On the 16th of July, we took off from Miami heading towards Georgia. As we mentioned in the previous post, we made a rule not to drive more than 5 h a day so we looked for a good spot where to stop along the way to Atlanta. Our friend Brittany recommended us to visit Rainbow Springs so that is what we decided to do.
Before that, we took an opportunity to stop in Plantation, FL and visit Ivan’s tennis coach from his youth. I had heard a lot about THE coach and was looking very forward to meet him. We went for a coffee with Jose and they remembered stories from the time Ivan was training with him. These included the legendary time when Ivan had to run for 1 hour at 3 am as a punishment for not taking out the garbage. Apparently, not only Ivan’s friends refer to that story, but also the coach himself when teaching younger generations about discipline. 😉
Rainbow Springs and Goethe Forest
After a long drive in the heat, we arrived full of sweat to Rainbow Springs. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky and we were not let in the camping because we had no reservation. Regardless, we went to visit the springs. That was the best part of the day, thanks to the swim in the cold crystal clear water of the springs. Besides the wonderful landscape, it was a great chance for us to cool down before the night. Moreover, we found a great spot in the Goethe National Forest for a camping just a few kilometers away from Rainbow Springs. We were the only ones there besides a green frog and some other animals. We also started the generator for the 1st time during our trip to cool the van down with A/C before sleeping. After a calm night and rested, we continued the journey towards Atlanta.
We Left the coziness of our Goethe Forest to go to Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the way was the monotonous I-75, but then we finally reached Atlanta—oh, oh! Traffic again. We arrived at Alicia’s house about 1h behind schedule, but that is no biggie. For us, 1h late is like being on time.
We were cheerfully received by Alicia, and my mom Gabi that had flown to Atlanta to meet with us at Alicia’s. Alicia is a childhood friend of my mom, so it all made sense. We made ourselves at home and started chatting. The chat was a bit of a mix of past adventures from our trip and a thousand and one possibilities for next morning’s breakfast. It happened that my mom and Alicia had done the groceries prior to our arrival, and there was, among other stuff, at least 20 kg of assorted fruit: mangoes, berries, watermelon, …,—I do not know what else. Thankfully Greg was still on his way home and could get us sorted with beer. We had a lovely dinner, made plans for our stay and all went to bed. Well, almost all plans, we were still undecided about breakfast.
Aquarium and Coca-Cola World
Day 1 was the aquarium and Coca-Cola World for my mom and us, and a certification test for Alicia. Early in the morning, we realized that not eating fruit for breakfast was not an option. So we filled the holes with scrambled eggs? damn! I do not remember what we finally had for breakfast!
Off we go to the aquarium with Alicia giving us a ride on her way to the examination. Of course, we never go to places without an ace up the sleeve. My uncle Rafa does scientific research on whale sharks and he had worked together with the Georgia Aquarium on several projects. Therefore, we had the contact of the nicest biologist in the aquarium. She treated us superb and gave us a personal behind the scenes tour of the place. We saw how ocean water is made (actually very easy; there is an instant ocean water powder), how the whale sharks were fed, the little fish nurseries, the fake waves for the shallow areas, among other. Thank you Kerry!
The cherry on top of the cake was going to the Beltline when Alicia picked us up with a big smile on her face. Remember about the test she had? Well, apparently she over studied. She took us to a place to eat around the Beltline were we had an amazing Jerk Chicken and beans and then took a walk around the Ponce de Leon area. Thank you Alicia!
At the Lake with Greg: Jackson Lake
The next day we went to Greg’s lakehouse. The house is at Lake Jackson, which like many of the bigger lakes around there, is a flooded man-made lake. This has a couple of interesting repercussions: There is a dam somewhere that keeps the lake flooded and generates electricity. There is a vast amount of shoreline. This is because the lake is flooded between hills that make a lot of ramifications. The forest, if untouched by man, comes right up to the lake. Nature hasn’t been able to carve a nice shore yet and many original pre-flooding trees are still there right at the shore, where the same type of trees will no longer grow after they die. If you look it up in google maps it looks more like fjords.
So we arrived at the lake with our bushels of fresh fruit and Maya. Maya is the cute little granddaughter of Greg. We made ourselves at home and went to the lake where we had a floating snack, took a small tour of that part of the lake with a small electric boat, and even fished some small basses with bread, t-shirts and nets. We had to show those sucker basses a lesson, they would bite you if you stood still and when one managed to bite me a nipple, I had it with them. Then I learned that that is why Greg always goes in with a t-shirt =).
After supper, we had the amazing idea of going with the bigger boat to the bigger part of the lake to watch the sunset. All we “watched” was rain, clouds, and cold, but it was still fun.
The second day at the lake got sunny early and after having another batch of mangoes, blueberries, and watermelon, we took again the bigger boat to some waterfalls at the lake’s inlet. We had a gentle ride (slow) because we had to save up gas because the gas marina was closed. But we had the opportunity to appreciate all kinds of houses around the lake; from little cottages to huge mansions. We came back home and got ready to go back to Atlanta. Thank you Greg!
The Beatles are not Dead
We let the lake half early because we wanted to see the Beatles live for free! Yes, no joke, they are still alive, but now they play under the name of “Liverpool Legends”. Atlanta has these free concerts at some city parks every I do not know how often, but today the Beatles were on the stage. We were super prepared with our camping chairs, a cooler with ice, and more fruit, but no beer, so after setting up the quarters we took a quick walk to the next gas station for beer. The concert was rocking! They really do look and sound like the Beatles so all the oldies that attended were having a blast!
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
From Alicia’s house, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Why is it smoky? The clouds and the fog that forms every day on top of the mountains is what makes them look as if they were full of smoke. We stayed at the highest camping of the National Park. On the way up we saw lots of moose and other animals. Vanper Valentino did very well climbing up the mountains and we didn’t get any issues. The road was very scenic and had lots of great overlook spots where we could see panoramic views of the park.
We were really well equipped with a small grill that Jose and Sandy gifted us in Colorado, so we took advantage of that and decided to cook a dinner up at the campsite. Steaks with sweet potatoes, corn, tortillas and pico de gallo. It was delicious 😀
We spend a nice evening chatting with our camping neighbors and went to sleep. It was the first time it got so cold during our trip. We had to pull out all of our wool and other insulation clothes. Nevertheless, we had a good night and were happy to get a little rest from the heat.
Next day we went for a hike. It seemed like we were the only ones on the trail. We didn’t meet almost anybody. Also, since the mountains are full of trees, you actually do not have any lookout spots on top of the mountain, which we thought was a bit odd. It was a bit rainy that day so it was actually perfect that we got covered by the trees most of the time and managed the whole hike without getting wet. On top of the mountain, we also saw a millipede. It was a first time for me =). It is amazing how they coordinate all their legs and move.
During our stay at the camping, we learned that one should not bring wood to the parks because they might contain bugs or pests and can put the local forests in danger. One has to buy heat treated wood or go pick up wood the lying on the ground in the forest. So we did both. We bought a bit and picked up a bit. I also learned how to chop wood with an ax =).
We took off from the camping to continue our journey towards Chapel Hill. Since the van did so good going uphill we ran into a little problem going downhill. I was driving (Olga) and by the time we reached the town, the breaks stopped responding. My personal nightmare became true: I was pressing the pedal but got no feedback neither felt that the van was slowing down. All finished well as we managed to get to a gas station and figure that we overheated the breaks. Luckily they cooled down and everything came back to normal. We did well by stopping right away when figured that something was wrong and didn’t make a bigger damage to the van. Ufff…