Struck down by a succession of earth calendar life commemoration frivolities, The Yorkshire Alien has been away for a week in the alluring gloom of New Orleans.
Much has happened in that worm-hole of debauchery and very little of it has satisfied my thrift-based mission statement. Nonetheless, bargain coordinates will be suggested so you can make your thrifty way through the gooey mirth that seeps from NOLA’s cracked pavements.
However, before examining New Orleans’ terra firma, I want to recount tales of a swamp trip around the murky corners of the bayou. A similar landscape I have not seen since visiting the Yoda’s Dagobah for his big 800th bash. What I encountered in Louisiana’s swampland proved to be just as slow moving and leathery green as the small humanoid himself…
Before embarking on the swamp trip, there had been strong lobbying against it from the Galactic Committee of Saving that telepathically communicate with all Yorkshire beings. It was too expensive a voyage they moaned. But I simply could not ignore the warbling sounds that called to me over the hazy swamp waters. So, after some brief internet research, one company rose to the fore like the emerging snout of a gator: Cajun Encounters! Tickets were purchased on the world wide web (I have seen larger digital webs in my time) through the naïve traveller’s perennial guidance system, TripAdvisor.
The experience began with our road shuttle chauffeur Sean. He was as likeable as the catchphrase he repeated in his gravelly tone to typify his southern denizens: “You drop a hat, we’ll start a party*!”. Whilst I rued the fact that I did not own a hat to test this theory, Sean proceeded to tell us a little New Orleans’ history — this was more than a mere shuttle service, it was a veritable tour of the human wildlife in New Orleans.
Sean’s unexpected tour came as some relief to the profligacy inspired chagrin that had been brewing for the past 24 hours. Rookie mistakes had been made by this usually frugally adept being when making the online booking. The fact that the swamp vessel would be disembarking all the way over a lake in The White Kitchen area of the bayou had gone unnoticed (a whole $40 Uber ride away!).
Upon learning this, many delegates in the Galactic Saving committee were in fits and their unrelenting ‘I told-you-sos’ rang through my alien head! Scrambling back to the world wide web, Sean’s shuttle option was discovered which meant that all in all, with journeys in a road shuttle and swamp vessel, it worked out at $56.25 per person. Not quite the bargain bonanza that was initially savoured but whilst sat listening to the unexpected road trip narrative, the committee’s heckling abated.
We trucked on to the approaching Lake Pontchartrain and Sean studiously pointed out particular homesteads that had been raised on stilts to spare them from any flood water. Of course, Sean’s history tour could not avoid covering some of the ravages of Hurricane Katrina*. Even the cracked thoroughfares in some of New Orleans’ old streets seem to tell a tale of a flood waters that could have come only yesterday and that could easily come again tomorrow. But, by and large, this reality also seems to influence the people, who, being a positively gregarious and hearty bunch, seem to live for today and who can probably be better surmised by Sean’s own catchphrase — “You drop a hat, we’ll start a paardy!”.
*Much more has, will and should be written on New Orleans and it’s life alongside the unpredictable waters. However, this is not the place to explore such a topic in the detail it warrants.
Along the way, our shuttle chauffeur regaled more of the culture that laced through New Orleans’ dark and colourful past: that the late jazz pianist Antoine Fats Domino was a resident of the city’s Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood; a wild theory derived from urban folklore about why Creole cottages are dubbed Shotgun houses (apparently, a father chose a shotgun to communicate his frustration at his unruly daughter’s choice of suitor. He tried to shoot his daughter’s unwelcome fiancé but the nimble young man ducked and the bullet flew straight through the front door and out the symmetrical back one); a wilder theory that aforementioned buckshot hit a chicken on the back fence and this gave name to Popeye’s chicken; the Congo Square section area of Louis Armstrong park where the population held in slavery were once afforded a space to meet and play music and finally instructions on how one should go about grilling an oyster.
