Turning Back

As I mentioned earlier, best laid plans are often interrupted by minimal driving experience, storms, and a lack of commitment to the Natchez plan.

I rolled North out of Vicksburg, coffee in hand and headed for Rolling Fork, MS – home of Muddy Waters, the carved bear, and small town comforts. Rolling Fork came onto my list of places to visit after seeing  a photograph of Mont Helena,  on the Delta Top 40 list (a project of the Grammy Museum).

According to the website, Mont Helana’s tragic love story goes as follows:


    • “In 1855 a carriage accident caused a chance meeting between Helen Johnstone of Annandale Plantation (near present day Madison, MS) and Henry Vick of Nitta Yuma, MS. There was an immediate attraction between Helen and Henry. A courtship began and in 1857 they became engaged. Helen’s mother insisted they wait until Helen’s 20th birthday to marry. The wedding date was set for May 21, 1859 (Helen’s birth date.) In 1859 at a bachelor party for Henry an argument ensued between Henry and his best friend, James Stith. Henry had sided with a servant causing James to vow to never speak to Henry again. While Henry was in New Orleans one week before the wedding finalizing plans, Henry and James had a chance encounter. James, still angry with Henry, challenged him to a duel. The next morning the two met on the dueling grounds. During his courtship with Helen, Henry had made a promise to never kill an opponent in a duel. Keeping his promise to Helen Henry shot into the air. But, James shot and killed Henry. Henry’s body was returned to Annandale a little after midnight on May 21, 1859. He was buried in the Johnstone family cemetery that same night. Grief-stricken and wearing her wedding gown and a black veil, Helen leaned over Henry’s grave and pledged her eternal love to him. Having suffered such a great tragedy on her wedding day, Helen became known as the “Bride of Annandale.”

The mansion is truly stunning from afar – as I’ve learned from my wandering throughout Mississippi, things that go unmentioned are typically the best, and that which is mentioned tends to be a bit overrated. Mont Helena, rarely mentioned, totally worth a visit. Nita Yuma, home of the Henry Vick, is not mentioned at ALL. Is it worth it? Most certainly.

Leaving Rolling Fork, headed north to Leland, you’ll cross a small bridge and on the left side are a series of what appears to be abandoned buildings. This is Nitta Yuma, and you must stop there.


Road trip day 1 

With a week off of work, I set out on a road trip that was meticulously planned. 

“Pick up rental car at 9:30

Drive to Natchez by way of Greenwood, Yazoo City. 

Arrive Natchez 4pm.” And so on and so forth… sure that I would see the sights of Natchez (not considered “The Delta”) and then meander northward. 

That plan went out the window at approximately 11:47 when I found myself following someone across town to Baptist town in greenwood, ms. I explained to Mr. Hoover that while I desperately wanted to go on his tour, I would swing back through town because I had to get to the world catfish museum before it closed. His tour, approximately three hours long, is a must and I didn’t want to be distracted or worried about my timing. 

That’s pretty much around the time it all went to hell. Being from the North, I am not accustomed to thunderstorms. Being myself, I’m not accustomed to driving, let alone in thunderstorms. 20 miles outside of greenwood, and a million miles from nowhere I watched a storm descend on me and I quickly started talking myself into a frenzy. “How is there this much rain?!” “Why am I on a €\£{£{*} roadtrip alone when I don’t even like to drive?!” “The %****** did all this rain come from.” “Holy shit, there’s a flashflood warning.” “Ffffffff no service.” “Of course, this is how I die. Struck by lightening or swept of the road at the beginning of a spontaneous road trip through the delta.” “Brilliant. Let me pull in this driveway and get bloody shot while I’m at it.”

You get the idea. 

45 minutes later, I rolled into the town of Belzoni… pronounced with a subtle “ahh” rather than “ee” as no one informed me while I made a fool out of myself. Arrived at the catfish museum, and was informed that “it normally takes around 15 minutes, but the video broke so it should only take you 5″… here’s a consolation coffee mug with a cat fish on it. You have risked your young twenty something year old life to see the world’s catfish museum with the video, but here you go: a coffee mug and the knowledge that catfish farmers were able to redirect them to feed at the top. #themoreyouknow 

Oh, and an invitation to next year’s annual catfish festival – which I will be attending. Perhaps by then the video will work, and above all, how can you turn down an invite like that? Belzoni’s catfish museum has the NICEST museum curator/representative/handler. 

I then checked the weather, which appeared clear and set off for Yazoo City for lunch (having been assured that there would be places both open and with delicious food)… again, best laid plans and what not… I arrived in Yazoo City at 2:04, 4 minutes after most places and closed. Fortunately (kindness of strangers) and unfortunately (being a life long vegetarian), I was offered half of a fried ham sammich by an elderly woman on the street who claimed I “sure did look a bit hungry for lunch.” 

More later. 

Ghost River, TN 

Early last week, Barry and I set out in a canoe down the Ghost River… these photos were taken before setting off – we have different ideas of canoe stability and therefore, I wasn’t about to leave my phone anywhere but a dry bag.

