Saturday, 19 May 2012

Day 16: Charleston, and the start of the rain

I mentioned that when we arrived from Atlanta, it was raining. We had a bit of rain before but the showers were light but fairly steady when we arrived. It was the first test of the fancy kitchen tarp rain shelter that I rigged up, visible here.
Strung between trees
It worked pretty well; I cooked in the rain, but we ate under the tarp and were dry.

I had great hopes for Charleston. Everything I read said it was a great place. It has its fair share of old buildings, the architecture was supposed to be great, the tree lined streets were supposed to lend a genteel atmosphere. To a certain extent that's true.
A main drag -- just don't look too close at the shop names
Most of the buildings are well kept, but then you might expect so from a Tommy Bahama shop or a Louis Vuitton store or a Victoria's Secret store, which most of the stores are. They boast that Meeting Street is the oldest continually active commercial strip in the USA. Meh.

Many of the architectural styles are stolen from elsewhere.
Corinthian caps on the 1850's college
Art deco a la Miami
More greco-roman
New Orleans style in the French quarter
Still, there were some styles more "unique" to Charleston.
Brick facades are big
They like to play with balcony locations.
Only on one half of the house 
A common one: side balconies, all floors
They have an historic market that's been there since the 1800's -- only now it's mostly tourist stuff and no food, though that has not always been the case.
4 blocks long, two stalls wide
They have a lot of churches, and a bunch of interesting cemeteries (including two that claim that the same signatory to the Declaration of Independence is buried there. Perhaps his top half is in one and his bottom half is in the other...)
Graves date back to the 1600's
There is some not terribly nice history here. There's a fort 3 miles out in the harbour where the first shots of the US Civil War were fired. South Carolina was one of the sources of the succession movement, and the papers to form the Confederate States were signed in Charleston. And of course, the main reason for the civil war was the abolition of slavery, which the south was against. To quote Wikipedia:
In response to the election of an anti-slavery Republican as President, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ("the Confederacy"); the other 25 states supported the federal government ("the Union"). After four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was outlawed everywhere in the nation.
So it would seem natural for Charleston to have the last remaining place where slaves were traded.
Ryan's Mart
This was in itself a pretty disappointing museum. There was an opportunity to restore the place to the way it was and let you feel what it was like to be auctioned. Instead there was some posters of info and some often repeated stats. For instance, I was not aware that:

  • In the days this place was used, slaves cost ~$1,200, which would be about $40,000 in today's funds;
  • Only 3% of white folks in South Carolina owned slaves;
  • Ryan's Mart was exclusively used to trade slaves, and almost exclusively 2nd & 3rd generation slaves. By the time it opened, the importation of people from Africa had long been outlawed.
Still, I personally find the concept of the owning of people (and the way "misbehaving" slaves were treated) pretty repulsive.

While nice, Charleston did not impress us. There is more history on a single street anywhere in Europe -- and better architecture, too. So we headed back to our campsite a bit disappointed.

It had been grey and overcast most of the day in Charleston, but at our campground (some 30 miles outside the city to the west), a thunderstorm had passed through sometime in the afternoon and dumped over 1" of rain on us. 

My rain shelter worked OK, sort of. We had hung towels up to dry under it; they were wetter than when we started. A whole lot of water poured off the roof and splattered our lawn chairs with mud. Only a small bit of the centre of the table was dry.

My tent didn't like the storm one bit. Despited surviving last night's rain without a leak, this time water collected on the centre of the tent's fly and about a liter had slowly dribbled into the middle of the tent, making a wet patch on our sleeping bags. So after sopping it up, I had to dry the bags under the hand dryer in the campground washroom for a while. We resolved that we needed to fix this somehow.

A couple of things made camping here cool: it smelled like Maui, and on top of that, there were fireflies everywhere after dark. 

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