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Airboatin' the Wetlands

We drove about a half hour south of the city to the town of Jean Lafitte, near the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. A pirate, with his name on so many things? Well, he was a good pirate who helped Andrew Jackson defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans (War of 1812) by providing men, artillery and information.

We went to the Parkís visitorís center which has new, very well-done exhibits on the wetlands issues. Then we headed to a spot along the Bayou Barataria Intracoastal to get on an airboat, courtesy of Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours.

Our guide was a very friendly, informative Cajun who took six of us out for a long ride on another blistering day. We saw a big alligator right away, and stopped for a closer look. He headed right over to the boat as he knew our guide had some treats for him. Marshmallows. Didnít seem like that would be very satisfying but ďBobĒ loved them.

Great egret ...

and baby gator.

We would alternate between speedy bursts and sitting still in the sun while our guide told us stories. He seemed to delight a bit too much in how hot it was, realizing we were all frying and wanted to get moving. ďHot, isnít it?Ē Two twenty-ish girls on the boat were from New Hampshire. One said incredulously, ďIíve never been so hot in my life! Look at me ... itís disgusting!Ē — showing us how she was sweating. Well, you are in Louisiana in August on a boat in the sun ... See Airboat Ride.

Anyway, it was a good time, but I noticed the lack of birds and asked about it. Seems they were just starting to return after the hurricane. So many birds and other wildlife (gators) were wiped out by the storm. Another tidbit from our guide I didnít realize: he had his boat commandeered into service during Katrina and ended up being shot at (11 bullet holes in the boat) — not by local criminals, but more often by out-of-state gangs who had come in to take advantage of the disaster.

Around New Orleans

Back in the city, we took a circuitous route to see different sections. Going north toward Lake Pontchartrain, we passed City Park which had been underwater and was still in bad shape. The golf course had disappeared. We crossed the London Avenue canal (where the levee had broken), and went by the University of New Orleans, Johnís alma mater. It had been partially flooded but has recovered for the most part. We continued along the lakefront in New Orleans East (where Avis used to live) and drove through damaged neighborhoods where people are still struggling to rebuild. Again, the quiet hit me. Very little traffic, many deserted areas, including Six Flags of New Orleans.

Traveling south, on the bridge over the Intracoastal, we had a view from on high of the vast wetlands where the Intracoastal and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) intersect. It was a real eye-opener to see all that water. It was the northern end of St. Bernard Parish and you realize why itís such a precarious place to live — several feet below sea level. But people still want to be there — or have no choice — and are rebuilding. See Around N.O.

Lower 9th Ward shotgun house.

Garden District crypts.

We also drove into Lower 9th Ward neighborhoods, right next to the Industrial Canal, which had also been breeched. This was one of the areas worst hit by flooding ... many homes were completely gone, only the cement foundations remained. Fats Domino lived on one of these streets before the flooding. It was very barren, very sad.

It was quite a contrast on the other side of town, in the relatively unscathed, upscale Garden District. Higher ground kept the historic homes safe from harm. We walked through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, founded in 1833. The above-ground cemeteries are amazing and so New Orleans.

Winding Down, Heading Out

We walked down the road from our hotel to Mulateís for dinner twice. Great food, atmosphere and a live Cajun band with folks dancing Ö whatís not to like? See the video.

The mighty Mississippi from land ...

and air.

And we finally investigated the Riverwalk, a mall alongside the Mississippi River. A river, by the way, that you are all around but rarely see because of the levees. So we climbed up many steps into the tubular mall and finally got a good look at it. But we found out that we only had 15 minutes — the mall was about to close. What — at 6:00 PM? Another effect of Katrina: lack of employees, a shopkeeper told us. But I managed to do some damage anyway — Iím good under pressure. See Parting Shots.

Getting to the airport, and through the airport was a breeze. Now's the time to visit. ReNew Orleans!

P.S. Music of the trip: Tab Benoit's new, great CD, Power of the Pontchartrain ... (Peter now knows the words to every song.) Tab plays us out with some Louisiana music ...

The End

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