Hilton Head Island was the destination for Tuesday. I’ve heard Hilton Head mentioned by many vacationers over the years but had never visited. Now was our opportunity. It is about an hour drive from Savannah. We got a somewhat early start because I had booked us for the 10 AM Gullah Heritage Trail Tour.
Gullah refers to the community of descendants of West Africans brought to the South Carolina region during the slavery period of U.S. history. This community of people managed to hold on to many of their African customs which they infused into their unique dialect and culture. The Gullah Heritage Trail Tour was a 2-hour bus tour through the Gullah communities of Hilton Head Island. Given we were still in a pandemic at the time, COVID safety rules were being enforced. We had to have our temperature checked before boarding the bus, we had to wear a mask during the entire tour, and there was supposed to be at least one empty row separating passengers on the bus. The strange thing about this was that Traci and I were among the last to board the bus. There were no more seats available other than seats in the ‘separator rows’. The guide allowed us to sit in the separator row at the front of the bus but when I tried to sit next to Traci like other couples, he told us we needed to separate. He told me to sit in the seat across the aisle from her. This was no problem but I thought it was amusing.
Our guide was very welcoming, entertaining, and knowledgeable. He is a Gullah descendent who has lived on the island his entire life. I liked his Gullah accent. It sounded somewhat Caribbean. As for the tour, it seemed to focus mainly on the real estate of the island. We were driven through various Gullah neighborhoods and told about what used to be there. These days, almost all of these places have become resorts and vacation homes. The struggle for the Gullah community has been the land. The land ownership had been passed down through the generations of Gullah without deeds. However, when the developers came to the island wanting to build resorts, disputes arose over compensation for the land owners.
We were allowed off the bus only once during the tour for about 10 minutes at which time we were given a choice of using the restroom or walking down a walkway to see the beach. There were some bright spots during this tour. One of these was our ride through Mitchelville. Mitchelville is the location of the first free black community which was governed by free blacks. The community was formed before the end of the Civil War when the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army on the island. The Union set the slaves free and allowed them to form their own community. It reached a population of up to 3,000 people and thrived until slowly reducing in number of citizens by the end of the 19th century. There is not much left of Mitchelville these days; however, an organization is working on constructing mock-ups of buildings that used to exist there. We could see buildings such as a small church and a wooden store being constructed. It looked like an interesting place to explore but we were not allowed off the bus.
The other interesting parts of this excursion was when our guide explained the initiation process for joining the church back in the day. It involved spending time alone in the woods and waiting on dreams to reveal who your spiritual mentor will be. I also enjoyed listening to our guide speak in the Gullah dialect and trying to guess what he was saying.
By noon, we were dropped off at our starting point, the Coastal Discovery Museum. We took the opportunity to explore the nature trails. Along the way, we saw things such as a butterfly farm and the marshlands.
There was an outdoor market happening across the field from the Coastal Discovery Museum. This was one of the highlights of the day for me. One of the food trucks at the market was Benjamin’s. It specializes in offering unusual fried foods such as fried Oreos, fried Twinkies, fried peanut butter & jelly, etc... I had seen these type of goodies on TV travel shows but never had the opportunity to try them. The nice man who runs the truck saw me staring at the menu. He told me that since he was packing up for the day, he would give me a free fried Twinkie. Wow!!! That fried Twinkie was heavenly! He sprinkled the outside of the crispy crust with powdered sugar. The inside of the Twinkie was sweet and gooey. Traci and I devoured it.
For lunch, Traci and I decided to try Hudson’s On the Docks Seafood Restaurant. It was a recommendation from our Gullah tour guide. This restaurant actually has boats that they use to catch the seafood that they serve in their restaurant that day. The food was scrumptious! In fact, it took third place on our ranking of restaurants we tried during our trip.
After the delicious lunch, we tried to backtrack to the Gullah Museum that we passed during the Gullah Heritage Trail tour. It had colorful paintings in front of it property. Unfortunately, we were not able to see much more than that. The museum is only open a few days a week and you need to call to make a reservation. It was not open on the day we were there.
We finished off our day trip to Hilton Head Island with a visit to one of the beaches. We just looked on Google Maps and looked for beach parking. We ended up at Folly Field Beach Park. The parking fee was only $1 per hour. The beaches on the island have packed sand. We saw several people riding bicycles on the beach. We were there as the sun was setting. This was a very pleasant time to visit. There was no heat – just a gentle breeze and the sound of the ocean. We spent most of our time walking so that Traci could get her steps for the day. Along the way, we watched as one of the people fishing from the beach reeled in a two-foot bonnethead shark (small hammerhead shark)!
We had a snafu when we returned to our hotel in Savannah that evening. Neither of our room keys worked. When we told the receptionist, she said that our check-out day was today – not tomorrow as we thought we had booked. For some reason, neither Traci nor I could find the confirmation email or print-out to dispute what the receptionist was seeing in her computer. Then she hit us with the line that we always hear when there is a problem with a reservation – '…and unfortunately, I’m showing that we are completely booked for this evening.'
I did not believe what she told us – especially because I was just commenting to Traci on how empty the parking garage looks now that the wedding was over. Was a gigantic bus trip or something going to show up at 10 PM that evening? Anyway, Traci and I did not feel that arguing to stay another night in the Fairfield was worth our energy; therefore, we had the receptionist let us in the room so that we could pack up our belongings and leave. But first, we had to get our bill changed because they had charged us the full parking rate of $12/night instead of the discounted wedding rate of $5/night.
While we were in the room, Traci went online to find us somewhere to stay for the night. She then became curious and clicked on the Fairfield that we were leaving. Sure enough, the internet showed that there was vacancy – and at a cheaper rate. Not long after that, the receptionist called to tell us that she had discussed our situation with her manager and he said that we could stay in our same room that night. We thanked her but declined the offer. We had already found another hotel at a cheaper rate. Furthermore, it appeared to be nicer.
It was a 30-minute drive to our new hotel - the SpringHill Suites Savannah Richmond Hill. It was a new hotel. We were very pleased with our stay. I especially liked the complimentary breakfast buffet that included a waffle station. The only 'gotcha' with this hotel was that we did not realize it is located near railroad tracks until the middle of the night when a freight train came through. The whole building started to shake. Things in our room were rattling. The ordeal awoke me from my deep sleep. I first thought we were experiencing an earthquake. Fortunately, that was the only train that came through during our stay at the SpringHill Suites.
The change of hotel worked out nicely. One of Traci’s childhood friends now lives in the Savannah area not far from where we were staying. Like Traci, she is also a runner. She invited Traci to do a 4-mile jog with her and her friend at 5:30 the next morning. I am not a runner so I told Traci to have fun and to wake me up for breakfast when she got back. Continue...