The Ghost River Conservancy is approximately an hour north of Oxford, MS in Tennessee  – there are various put ins, but we went off on a five hour La Grange to Bateman Bridge segment involving a meandering river, a cyprus swamp, a “lake” and a hell of a lot of snakes.

The Ghost River is full of trees (and spiders, and snakes) that have to be navigated around – for people who are not great with steering canoes (ahem, Barry), this can be rather challenging. It probably also didn’t help that I found some relatively random gentleman on the internet to take us out on this expedition, who shouted relatively helpful advise from the safety of his canoe.

We have now come to the agreement that for the sake of our relationship we will not be canoeing together – you can add this to my refusal to be his buddy on a scuba diving trip. Sure, we can both be underwater at the sometime, but absolutely cannot be paired together. It’s totally possible to have an argument 30 feet under water. 

Volcanic Mud

If you were to ask me what makes a country worth visiting, I could probably narrow my criteria down to the following three items:

  1. How friendly the airport staff are
  2. How well you can meet the locals/ how friendly people are
  3. If they have a good bath house or spa

Tonight I was able to check off my last one at Casa Luna spa – Barry suggested I go have a massage and volcanic mud bath (knowing, of course, my love of all things spa related). Let me set the scene for you – a bungalow right at the edge of the jungle… a glass of sparkling wine… crickets chirping and frogs making whatever sound it is that poison dart frogs make. At one point, sometime after the hot cucumber slice slid off my right eye, I looked like a rather muddy pirate, complete with a cucumber eye patch. Not at all like the relaxed, heavenly looking person in the brochures – but honestly, I’m okay with that.

While I was being lathered up with mud, I thought back to the first time I had a massage…

For my 18th (I think?) birthday, my girlfriends took me to a massage parlor in town as a surprise (unwelcome & awkward). Some guy who looked rather like a Swedish Fabio announced that he would be giving me a massage, while the girls trekked off into another room. To say that I was uncomfortable was an understatement – I had to be convinced to remove my tshirt, and could not be convinced to remove anything else. Fabio, or whatever his name was, apparently couldn’t comprehend that someone could be THAT awkward about the whole experience, but alas I’m good at making first impressions and setting records for awkward behavior. I’m sure he took it as a learning experience.

I pretty much thought that would be my first and last experience in a massage parlor – To think that almost ten years later I would be a bath house junkie (is there a better word for someone obsessed in this case?) was totally unfathomable. I’ve had amazing experiences – here’s looking at you Georgia with your beautiful sulphur baths – and incredibly awkward ones, Fabio aside – Turkish baths in Antalya “So do you play any instruments?” – and evenly professionally questionable ones, the time the Egyptian woman in the top of a villa decided we both needed a bath (I’ve never been back there). In Burma, I remember feeling nervous at first to be THAT exposed in the village, but in the end my $1 haircut and $4 massage and scrub erased any feeling that it was ever anything BUT perfection.

If I could go back and tell my 18 year old, very North American, body-conscious self something, it would be “Get over it” – enjoy the experience for what it is, because when it’s over you’re going to feel like you’re walking on clouds.

Getting there is half the story 

I can’t really remember how the phrase goes, but something like getting there is half the fun or the journey blah blah blah. Well, let me tell you what’s not fun – when the 12 hour journey to Costa Rica becomes 28 hours. 

Let’s start at the beginning, Barry and I bid farewell to my beautiful mom, and head out in the car she ordered – nevermind the fact the driver thought Snohomish was Everett – “it’s so much smaller than I expected!” We arrived promptly at southwest check in (about 6am), got coffee, and waited at the gate. 

10.25 expected time of departure with two hour layover in Houston 

10.10 – the southwest official announces the plane is broken, and the mechanic is on his way… 3 hour delay. My first thought is that Seattle is the manufacturing hub of airplanes – why will it take the mechanic at least an hour to get there? Shouldn’t an airport have a mechanic on staff? My second thought is, well that second flight isn’t going to happen. 

10.15 southwest announces the rebooking of flights. 

10.20 our first offer is to wait 24 hours to take the next sequence

10.21 oops, there’s only one available seat. The next available southwest flight is in 2 days. 

10.25 nevermind, we will delay the second plane and you can go tonight. 

10.45 Barry and I go have a drink in the airport bar. 

11.30 southwest pages us to come back to the check in desk so we can be told that they will try to book us with another carrier because now the plane is not going anywhere. 

12.30/1.00 we are booked on a United flight that goes on the following path: Seattle to Newark to San Jose – arriving mid day the day after we should be at the beach. 

1.45 southwest asks us to go get our bags and pay United to check them in (I’m less than amused)

1.47 the bags are lost. 

2.30 the bags are still lost 

3.00 the bags are located at curbside check in – who knows why. 

3:30 we check in with United and go back through tsa check points (mind you I have pre approval, which apparently doesn’t apply at all for the day from hell)

5:10 I decide to check online if our 9:45pm flight to Newark is on time. It’s not. 3 hour delay. 

