horns to the base of his thorax. He was also fairly clumsy and, after we’d wandered around for several minutes, was lying on his back, flailing to get back up. When another patron informed the guy working the desk at the gift shop that the beetle was in a prone position, he sort of sighed and said, “okay, thanks.” We surmised that he must hear that 4 times a day every day and wishes the damned beetle could stay upright for once.

The beetle was housed adjacent to some stick bugs the size of my entire forearm. Down the aisle there was also everyone’s favorite display, a big ol’ pile of roaches!



And a deadly spider!


Spider

Hooray! They also had smaller, slightly less-lethal bugs on which one could do Science!


Doing science

As you can plainly see, Becky is placing them there under the Scienceoscope.

Finally, they had a tank full of tiny, brightly-colored tree frogs which, while not bugs, were sort of bug-like in their size and panache for eating other bugs:


Tree frogs

Tree frog

By that point it was nearly 4 and we were getting quite tired and so we decided to head back home and try to take a nap to catch up on the sleep we’d missed the previous night. After dozing for a while we folded the rest of our now-clean laundry and put it back into the suitcases and then played with the dogs a bit until Jenny came home around 6. After she got herself and the menagerie of pets all situated we decided to go get some dinner at this Mexican place called Las Palmas just down the road:


Day 06 Stop 4 - Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant, Durham, NC
Distance: 2 miles

It was a pretty good little Mexican joint. I had a chimichanga and a couple of Dos Equis, always a good combination. Jenny had a gigantic margarita:



We enjoyed the food and overhearing a group of middle-aged folks with heavy accents a couple of tables down from us talking about getting on “the Facebooks.” Please note that this is very close to the precise reason why I barely touch “the Facebooks.”

When we got home we settled down in front of the TV. Becky and Jenny made some crafts while I tried to catch up on my Google Reader with one eye while watching Sherlock Holmes along with Rich with the other. And petting dogs. Everything done in that house is accompanied by petting dogs.

Around 11:00 we decided to call it a night. Our hosts needed to work the next day and we had to hit the road again. We were very grateful for their hospitality and had a wonderful couple of days in their neck of the woods. And so, along with a few dogs who had decided to join us in the living room until we got too boring, we went off to sleep. And this time the cat didn’t wake us up.

Monday, May 24 - we got a pretty good night’s sleep and awoke a bit after 7 as Jenny left for work. We showered, packed our things back up into the car, and left around 8:30 as her husband left for work himself. We headed down US-70 East to I-540 East around Raleigh and got onto US-264 East toward I-95 South. Before we got there, though, we had to make a quick stop nearby in Kenly, NC:


Day 07 Stop 1 - Kenly, NC
Daily total distance: 78 miles

We were there to view the picturesque Goon with a Top Hat:


Goon with Top Hat

Goon with Top Hat

Clearly the Goon – not to mention the Corvette repair shop that owns him – has seen better days, but Becky decided to say hello to him anyway, since he probably doesn’t get very many visitors.


Goon with Top Hat

We pressed on, hitting I-95 South around 10. From there we continued down toward the South Carolina border and, of course, South of the Border. At least half of the fun of South of the Border is the signs on the way down on I-95:



South of the Border is sort of the Wall Drug of the South in that it’s an overgrown tourist trap. Except a lot tackier. And with a theme that’s based on a Mexican stereotype at best and outright racist at worst. And a lot tackier. Did I mention that part? We could see it on the horizon as we approached the South Carolina border:



There’s Pedro, the mascot for South of the Border. We pulled in around 11:30:


Day 07 Stop 2 - Dillon, SC
Daily total distance: 185 miles

From there we saw Pedro all over the place!


Pedro's Public Restrooms

South of the Border


It was pretty clear when we arrived that South of the Border had seen better days. I mean, given it was 11:30 on a Monday, but the place was pretty abandoned:


Empty South of the Border

My mom and dad recall passing by there in the 60s and remember it as little more than a gas station turned into a glorified tourist stop. Even in my memories of it in the late 80s and early 90s from trips down South it seemed smaller than the sprawling mess we found. It was clear to me that some time between then – roughly 20 years back – and now it had peaked and has since been in decline. Certainly the recent economic troubles didn’t help any. As for our impression of it, the threatening skies didn’t help much to make us feel welcome, either:


Not feeling welcome

The whole place seemed semi-abandoned: some building seemed completely closed, some seemed like they might be open sometime but not then, and some seemed nominally open. We walked into one of several greasy-spoon grills along the stretch that all seemed to serve the same thing and got some hot dogs and fries. It didn’t occur to me then, but we also got hot dogs at Wall Drug while we were there. The Wall Drug ones were better, I think.

