BLISSFUL PARADISE ON PECAN ISLAND

“Whatever I have given, I have gained.” ~ Leonard Nimoy

One of the things about slow travel is you discover places that might not have ever noticed because you were driving through too quickly. That’s what happened to me when I arrived on Pecan Island in SW Louisiana. Who knew?

Working on the hen house.

Working on the hen house.

I left Cameron Parish on a beautiful sunny day. I had a long ride ahead of me but I felt well rested. Around noon I stopped for lunch at the Grand Chenier Public Library. They had picnic tables in the shade under the building and I read my kindle and ate a leisurely lunch. Afterwards I went up and into the library to use the bathroom (better than squatting in the rushes) and I made use of their free WIFI since I found I had no service in this remote stretch of land.

The back pasture after a big rain.

The back pasture after a big rain.

I took off again and made steady progress – it was supposed to be a forty-six mile trip. After awhile I came across a gas station/convenience store. I stopped in looking for something I could bring to my next host’s house as a contribution to a meal, but there really wasn’t anything appropriate.  This is the thing with being in fairly remote, under-populated areas – the grocery options a severely limited.

Horses frolicking in the pasture after a big rain.

Horses frolicking in the pasture after a big rain.

I went on and eventually came to another gas station/convenience store. I stopped in, once again finding nothing interesting, but by this time I wanted a snack so I got an ice cream bar and an iced tea.  The cashier was a very old woman. She asked if I was riding a bike. Yes, I was.

“Y’all staying with them people down the way who take care of riders?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What’s her name again?”

“Juanita.”

“Yes, that’s it. I hear tell she’s a real good cook.”

According to my mileage computer on my bike I was about 5 miles from my destination so I enquired about how far, five miles?

“Oh no, it’s at least twenty miles up the road.”

That’s not what you want to hear when you think you’re real close.

I went out and sat on the bench and ate my ice cream. About ten minutes later a truck pulls in and a guy walks up the stairs and says to me, “Hey you’re that bike rider from Seattle, huh?”

I was astounded. “Why yes! How did you know?”

He put out his hand, “I’m Chris, Juanita’s husband. I’ve been keeping my eye out for you.”

“Is that a truck you have there?”

“Yep. Throw your bike in.”

Still working on the hen house.

Still working on the hen house.

Turns out Google Maps is wrong – they are off by about twenty miles on that address. And I was glad for the lift and having a local – born and raised on the island – to show me the local sites. Not that there were many. Pecan Island also suffered a mass exodus after Rita and Ike. There used to be between 200 and 300 permanent residences, now there are only forty two.

Chris and Juanita live on ten acres she inherited. Her great grandfather once owned a big portion of the island. The plots have been divided over the years between grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins. Juanita has four or five plots of land, but the homestead is on this ten acres between two of her uncle’s plots.  They had seven dogs (six now), four cats, five ducks, four ducklings about twenty four chickens (it was hard to get a firm count, and the number was variable, depending on the day) and 2 roosters, and eventually 10 chicks.

I was only going to stay a night or two. I stayed almost five weeks. I fell in love with the place, the critters, and the people.

Hen House with Rooster/Chicken mandala.

Hen House with Rooster/Chicken mandala.

There were projects to do – one being the re-building of the hen house. And when that was done I painted a rooster/chicken mandala on it, making it the “prettiest hen house in all Acadiana.”

There was time for writing, time for cooking and teaching and learning new recipes. There was hanging out with the chickens and gathering eggs, a task so satisfying in so many ways. There was the great thrill the day the chickens were finally used to me, and instead of scattering when I came out, they came running, and I was surrounded by the clucks and squawks and fluffy chicken butts of the flock.

Hen house door.

Hen house door.

There was the morning I was painting the hen house and a hen hopped up the steps and stood next to me looking at the progress, clucking in approval.

