Roadtripping through Mississippi
I passed through Mississippi during the summer of 2012, on a roadtrip adventure with three British lads I met in a hostel in Nashville. After my original travel plans fell through, I needed a way to get from Nashville to New Orleans and the boys invited me to join them as they travelled to Memphis, through Mississippi to New Orleans (where we had conveniently all booked the same hostel, for the same dates!)
Our first stop was the town of Clarksdale, about 80 miles south of Memphis. After crossing into Mississippi, we noticed the change of scenery almost immediately. The horizon stretched out over fields and fields, with very little to break the view. We passed through some tiny towns and trailer parks on the banks of the Mississippi river before pulling into Clarksdale for the night. The town has been historically significant in the history of Blues music so our first stop was the Riverside Hotel. Famed for lodging many blues artists, it also used to be a hospital, where the singer Bessie Smith died. It is still operated by the original family owners as a hotel, so we swung by for a peep. Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to spend the night here so we checked into a motel and headed to Ground Zero Blues Club.
The blues club is co-owned by Morgan Freeman and has featured on documentaries such as Stephen Fry in America. There was a live band playing, cold beer and pool tables. What more could we ask for? Although a little quiet (it was a week night), we had a fun night drinking and playing pool, whilst listening to some authentic blues music.
The next morning we set off bright and early south, following the banks of the Mississippi. We grabbed some lunch at a roadside stop. It was all very meaty, and I am a very fussy meat eater, so I opted for the ‘cheese salad’. This was literally a mound of grated cheese, with three banana peppers on top, served in a burger box. Mississippi is weird.
We continued on, passing through more run down trailer parks. The poverty I witnessed in this state was unbelievable. Not what I had expected at all, and it really took me by surprise…Especially when we reached our destination for the night, Natchez. This antebellum town was full of large, beautiful homes complete with white picket fences and wrap-around porches – the complete opposite to life we had witnessed elsewhere.
But before we reached Natchez, we made one more stop in Vicksburg. This city played a major role in the American Civil War, and the Siege of Vicksburg (when the city finally surrendered) has historically marked the turning point of the Civil War, in the Union’s favour. We visited the Vicksburg National Memorial Park ($8 entrance fee per vehicle), which serves as a memory of the 47-day siege that ended in the surrender of the city. The park includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, and 20 miles of historic trenches. We drove around the park, hopping out to explore every now and again, but the heat was unbearable (42ºC/108ºF!) by the end so we gave up and continued on our way.
We made it to Natchez just in time for dinner, and ate at Pig Out Inn Barbeque where we were treated to pulled pork buns, corn on the cob, baked beans (southern style!) and mash. Mmmm. The walls were covered in answers to the question: ‘What I love about the South…’
After food, we explored the town a little before checking into our motel. Like I said, the houses were huge, antebellum homes and it was all rather beautiful.
We ventured out to the bars in the evening, after taking a recommendation from the motel owner, and quickly befriended four Louisianan’s who had hopped over the river for the night. They took us under their wing, buying us drinks in exchange for having us say things like ‘Harry Potter’ and before I knew it, I was singing Tim McGraw on the karaoke and line dancing with the best of them! The night ended with us in a car, driving across the Mississippi into Louisiana, windows down, hands out the window, blasting Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’. Definitely one of the most memorable nights of my life, so thank you Mississippi.
Overall, Mississippi was probably the strangest state I have yet to visit – the mix of rich and poor, the wide open spaces and corn fields, the weird food and barely understandable accents!