These grim and vibrant tales that were accompanied by the misty morning waters of the lake and meant that the journey quickly reached its destination, one worthy of housing a queue for a theme park log flume ride: Cajun Encounters’ complex tree-house and jetty.
After being assigned our coloured bands we were paired up with our colourful captain, John. He was to take 12 lucky earth dwellers and I from the tree-house and on a course though the other worldly swamp waters that awaited.
I liked Captain John, he had quick wit and a keen eye, both of which were put to immediate good use as he spotted a small snake stretching out in the early afternoon sunshine at the side of the waters.
He informed us that it was not a venomous one. However, he added, recently he had received the two fang marks of a venomous snake as it bit him on his hand. With casual assurance he recounted how he was not concerned as he was pretty sure it was a ‘dry bite’ — ahh, swamp folk! His boss did however insist he went to the hospital to be checked (as a Yorkshire man likes to lament: “health and safety gone mad!”).
With the knowledge that John was probably wilder than any of them, we cruised on in search of more lifeforms that may be lurking in the swamp.
We rounded a corner into more sedate waters. Captain John told us that in January there is no certainty that you will sight one of the magnificent beasts of the swamp. Often during the winter they stay in the warmer depths and are not found at the bank side foraging for food. But, in an area like the one we had just entered, there was a much higher chance of a sighting. The silence and tension grew till all you could hear was the gentle puttering of the near-idle motor. We were lucky. Yes, hidden in the branches I spotted something…
The endangered Wild Telly on full display! This one must have been at least 20 years old as you can see from the abnormally large humped back which you do not see on the younger ones.
We also saw an alligator but given all the reptile emblazoned insignia, I was kind of expecting that:
Me and the crew were overjoyed with our sightings (they seemed mainly enthralled by the alligator). From the look on the faces of other crews we met puttering along the swamp, it did not seem that they had as much luck. We would bob alongside them and exchange pleasant tourist nods (all the while silently wearing the smugness of savvy explorers) during Captain John’s brief banter-filled exchanges with the captains of these other vessels.
Even if they missed the gators and the telly, there is plenty of other wildlife and landscape to take in on such a trip (again, said with smug alligator seeing look on face). There are trees covered in Spanish moss that look like they are donning a sweeping and gothic shawl, turtles with dark shells resting on rocks near the water’s edge and, deeper into the marsh areas, raccoons, wild boars, large spiders and small lizards.
In John’s familiar exchanges with the boars (dubbed ‘Notorious P.I.G’ and ‘Peppa Pig’ seemingly given their reputation and appearance respectively) he maintained his comical yet informative spiel to which the boat had now grown comfortably accustomed.
One fascinating tale was that of the spectre Brutus, the current largest alligator on the swamp at 14ft! He wouldn’t be seen at this time of year, presumably lying in deeper waters watching Fox News on his own Wild telly (suitable viewing if you have closed 3 of the 4 ventricles in your heart and reduced its beats down to only 2 per minute).
As with any popular tourist filled endeavour there was the gnawing guilt that you have added to the garish creation of something highly unnatural. In a subsequent open discussion with an Uber driver, he questioned the ways in which alligators were being coaxed to the boat with marshmallows on sticks and how they probably now viewed a boat as a food source rather than an intrusion of irritating humans. As John threw the racoons and pigs highly unappetising brown protein pellets, it did not seem like this was doing great harm (someone with more sage knowledge of Earth’s eco-systems may well be able to explain the true impact that these gawking boatloads of tourists have on swamp life but this is America — isn’t it supposed to give the people and aliens exactly what they want?).
So, after 2 hours on the water and having paparazzied the living daylights out of this natural swamp realm, we disembarked hoping that a nod and a cheerio would be as satisfactory as the obligatory fistful of dollars to show our gratitude to Captain John. The swamp voyage was definitely a great way to spend an afternoon in New Orleans. Unless, of course, you want to drink yourself silly and end the night performing a bebop inspired remake of The Baha Men’s ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ instead…