After eating there in the otherwise-empty cafeteria, we decided to brave the cloudy skies and light rain to see if we could walk the length of South of the Border to see what was there. We first encountered a rather blue gorilla:


Gorilla


He seemed to be weathering the years of tourism better than much of the rest of South of the Border, though. We decided to stick to one side of the road, since the other side seemed to be much of the same.


Ice Cream

Pedro's Leather Shop

Pedro’s Ice Cream Fiesta did not appear to be open. We did not enter Pedro’s Leather Shop for reasons I hope I don’t need to explain. We did, however, make another buffalo friend outside:


With Fiberglass Buffalo

You might recall we also made a buffalo friend at Wall Drug:



…as well as one in Denver:


Feeling the spirit of the buffalo

…and one in Nebraska:


Becky loving the giant buffalo

That’s buffalo friends in four states! Not bad, huh?

After that we went through one of their massive shops packed with tons of under-priced and yet incredibly useless crap:


Mexico Shop West

Outside they had one really hot dog!


That's one hot dog!

Get it? Get it? Bah. Pearls amongst swine, I tell you.

Inside it was everything we hoped it would be. Which it to say, crammed with junk no one needs:


Prettiest sombrero!

The 4 stages of tequila

Risque towels

Though we didn’t get any risque towels, we did get a coffee mug, a shot glass and a couple other touristy pieces of plastic by which to commemorate our trip to South of the Border. After a check-out process that took interminably long as their credit card system seemed to be from 1978, we continued on down the road. It’s then that we discovered that, much like the Las Vegas strip has a “good” end and a “bad” end, South of the Border’s foothold seemed stronger toward the highway on-ramp and tapered off sharply after that:


Sad reptile house

Sad concrete bazaar

Sad steak house

Invisible convention

Vandalized laundrette

The sign on the laundrette reads “this facility CLOSED due to public abuse and vandalism.” Given the sad state of everything else we had trouble imagining just how bad it must have gotten in there to require the sign.

It was on the other side of the road from us. Stuff on our side, though, didn’t make much more sense:


WTF giraffe tunnel

The Cerberus Giraffe seemed to be a tunnel under which a children’s train must have run some years ago. It would have come from the especially-sad-looking carnival at the tail end of South of the Border:


Sad carnival

"Reality Ride"

Sad carnival

It was hard to say whether it was totally abandoned or simply in disuse, but, either way, poor One-Eyed Pedro looked lonely:


One-eyed Pedro


As getting encephalitis and hepatitis wasn’t on our to-do list for the day we didn’t decide to venture into the carnival that was assuredly full of puddles of stagnant water and decided to head on back to the car. On our way we saw an even bigger, shirted gorilla:


Giant shirted gorilla

We also found a Becky-sized jackalope:


Riding a jackalope

You might recall that this is yet one more parallel with Wall Drug:



The one in Wall Drug, though, was a bit better-looking. And not to mention a great deal more geographically appropriate, being in South Dakota instead of South Carolina. Still, South of the Border had its own unique attraction:


Riding the sombrerosaurus

Having ridden the mighty Sombrerosaurus there was nothing left for us to do at South of the Border. That, and it was starting to rain in earnest, so we decided we had best be on our way. Becky took the wheel and we pressed on through South Carolina. Through intermittent heavy rain we made it down to the Lowcountry around 3:15. We drove off the highway and onto a small, unpaved road to our next destination:


Day 07 Stop 3 - Sheldon, SC
Daily total distance: 360 miles

Where were we headed that required going so far off the beaten path in a car that can barely handle gravel let alone a dirt road? The Oyotunji African Village in Sheldon.

Oyotunji is sort of a living historical recreational village, like Sturbridge Village here in Massachusetts or Historical Williamsburg in Virginia, except that people really live there. And it’s African. That, too.


Oyotunji

Oyotunji was founded in 1970 by a man who referred to himself as King (Oba) Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I.


Old king

Oyotunji

The people of Oyotunji – the vast majority of which are African-Americans born throughout the country – practice what’s known as New World Yoruba, a cobbling together of shamanistic Earth-worshiping native to Africa with smatterings of Islam and Christianity thrown in for good measure; a sort of creole religion like Louisiana Voodoo with more of a polytheistic bent. Though Ofuntola died in 2005, Oyontunji has gone on under the leadership of a new, younger king since and continues to exist 40 years after its founding.