5:15 David, the beautiful soul from United, rebooks us on a 6 pm to San Francisco, then a connecting flight to Newark, then God willing, Costa Rica. 

6:00 board flight to San Fran. 

8:30 attempt to board flight to Newark (also delayed) but am forced to surrender my carry on (which fit in the stupid dimension box) for gate side check in. 

8:33 Barry finally loses temper. 

9:50 flight departs for Newark – we are somehow on board. Flight attendant explains to me that we should be fine getting to our connection. 

6am. We arrive at the gate with 30 minutes to spare, only to learn that we may be rebooked on THE NEXT DAYS FLIGHT because our current flight is oversold. 

6:30 – we board the flight after someone else is kicked off. 

11:00am – we arrive in San Jose – and miraculously so does all of our luggage. 

Luckily for me, my friend Erin was coaching me through remaining calm via Facebook messenger. 

I am now on the balcony at the hotel, drinking a local beer. Pura Vida. 

Midnight arrivals 

Yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that her brother is having some difficulty adjusting to his new expat life, and actually travel in general… I’ve developed a few rules for myself to make my life easier when I arrive in a new city. I have the bad habit of buying the cheapest ticket sequences (because less expense = more travel later) which usually results in an arrival time anywhere between 1am and 5am. 

1) always arrive with a bottle of water in hand. I truly think that the worst thing that can happen when traveling (barring, of course, loss of life or limb) is that you end up terribly thirsty and unable to locate a bottle of water because you decided to show up wherever at whatever midnight hour. Take the time I arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night- I was so parched that I couldn’t properly focus on the Masoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, instead I was trying to decide how to coyly pick up a bottle of water meant for the actual poor (not the miskeen American who hadn’t properly planned for midnight tomb excursions). 

2) arrange your room and pick up for the first night. Not only am I usually traveling on my own, I don’t often exercise good judgement in situations abroad – especially when tired from buying the cheap, many stops ticket and full of airplane wine – so I’ve learned that it’s better to book a room for the night, and pay the surcharge to have someone pick you up who actually knows where the unnamed hotel is on the side of a hill in the bad part of town. 

3) try to convert at least $50 in the airport… In many places I’ve been, it’s significantly better to exchange in the free (read: black) market, but that’s always not realistic. First of all, you have to be able to get to the corner where the guy is selling notes out of a suitcase… Or the rather dodgy shop that changes the exchange rate in accordance to international news. Second, it helps to know the government rate – it’s a good foundation for not getting screwed on an exchange rate that seems awesome, but is really the trick the stupid tourist rate. Part 2 to this rule is to always carry clean, crisp $50 & $100 notes. Being told that your money isn’t good enough results in the same frustration as trying to buy the aforementioned water bottle out of a vending machine when you only have a sweaty, crumpled up $1 bill. 

Gori (not Glory) 

 A few pictures from Gori. 

The Stalin museum is well worth the overpriced ticket and entry into the “wagon.” Not pictured is Stalin’s fur coat to the dismay of “too many muskrats” … And apparently my guide, a young man troubled by the fact that Stalin never wore this coat that all the animals died for. Interestingly, he seemed less concerned about the number of people executed or imprisoned during a similar time period. “It is not so much.”

A less well known Gori delight is the ethnography museum. Much more reasonably priced, and brilliant! Not overwhelming, perfect size.  My guide (below!) was the greatest gift a museum could offer. An American studies student who indulged my questions and promptly added me on Facebook. 


It took me a minute 

I’m not gonna lie, it took me a minute to warm up to Georgia. I knew instantly it had the qualities of a country I would love – friendly people, amazing history, and, copious amounts of wine. Actually liking it though took a full 24 hours…

Yesterday I wandered around a bit dazed and confused. Lacking Georgian and Russian, things didn’t seem to be going my way. What’s more, I fell sick to 8 days of constant travel, extreme temperature changes and lack of nutritious meals. I went to bed sick, and woke up hungry. 

But today! Today, I visited Gori and the Stalin museum… Which is perhaps the best museum I’ve ever been in. Second only to the museum about the Iraq war that I visited in Kuwait way back when. Stalin everywhere! Even carpets with Stalin’s face on them. If I didn’t think Barry would murder me, I’d totally bring that home for our Mississippi living room. 

So without the carpet, I wandered back toward Tbilisi. By wandered I mean my guide (also known as the random guy, not guide who relied on Siri to locate just about everything) careened down a country road and dodged random goats while telling me “oh I like this road. This road is nice.” In broken English and broken Georgian (he tried his best to help me understand, with my pathetic grasp of Russian or Georgian) he told me about the area. 

Once in Tbilisi I wandered down for a bath at the sulphur bath houses. More on this in a coming post. Let’s leave it at my love for a good bath will instantly move me from the “eh it’s okay” category of country love to the “oh my god. I may never leave” category. Why can’t America get on board with a good bath? For real? 

Tomorrow I’m bound for wine tasting – as one of my last trips before the move down south, I’m making this one count.