There were other bicyclists passing through, discussing trips and routes and strategies. Exchanging names and emails. Then there was the waiting on the highly anticipated arrival of Mike the monk. Mike had been cycling through Pecan Island three years earlier and as he went by Juanita’s house, she called out: Stop here! I’ll feed you!

He did, and she did. He stayed a few days and they became dedicated pen pals. Mike arrived a day before expected. We really thought we’d be going into town to pick him up, but he found a ride to the island. He is a very interesting guy with the kind of stories that only a world traveler with very little money can gather. He is an avid birder and was constantly stopping work on a project to grab his binoculars. His first morning he was up at dawn and out on the road picking up aluminum cans.

Picking up cans is one of the regular things that Juanita does. She is a forager and a scavenger. She has a pile of recyclable metal that will go into town to the recycle center one day soon. She has a pile of found wood, in perfectly good condition that she will be using in her building projects. She got eighty pounds of gleaned rice from a field one day. She picks oranges and grapefruit regularly; they catch catfish and crawfish; she has fresh eggs daily; a freezer full of grass feed beef from her own heifers, she has honey and venison sausage that she traded for, and she has a pantry full of amazing preserves.

Mikey the chicken killer, waiting for the opportunity.

Mikey the chicken killer, waiting for the opportunity.

One day a neighbor gave her four roosters. She put them in separate pens to see who the ladies liked. The clear winner was a black and white speckled sir who she named Winston. The other three, plus one young one she already had got sold to a Vietnamese lady in New Iberia. That day we picked up the ten chicks and the four ducklings. She is trying to build her chickens back up after raccoons tore into her hen house and decimated her flock. With the new hen house and hen pen she is well on her way. As long as she keeps an eye out on her dog Mikey, the chicken killer. Mikey killed two chickens while I was there. If the hens are out foraging, Mikey always has to be on a leash now. It’s impossible to cure a dog who has a taste for chickens.

Juanita and I found we have much in common. We were close in age. We both grew up in California. Both of our mothers were nurses. We liked to cook and make preserves. Most of our politics were at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but that really doesn’t make a difference. I learned a lot from her. I understand when she feels the way she does about some things. And that was one of my goals on this trip, to get to know people who were different, and to have an understanding rather than stand in judgment. Her life is different than mine.  She has survived two major hurricanes with devastating effect. She has dealt with the highly inefficient and red-tape ridden FEMA. (No judgment zone here – this does not reflect on my friends who work for FEMA, it’s an institutional thing, not a people thing.) There is a reason her opinions and politics are different than mine. It doesn‘t mean we can’t be friends.

Cowboy, the friendly cat.

Cowboy, the friendly cat.

Here is the thing about traveling. When you travel, you often only meet other travelers. I found that out when I went to India with my friend, Kellie. We met people from England, Belgium, Malta, Israel, Australia… we rarely met Indians. You need to stay in a place in order to meet locals. Oner of the easiest ways to do that is to stay with locals. I might have spent thirty-six more days than I intended with Chris and Juanita, but in that time I learned about stuff I would never know if I hadn’t. And I came away with lifelong friends.

Oh yeah, and a place to go when the shit hits the fan! It’s nice to know folks with survival skillz!

Advertisements

TEXAS – PART 6 – LAST DAYS

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. ~ John Steinbeck

I left Lake Jackson on a beautiful morning and headed to Galveston. Why did I want to go to Galveston? Well, first of all it is a coastal city, and I’m trying to stay on the coastlines as much as possible. But the other reason is in my younger days this guy named Glen Campbell recorded a song, “Galveston”. It’s weird how a song can get into you, and even at that tender age I wanted to go to Galveston to see what Glen Campbell was going on about. Of course it is a Jimmy Webb song and he wrote many songs that made me want to wander. Campbell recorded it in 1969 which means I was twelve years old when I first heard it. Twelve is such an impressionable age.

Finally, I was heading to Galveston. I rode past miles and miles of Dow Chemical plants. I used my first Buc-ee’s bathroom and I went over a huge bridge that connects the mainland to Galveston Island. From the top of the bridge I got a spectacular, first view ever, of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be seeing a lot of this water for the next month or so.

