On our last day in North Carolina , we signed up for a jeep ride on the beach to see the wild horses that roam the dunes near Corolla. That involved a thirty mile drive on Route 12 North past the oddly named town of Duck. Duck was little more than a fishing village in the 1970’s but today it is a beautiful town , heavily built up, with scores of million dollar mansions with manicured lawns and elaborate topiary. Corolla , on the other hand is more touristy and it was there that we reported for a two-hour beach ride to see the wild horses.
We piled into a Suburban driven by our guide , Adam, who led a sting of six self -driven jeeps through the town and onto Carova ( Carolina – Virginia ) Beach.The beach is very broad and the sand firm packed but , as Adam told us , it is treacherous for tourist cars which often get stuck in the sand and have to be pulled out by a tow truck. Soon , we pulled off into a cluster of beach houses and there we got our first sight of the wild horses .
These wild horses ( Banker horses ,or Bankers in the local parlance) are the descendents of Spanish horses that survived shipwrecks and swam to shore or were abandoned by Spanish and English soldiers in the 16th century. They are small and hardy ; they have to be because they expend a lot of effort to live wild in these conditions . They forage for themselves , and subsist on a diet of beach grasses and sea oats and brackish water which they dig up with their hooves in the sand. Over the years , they have learned to co-exist with humans though they remain wary. Their numbers are strictly controlled by sterilization and culling and there are about 140 of them at present.Interesting … but horses are horses.
Perhaps the best part of the beach ride was listening to our friendly guide , Adam,24, a Korean – American who came here for a summer job while studying in Maryland and wound up working full-time after graduation . He said he was planning to strike out for L.A after this summer and support himself as a personal trainer while he tried to make it big as a musician or an actor. Ah, sweet bird of youth!
Adam was a mine of information about the area . He pointed out the largest beach house in the area , a 26- bedroom , 21- bathroom behemoth which rents out at a whopping $ 28,000 per week . Mostly it is rented for weddings and family reunions . Adam also told us that in the offseason , there are barely 500 people in the area down from a high of 70,000 in summer . There is not much to do but drink , which I quite understand. The Outer Banks must be a harsh desolate place to be in winter.
Our beach ride done , we wished Adam success in his endeavors , slipped him a twenty and told him we hoped he made it big in Hollywood.
Because of a wildlife refuge that straddles the border between Virginia and North Carolina , we couldn’t go directly to Virginia; we had to retrace our route to Kitty Hawk and then take 158 North , Route 13N and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Cape Charles, Va. The Bridge -Tunnel covers a total length of 23 miles ( shore to shore length 17.6 miles ) and is an engineering marvel. It consists of low-level trestles along with two high level bridges over navigation channels and two mile- long tunnels. On the seaward side you can see ships at anchor waiting to pass under the bridge and dock at Norfolk Va. The Bridge was completed in two stages , the first in 1965 and the second in 1999 at a total cost of almost half a billion dollars . It’s amazing to be in the middle of the bridge and not be able to see the further shore.
On the Virginia side of the bridge -tunnel , we stayed at the Sunset Beach Resort , a huge sprawling resort in the middle of nowhere. It is an aging though serviceable hotel , reasonably priced and frequented by fishing enthusiasts . The only thing to recommend is its access to the beach ( ” Sunset Beach”) from which to watch the glorious sunset. Rather than eat at the Sunset Beach Bar and Grill ( emphasis on the Bar part ), we drove five miles to the StingRay , a combination gas station cum restaurant that was our only other option. The StingRay is heavily patronised by locals and the food here was typical of their everyday fare ( fried whatever and two sides). By this time , we were all a little tired of the fried stuff but the cornbread was excellent , and the softshell crabs and the coleslaw were very good. I was surprised at the number of California wines available ; not what I would have expected in this neck of the woods.
Next morning , we continued on 13 N past Exmore, Onley, Nelsonia , Temperanceville and New Church before crossing over into Maryland. Pocomoke , Princess Anne , Fruitland , Salisbury and Delmar and on to Delaware. Here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland , the countryside seemed a bit more tamed than in North Carolina . Still rural farm country , but the towns were more substantial ; more schools , a little college , more shops. Very different, though, from driving up the interstate. Driving these smaller roads is such a pleasure. Sure, there are traffic lights and you can’t go as fast but there is something to look at on the sides , unlike the Interstate.
Happily ensconced in the passenger seat , I let my mind wander . I thought mostly about Chesapeake Bay , just out of sight to our left. It had been, in the past, the most productive source of seafood in the world. Captain John Smith , who first explored and charted it in 1608 , averred that its waters were so chock-full of fish that he could catch them with a frying pan ! In modern times , industrial pollution and overfishing decimated fish stocks before strict regulations improved matters to some extent. Luckily for us , the blue crab is still abundant because of its amazing fecundity ( each mature crab lays a million eggs) and because it has skillfully adapted to the changing environment. Unluckily for the crab , it is a favorite food of us humans who love it in all its forms : fried , steamed , softshell, crab cakes , etc.
I still remember my first experience with blue crabs in 1970 . It was in Baltimore , an all-you can-eat place named The Carroll Inn ( I think). We sat at a sturdy, rough-hewn picnic table , its top covered with old newspaper. Scant minutes after we gave our order, the waitress dumped a tray full of crabs on the tabletop. The crabs had been steamed with a mixture of mustard , salt and black pepper and looked as if they had just been dug out of the sand. We fell to them with a will , cracking the claws and scooping out the sweet , piping hot flesh and washing it down with sips from our mugs of ice -cold beer . Pure heaven ! I’ve eaten crabs many times since , notably at Obrycki’s in Baltimore , but never have I experienced such ecstasy .
Delaware and the New Jersey Turnpike were familiar journeys taken many times before and there is nothing much to report. We arrived home in Edison , happy with our vacation but glad to be back.