Half way through the week, we’ve realized that seven nights in such a wonderful place as Hunting Island is not enough. The trouble is that it’s difficult to get a spot for any longer. Especially around weekends the park starts to be really busy. And people come here from all over the World. Our direct neighbors were people from as near as Hilton Head, or as far as Wisconsin and Germany. The park has some interpretive programs, not as good or diverse as those in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, but interesting nonetheless. Most people come here mostly because of the beach. We have decided to take advantage of an opportunity to learn to catch crabs. Who knows when it will come in handy during this trip?

On Thursday morning, we’ve met with a few other students at the parks Nature Center. The ranger assigned the responsibility of teaching us was a twenty something kid. After collecting $5 from each of us, he handed us four circular nets suspended on long rolls of string. To encourage the crabs to crawl into the nets, he suggested we should use some meat – preferably boney, to let them chew on it for a bit, as crabbing is apparently just a waiting game. You attach the bait in the net, throw it down from a pier into murky water and wait ten to fifteen minutes before pulling it out again. The theory is that the meat in the net will attract at first some small crabs, then over time it will draw some larger ones. And those we are interested in, of course.

In reality, our kids don’t have the patience to wait that long. Alex was pulling his net out in just a few minutes after throwing it in. Nadia could wait any longer either. The funny thing is though, that both of them pulled out some crabs! They both were females (recognized by red pinchers and a battery-like compartment at the bottom where they store eggs), which means there isn’t much meat in they claws. We decided to keep them anyway.

We all had lots of fun pulling our nets out and chasing the crabs on the pier. You should know that trying to get the creature out of a net and into a bucket is much more exciting than waiting and starring at a piece of string dangling from a pier. Once it’s out of the net, it starts crawling towards the edge of the boardwalk and if successful jumps right back into the ocean. If you’re quick and brave enough, you will step on it and pick it up by its back side. If you’re slow and clumsy, or if you hesitate for even just a fraction of a second, the crab will pinch you. It is said that, the bigger the crab, the more ferocious it is. It is definitely true, and let me just add that they fight for they dear life like crazy.

We’ve spent the entire morning at the pier dancing around and jumping over crabs, letting the females back into the ocean and risking life trying not to let the males escape. After a few hours in the unforgiving sun and heat, we had just enough crabs to fill one of our bicycle baskets. Our kids wanted to continue, but I assessed that we’ve caught just enough for lunch and to justify the $20 we’ve spent on it.

When we got back to the campsite, the challenge was to get the beasts out of the basket and into a pot with boiling water at its bottom. I have to admit, this part was the most difficult for me. During the countless duels I had with those little dudes, I started to respect them for their intelligence and fearlessness. I think the same is true for Nadia and Alex. The three of us refused to eat their meat, and cooked sausages with sweet potatoes instead. Agnieszka had a great lunch!

Beach Bums

It’s been five nights on the island so far. Three of them in the middle of a jungle, the other two in a more civilized camping spot with own water and electric supply. Dealing with the pesky, but apparently very smart raccoons (we’ve heard horror stories about them opening zipped coolers, working in gangs and invading tents), carrying food in and out, and walking miles to the restrooms or even to get some water proved to be very tiring. It’s one thing if you come just for a night or two, like most of our local neighbors, but it’s something completely different when it’s your permanent living space.

Therefore on Monday morning, after a night rain, we’ve packed our stuff and went to the Rangers to see if there are other sites available. Past weekend several options opened up. We’ve chosen a sunny, well ventilated spot with people all around and a promise of a more comfortable life. Couple of hours later most our stuff was moved to the new place, but we’ve decided to use this opportunity to return the Coleman tent to the store and exchange it for a simpler, Ozark Trail model. For some reason we like the second brand better. Their tents tend to be far less complex, well made and far less expensive. They also seem to dry quicker, but that might be just my perception.

