Escaping from the farm was a blessed relief, and fantastic four days was lined up as a treat for the 10days of back wrenching farm work. Travelling with Manon, the French girl who was on the farm with me, the plan was to head south to Jackson, MS, then separate and I was going to go to Vicksburg, MS and onto Memphis, TN before flying back to Chapel Hill. As it was, Vicksburg didn’t happen (could find anywhere to stay that wasn’t less than $50) and so I stayed an extra day in Jackson instead. The exciting - but also a bit scary - part of it all? I was Couchsurfing all the way!
To those that don’t know, Couchsurfing is where you stay on a couch in someone’s house in the place you want. By someone I mean a complete stranger. Who you meet on the website. No, it’s not quite like that, and the site you use to Couchsurf is decent enough in you can see peoples past reviews and the numbers of people they’ve had staying at theirs etc, and then choose who to ask to stay with. Anyways, my first experience was in Jackson with Manon (an experienced Couchsurfer which was reassuring) staying with Clay.
We took the greyhound down to Jackson from this random arse village in the middle of nowhere. The greyhound stop itself was a diner place, and the girl sorting out the greyhound tickets was incredibly excited to chat to a “France-and-Englander” (whatever one of those is!). Being dropped off really early (like 7am early) we had hours to kill until the bus came, so I settled down to a nice American breakfast of an omelette, and Manon soon followed suit. The bus arrived late, so sitting outside waiting was incredibly sweaty in the humidity of Mississippi. Eventually the bus came, and we weren’t able to get on until those that had got off for a break got back on. The stupidity of Greyhound is that if you buy a ticket, you aren’t guaranteed a seat on the bus, so there’s this almost fight to get onto the damn thing in order to get a seat. Absolute nightmare… Anyways, the journey itself wasn’t bad – just long, hot and not that comfortable.
Pulling into Jackson, MS the humidity hit us once again. I have no idea how people live in these places – it was just so uncomfortably hot! Jackson is the state capital of Mississippi, with a population around 500,000, 70% black. I guess the best way to describe it is like your typical Southern city. Not a great description I know but don’t know how else to put it! Clay very generously met us at the Greyhound station and liberated our bags from us, and pointed us in the direction of the Capitol, and then departed back to work.
Heading towards downtown, we came across the Old Capitol, and I got lost in the museum inside. I found the political history of MS fascinating. It was a beautiful building, and incredibly interesting. Thoroughly recommended if you ever end up that way! As we left the building it rained. I mean really rained. Summer storm style, So after a few minutes deliberation and a bit of a wait to see if it let off a bit (which it didn’t at all), we just legged it a block to a small Caribbean restaurant to get some lunch and dry off. The food was ace in there – jerk chicken was sooo good! After eating and drying off (which took longer than hoped due to the damn AC being on!) we left the restaurant and headed towards the New Capitol (not so interesting to be honest…), scurrying away when Manon wanted to see if the Freedom Bell worked. I think the entire downtown population were very grateful to know it perfectly…
|A cool house we saw wandering around|
Meeting Clay we went back to his place, dumped stuff and had a poke around the area in terms of getting a coffee and some bits and bobs from the grocery store. Clay was a very nice lad, and an artist (Echo Mech if you wanna have a look), with an interest in music. That evening we went for a meal at a Mediterranean place, with the waiters overly flirting with Manon. Much to her amusement! From there we went to a ‘pop-up’ art event, which are ‘spontaneous’ in that they ‘pop up’ in random places not traditionally associated with art for a few days and then disappear again. Arts not really my type of thing, but you gotta be open to new things so I went along and found it a fairly interesting experience. Though I’m still not sure how a picture can cost upwards of $100…
The event finished around 10, and so from there we went to a cool little pub/bar type place with some live music being put on. I really enjoyed myself there, except I was incredibly knackered from the 6am start and kept spacing out. It got worse (by my own doing!) in that a friend of Clay’s came over once we had got home (at like 2am) and I was determined to stay up and not miss anything (also my bed was in the same room so I doubt I would have been able to sleep particularly well!). This did lead to me therefore being awake for 22hours straight. And zonked straight out when I hit the hay. Always a good thing!
|The live music at the pub/bar type place in downtown Jackson|
The next morning I slept in whilst the other two went to watch bike polo (yep, polo on bikes) and then in the afternoon the three of us plus Anne – a friend of Clay’s – departed for one of the best afternoons I have had in the US. We were headed to the Bentonia Blues Festival which was celebrating its 40th year. The festival itself was based around the Blue Front Café (a café on the Mississippi Blues Trail which is a famous and influential place in the development of Blues music), and based on a farm field in the middle of literally nowhere, corn fields on all sides and ancient, rusting tractors dotted around. It was clear that despite its age it is still not a big festival by any stretch of the imagination, with a rather makeshift looking stage and around 250 people lounging on the grass in front of it. Still, small gigs are usually better, and in this case that was most certainly true.
The music was dominated blues (obviously), but with a couple of other influenced styles too, and alongside the great smell of BBQ and almost unintelligible speak of the MS delta I was in my element. It was exactly what travelling is all about! We stayed to the very end-at first sweating like pigs in the incredible heat and humidity of the delta; hanging out on the grass, drinking, eating and playing cards whilst listening to the pure sound of blues being played on stage. I really loved just being able to lie back in the sun (or shade as the temperature rose) and let the music wash over me. It was a fantastic afternoon and a great way to experience real southern culture that I had been wanting to do for a long while.
|The tiny stage|
|See how tiny the festival is?!|
|Cornfields surrounding the festival field|
|Old tractors around the place|
|Manon, Clay and Anne|
As it was, all good things have to come to an end, and we left having to rescue Manon from a ‘friendly’ married man wanting her affections (yep, married). As we walked to the car we bumped into one of the organisers who seemed totally thrilled that two Europeans had attended the festival. Probably one of the highlights of the 40years!
I had great fun in Jackson with both Manon and Clay, and am incredibly grateful to Clay for putting us up, and to Manon for allowing me to join her on her travels for a few days. Jackson was an interesting part of the world for sure, and I am so glad I went there and experienced a part of Deep Southern culture that I hadn’t had the chance to do before hand whilst in the States. The next day I was heading back north for a few days alone before flying back to Carolina, whilst Manon was hanging in Jackson for another night and then travelling onwards to New Orleans. Clay dropped me off at the Greyhound station, and after a slight panic with the realisation I had booked the ticket for the day after by mistake (idiot) and an incredibly nice lady sorting it out for me (got to love the South!) I got on another Greyhound (ugh) and headed towards the musical city of Memphis, TN.