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.
Neither of us had ever been to the southeastern US
so this year we headed for Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.
We started our exploration of the “low country” with a kayak paddle through a black-water swamp
within the Francis Marion National Forest.
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.
Dodging the alligators
we ambled upstream through a forest of pines, palmettos, and live oak.
After our kayak excursion, we began our search for the perfectly prepared oyster at TW Grahams in McClellanville.
After two weeks of research in two states, we both now agree these were the best – pan-fried.
At the Cypress Gardens the azaleas were in bloom.
Bushes the size of our northwestern Rhododendrons. But the blossoms were small and brilliant.
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.”
Sure enough, we started seeing familiar species our first day out.
Charleston’s historic district is a neighborhood of exquisitely preserved homes.
The history of Charleston is layered with colonization, slavery and war.
I didn’t see much evidence of commerce except in the realm of tourism: inns, restaurants and guided historic architectural tours.
You could follow the history of architectural style in the US from the waterfront Bay Street up to King and beyond.
Charleston has the first protected historic district in the US and,
except for the three catastrophic fires, an earthquake and a hurricane, much of it still stands.
We ate our way through the low country, feasting on fresh seafood and barbecue.
After our city fix, we headed south into Georgia with stops on several of the “Golden Isles”.
These aren’t so much islands as sand-dunes with grass. Golden grass in the Fall – hence the name.
The “low country” is flat and the ocean rolls over it twice a day.
At low tide, the narrow channels between the hummocks of pine trees, spartina grass, and sea oats are a kayaker’s paradise.
The whole region is thick with bird life.
At Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge, the Wood Storks were nesting.
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.
I imagine every body of water in the South has alligators so I tried to stay dry as much as possible.
Jekyl Island is an enchanted barrier island where the Vanderbuilts, Morgans, and Rockefellers built their winter “cottages”.
In this private club, the cottages were grouped around a shared marina and swimming pool. I can imagine it was quite a social scene.
The hotel, operated by the State of Georgia, still presents a slice of luxury and opulence.
We rented a couple of bicycles and toodled around the bike paths and sparsely traveled roads.
Saint Mary’s is the point of embarkation for Cumberland National Seashore. You can only get there by boat.
The locals headed for campgrounds along the 17 mile beach.
The trees were alive with the songs of birds but I couldn’t see them, except for the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal.
Savannah, though settled only 30 years later than Charleston and with much of the same layered history, had a very different vibe for me.
Our guidebook relayed an old joke: When being introduced in Charleston one is asked “Who are your people?”
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,
Savannah has the Savannah College of Art and Design. SCAD students give the city a living vibrancy instead of a museum quality.
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.
Some squares have monuments to important historical figures.
Others are just lovely green spaces to stroll and rest.
The surprise is that they were planned not as parks and gardens but as parade grounds for military exercise.
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?
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.
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.