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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 29.9537, -90.0778
In the middle of hot July my youngest daughter and I took a little vacation on her time off between jobs. I love being in Maine during the summer months, and prefer to travel to warm places when it's cold here, but the chance to travel again with her was too wonderful to pass up so, after much decision making and consideration, we made plans to go to New Orleans, and then on to Puerto Rico. We had wanted to go to Guatemala together, but there is a very strange requirement in many countries about passports being valid for six months beyond the time of travel, and my well-used passport will expire in early January of next year, so we were caught in the trap of my either buying another passport 7 months before it even expired (it takes six weeks to get a new one), or going somewhere passports weren't needed and simply choosing to not face this issue yet. So New Orleans looked very good; neither of us had been to that part of the US, we both wanted to go there, and we're always up for a new adventure. Plus, this would be like exploring a foreign country compared with New England!
I took the Continental Trailways bus from Bangor to Boston to meet up with my daughter and fly out of that city; somewhere along my earlier travels I got a "pre-check" pass, so going through what is called "security" in the US became very easy for me. Not so for my daughter, but that is another story. Because our seats weren't even together, we were kindly upgraded to exit row seats. Thank you, Delta! The flights to New Orleans were easy and uneventful; there were no highjackers, and only a few crying babies, luckily seated several rows away from where we were. One of the main reasons I wanted to go to New Orleans, besides never having been there, was to see my middle brother whom I hadn't seen in ages; he was my favorite brother when we were growing up. We used to play EB, Exuberant Badminton, in the yard; this self-created game required that we hit the birdie as high as possible each time, and see how many times we could hit it back and forth, even rescuing a shot after the birdie got caught but fell out of the trees. Our best game was well over 150 energetically high hits; after playing EB with Jim I could never quite restrain myself playing badminton indoors in gym class, as I could no longer enjoy playing such a tame, constrained game. (My classmates were shocked, as I was generally pretty good at sports.)
My daughter, Laila, especially wanted to go to New Orleans for the Bastille Day festivities, scheduled for the whole weekend starting July 12; I also wanted to visit a friend who had moved there years ago. We had been warned about walking through various parts of the city, and not to go out at night, but after sitting in planes for much of the day we both wanted to start exploring as soon as we got to our AirB&B place in the Treme district, and at 7PM headed out to find the French Quarter, maybe less than a mile away. The air was warm (wonderful!) and sticky; I loved everything about where we were, the less than glamorous Treme area (read: rundown and mostly Black), and our obviously being outsiders. But everyone was very friendly: people sitting on stoops all said hello or good evening in those soft, southern tones as we passed by. We found the edge of the French Quarter and turned around as it was already getting dark, very unlike the sunsets that don't come to more northern reaches of the continent until 9:30 or 10PM this time of year.
Our first day in New Orleans my brother picked us up and gave us maps, and an extensive tour of the city, even showing us the Ninth Ward, which I particularly wanted to see. We rode a ferry across the Mississippi River, and he drove us over high bridges so we could get a bird's eye view of New Orleans, not on the agenda for most tourists. We spent most of the day with Jim; I was so sad to see him leave by late afternoon, but he lives an hour away, and the enormous thunderheads had been building up overhead for quite awhile, forecasting "hellacious rain" (his words). During the weekend we familiarized ourselves with much of New Orleans, taking part in the Bastille Day celebrations; we walked everywhere from our rooms in Treme, and spent almost one whole rainy day riding the streetcars, north to NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Sculpture and Botanical Gardens, west to lunch at Seed, and then south to the Mississippi River. New Orleans is a beautiful city, and certainly a very musical one. As you walk or sit by the riverfront or in Jackson Square, at certain times of day you can hear the steamboat Natchez playing its calliope, bouncy jazzy songs broadcast over the city, marred only by a few high notes which are slightly off-key. And walking on Royal Street we enjoyed street artists, musicians, mimes, artists who set up shop right on the street curbs; it reminded my very much of Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 70s when you could find free entertainment by street performers in Harvard Square and get high just from walking past the Cambridge Common and breathing. Such vibrant cities!
Laila and I searched out places where we had excellent vegan meals (Mona's Cafe on Frenchmen Street was one of our favorite restaurants), and we learned how to duck in and out of stores and shops with air conditioning to lower our body temperatures before heading back out into the steamy streets. And after a time or two getting thoroughly soaked from head to foot we also learned to always carry raincoats with us, as umbrellas can be useless in a tropical southern downpour where the rain can come at you sideways, buckets of water drenching everything just like in Thailand.
As part of our explorations we took a few guided tours plus two Viator tours: one on the Mississippi River on the steamboat Natchez, and the other, my favorite, first past the gorgeous Lake Pontchartrain to the Destrehan Plantation, and then on a swampboat that took us to Manchak swamp. To me this was perfection! We were on a small covered boat, shielded from the hot sun, surrounded by alligators and such beauty as I had not seen since exploring the little canals and byways off the Mekong River delta in VietNam. It was hot, but a breeze blew as we rode along; our guide threw marshmallows to bring the alligators closer to the boat. Why they like marshmallows I do not know, but they fought over them as if they were the finest food in the world. We had the opportunity to hold a young alligator if we liked; his snout was taped shut so we were safe enough. As I held him he started to actively squirm and crawl up my arm; I didn't want to drop him, so quickly passed him to another person who seemed to have a gift for holding--and calming--young alligators. So now I have worn a python, held an alligator, petted a skunk, ridden a camel and two elephants, and what else? Crazy things that many sane people won't do, but make a life so much more interesting.
We were also able to spend part of a happy day with my friend and her husband, so Laila and I met all our goals for visiting New Orleans. We left after almost a whole week there, flying on to explore San Juan, Puerto Rico. Those stories will come next.
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