No alligators along the roadside

It was obvious that it was Sunday when we left Natchez to go to New Orleans.  The first 40 miles on Route 84 we met a total of four cars, and they were all going in the opposite direction, so we were all alone on the road. In Brookhaven we changed to I-55 South. And to nobody will be surprised when I tell you that we visited a Welcome Center when we passed the border to Louisiana. From the border we continued south. The stretch beteen Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain was especially interesting as we drove on the elevated highway trough the swamp and we got out first impressions of this environment. Just outside New Orleans we changed to Interstate 10 East and tried to find the hotel (Hampton Inn) we had booked from home. It was on the eastern side of town, but that was not what troubled us. The address was on the I-10 Service Road, and THAT was what caused the problems.

We didn't know anything about Service Roads at that time, but even if we do now, they still give us problems from time to time, as you will hear in later articles. Anyway we left the freeway at the exit, which we thought was the right one (acording to the route description, we had printed out back home), and as it was only a little after 12 noon, we decided  to have some lunch before going to the hotel.  So when we spotted a Shoney's just across the road from the exit we just went there. After lunch we started looking for the hotel. We went back to the road where we had exited the highway, and turned left, going in the direction we thought the hotel should be. This brought us to a very nice and apparently quite newly built residential neighborhood with many large houses, but definately no hotels. We agreed that we probably should have turned right, leaving the Shoney's so we turned back and continued in the direction we just came from. On this occasion, we also made out first acquaintance with an American traffic phenomenon, the "All way Full Stop". Contrary to what you as a Dane would think, the flow of traffic in such an intersection runs smoothly, perhaps because the Americans traffic habits are more considerate than the Danish ditto.

Well, when we got to the Shoney's again we continued our way north, and this time we ended up at the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. And still no hotel.  We therefore agreed that we would drive back to the freeway and start all over, but just before we got there, we saw a street sign with I-10 Service Road on our right, so we immediately turned right. Here we found plenty of hotels, supermarkets, etc., but unfortunately no Hampton Inn, so we turned around again. We drove back to the major road we had come from, and continued straight ahead. In this way, we discovered that the Service Road continued on the other side of the main road. We did not see any Hampton Inn here either and gradually hotels and shops got sparse and the area became increasingly dominated by industry. Then we turned around again. Suddenly Dorte finally spotted the hotel we were looking for. Unfortunately it was on the opposite side of the freeway! When we found a place where we could cross it, it appeared that there was a service road on the other side as well. A good knowledge for later visits :-). To our surprise it was the same road where the Shoney's was located. We just had'nt been aware of that, when we were there about one hour earlier!! We got a room on the second floor and as the hotel was located about 18 miles from downtown, we thought it would be quiet and peaceful. And it was except that there was a terrible noise from the  cicadas. We have heard the small critters a lot of places, but here they were present in excessive quantity and the noice was very loud.

When we had rested for about an hour, we decided to go see New Orleans. The actual trip to the center of town was very easy, and as it showed,  there were plenty of parking opportunities around the French Quarter. After parking the car we took a stroll down to the Mississippi River. Here we went for a walk  along the "Moon Walk, like lots of other people. On our way west, we came to Riverwalk, the place mentioned by the guy we met in Mississippi. It proved to be a shopping mall with about 100 shops and 40-50 eateries of varying nature. (Today the number stands at approx. 200 shops and restaurants in all.) Most shops sold womens clothes and womens accessories  so Dorte really enjoyed the place, like the fellow in Mississippi had foreseen. The only thing we bought though, were more hot sauce (we already bought some in Gettysburg), and we had a garlic pretzel to keep from starvation. When we were done at Riverwalk, we decided that we would instead go for a walk in the French Quarter.


We walked down to the Quarter and took a stroll down Decatur Street to Toulouse Street and up along this exciting street with it's nice balconies to Bourbon Street. This is THE street in New Orleans. Here you find music, bars, sex clubs, bars, restaurants, bars, voodoo shops, bars, dancing halls, bars and so on. In the French Quarter alone there is around 400 bars, so you are not in danger of dying from thirst. 

After a trip up and down the street we returned to the parking space on N. Peters. Then we drove back to the hotel. In the evening at the hotel we considered what we should do next day. Back home, we had talked about going on a boat trip into the swamp. I therefore went down to the concierge and bought a trip with an airboat. We would be picked up by a bus at the hotel the next morning, driven into a terminal in the city, and then distributed to various goals, and eventually we would be driven home again. The price for this event would be $ 65 per. person or approx. 900 DKK for the two of us.

Next day we got up early, around 6.30 am because we wanted to have breakfast before the bus picked us up at 8. The bus drove around to various hotels, and picked up people who were going on various tours. When we got to the tour central, we discovered, that it was right next to the parking lot, where we parked the car the day before, and as $ 20 per person went to the bus trip to and from the hotel, we could have saved that, and so we did the next day. At the tour central we were split up for the different tours, and we found our bus rather easily.

The bus driver told us stories from and about New Orleans, and he tried, among other things to teach us the local dialect. I have unfortunately forgotten all of it. In addition, he told us that when it was really hot, alligators came out of the swamp and lay sunning themselves by the roadside. Since the temperature here at 10 am was about 105o  we asked him when it became "really" hot and he told us that it was in August and September. When we passed the city Westwego, he told that in late 1800 century a lot of pioneers came to the area, but when they saw how it was surrounded by swamps they just moved on, and if asked where they were going, the typical response would be "West we go". So it became the name of the city. Maybe not the world's best anecdote,  but better than nothing :-)

Finally we reached our first goal. In the bus were both people who were going on a swamp tour in a big boat, and the rest of us, that were taking the airboat. At the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours (named after the village Jean Lafitte, which are named after the smuggler and pirate Jean Lafitte) the first half of the party left the bus, while the rest of us were driven a little further to the place where our tour would start. At the airboat landing we were greeted by Captain Mike, who would be our driver on the trip. When we all had gotten on board the airboat, we were provided with hearing protection as the engine is quite noisy, and then we took off. If someone does not know what an airboat is, I can tell that it is a flat-bottomed barge, often manufactured from light aluminium. It is fitted with a large propeller, like an airplane propeller connected to an engine, often a car or aircraft engine. This propeller are rear-facing, and thus pushes the boat forward. It offers very high speeds, often exceeding 60 mph, and the flat bottom allows the boat to "fly" or rather jump short distances across leveees. The "drivers" uses this jumping technique to cross from one channel to another, rather than to go around the levees in open water.

Captain Mike took us around in the swamps and canals and occasionally stopped the craft, so we could rest our ears, but also so we had time to enjoy the stunningly beautiful landscape. For me, the greatest experience, was when we stopped in a completely quiet cypress swamp where large swamp cypresses (taxodiums) stood "in water up to their knees" as Dorte said. This place looked even more tranquile because of the duckweed in the water, that was barely moving. 


Another great experience was when we saw alligators, of which there are quite a lot of in the area. On the way out to the swamp, the bus driver had explained to us how you can tell an alligator from a crocodile. Just stand in front of it. If your still there 30 seconds later it's an alligator. If you are eaten, it was a crocodile! When the tour was complete, the bus took us back to the central where we caught another bus back to the hotel.

As mentioned, it was very hot that day (above 110o) and bright sunshine, and Dorte had gotten a serious headache. So back at  the hotel we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We drove at one time to a nearby supermarket and bought some bread and cold cuts, which we would eat in our room later in stead of going out for dinner. Around 6 pm Dorte felt so much better that we went to the pool for a while, and otherwise we just relaxed in front of TV the rest of the evening.


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