Wilmington, NC was voted the best river city in the US for 2015, and we’d have to concur. Population 112,000, this little river town has all the admeities of a city three times it’s size, including Trader Joes and Whole Foods. But, best of all it still has all of the mom and pop speciality joints, including some of the best BBQ on the Atlantic, surf shops, Brits Donut shop, the Veggie Store, funky/artsy downtown shops reminiscent of Austin’s Congress Street, awesome Thrift and Consignment Stores, and pretty great Sushi. It’s music, food, history, river ways, and beaches offered us a wonderful back drop for blue grass jams, roadschool days, parties, lazy days on the beach and a sailboat ride.
Originally we had planned one week in this region connecting with fellow travelers, The Shanks (Herd of Turtles). During that week they showed us around their former hometown, including a double date where we shared Niki’s Sushi and went to a R&B concert at a little speak easy. Later, while the fella’s talked bus conversions, us girls shopped at some of Wilmington’s fun consignment stores, we also spent an evening dining and playing music at Dukes BBQ. Along the way, they introduced us to many of their hometown friends, which lead to conversations about parking in peoples driveways, which lead to us staying longer after the Shanks had gone.
Our first host family, April and Buck Hubbard, welcomed us to jump into life with them, learning about their work in Children’s Ministry and Film making, as well as, their love for Settlers of Catan. Their location in the city was a great fit as we were able to explore more of downtown Wilmington, as well as, catch up on much needed laundry and grocery shopping. We love it when hosts are comfortable just living life with us offering suggestions for things to do but mostly just allowing us to participate in their every day rhythm. We shared meals, watched movies, visited their friends, had a birthday party, did lawn work and Craig and Banjo were also able to get their hands dirty by helping the Hubbards finishing off their deck project for April’s birthday celebration.
One Sunday evening they invited us to go to Satellite Bar for a open Bluegrass Jam which turned out to be a fantastic night of community and song. The house band, Possum Creek Bluegrass Band, welcomed us like old friends. Their Band members are Jones Smith, Big Al Hall, Ben Chontos, with special guest Charlie Coulter on Violin and Bryan Humphrey on the squeeze box. They played all the classics, and they played them well, setting a tone of support and control, so that even a beginner could sit in with them. They were gracious to us all and especially excited to have our son sit in on cajon, and the Hubbard’s 11 yr old daughter, who plays fiddle, join in the fun. They even offered us a cameo spot to share a few of our Hollands! songs, while they sat in with us. By the end of the night, we were all good friends and Bryan’s wife, Mari invited us to their home in Wrightsville Beach for a delicious meal and another bluegrass jam.
Pristine Wrightsville Beach boasts emerald green waters, and is home to a few surf/kite surfing clubs,and the inter-coastal water ways offer awesome protection for sailing and paddle boarding. Over the next week and a half, we ended up joining Mari and Bryan for more jams, beach days and even a first season sail on their sailboat. We learned about Mari’s 3 year nomadic adventure, leaving for England with a backpack and coming back from India with nothing but a little shoulder bag. She would partner with others along the way, as well as solo, traveling the world in little VW vans, having a daughter in the Netherlands and crossing the Sahara dessert in a Peugeot 505 Sedan twice. And, Bryan inspired us with his amazing furniture architecture, sailing expertise and of course teaching us about some of the North Carolina folk music culture.
Our second host family, the Meehan’s, invited us to come, park in their cul de sac and enjoy their Carolina Beach for a few days. Carolina Beach sits about 20 miles south of downtown Wilmington and has a laid back, festive, welcoming vibe with brightly colored beach shacks, little shops, including the infamous Brits Donuts and bars that run along the new board walk. There are benches and swings that over look the beach and a band shell, which is sure to be packed in the summer. Our time at the Meehan’s was restful and spiritually engaging. We shared meals, hiked and worked out the deeper meanings of community and faith.
We also enjoyed exploring some of the historical elements and took a cloudy day trip south to Fort Fisher, later riding the ferry to Southport for lunch. While there we walked the grounds and visited the free museum, learning about the strategic placement of Fort Fisher in the Civil War and the Blockade runners (war paddle steamers that would haul supplies in from the islands off of the Atlantic to the Wilmington port.) The battle to take the fort was epic and it was said that 90 days after the fort fell, the Civil War ended. After we finished at the Fort we took the ferry to Southport. It was $5 for our carload and took about 40 minutes to cross. Once we were in Southport we made our way down to the Yacht Basin Provision Company for their shrimp and wings. The food was basic but held delicious flavors. The fella’s devoured their portion while Graciana and I shared a bowl of the homemade chowder and a crab cake. The little town was reminiscent of Baileys Harbor, WI with cute little shops and portside docks. Between the Fort, ferry ride, and lunch at YBPC, the day that started out rainy turned sunny and we finished off the evening with one last sit on Carolina Beach.
When we pulled out of Wilmington we all felt that a little piece of our heart stayed behind. Inspired not only by all that Wilmington has to offer, but by the amazing people we met along the way, the stories we heard, and the commitment to keep the culture of Wilmington full of hope, creativity and love.