During our stay on the island, we’ve been spending most of the time on the beach, mostly swimming in the ocean and sunbathing, but also riding bicycles to a nearby historic lighthouse. On a clear day, the view from the top is spectacular. You can see form miles and except for trawlers catching shrimp, there are no man-made structures on the horizon. One could imagine that the landscape here didn’t change in a million years. Except of course for the progressing erosion of the shoreline, for which hundred years ago the lighthouse had to be moved about half mile inland. There is also a beautiful park in between the beach and the main road running parallel to the ocean. It’s densely covered by all kinds of vegetation with only a few paved roads running through. Around noon time, this is the best place to be, for riding bikes in the tropical forest‘s deep shade is a great alternative to heat and humidity nearing three digits.

Thanks to them, Nadia discovered surfing, apparently her new passion. We had no choice, but to buy her a body board (a small surf board) and now we just can’t pull her out of the water. It doesn’t matter that she got smashed by the waves several times, got underneath them, drank salt water and lost her hat (yep, that’s a second one lost during this journey). If we only let her, she would spend whole days in the ocean. Alex isn’t too shy of the mighty sea either. He loves to run in and out of the water, jump waves and chase seagulls. He also considers the body board his own, which obviously leads to numerous conflicts between them.

With the limited space we have, we can’t afford to accumulate any stuff on the way. For the board to come with us, a pillow had to go. It’s a “one in, one out” policy, which I hope we will maintain also after our return to civilization. For now, the van is our home and we need to keep in shape. Speaking of which, couple of days ago Agnieszka lost the key to the van. You can only imagine the frantic and hopeless search through millions of cubic tons of sand in a progressing high tide. The other key was locked safely… in the car, so for a few moments we were seriously considering that breaking into our own car will be the only option. Fortunately retracing our steps of the day led us to a camp recycling station, where we’ve found the keys. Since it’s been several long hours between us losing the keys and finding them again, my only conclusion is that recycling isn’t very popular down here in the South…

It’s a jungle out here!

It was raining the whole day. When we were packing our gear in Cheraw, we folded the tent all wet stuck it together with other soaked items into the roof rack. That’s a proven technique by now. Whatever’s dry and has to stay that way rides in the car, moist and dump equipment rides on the roof. There is only one problem. The roof rack has two locks for which, we’ve lost the keys. Instead, we use a bright orange heavy duty strap. Well, at least most of the time we do…

That day we were in such a hurry to leave for our next destination that we’ve forgotten to secure the luggage on top of the car. That proved to be an excellent recipe for disaster. At 70 mph, on an interstate, in the middle of a storm, the roof rack does not want to stay closed. At some point I’ve heard a strange sound from above and a moment later I saw something in the rear view mirror. We either hit a bird, or the damn roof trunk failed. Well, obviously there are only a few birds crazy enough to challenge a tropical storm, so it must have been the later. I stopped immediately, which in such conditions means about half a minute or mile further. The roof rack was open and our tarp was ready for take-off. I checked the rest of the items and concluded that we’ve lost at least the bag with tent poles, hopefully not more.

The big question was, do I risk my life and walk back half a mile in pouring rain on a busy interstate to retrieve a bag of poles? Even if they’re still intact, I decided a $79.95 is not worth the hustle. We drove off and bought a new tent at the next Walmart. This one isn’t as nice as the one we lost, but is more or less the same size. Just more complicated to setup and fold down. Oh well…

When we eventually got to the Hunting Island State Park, the sun started to peak out from behind an overcast sky. We couldn’t wait to get to the beach, so we quickly hauled all our gear to a site about 100 yards from the parking lot. The camp site itself looks like a set from “Off the Map”. It’s South Carolina, and yet it’s a jungle. It’s nested in the middle of a forest, with pines, focuses and palm trees all around. It looked terrific.

