Page Four of our daily Tour Journal   

11th May 2004
We haven't so far mentioned the abrupt and discourteous treatment we have frequently encountered in the French Quarter section of New Orleans. Maybe this is a symptom of them receiving a never ending flood of tourists and not having any worries about generating repeat business. Anyhow, with a few notable exceptions, the shopkeepers and public officials around the French Quarter were usually downright abrupt and rude.

The rudeness very much reminded us of experiences in Venice and Paris and this type of arrogant attitude probably stems from the same type of tourist influx causation. We should add that out in New Orleans proper it was a completely different story.

Today is the day of truth when we must turn our brains inside out and start driving on the wrong side of the road. We've had to do it quite a few times over the years and although the adaptation seems a little easier on each successive occasion it is still a super scary experience!

The lady at Hertz is rude and disinterested but at least our documents are in order and we receive our Ford Taurus. Other customers claiming to have reservations are not so lucky and are being given the bum's rush in no uncertain manner, despite their protestations. "Got no cars" is about the only response they can elicit from the abrupt and rude individual behind the counter, "...told you we aint got no cars".

Escaping from Hertz we set off to find our way out of New Orleans. An hour later we were blessedly out of the city and driving beside a pleasant bayou.

Lynn beside Ford Taurus and roadside bayou

The Ford Taurus which had been originally described to us Australia as "full size say like a Toyota Camry" is definitely smaller than that. However it is comfortable enough, drives well and has (just) enough trunk capacity to holds our bags, computer, knapsack and mid size esky (that's a cooler or chilly bin to non Australian readers).

These are easy going roads and Brian's brain is coping well enough with driving on the right hand side. In fact he's feeling so confident that it's probably a little dangerous considering it's still Day One.

There are almost continuous bayous (a romantic name for wetlands swamps) beside the road. They are all populated with large swamp oaks and swamp cypress trees which makes them much nicer than your typical garden variety swamp. Southern Louisiana seems to be at least half water. It's no wonder that crawdads and frogs legs feature so heavily in local cuisine. 

We stop for lunch at a typical American family diner which is part of a chain called Shoney's. Comfortable, not over crowded and cheap as chips. We opt for the 3 course buffet which looks pretty good. It only costs $6.49 and represents fantastic value by Aussie standards. And oh what a relief to receive the friendly and super efficient service we used to always equate with visits to the US. In fact it will prove to be typical of everyone we meet during the next two days at least.

Why the big difference in manners, attitude and helpfulness? Well, for one thing we're not in a big city anymore and for another, we're not in a so called tourist "mecca".

During the afternoon we spotted something called The Longfellow Evangeline Historic Site and wheel into a almost deserted historical plantation with large grassy expanses, huge old oak trees and squirrels scampering everywhere we look. We decide to splurge on the $2 tour (would have been at least $8 in Europe).

Longfellow wrote the epic poem "Evangeline" here.

Our time is short so we confine ourselves to an inspection of the old Plantation House (circa 1790) where Fred, the world's greatest ham actor gives us a 2 person guided tour complete with never ending corny jokes which include our own names and antipodean origins.

Walking along a pathway through the forest we surprise a family of foxes... at least 7 individuals including young pups. We've never seen more than a solitary fox in our lives before and never so close as in this encounter. There's a pregnant pause of about 5 to10 seconds whilst they size us up and then they dart off into the scrub like greased lightening.

Resuming our journey we end up on an almost deserted road which, unbeknown to us, is a dual lane one way road. Unknown to us that is until we decide to do a U turn and retrace our steps. Suddenly there's a string of cars coming at us with idiot drivers honking their horns big time. Lynn figures it out first and there is just enough time for Brian to peel off into a deserted factory driveway and avoid a catastrophe.

Shortly afterwards we find ourselves driving down the main street of a small town lined with large old oak trees and antebellum (Latin = "before the war") houses. We'll probably see much better examples as we continue our travels but as it is often unwise to count on such things we took a few snaps because the whole street had such a typical movie-like American ambience.