First view of the Gulf of Mexico.

First view of the Gulf of Mexico.

I won’t go into too many details about the ride except to say it was long and flat and straight and beautiful, and there were headwinds as usual. I rode past sunset and into the night, which was a bit hair-raising. But I finally got the apartment of my host for the evening, Dana. I was late and had missed dinner but she had leftovers – stuffed Spaghetti Squash – OMG – so delicious! We talked a bit – she is back in school studying permaculture. Well of course, I was fascinated.

Gulf of Mexico and wetlands in foreground.

Gulf of Mexico and wetlands in foreground.

I left early the next morning. I wanted to see a bit of Galveston, get to the bike shop to see if I could pick up a new front tire (I noticed the day before that I was getting a rip in it), and then get on my way to Winnie, TX.  Well, I never made it off the island that day. I spent so much time exploring and taking pictures, then at the bike shop – it was really too late to start out for another 47 miles to the first town with a motel (no couchsurfing or warmshowers in some of these tiny towns – sometimes no motel either). So I got a room at the Scottish Inn right by the ferry to Point Bolivar.

I liked Galveston – it’s a beach town, and I love beach towns. The whole southern edge is beach and in town there is a sea wall with a walkway and bike path. I saw more people on bikes in Galveston than in the rest of Texas combined. And yet the bike shop did not have a tire for me. It’s not like it’s a unusual tire size – it’s one of the most common sizes. Anyway, I rode around and explored and I was taken in by the contrast of old and new, the friendliness of the people and how the culture was a bit more beachy and a bit less Texan then the rest of Texas. I found a cool coffee house to hang out at for a bit, MOD Coffee, and a great donut shop that had delicious breakfast burritos. I confess, I also had a donut. It was good too. This donut shop was a place where the locals hung out, the counter lady knew everyone and kept the coffee coming and everyone happy even when there were twenty-two seated and four lined up for takeout. If you are ever in Galveston, you should definitely stop by Home Cut Donuts.

…..

After a good night’s sleep I got a decent start out the next day, only to miss the ferry by seconds. So I waited around and took some pictures. I love ferries and this was my first ferry ride of my trip. Finally it came and I was off again. I got dropped at the tip of Point Bolivar and started riding. Headwinds, of course. I’m beginning to think that tailwinds are just a legend – they don’t really exist. And the thing is, in all my research for this trip, everything I read said if you go east to west you’ll have headwinds and if you go west to east you’ll have tailwinds.

The ride was coastal and flat until I turned back north, then it was wetlands and flat and it started getting colder. I got into Winnie at sunset and turned the heat on in my room immediately. It was so cold that I didn’t really want to go back outside, but I needed some food. There was a convenience store next door and I got some filling, though less than healthy food.

The Lighthouse at Point Bolivar, TX.

The Lighthouse at Point Bolivar, TX.

There is not much to write about Winnie. It is a small Texas town that has more than the usual amenities because Interstate 10 runs by it. Still, it’s only another 35 miles to Port Arthur, or 25 miles to Beaumont, so it not that big a deal.

A barge being pushed downstream - probably to Port Arthur, TX.

A barge being pushed downstream – probably to Port Arthur, TX.

So, the next morning, on my way to Port Arthur/Nederland, then Orange. I was stopping in Nederland because a bike shop there had a tire on order for me. The weather had deteriorated considerably over the night. I was facing headwinds of twenty to thirty miles per hour, and rain was in the forecast.  Instead of riding at nine to ten miles per hour, I was riding at six to seven miles per hour. It became clear that I was not going to make it all the way to Orange that day – fifty-five miles. By the time the icy rain started I was wondering if I would even make it to the bike shop before it closed, only a thirty mile trip.