24-Sep-2011 18:31, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. u850SW,S850SW , 5.0, 20.1mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 64
Surfer Girl
Surfer Girl24-Sep-2011 18:40, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 45.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
Robert at work...
Robert at work...24-Sep-2011 18:37, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
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When we got to the beach, it was already after sunset. That obviously didn’t stop me or the kids from getting completely wet and then covered with sand. An hour after dark, we decided we’re hungry and got back to our site. Riding the bikes in complete darkness wasn’t easy, but we made it safe. Due to the rain earlier, all wood was soaking wet, which proved to be really difficult to start the camp fire. Especially with an empty lighter and wet matches. I managed to burn my finger in the process, but finally called it a success. For about ten minutes, as this is how much wood we’ve collected to fuel the fire.

While fiddling with the campfire, we’ve heard some disturbing noises from nearby bushes. Apparently we weren’t alone in this site and our animal neighbors were having a rather laud domestic dispute. Turned out we set up our camp in the middle of a raccoon territory. When we were getting acquainted with the Ocean, those little fellows already visited our kitchen tent. Missing bag of roasted peanuts gave as the clue…

With no campfire and no snacks, we decided to call it a day and retired to the tent about 10PM. That however, does not meant we got to sleep longer than usual. Apparently, it wasn’t just one family of raccoons, more like a few hordes. I had to step out from the tent to rescue our supplies. In just few trips, I hauled everything back to the car, leaving only some pots and mugs in the kitchen tent. Let me just add that this was the evening when my favorite miners lamp also decided to quit. Believe me, it’s not a pleasant experience to evacuate food in complete darkness surrounded by a bunch of hungry animals.

When I got back to the tent, the kids were already asleep, which is a very good thing. I couldn’t force myself to slander listening to the noises outside. Raccoons were obviously quite displeased with my actions, but did not surrender hope. Maybe not very intelligent, they don’t lack perseverance. It took them all night and several repeated attempts at our empty mugs and pots to realize that the food was actually gone. On top of that, the regular sounds of a sub-tropical forest are quite different from what we are accustomed. A falling oak leaf doesn’t make much noise, but imagine a palm tree leaf. Or imagine multiple palm trees shedding their leaves all at the same time in the middle of the night. Add the squirrels running around and throwing pine cones at your tent, bats, owls, deer and God only knows what other night creatures. Supposedly the alligators live nearby too…

While I was trying to fall asleep, listening to a cacophony of noises, suddenly I heard a bear snore right next to me. Apparently , my wife was real tired and just couldn’t care less about the jungle outside…


The Prettiest Town in Dixie

Cheraw, SC

On our trip we’re meeting some pretty interesting people. All they have some truly amazing stories to tell. Like the couple we’ve met in Virginia. They live in Massachusetts, but only during the short summer. They don’t actually have a house there, they sold it and bought an AirStream trailer. They haul it around and stay as hosts at State Parks throughout the country. Being a host means a few responsibilities, but also a free site to anchor for a month. They gave us a few tips and as a result, we’re heading towards the ocean to Hunting Island State Park.

It is a long way to get there, especially with two little monsters asking every couple minutes “Are we there yet?”. Therefore we’ve decided to break the trip into two four hour legs. At the end of the first part lies Cheraw, a charming little town in northern South Carolina. Admittedly, I didn’t know Dizzy and anything about him when I chose the place, but soon after arrival Agnieszka filled me up on jazz history. Turns out, Dizzy Gillespie is the father of american jazz music and Cheraw happens to be his hometown and a modern day Mecca for jazz enthusiasts from around the World.

Dizzy Gillespie with Nadia and Alex in Cheraw, SC

The town sits on the banks of the Pee Dee river and it’s history dates back to early seventeen hundreds. Even today, the downtown area is sprinkled with many building from before 1860.

For lunch we’ve stopped in The River’s Edge, a downtown restaurant run by a very nice couple. The food was delicious and as usual we’ve gotten into a conversation with the owners. One thing leads to another and after the establishment closed for the day, we’ve ended up making pierogis for us all…

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22-Sep-2011 02:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.022 sec, ISO 200