Lowcountry Boiled

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Several hours of driving South Carolina’s spine-jarring, pot-holed Interstate 95 brought us to another world.  In those hours, we went from North Carolina’s crowded Wilmington coast–much of which looked like any other suburban part of the country–to Hunting Island, a state park in a unique and relatively unspoiled area of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.  It is a place heavy with history, beauty, and humidity.

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After leaving the interstate, we passed through lovely Beaufort, South Carolina (a worthy destination itself).  We drove on through salt marshes, golden with cordgrass, and sandy pine barrens and farmland on St. Helena Island until we came to a very narrow bridge to Hunting Island.  St. Helena does not allow gated communities or condominium developments and generally has maintained its rural feel, with small farms, lots of trailers and rickety houses, shrimp boats, and some funky tourist shops and restaurants.

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I cannot do justice to the area’s unique history in a short blog post.  But, to give a few highlights, it was a popular stop-over for pirates, the descendants of its plantation slaves developed a unique and rich Gullah culture, and it’s where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “I have a dream” speech.

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Hunting Island and Fripp Island are the yin and yang outer barrier islands.  Hunting is a state park with a campground on miles of undeveloped beach and neighboring Fripp is a gated resort community.  They serve different demographics, but the ebb and flow of sand and water on each island is affected by what is done on the other.

Hunting Island’s state park is the state’s most popular and we had to book our campground reservations months in advance.  Nevertheless, we were surprised at the line for check in, a first on this trip.  The park was fully booked, even during the week in October.

There was a southern coast T@B gathering while we were there

There was a southern coast T@B gathering while we were there

The roads in the campground are notorious for their narrowness and tight turns through trees, but the turns were overshadowed by the sight of an enormous spider web spanning the road overhead with a large (three to four inches across) yellow spider sitting in the middle waiting for her prey.  She was impressive.  We settled into our jungle-like site and were promptly attacked by swarms of pesky little gnats.

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Our first days were buggy and humid, humid, humid.  It was the type of humidity that makes you feel sticky just sitting at the computer.  Hot, humid, and buggy—we were not in Alaska anymore.  But, as in Alaska, the seafood was extraordinary.  We hit the local fish market, Gay’s, and brought home fresh local shrimp, scallops, and mahi.  The roadside farm market was next, where we bought tomatoes, squash, purple sweet potatoes and a Gullah melon for what, to us, was the amazingly low price of $8.00.  The sweet potatoes ended up hatching insects and I’m not sure what was “Gullah” about the watermelon, but it was delicious.

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We also bought some little handmade sweet grass baskets from a woman selling them in her front yard.  She said her grandchildren helped make them.  They smelled like fields of ripe grass.

We saw egrets, dolphins, deer, an alligator, and a vast mudscape of crabs along the marsh boardwalk.

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Marsh boardwalk

Marsh boardwalk, first section

Marsh boardwalk, second section, the mud on the right was the crab neighborhood

Marsh boardwalk, second section, the mud on the right was the crab neighborhood

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A little guy on the rim of his mud hole

Hunting Island-511There were some downsides.  The campground was beautiful and lush, but badly in need of a clean up.  Our campsite was covered with cigarette butts and the previous residents cleaned up after their dog but then left the bag in the fire ring.  Lovely present.

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There were some grim, worn-out looking people at the campground who had a “don’t mess with me” edge to them.  One couple had a “Confederate Parking Only—If you don’t like it, go back North” sign at their campground, flew a large confederate flag, sported a car plastered with inflammatory bumper stickers, and had two abused-looking dogs barking at the end of short leashes as if they wanted to devour every passerby. Our across-the-road neighbor treated George to a jacked-up tirade about what is wrong with this country, which was mostly a litany of things that he passionately despised.  In passing by, I interjected that his view of the Constitution was not exactly accurate (I couldn’t help myself). I imagine that I added a new category to his list of things to despise—uppity Alaskan women.

Sun filtering through the leaves and woodsmoke

Sun filtering through the leaves and woodsmoke

There were some funny aspects to the campground, too.  Drinking was supposedly prohibited, but the gift shop offered at least a dozen different types of shot glasses.  And one night we heard our neighbor, an elderly guy with a booming voice, telling stories at the campfire, one of which ended with, “and then he lit a fire in the fireplace and the snakes came out and got him.”  I wish I had heard the rest of the story.

By far the best part of Hunting Island, however, was the glorious beach—miles and miles of it.  But that will have to wait until the next post.

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13 thoughts on “Lowcountry Boiled

  1. What a wonderful post! I hope you make your travel journal into something like “travels with Charley (Zoe). Beautiful photos as always, but I suspect I would get along better with the Gullah culture than southern whites…I’ve had lots of experience, in Memphis, where half my birth family has lived since 1969.

    I am thinking we need to clear out a spot in our upper 40 for your trailer, if you want to stay right here when you come. Zoe will be VERY welcome, as will you two. We also have a small cottage in the backyard. But I can do some research into campgrounds nearby, if you prefer…

    • Thanks Arlene. I would have loved to have stayed longer and have gotten to know the Gullah culture more. The area is really interesting. The Union army captured nearby Port Royal at the beginning of the Civil War and freed the area’s slaves. The first school for freed slave children was on St. Helena. And the language and food … Next time.

      We are looking forward to visiting with you but are not sure yet when we will be in the area. Thanks for your offers of hospitality! I suspect it will be easier for us to stay in a campground, but we can talk about it as the time gets closer.

    • The sunsets and sunrises were quite spectacular when we were there. I think perhaps the T@B group had something to do with filling up the campground. I was not expecting it to be so crowded. And, yes, you meet all kinds in campgrounds. This was an especially weird mix of people. Keeps things interesting.

  2. Love your descriptive phrases, “hot, buggy and humid, humid, humid” Been to places like that over here in mid-summer. I can picture the places and especially the interesting people you meet.

    • You are too kind, but thanks! Between the photos and descriptions, I hope you can get some sense of what we’re experiencing. I find that your blog brings me right into Australia. So nice to be able to travel a bit vicariously.

      • You certainly do take me with you on your travels. I enjoy your posts. How do you get on with internet connections? I always find that is hit and miss on the road. Also finding the time to do posts when on the move is a challenge.

    • To answer your questions below, we have encountered some internet dead spots, but on the East Coast, we have had pretty good connections with our Verizon jetpack. The coverage will be more spotty again when we head out West.
      As far as finding time to blog, I also find it’s a challenge as we travel around. I try very hard not to let the blogging interfere too much with just living. I really enjoy blogging–it’s a great creative outlet–but I worry sometimes that it can take over the trip.

      • Blogging is very addictive. On the road we never miss tv as our evenings were spent checking the days photos and preparing posts.

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