June 20th. Orlando – Mobile – New Orleans
Oh my GOD it’s hot.
New Orleans is a really difficult place to sum up. We’re staying on the edge of the French Quarter, which is all elegant colonial architecture, ornate metal balustrades and painted wooden shutters. Even Bourbon Street, which is tacky tourist central, still looks good (though the smell betrays the messy nightlife). The place never seems to stop, there’s music everywhere – street bands, bar bands, boat bands. Reminded us a little of Havana, and every bit as hot. Maybe hotter.
Our campsite is about a 10 minute walk from the great Mississippi river, which horseshoes round, encircling the French quarter, which is bracketed on either side by industry; still one of the busiest ports int eh whole US we are told. The Katrina clear up is all but done in the central districts that we’ve seen, though driving in on the elevated highway 10 you get a clear indication that there are several sides to this town. Much of the suburbs are like shanty towns, wooden shacks and trailers almost tripping over on another with no sense at all of the grid-like order you associate with US town planning.
We’ve mostly explored the French quarter and to the East of this the business district and warehouse district. This is all gridded tonnes of charm and character. The French quarter in particular has this free and easy, slightly ramshackle appeal that just makes you instantly warm to everything about it. We’ve walked about a fair bit, which is a really easy way to see th main sites – the centre, unlike the surrounding sprawl, is quite compact. From the far Westside of the French quarter to the Eastern reaches of the Warehouse district is probably only a half hour walk. Or, it might be if you could walk at an ordinary place, but the sun does not permit this. Damn hot!
Yesterday went on a swamp trip, which was really cool. A bus took us about 40 minutes out of the city over the Mississippi and out to proper Cajun country. Then we got on a little open metal boat and went up and down the bayou with snapper turtles, eaglets and alligators for company. Our boat captain was a great tour guide – this guy loves his gators – he even had a young one on the boat. He taped its mouth shut and passed it round for everyone to hold. I discovered that you have to hold on really tight, he was a strong, wiggly little fella, and there was this kind of wildness to its movements, untamable. Made my heart flutter for about 10 minutes after.
The RV and the open road have so far been great fun and trouble free. Very well behaved drivers so far, not aggressive at all and no one in too much of a hurry. We mostly stuck to the interstate between Florida and Alabama, which was still pretty pleasant, flanked on both sides by great tall trees, each one purposefully placed, and with all the oranges and purples in the sky that Florida’s setting sun had to offer, except for almost 20 minutes of proper rain, including several cracks of thunder and lightning – some evidence of how the sunshine state stays so green.
We’ve met some lovely people here in N’awlins, one couple from Southern Florida have been giving us all sorts of travel tips. They seem to spend all their free time in an RV, or on the scooters that they bring along with them. There’s been a scooter rally here the last couple of days, these guys are mad for it. They used to live in LA, so I’ve had some handy tips there and have cancelled our hotel and booked in a different area, and also re-routed away from El Paso on their advice.
Long drive awaits tomorrow, with the country music mecca of Austin at the other end. Can’t wait.