Okay, so, August and Victoria will tell you: before coming down to Mississippi, I told them “I really want to go see a bayou,” and “You know those big boats with fans on the back? We should definitely ride one.” I had never realized it before TAB, but the quintessential vision of “the Deep South” was alligators and catfish on a bayou. I was positively GIDDY the day we went on a Swamp Tour. In the boat with the fan. Alligators galore.
I am totally in love with the Swamp. I even asked our guide if people have weddings there.
Hanging from the (sometimes 1000 year old) branches of the Bayou trees, there is a species of flowering plant called Spanish Moss. It hangs in long tendrils from the branches, giving the trees that very typically “swampy” look – almost like a willow tree, only more damp. It is gorgeous. It skims the water and shades the little lives hiding from the Louisiana heat.
In the 48 hours preceding my love affair with a Louisianan bayou and all the wilderness she provides, we lived a big-city lifestyle next door – in a whole other kind of wilderness.
If you drive South for six hours, through Jackson (the state capital), and 20 miles over a highway built on stilts through a swamp: you get to New Orleans. NOLA (as it is commonly referred to) offers a unique sensorial feast which blends culture, music, and food from different aspects of its long history. You can feel the richness of Cajun, Creole, Hispanic, African American, and European lineages throughout the city.
We were in the city for two nights, spending one night with our friend’s family, and one night in a cute Air B&B. Those two nights felt like a month – in the best possible way. I think we did a little bit of everything.
Our friend Hannah’s family welcomed us to homemade catfish and cornbread which was absolutely DIVINE. We later went driving down at the bayou to see if we could catch the glowing retinas of an alligator with our flashlights (sadly, to no avail, it was cold that night).
We spent the next day exploring the city, and we remained entirely food-motivated throughout the day. After blueberry pancakes at Hannah’s, we set off.
Between the three of us, we tried: seafood cheesecake, voodoo shrimp at the House of Blues, gumbo, jambalaya, jalapeno cornbread, in-house craft beer, street daiquiris, beignets at Café du Mond, vegetarian escargot, and po-boys. Take this list as a shopping list: you need it all, I assure you.
(Picture, clockwise from left: Po-boy sandwich, with yam inside, traditionally made with meat; Seafood cheesecake, a soft cheesey seafoody goodness that you spread onto the bread; Beignets, a pastry sort of like a donut but with more bubbles in the dough, and no centre hole, absolutely smothered in icing sugar; craft beer sampler, made in house.)
Initially we wanted to go to the WW2 museum – as (with most things in America) it boasted being the best, or biggest, or in someway most excellent. It looked incredible, and I would suggest you go to it if you have an entire day to spend learning – and 35 American dollars to spend on entrance.
We instead crossed the street to the “Confederate Memorial” building, which masqueraded slyly as a museum, but was indeed a memorial of limited useful knowledge. It was not mis-advertised, but it was mis-packaged. Hundreds of info panels later, and we had read the word “slavery” exactly one time. An interesting study in bias though – if you are interested.
Walking through the city, one thing that really stood out (no pun intended) was above-ground burials in their graveyards. New Orleans rests below sea-level. That is why there are so many swamps and marshes around, and why the city is surrounded by Levees (which you might remember, famously broke during Hurricane Katrina). The earth, therefore, is relatively saturated, and rather than burying their deceased 6ft under, they build a stone box above the earth as a final resting place.
We walked into town to the French Quarter, and we were then among everything we had heard rumoured throughout or lives about NOLA: the House of Voodoo, artist markets, incredible Jazz buskers, the neon lights of Bourbon Street, ships arriving and disembarking up and down the Mississippi River.
You could probably spend a week, a month, a lifetime, and never see it all. But if you get the chance, absolutely visit New Orleans. You'll have stories to tell when you come home.