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06 June 2011

Passing Through Mississippi and Alabama

Day 11: Tuesday, 31 May 2011
We left New Orleans around 10:30am, saying bye to Allen and stepping into our already hot car. One last pass through the Crescent City, and then headed east along highway 90 (Chef Menteur Highway). The route took us first through New Orleans East. where we stopped at Winn-Dixie for snacks and supplies. We drove through the bayous, which were just lots of swamp plants and a few houses raised on stilts; nothing extremely interesting. Into Mississippi, we passed through some small, rural towns before stopping at the beach (near Pass Christian). The Gulf of Mexico was a brownish-greenish color; the "waves" lapped every 2-3 seconds, way too quickly. It felt like the water was hyperventilating and did not feel relaxing. The sand was fine, but not as powdery as the other Gulf beach we went to in Louisiana.

It's incredible to think that this is already day 11 of the trip. It's intimidating that so much of the rest of this trip is yet unplanned, but mostly it has just been exciting. Every place we've been to so far has been amazing, and I wish I could stay at each place much longer. But the road beckons...

We drove on along the coast, through Gulfport and Biloxi, stopping for gas because it was cheaper than anywhere we had seen so far. There were several casino resorts in the area, including an Imperial Palace (?!). We entered Alabama, stopping at the Alabama welcome center for a map. Ueli took over the driving, and we saw a hitchhiker, but we were too fast in the left lane of the freeway to pull over. Damn.

It was a short drive into Mobile, only 20 miles or so; we drove through a tunnel then exited to visit the USS Alabama battleship. There were old naval aircraft in the parking lot and attached hangar. Our admission was discounted $2, thanks to the AL welcome center brochure) and included a visit to the submarine USS Drum. Having visited an aircraft carrier before, I didn't find too much new in visiting the battleship. We followed a self-guided tour, following arrows around the ship's interior. We saw the living quarters, medical ward, artillery storage, and many other preserved details. Ueli wanted to climb to the top, but we got separated, so after a few minutes, I climbed 7 or 8 steep ladders to get atop the top of the battleship while Ueli was all the way down on the exit ramp. It was funny that we could see each other.

It was hot (as one would expect) as we left Alabama, crossing the causeway across Mobile Bay and each of us drinking a half-gallon of Sunny D. Soon we were into Florida, stopping at the welcome center there. It was just about 5 pm and we had planned to visit that Naval Aviation Museum, but it closes at 5. We tried to go there anyway, driving through suburban back roads for 20 minutes to get to the Pensacola Naval Air Station. We were turned away at the entrance by another curtly rude guy. So we drove on through Pensacola and into Gulf Breeze, FL, where we stopped for food at the first Waffle House we saw. Waffle House is a chain of diners throughout the south. It looks kind of run-down from the outside, but they really do have amazing waffles. Our server was new but very nice.

I continued to drive, taking the coastal highway to Panama City as the sun set behind us. Ueli, as if on schedule, fell right asleep. It was somewhat annoying that the speed limits were 35-45mph for most of the way. Floridian drivers are somewhat different, oddly eager to cut you off and speed even when there's a red light in front of them. We arrived in Panama City just before 9pm (Panama City is about 15 miles inland from Panama City Beach, got it?). Soon we were at our Couchsurfing host Ashley's apartment, and we met her boyfriend Zach hand her flatmate Chris. They are all pretty much locals from the area and have a world view quite different from most of the people I've encountered. It's interesting that their world is north Florida, and their idea of a big trip was an extended weekend in New Orleans or Miami. Both of them were really nice beyond what I could have imagined, though. We just stayed in and watched some Glee. Ashley has a memory book that she has all of her couchsurfers sign, a very cool idea. Zach has a 6-year-old daughter.

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