For new readers expecting posts about South Africa: I’m in the States and have been blogging about America for the past two weeks. I’ll return to my usual subject matter later this week.
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Between stints in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, I squeezed in a 36-hour visit to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where my mother lives. Hilton Head is a small island in the “Lowcountry” – a marshy region along the South Carolina/Georgia coast made famous by the movie Forrest Gump.
In a lot of ways, Hilton Head doesn’t feel authentically Southern. Development on Hilton Head began about 50 years ago when a bridge was built from the mainland. It became a haven for vacationers and retirees (like my mom), most of whom came from the North in search of warmer weather. Hilton Head’s most defining features are its tastefully designed shopping centers, ubiquitous high-end restaurants, golf courses, and gated communities – called ‘plantations’, but they aren’t plantations at all – filled with modern beachfront mansions.
But the good news is that Hilton Head’s developers and government leaders were smart enough to put an eye toward conservation. There’s still a lot of natural beauty on the island, and if you look hard enough you’ll find pockets of authentic Lowcountry culture.
Hilton Head has beautiful forests, filled with century-old live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. Unfortunately the forests are also filled with tiny biting insects called no-see-ums. No-see-ums don’t like Mom, but they really like me.
After our walk we had lunch at Roastfish and Cornbread, which serves traditional Lowcountry food with a contemporary accent.
The Roastfish and Cornbread chef, David Vincent Young, is a native of Hilton Head. According to the restaurant’s menu, he was raised in his great-grandmother’s Gullah kitchen. The Gullah are a group of African Americans who have been living in the Lowcountry for generations. They have a unique cultural heritage and strong ties to West Africa. Gullah cooking is legendary.
The meal was delicious and represented all the best things about Hilton Head. It also reminded me a little bit of my new African home.
P.S.: I don’t have photos of this, but later that day we went to the weekly farmer’s market in the nearby town of Bluffton and bought a container of shrimp gumbo from “We Island” Gumbo n’ Tings. I ate a bowl of it while standing at Mom’s kitchen counter at 10 p.m. that night. It was so good that I nearly fell over. If you ever visit the Lowcountry, do not miss this gumbo. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.