Instead of taking I-10 to Pensacola, we opted for the scenic route along the Emerald Coast. The Florida Panhandle between Panama City and Pensacola is named the Emerald Coast for it’s snow white beaches and emerald waters (of the Gulf of Mexico.) Panama City is a popular destination for spring breakers and we saw a few as we drove through the city, but the wind and chilly temperatures kept people off the beach. The town itself lacks charm- it resembles International Drive in Orlando with it’s Ripley’s Believe it Or Not and amusement parks, but I guess it’s fun for kids and college students. However, the beaches west of the city are stunning. We took the small highway 30A that crosses a lot of higher-end resorts and the little village, Seaside, known as the surreal setting for the movie “The Truman Show.” In fact, the town is picture-perfect, everyone names their brightly painted victorian style beach homes. We used a “residents only” beach access at risk of being locked up in the town’s plush jail to see the idealic beach. The only sign of the BP oil spill were the tar plug buckets on the beach.
We finally arrived in Pensacola, or more specifically at Big Lagoon State Park on Perdido Key in late afternoon. We heard the ranger mention that they were forecasting rain for the weekend, but the evening was clear and breezy. We woke up early Saturday morning to a downpour, luckily we were camping on sand and on a slight incline so the water didn’t pool around the tent. After a quick hot shower, we were treated to another small storm so we decided to go to IHOP (the International House of Pancakes) for breakfast. For the non-Americans who are following the blog, IHOP is a restaurant that serves enormous breakfasts 24 hours a day. We dined on eggs, sausage, hashbrowns and blueberry pancakes.
Since the forecast didn’t look good for the day, we planned to spend the morning in Pensacola’s historical center and and the afternoon at the Naval Air Museum. We got to the Historical Village (a restored area of historic homes and museums) around 9:30. The area was deserted except for a few people in costumes for a Mardi Gras parade and the lady collecting money for the public parking. We asked her if the Historical Village and museums would be open (or closed due to the Parade.) She didn’t know but she told us that there was a BBQ cook-off taking place in the park so we could go to that instead. Sure enough, there was a BBQ contest with contestants and their enormous motorhomes and trailers from all over the south cooking up BBQ at 9 o’clock in the morning with live country music of course. (I suddenly regretted my big IHOP breakfast.) Turns out the historical village did open; we did a marvelous tour through some of the old homes (including a freed-slave home) with a guide who used to live in France. We learned about the importance of fishing and logging in the area, as well as Pensacola’s past under French, Spanish, British and Confederate rule. After the tour, we had some pulled pork sandwiches, bought some award-winning BBQ sauce and sampled some beers from the local brewery before staking out our spots for Pensacola’s Mardi Gras parade.
It’s seems that the locals like to put on a good party like their Louisiana neighbors. Most of the floats were sponsored by companies or local associations, and they were well-stocked with beer and booze. We left covered with beads and various other souvenirs. In the midst of the party, I got a phone call from my mom warning us of bad weather. By the time we got back to the campground, it was storming buckets. From about 5pm onwards we spent the evening in the tent, reading by lantern light and eating turkey sandwiches. I also had a visitor, a tick that latched it self on my back. Fabien pulled it out with tweezers. We’re keeping it in a box until I make sure he didn’t give me any dirty diseases. We managed to stay dry, but the following morning we had to dry out our tent and gear before getting on the road to the Big Easy, New Orleans.