Too thick to drink, too thin to plough

Trip Start Jun 24, 2012
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Trip End Sep 21, 2012


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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We woke up this morning after sleeping for 12 hours solidly, and to be honest, we both could have easily gone back to sleep again - we were incredibly tired! We had showers to try and liven ourselves up a bit, but had missed breakfast, so decided to go for a wander through the city to grab some food and find something to do. We had heard from the taxi driver yesterday afternoon that there was a steamboat in town that you could pay to ride on up the Mississippi a little way, and as our plan to ride the steamboat Natchez in New Orleans had fallen through, we decided to go and investigate this.

We walked a couple of blocks away from our hotel through a little park and then wandered down the river front, before spotting the boat tied up on the dock. We were both a bit shocked at the state of Memphis in this area; it looked really run down and like no money had been put into it in a long while; the pavements were all over the place and the buildings were all pretty shabby. The bank of the river was all cobbled and broken as we made our way down to find out where we needed to buy tickets. Eventually, we found the ticket office and purchased them for an hour and a half's time, so we then decided to head back into the centre of the city to try and find some lunch beforehand.

The 'centre of the city' is a very loose term to use, as there was no obvious CBD - no skyscrapers, or apparent office buildings. There were also surprisingly few people around - even more so than San Diego- and those that were looked incredibly poor, if not outright homeless. We couldn't really find any restaurants or fast food places (no Mcdonalds, Subway, KFC, nothing, it was like being on another planet!) but ended up spotting a deli where we ordered sandwiches and crisps.

After this, we headed back out into the mega hot sun - seriously, each place is just getting hotter, I thought we'd be used to it by now - and retraced our steps to the steamboat via 'confederate park' (a patch of grass with confederate soldier statues), where we sat for around half an hour before it took off.

The steamboat ride itself was pretty good, and the on board guide was informative, when we could hear/understand him. Laura had a bit of a gripe that the boat was actually powered by an engine rather than being an authentic steamboat, but other than that she enjoyed herself. The boat was also pretty full, which was surprising considering we hadn't seen anyone in the area and then they all just showed up. We learned many things about the river and the area, which I furiously scribbled down-at Laura's urging - like I was on a school trip, to share with y'all, and which I shall recount below:

- The name of the boat we were on was the 'Island Queen' and she was brought onto the Mississippi river on the day of Elvis's funeral.
- We started our journey on the Wolf river, which is a tributary of the Mississippi, and which has enough water in it to supply every person in Memphis for 100 years
- The name Mississippi comes from native American (not specified) language and means either 'great river' or 'great water'
- Around 20 million gallons of water flow through the Mississippi every minute
- Spam meat is good for catching catfish, and the largest one ever recorded from the Memphis area weighed 118 pounds (8 stone 4lbs, or 53.5kg)
- A couple of years ago the residents of Memphis apparently found a 10ft alligator sitting on the banks of the river; as alligators aren't native to Tennessee they think he was swept up with the water when Katrina hit New Orleans and liked it so much he stayed
- Chickasaw Indians used to own the land Memphis is built on, but it was bought by Andrew Jackson (US President) for $1000
- In 1878, 5 yellow fevers hit Memphis and a quarantine was put in place for the whole city, whereby you were shot if you tried to leave.
- The city 4 miles north of Memphis was at this time suffering malnutrition as there was a food shortage, so the US army sent in supplies in exchange for them taking care of the quarantined Memphis
- The area we were sailing through borders on Arkansas (which we actually technically went in to) but there is apparently some bad feeling from Memphians, as Arkansas didn't finish their half of the bridge which connects them, so it only has half the decorative bumps that it's meant to (2, which makes it look like boobs according to the guy - he called it the 'Dolly Parton' bridge!)
- Barges run up and down on the river as they are easily able to carry large capacities of goods, and one barge is equal to 15 railroads carts and 60 lorries...however it does take 2 miles for them to stop once the breaks are applied...so they get right of way!
- Cybil Shepherd used to live in a yellow house on the bank of the river, until her house was flooded and she decided to move.
- Memphis was home to the first Holiday Inn, Piggly Wiggly, Fed Ex and was also home to Machine Gun Kelly, who was incarcerated at Alcatraz
- For three days in 1870, after an earthquake which measured 8.9 on the richter scale, the Mississippi ran backwards!

Interesting stuff eh? It was a bit random, the information we were provided with, and it didn't come in any particular order, but it made the ride fun nevertheless. The Mississippi itself is huge, wide and brown...it actually looks more like a really dirty version of the English channel, but after thinking our steamboat adventure was indefinitely cancelled, it was good to get the opportunity to spend some time on the river, which has really shaped America completely due to the economic and social impact it has had.

After the steamboat ride had finished, we had a brief wander through town to try and find some shops (there appears to be no sort of retail area at all, which is strange) and had to make do with popping into a Walgreens to pick up supplies for dinner. The unexpected turn of events has rendered us a little bit skinter than we anticipated being, so dinner ended up being nutella sandwiches and tinned peaches....delicious!

For the rest of the day we just lazed about in our room, taking full advantage of the entire bath and the tv, and trying to keep up to date with Isaac's progress. We also spent some time researching what we're going to do in the next few days...we had some ideas for our three day visit, but it's not going to be enough to fill the extra, so we're a bit stuck at the moment. Oh well, we've got time!

Deej x
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