Antebellum homes in Franklin, Louisiana

We finally arrived at Maison des Amis in the town of Breaux Bridge but this "house of friends" is completely deserted. It ultimately proves to be a self drive bed and breakfast and we never get to meet the owner or any staff. An envelope addressed to us includes keys to our room and vouchers for breakfast at a nearby main street cafe (also owned by our mysterious host).

Now here's something off-putting. Our room comes complete with complementary earplugs.... you know..... those industrial earplugs which are packed as a pair inside a little cellophane packet or poly bag. We kid you not. There were earplugs provided in every room. Not only that, outside every room was a bottle of bug repellent. What have we gotten ourselves into here???

The B&B is in an old style slightly renovated house beside the Bayou Teche, an advantage which will ultimately prove not so advantageous. Like many such B&B's of this ilk it is a mixture of pleasantly quaint and bloody annoying. Still at $100 per night it's about what you'd probably expect for a decent size room with our own decent size bathroom.

In the evening we took dinner at a Cajun restaurant known as "Mulates". It was recommended by our friend Diane Hopkins and it specialised in live Cajun music and dancing.

Cajuns are the descendants of French inhabitants of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick which the British forced out after they took Canada from the French. Many of these folks moved down to French owned Louisiana only to find themselves "sold" to Anglo's again in 1803 when the "Louisiana Purchase" took place.

All the singing was in guttural Cajun French. The band comprised a flat bedded guitar, an accordion and drums. The dance style was rather quaint and the mainly elderly dancers utilised tiny little mincing dance steps. Anyhow they were all nice folks and seemed to be having a good time. The food however was over cooked to oblivion and is best forgotten.

During the night it started to rain..... BIG TIME!! The thunder was unbelievably loud with peels so long they were almost continuous. We've never heard anything like it in our lives before.

12th May 2004
We just discovered that all the Swamp Tours have been cancelled due to the weather. So much for that planned activity. We took ourselves to a Wal-Mart store to buy cheap rain jackets and umbrellas. Wal-Mart stores are like an Australian Big-W, Target or K-Mart.... only on steroids!

We couldn't believe the unbelievable prices. Almost everything was super, super cheap. We could bore you to death with dozens of examples but we won't. Believe us though, when we say "cheap" we really mean CHEAP. Most stuff was branded with respectable names too.

We heard that we could do our own car based self guided swamp tour at nearby Lake Martin so notwithstanding intermittent showers and downpours we headed there to check it out.

Much of swamp is covered with bright green weed

It was pretty amazing stuff and if we'd had sun and a blue sky we could have taken some exceptional photos. There were thousands of roosting water birds including, white, grey, blue herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills and others. Apparently there are lots of alligators too but as we were confined to using the road we only saw one.

Two metre alligator at Lake Martin

Lake Martin scenery from roadside

Roseate Spoonbill (high zoom)

A White egret perfectly reflected in swamp water

Whilst returning to Breaux Bridge the heavens suddenly open and incredible amounts of water start bucketing down. Streets are flooded and the Police and out in force blocking intersections, diverting cars. Many townsfolk can't get home and are forced to park wherever they can. This greatly adds to the traffic mayhem.

These kids ride down Rue Principale on an old mattress

With water up to our doors and sometimes beyond, we dodge cops and abandoned stalled cars as we try to feel our way back home via backstreets on somewhat higher ground. We eventually succeed, thus avoiding the necessity of spending hours (or all night) cooped up in our car.

Our back garden and raised(?) gazebo beside Bayou Teche

We'd chosen Maison des Amis B&B because it had the "advantage" of being beside the river. That was beginning to look like a very bad idea as the river crept closer and closer and the gazebo went fifty percent submerged.

We waded up to the main street for dinner with our shoes and a bath towel in a plastic bag. Alas, every restaurant had decided to close for the night. We finally located a gas station that had some deep frozen hamburgers and we took two of these back to the B&B for a microwave treatment. We ground our way through these disgusting articles whilst watching all the flood warnings on the local television station.

Do you remember Brian's plumbing problems back there in New Orleans? Well, Lynn insisted that he take some Imodium pills she'd brought from home. "I guarantee these will fix you up" she told a doubtful Brian. Well that was days ago and we're now looking for the antidote. Brian reckons that he ought to log onto the web and try going to www.servesUright.com

And so to bed.

 

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