Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.: Touring Low Country USA with a Visiting Friend

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Touring Low Country USA with a Visiting Friend



Our next stops were in Low Country USA in South Carolina. What made the stays extra special, however, was the visit of my dear friend Dittas, a top-notch IT business consultant in the Philippines, who was vacationing for a month in the US.
Low Country USA is the identifier of a unique culture and geography that extends from the Sandhills of South Carolina, just east of Columbia, its capital, to its coast and outlying islands. Our campgrounds are conveniently located in the midst of beautiful Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Beaufort, Charleston, and Columbia. This area is mostly near or below sea level; thus the term "low country". As far as your eyes can see are marshes filled with low grasses and swampy water. It is perfect country for shrimping (remember Forrest Gump?).
Although Savannah is not in South Carolina, it is often included because it sits right at the border of Georgia and SC and shares much of the history, landscape and culture. It is just 45 minutes from our first campground, The Oaks at Point South. In fact, Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport was where Dittas landed and where we took her for her flight back to San Francisco. The highlight of the city is the 24 Squares around which the city was designed by Oglethorpe, the British settler in 1733, making the city one of the most organized in the world and, definitely the best structured during its time. The largest and oldest is Johnson Square but the most beautiful is Monterrey Square, especially when it is blooming with flowers on the bases of magnificent live oak trees. One of the old houses around the square is Mercer House, the site of the enchanting film, Midnight in the Garden of Good
and Evil. In another square was the park bench on which Forrest Gump sat, contemplating life like a box of chocolates (we also went to Chocolate Tree, the maker of the chocolates who gave each of us a complimentary sand dollar dark chocolate). Another enchanting section of the city is River Street where old cotton warehouses along the Savannah River had been transformed into quaint boutiques and restaurants. In fact, one of the raw bars there is where we had two dozen fresh oysters for just $6 during Happy Hour! And, on the river bank was Savannah River Queen, a paddle boat waiting for tourists to climb on board. Dittas and I could not help but be queens for an instant (beautiful queens!). At a distance, the double suspension bridge casts a striking pose in the Savannah sky. 
Hilton Head Island is an island unto itself. It was conceptualized around 1765 by Charles Fraser, a
visionary at 27. He pioneered gated communities in America as he transformed the island’s many plantations. Sea Pines is the only one open to the public for a $5 access fee and it features the South Beach (If Sea
Pines is a foot, then South Beach is its toe!) and Harbor Town. South Beach is where we had traditional fish and chips at the Salty Dog CafĂ© on the marina only to be pleasantly surprised by the best key lime pie in the whole wide world! Harbor Town, on the other hand, is where Liberty Oak, a giant centuries-old live oak, was left untouched during the development of the island and under which large, red, rocking chairs wait for visitors torelax in the beauty of the marina and its nearby shops. Elsewhere on the island are the Coligny Beach, the public beach where hundreds of colorful beach umbrellas and towels conceal the lovely tanned bodies of scantily clad men and women. On Shelter Cove stands a giant statue of Neptune whose spear tells time on one of the largest sundials in the world.   

Beaufort, SC, is the oldest of the communities, dating back from 1711. The quaint historic downtown is home to many southeastern eateries and craft shops, a beautiful waterfront, and a long and winding bridge/highway to a group of small islands the farthest of which, Fripps Island, is privately owned. We chanced upon a shrimp shack but lo and behold…all the fish and shrimps are fried! For all of us who come from the tropics, fish had better be grilled, or poached, or steamed, or baked! So we went instead to Gilligan’s Island and peeled steamed shrimps to our tummies’ satisfaction. For those who love beautiful sprawling historic homes, Beaufort is the place to be. For those who love stately more modern homes, Hilton Head Island is more ideal. And for those who care for the in-betweens, Charleston is a must.
Charleston’s beautiful southern mansions dot the road along its harbor. But the distinction of the town is in Fort Sumter. Lying just outside the city, beyond the harbor, in the middle of the water is the fort where the first blast of the Civil War began. The city is known as the Holy City with all of 300 churches around.  But the Catholic cathedral is uniquely pretty with its small, narrow facade. And the small wineries featured more of fruit wines than the regular whites and reds. But what we were thrilled about in Charleston is the City Market where hundreds of stalls, flea-market style, are laid out with so many Low Country crafts. That is where Dittas finally found a bright, flowery Welcome Sign for our RV, colorful, chunky earrings and necklace set to match an old red, yellow, orange, green, blue ring, and an off-white top made from organic cotton. As women on a frenzied shopping spree go, we were more than just satisfied with our afternoon stash!

The Oaks campground was largely uneventful (although the clubhouse was the place where I finally beat Bill in pool!) except for the 3 ponds at the back around which we took brisk walks for our afternoon exercise. There were 3 alligators there and we did not realize one of them was camouflaged as he lay lounging on the banks. Thank heavens he jumped back into the water in surprise when I asked Bill to move closer to the edge for a photo of the beautiful red, green, and yellow trees that were mirrored in the pond.
Around our campground are small towns with unique attractions. We found a Carolina Cherry (My name is actually Carolina and I have a sister named Cherry) Store where we found benne wafers (sesame seed cookies) and pecan pinches, tasty Southern snack bites. There were old church ruins in Sheldon that were almost razed to the ground by the British during the American Revolution but left elegant columns that looked like a small brick
Parthenon. We also discovered an authentic African Village (as seen on TV) where, upon entry, you are considered to have left the USA! Coosawatchie, a
town 6 miles away, was where Bill finally found a shop for the S’un (our Saturn SL1). To both our chagrin and delight, the day after Dittas left, we even discovered a Low Country Visitors’ Museum just around the corner from the camp. There Bill and I found a huge live oak with its trunk and all its branches bent to the ground. The museum also featured the ‘Blue Bottle’ tree to ward off evil spirits, a common practice in Low Country, and a joggling board, a historic contraption made by German friends of a plantation owner who had bad back problems.

Dittas treated us to lunch at a Scottish pub in downtown Savannah on the day of her departure.  We wanted to go to Paula Deen's, on the advice o a friend from Seattle, but the line was so looooong.  Bill loooooved the food (he had Guiness beef stew) and Dittas loooooved the waiter's utility kilt. The unfortunate thing was I left my purse there when we hurried to catch Dittas' flight. So the next day we had to go back one more time to Savannah and decided to hear Easter mass at the lovely
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. On the way out of town we saw two huge cute elephants, one pink, one blue in front of a souvenir shop.
Two days after Dittas left, we headed for Big Water in Santee on Lake Marion. The campground has 2 warm pools, a Lazy River for tubing, and beach access to the lake. We spent several days of water fun. But SC fishing licenses sold for $11 for 7 days and $35 for a year so Bill postponed buying one until North Carolina where we will be staying longer, for a month and a half. The campground also gave us access to Columbia, the state capital, where we were able to finally see Avatar which was still showing in an old movie house at its outskirts! The campground was also near Sumter where we found a small flea market.  And, even if we did not find anything worthwhile buying (it was more of a large garage/junk yard sale), a good soul told us to go to the Swan Lake and Iris Gardens, the town's jewel.  That day 3 weddings were going on...it was obviously the most beautiful place around for miles.  The lake had several elegant black and white swans and the banks were filled with the spectacle of tree roots jutting out a foot or two high.  All around the lake were pedestals where buttons, when touched, would explain the tree orn plant it was beside.

Next Stops: Salisbury and Advance, NC, Lynchburg, Va, and Lenoir, NC