By three o’clock I was so cold and wet and miserable, I couldn’t feel my toes or my fingers and my face was windburned. I was still at least three hours away from Nederland, if not more, so slow was my progress. I finally just stopped and got off my bike, took off my helmet and started thumbing a ride. After about forty-five minutes and old guy named Al, in a big shiny red truck, stopped and said throw the bike in the back. He drove me all the way to the bike shop, even though it was out of his way. He told me hitchhiking in Texas was illegal. I said I was aware of that, but I was desperate to get out of the cold and rain. After a few miles, we passed a cop going the opposite direction. Al told me if he hadn’t picked me up the cop would have, and then he’d give me a $150.00 ticket. But, he said, illegality didn’t keep him from picking up hitchhikers. Guardian angels are out there.

Now that I was at the bike shop, it turns out my tire hadn’t come in yet. So, I went to a hotel across the street and checked in, then soaked in a hot tub for about an hour. I ended up staying there three days. Three miserable, rainy days. Days not fit for cycling. I transferred some money to my checking account, because I was down to thirty three dollars. By Monday I had a new tire, but my transfer hadn’t come through and I needed to get some rain gear because the weather was only slightly better. I contacted Priyesh on couchsurfing – he lived in Port Arthur, about a mile away – and he accepted my request for a stay over.  Priyesh is from northern India and he is an engineer working for Shell Oil. Lake Arthur was the center of chemical production and Port Arthur is the center of oil refining. We went out to dinner and then he drove me around and showed me the refineries and explained what it means if you see a flame coming from one of the stacks. It’s not good. It means that something went wrong, but it also means that they are dealing with it.

My friend, Melissa reminded me that Port Arthur was the hometown of Janis Joplin and suggested I go on a tour of J. Joplin sites. I got on the computer to see where I may look, and there is a museum that has a picture of her and her high school yearbook, and nearby there is a barbershop that has a new clipping of her. That’s about it. No house where she was born. No clubs or bars where she played. Priyesh told me that when hurricane Rita came through, a bunch of people moved north to Beaumont. Later, when hurricane Ike came through, even more people migrated north. Old Port Arthur is a dismal place of abandoned houses and businesses. Janis’s home no longer exist – it is gone, along with hundreds of others.

I stayed two nights with Priyesh, got a long sleeved shirt and a light weight, waterproof, self packing, windbreaker. When I started out the next day for Louisiana I was much warmer and much dryer.

I have only one picture of the previous days – that’s how miserable I was!

Priyesh in Port Arthur, TX.

Priyesh in Port Arthur, TX.

Of course, three blocks from Priyesh’s house, I got a flat tire! But having just changed a tire, I was quite adept and I got out one of my spares and fixed it in less than a half hour. After that I had a good breakfast and I said “Hasta la vista” to Texas. On to Louisiana!

But before I say goodbye to Texas… I liked it much more than I thought I would. I met some wonderful people and saw some beautiful country. People told me I should come back in the spring, when the wildflowers and bluebells are blooming – and I’d like to. But being here in the winter, I saw grassy fields blowing in the wind, cows, horses, sheep, and goats all stopping what they were doing to watch me ride by, and one day as I was riding to Blessing, I heard a racket of quacking and honking and I thought there must be some geese sitting in the fields. I stopped and looked long and hard, but I couldn’t see anything but the grass. Still the noise continued and finally I looked up. Hundreds of geese were flying by in long, graceful Vees, calling out to each other as they fly south to a warmer  winter. I started riding again, looking up at the geese more than down at the road, but they were making much better time than I was. No time to even get a decent picture, but I’ll never forget that sight.

I will come back!

I will come back!

TEXAS – PART 4: THE RANCH AT GOLIAD

I am winding up my stay at my friend’s ranch in Goliad. They used to raise emus, but the emu market went bust, and the last of their breeding pairs died a few years ago. At one time Texas has over 1,100 emu ranches. The meat was supposed to be a lean alternative to beef, the eggs are edible (and huge) and the oil is supposed to do amazing things for our skin. But it was an exploding industry without a market.