We arrived toward the tail-end of another fit of downpour and consequently didn’t see anyone outside. When Becky honked the horn as per the instructions at the gate, a thin, shirtless man came out and asked if we wanted to do a tour. One presumes the two white people in a Prius with Massachusetts plates were a pretty dead giveaway for not much else. He said that the tour guide was not there at the moment but that he would arrive shortly if we would wait inside. A woman wearing a head dress came to greet us and took us into her shop where we waited on our tour guide and avoided the intermittent splatters of rain as the storm finished passing overhead.


Gifts

Oyotunji

Raining!

Before long our tour guide – a 60-something man local to the Lowcountry with a cane and a very slow, very Southern way of talking and moving – sauntered to meet us and, after we paid him $10 per person, began our tour.


With tour guide

Oyotunji

Oyotunji

Oyotunji

Oyotunji

As we walked on and he started to explain their religion, the man who first greeted us came up and insisted on taking some pictures with us:


Gratuitous photo op!

Our tour guide was easygoing but still very solemn and had a great respect for his culture as he explained it to us. The other guy, though, was a bit more of a ham. Still, it helped us to feel a bit more at ease in what was a very different environment for us.


Oyotunji

Universal Mind Concert

Altar


As our tour continued he showed us some tombs of elders of the village who had passed on:


Tomb

Tomb


…as well as the classroom where the children of the village are taught:


Classroom

We continued out of the public courtyard and into the village proper, where there were other altars to natural element-based deities:


Oyotunji

Oyotunji

Oyotunji

Becky with goddess

Tour guide at altar

And they also had goats!


Goats

Our tour guide said that feral dogs had managed to pick off many of their goats over the years and that they were careful to bring them inside pens at night now. The goats were primarily involved in worshiping at the final altar we saw, to the goddess of death and the underworld:


Oyotunji

…where they were used for sacrifices:


Altar

Goat head


That gruesome-looking white stuff on the goat head is a mixture of flour and honey that the locals use to attract fire ants to eat away the flesh. Our tour guide proudly pointed that out as a way they live in harmony with nature and don’t use any artificial processes for what can be done naturally. For what it’s worth.

And with that our tour finished. We said goodbye to our guide and the people of the village and then continued on our way. As it was only 4:30 by that point and we didn’t have very far left to drive I decided to take us on a little diversion down onto Hilton Head so I could show Becky a lot of the places where many of my fond childhood memories are held:


Day 07 Stop 4 - Hilton Head, SC
Daily total distance: 420 miles

Though we didn’t spend much time there at all – I basically just drove down William Hilton Parkway and pointed out things along side the road – we did make one quick stop at the Neptune sun dial in Shelter Cove to hop out to take a quick picture:


Becky with Neptune

And that was enough for then. We’ll be back there for several days in August, but since we had time then I figured that giving a brief tour wouldn’t hurt. That accomplished, we hit the highway again and then took back roads into Savannah, GA, arriving at our hotel a bit after 7 following a slight detour due to construction:


Day 07 Stop 5 - Savannah, GA
Daily total distance: 470 miles

It was hard to believe that we were a week into our road trip and yet this – the Baymont Inn on the northwest edge of town – was the first hotel we would pay for ourselves. But hey, whatever works, right? It was a perfectly decent hotel, too, and we got a perfectly decent room very close to the lobby. Good, as, thanks to the passing rains the road was producing enough steam to cook lobsters on the asphalt and therefore the humidity outside was positively stifling. So, the less hauling of suitcases, the better. We got settled into our room and finished with our major driving for the day in practically no time:


End of Day 07
Cumulative total distance: 1410 miles

As we were then in the deep South we decided we needed some Southern cooking for dinner. A quick consult of the Yelp app on Becky’s iPhone (far more useful than Yelp itself, by the way) revealed that there was a place called Carey Hilliard’s just a short drive from our hotel and so we popped on over there and stuffed ourselves with some delicious ribs and onion rings. As if on queue to celebrate our arrival in the gen-u-ine South, our waitress was exceptionally genial and chatty, too, and was more than happy to ask all about us. I sort of felt immediately vindicated as I’d been telling Becky all along that people in the South just do that and it’s totally part of the culture, so I wasn’t left having to make excuses as to why the behavior I predicted was not experienced.

We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and back to our hotel around 8:30, in too much of a food coma to head back out. We watched TV, relaxed some and read for about another 2 hours before turning off the lights and heading to sleep, with a big couple of days ahead of us. All in all, it was a very good day. Better than I was expecting, really. The next couple of days would be exhausting but also quite excellent. We were looking forward to them.

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