Our time in East St Lewis was quite interesting and not particularly well organised. On the first night we turned up rather late and without much food, so we ate at the welcoming on site BBQ restaurant. The weather the next morning was not very nice
and I was feeling under the weather, having caught my first on-road cold, so it was not that upsetting when the skies opened and we decided to hunker down in the tent for the afternoon, listening to the rain hammering on the tent. It seemed the best solution to eat in the Sawmill restaurant again, not least because the staff were so lovely. As the restaurant shut at eight pm we then went back to the tent and again listened to the rain hammering on the canvas above our heads. The lightening and thunder wound me up a bit, as at one stage, it was right overhead and it is never much fun to sit next to a metal pole when there are millions of volts discharging just above your head. Yep, I jumped and screamed quite loudly (sorry Tim!). I was always taught as a child to avoid sheltering under tree during a thunder storm…how on earth do you achieve that in most campsites, where its almost impossible to get away from trees. When we finally dragged ourselves out of the tent the next morning, the glasses that we had abandoned on the table had over an inch of water in them.
Even taking into account that the glasses were not straight sided, there had been an extremely wet night. It made the signs on the facilities make a bit more sense.
I got chatting to this young man, called Bill, who was fascinated by our Tentipi, so I gave him the threepeny tour (OK, I let him look inside it).
He is an ex marine and is now out of work and living in one of the little huts in campsite (which is one of the cheaper places we have stayed at in the USA). I asked him what he wanted to do and he said he would like to help people, maybe as part of a disaster emergency group. I wondered if there was any help out there for veterans and he said he didn’t like asking for help, which seemed both ironic and sad to me. I suspect he is still suffering the after effects of being a soldier, Tim suggested post traumatic stress disorder. It was nice to see that his girlfriend came to visit him the next day and she seemed a really nice woman. He warned me that it was not safe to go over the other side of the street from the campsite and showed me a picture that his brother, a local policeman, had taken of some ammunition he had found, a hollow nosed bullet. Having walked down to one of the few local shops, what he said made sense, as the locals did not seem to be very friendly and the whole area had an air of deprivation. This sign also made more sense after that conversation
On the Friday we drove into the centre of St Louis, to have a look around.
The Old Courthouse is a lovely building
They have an excellent display, chronicling some of the legal history of slavery in the region and how during one application for freedom from a married couple, the court declared that black people could not be considered citizens of the united States. The display was saddening, but full of tales of bravery from those who challenged the legal status quo to those who bought their freedom to those who helped run the underground railway.
Much of St Lewis looks quite depressed and unloved, but we thought that the outstanding feature was the Arch.
It was built fifty years ago to commemorate St Louis being the gateway to the west. It stands over 600 feet tall and is made of stainless steel and you can go up it for a mere $10. The lift is the strangest one we have been in, consisting of about ten circular capsules, which rotate as they are pulled up the arch to ensure that you remain upright. The motion is just jerky enough to ensure that it is a wholly unnerving experience and I was truly relieved to get out at the top.
There are tiny windows that give views from the top for about 30 miles around and you can also see the ground directly below you.
We were bit put out by all the building work around the tower, until one of the rangers up there said that they were both improving the flood defences and regenerating the area to the tune of about $380 million. I can imagine that in about a year or so the area will be fantastic and hopefully it will help the poor old local economy.
Back at the campsite, as it was getting towards sunset (about 5pm at the moment) a couple of cyclists arrived in the campground and then put up a little tent. We had a nice fire going by this time and we invited them over to share it and have a beer.
It turns out that Kristen and Will are in the process of cycling all the way down the Mississippi River, via its head waters from Canada. They were a delightful young couple, who had just finished qualifying in Business (Will) and architecture (Kristen), but had decided to quit their jobs and take some time out before moving to New York and getting on with their careers.
They were highly articulate and delightfully keen to make an impact on the future sustainability of their environment. It was also interesting to hear a younger person’s views of Obama; they said that their generation was pretty much in favour, although their hopes were raised so high when he first came to power that many were a bit disillusioned. They also told us something about their early education, and how all text books in the USA have to meet the approval of the Texas education board, as they are the largest purchaser of books in the USA. I will be interested to see how they get on (and if you are interested they are writing a blog called bikebigmuddy.com).
As the evening wore on, we retired to our tent and we could hear police siren followed by police siren, which made me feel increasingly uneasy about the area. I was quite glad to be leaving the next morning, despite really liking the campsite. We waved a fond farewell to the Arch
and I saw these young people being held by the police as we drove out of the city.