I love this ranch though. It is 30 acres about six miles north of Goliad. There are numerous building including the main house which has three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, with a sleeping porch for the east facing bedrooms; there is a master bedroom/bathroom downstairs, a kitchen with a large eating area, a dining room, two living rooms, a large pantry/storage area, powder room, laundry room, an office, a workshop, and an enclosed back patio with additional freezer storage. In addition to all this there is also an attached apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, living area and full kitchen.

There are three well houses, several storage sheds, a workroom, a barn, and another building with a storage room, a garage and another one bedroom apartment.

There are twenty five acres of pasture and five acres of buildings, emu pens, and oak trees. There are about nine cats and one dog named Buster.

Deer come by and feed in the yard at dusk, and there are wild turkeys and wild hogs in the neighborhood.

I love looking out over the fields. When the breeze blows through the grasses a sense of peace falls over me.

Here are some pictures I’ve taken while exploring the ranch.

The Buildings

The Oaks

 

The Land

Tools

Rust


Rope

 

Bark

 

Oil Containers 

 

Random Cool Stuff

Animals

And last but not least, this little kitty stole my heart even though I only knew her for a week. Her name was Kiki, and  she was very ill, but we did not know what ailed her. She started losing a lot of weight two years ago, and she finally stopped eating while I was visiting. We brought her water throughout the day and when she slept with me at night, I would keep a bowl of water on the nightstand, and wake up to give her some. Because it was the holidays, the vet was out and we could not get her there until last Monday. She died peacefully and we miss her so much.

Sweet kitty, Kiki.

Sweet kitty, Kiki.

I’ll be leaving the ranch on Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather, and I will miss this place, and look forward to the day I can return.

More Texas, next post.

TEJAS – PARTE TRES

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. ~ Ernest Hemingway           

I write this in Goliad, home of dear, lifelong friends, Richard and Joyce Mollicone. I was so happy to have arrived here for the holidays, because I feel truly at home. I have known them for so long, they are family to me.

Joyce  & Richard

Joyce & Richard

Joyce and me

Joyce and me

As quoted above, Ernest is right. I have driven up and down hills that I did not think were so hilly, and I have had people say to me, here on the edge of the hill country of Texas, that there weren’t that many hills between here and there. But on a bicycle, you realize that there are hills. When you have to pedal up them, you know them.  Oh so many hills. Now, in Goliad, I truly am at the end of the hilly parts – from here there are two small hills out of town then it’s a gradual downhill to the coastal plain, then I’ll be on the flatlands for thousands of miles. Yay for me!

Leaving the lovely home of Mary and Charlie in the countryside outside of Lockhart, Texas, I planned to take Seawillow Road to its end where it connected to the country road into Luling, then follow 183 into Gonzales. Unfortunately, about two miles down, the road was closed, so I rerouted – it only added three and a half miles! Once again, there were hills and headwinds and a delicious lunch in Luling at Blake’s. No, it was not BBQ. I’m still a bit done in by BBQ after my lunch with my cousin Paul.

I must be in oil country...

I must be in oil country…

Yep. I'm in oil country.

Yep. I’m in oil country.

There is only one problem with these country roads… dogs. I was chased by many dogs. Some of them faked me out and pretended they were going to stop where their yard or driveway ended, only to come after me again, even faster than before. Others came right into the street, slowing down as I pedaled away, only to turn on the power again and nip at my heels.

From Luling, after 183 intersects with Interstate 10, the riding was wonderful because of a wide shoulder with plenty of room for bicycles. There were still headwinds and hills, but at least I felt safe, even with oil trucks and dirt haulers whizzing by at seventy.

A couple of the hills were steep enough and long enough, that I ran out of steam and had to walk my bike up. I will admit, at these times, I considered looking especially pathetic, in order to draw in a sympathetic driver who was on his way to Goliad – one who would feel so sorry for me that he’d give me a ride and save me ninety miles. Oh, the fantasies that go through my mind!

Old corral and pens.

