Where do expats go on vacation?

We think we live in about the prettiest place on earth – Samara Beach, Costa Rica.  The climate is perfect and life is easy.  But living here, we sometimes need more stimulation.  We love to travel – that’s how we found Costa Rica in the first place.  So we try to take a trip outside the country each year or so, besides our visits to family and friends back home.

charlestom south carolina

Neither of us had ever been to the southeastern US

so this year we headed for Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.

wambaugh creek

We started our exploration of the “low country” with a kayak paddle through a black-water swamp

within the Francis Marion National Forest.

wambaugh creek

This land is flat.  The “hill” where we launched was all of 3 feet above the adjacent swamp,

providing the only dry land for miles around.

american aligator

Dodging the alligators

turtles in the swamp

and turtles,

wambaugh creek

we ambled upstream through a forest of pines, palmettos, and live oak.

mclellanville sc

After our kayak excursion, we began our search for the perfectly prepared oyster at TW Grahams in McClellanville.

tw graham & co

After two weeks of research in two states, we both now agree these were the best – pan-fried.

azaleas in bloom

At the Cypress Gardens the azaleas were in bloom.


Bushes the size of our northwestern Rhododendrons.  But the blossoms were small and brilliant.

Great Egret

Great Egret

For several weeks I’d been joking to friends that I was tagging birds on Carrillo Beach just 4 km from Casa Mango and Casa Papaya.   “I’m going to race them north.”

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Sure enough, we started seeing familiar species our first day out.

hostoric charleston

Charleston’s historic district is a neighborhood of exquisitely preserved homes.

hugenot church charleston

And churches.

historic charleston

The history of Charleston is layered with colonization, slavery and war.

historic charleston

I didn’t see much evidence of commerce except in the realm of tourism: inns, restaurants and guided historic architectural tours.

historic charleston

You could follow the history of architectural style in the US from the waterfront Bay Street up to King and beyond.

charleston historic district

Charleston has the first protected historic district in the US and,

historic charleston

except for the three catastrophic fires, an earthquake and a hurricane, much of it still stands.

Poogan's Porch

We ate our way through the low country, feasting on fresh seafood and barbecue.

golden isles

After our city fix, we headed south into Georgia with stops on several of the “Golden Isles”.

spartina grass

These aren’t so much islands as sand-dunes with grass.  Golden grass in the Fall – hence the name.

golden isles

The “low country” is flat and the ocean rolls over it twice a day.

kayaking from tybee island

At low tide, the narrow channels between the hummocks of pine trees, spartina grass, and sea oats are a kayaker’s paradise.

Brown Pelican and Cormorants

Brown Pelican and Cormorants

The whole region is thick with bird life.

Wood Storks, Glossy Ibis, and White Ibis

Wood Storks, Glossy Ibis, and White Ibis

At Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge, the Wood Storks were nesting.

wood storks nesting in georgia

We saw almost as many in the trees around the ponds

as there are on Isla de Pájaros in the Tempisque River of Costa Rica in December.

aligators in georgia

I imagine every body of water in the South has alligators so I tried to stay dry as much as possible.

crane cottage jekyl island

Jekyl Island is an enchanted barrier island where the Vanderbuilts, Morgans, and Rockefellers built their winter “cottages”.

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In this private club, the cottages were grouped around a shared marina and swimming pool.  I can imagine it was quite a social scene.

jekyl island hotel

The hotel, operated by the State of Georgia, still presents a slice of luxury and opulence.

bicycling jekyl island

We rented a couple of bicycles and toodled around the bike paths and sparsely traveled roads.

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Saint Mary’s is the point of embarkation for Cumberland National Seashore.  You can only get there by boat.

cumberland national seashore

The locals headed for campgrounds along the 17 mile beach.

bicycling cumberland island
We have beach in Costa Rica so we stayed inland in the palmetto/ pine forest that permeates this area of the country.

northern cardinal

The trees were alive with the songs of birds but I couldn’t see them, except for the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal.

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Savannah, though settled only 30 years later than Charleston and with much of the same layered history, had a very different vibe for me.

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Our guidebook relayed an old joke:  When being introduced in Charleston one is asked “Who are your people?”

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but in Savannah the first question is “What are you drinking?”  It feels a little like that.


Where Charleston has the Citadel, a para-military college,

alley in savannah

Savannah has the Savannah College of Art and Design.  SCAD students give the city a living vibrancy instead of a museum quality.

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But it’s the green squares that give the city its cache.  Each square acts like a front yard for the dozen or so houses and churches that surround it.

    oglethorpe monument

Some squares have monuments to important historical figures.

square in savannah

Others are just lovely green spaces to stroll and rest.

square in savannah

The surprise is that they were planned not as parks and gardens but as parade grounds for military exercise.

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The squares didn’t get greened up until the mid 60’s of this century, 250 years later.  A stroke of genius or a heading-slapping inevitability?

friendly southerners

What struck us most about this small part of the South – we both noticed it immediately – was how genuinely polite and friendly everyone is.

Absolutely everyone we encountered.  Even the drivers.

fish sandwich

After a last supper of oysters and shrimp, we headed home to our own slice or paradise.


Now that I’ve escorted the birds north I’ll be waiting for their return in Nov.

  1. Ann Marie said:

    What a great photo tour! I’ve never been there, but your pictures gave me a good feel for the architecture. Wasn’t it Savannah where the city fathers bribed the Union troups not to burn it down?? I like how they think.

    • Yes, the Union packed Sherman off to one of the barrier islands for a “rest” and sent a general with less pyro-manic tendencies to take Savannah.

  2. David Lane said:

    From Costa Rica there are low cost fares to Miami. Amtrak runs two trains a day north and south for very reasonable fares if you book in advance the earlier the better. It is a scenic trip through Florida and Georgia to including Savannah and Charleston. Excellent dining room on board. You might want to check it out.

  3. Elaine Baker said:

    I enjoyed your trip pictures!! very well done!!

  4. Becky said:

    Fabulous photos! Food looks awesome!

  5. louise dickson said:

    Thanks Lavae. Looks like you had a fabulous time. Gracias for sharing. As far as the food goes, I’ll have what you guys were having! Now I’m hungary, time to hit the fridge!

    • You know you live in CR when all the comments are about the food.

  6. Joseph said:

    Wow! Delicious food! Those are great pictures you took, Sandy. Lots of interesting details, too. My wife, kids and I go to Myrtle Beach, SC every summer and we have an amazing time there. We are from Texas, so it’s a nice break from the heat. Although SC can get pretty hot!

    What do you miss most about the States?

    • What do I miss most about the States? Obviously food takes a very close second place to family.

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