Old corral and pens.

Alas, no roadsides rescues were to be had, and I limped into Gonzales after six and a half hours of pedaling. I stayed at the home of the cutest couple, Kelly and her fiancé, Sean. They are in their 20’s – she’s a teacher and he’s an electrician, working with his dad. They grilled the most amazing burgers. I told them they were the best I’d had in a long time. Sean was pleased – it meant a lot to him, considering he shot the deer, processed the meat and grilled it! Turns out they were venison burgers. He explained in some detail how you have to process the meat in order for it not to be gamey.  After dinner we sat outside around the firepit with the dogs and talked. It was so mild out and they were delightful – we talked for hours.

The sun breaking through, finally,

The sun breaking through, finally,

It was an early start the next morning. I was heading to Cuero and wondering if I could ride hard and make it to Goliad in one day. It was about 75 miles away, and the longest day I’d done so far was 41 miles. I had a place to stay in Cuero that night through couchsurfing.com, but I got an email from the guy the night before saying family had come into town for the holidays and I would have to share a room with his two brothers. NOT! Sorry dude, that is just not kosher. I cancelled. I decided I’d just get a motel in Cuero.

Hay rolls.

Hay rolls.

Well, after a few miles it was obvious that I was leaving the Texas Hill Country! The hills were fewer and farther between, and they were more rolling. Instead of going over them at four miles per hour, I was going over them at ten miles per hour. That’s a huge difference in terms of time and fatigue. It was a really  enjoyable ride. I still stopped often to stretch my shoulders and to take pictures, but I was definitely having fun.

Green valley.

Green valley.

Imagine how surprised I was to roll into Cuero at eleven thirty in the morning! What had taken six and a half hours the day before, only took three and a half hours! There were even some tailwinds for the first time!

In Cuero I rode straight to Whataburger, on the highest recommendation of Kelly. I got a burger and some fries and an iced tea, and settled in for a leisurely lunch with my Kindle. About an hour later I started looking for a hotel and I decided to call Richard. When I last talked to him I said I’d be arriving between the twenty second and the twenty fourth. Being one day away, it was time to check in.

Big house on the way to Cuero.

Big house on the way to Cuero.

Well, Richard was having none of that hotel stuff. He was at work In Victoria – thirty minutes away – he’d pick me up as soon as he was done with his proposal. So I settled in with my tea and book. Eventually Richard got there and it was so good to see him. I was so happy to be going to Goliad that night! And I didn’t even have to look pathetic on the side of the road.

Sunset on the ranch in Goliad.

Sunset on the ranch in Goliad.

So here I am, the day after Christmas. It’s been so nice hanging out here. So good to be with Joyce too, who is still a pistol, and still cracks me up! I’ll stay a few more days, because I’m going to make a pot of stuffed cabbage for Richard, and it takes three or four days to pickle the cabbage.

Goliad - commemorating a famous battle for Texas independence - at the capitol in Austin.

Goliad – commemorating a famous battle for Texas independence – at the capitol in Austin.

Some observations:

1) Horses, goats, sheep and cattle are all interested in me. They pay no attention to the cars and trucks, but they get excited when I come by on my bike.

Curious animals outside Lockhart.

Curious animals outside Lockhart.

More curious animals - outside Gonzales.

More curious animals – outside Gonzales.

2) Hills are easier to climb when you are listening to the Talking Heads. Well, anything is better with the Talking Heads…

3) I observed 5 people getting a bite to eat at Whataburger. Three of them were in matching fancy camo outfits. They came in a big-ass truck and were towing a fancy custom camo painted four wheel ATV. I think they were going hunting. I don’t think they had already been hunting – they were far too clean. I’m definitely in Texas.

4) And, evidently, in Cuero, Texas, there is a high stakes poker game happening once a week. Two guys came into the Whataburger and sat at the table next to me and started discussing the game the previous night, where one of the guys apparently lost $47,000.00!

Ruminate on that!

More of Texas in my next post.