Mardi Gras in Nawlins!

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Welcome to Nawlins! Now one of my favourite cities in the world ...

Everyone in Texas told me scare stories about New Orleans, saying 'its not like the rest of the USA you know, they have their own rules!', 'they drink in the street you know!' and the woman at my hostel in Houston went as far as to say I might be kidnapped. Seriously. Especially if I take the train. So of course I took the train and as soon as I got on it was great, from the people sitting around me to the policeman who stopped to check I had a ride organised when I got off. Everyone here says 'hello, how you doing?' when you pass them in the street. At first it's a bit disconcerting and you think they are going to mug you then you realise they are genuinely just being friendly. Especially as the hostel I'd chosen was on the outskirts of the hood, but run by the most lovely man Tucker who can't do enough to help his guests. I made friends with two guys also staying there, Sam from New York and Jonathon from I forget where. Jonathon was a character, probably around 60 and I'm always suspicious of people that age who stay in hostels. Very cagey, we couldn't get much personal information out of him but he would randomly come out with very long stories 'when I was walking across Cambodia' and the like.

New Orleans is a beautiful city, from the colourful mansions along trendy uptown Magazine Street to the bright balconied houses in the downtown French Quarter. This being the French Quarter, there is a great cafe serving coffee and 'beignets', a kind of doughnut. Wandering around here is a great way to spend a day. I hardly saw any signs of hurricane Katrina apart from some watermarks on buildings and some that were still being rebuilt, but this is because I didn't go to the areas that were worse affected. They are actually running tours for $50 to take you to see the damage which seems dodgy to me, why not donate that money to helping the rebuild instead?! The famous Bourbon Street never stops, with its back to back bars and you can indeed drink in the street and everyone does, with takeout beer replacing takeout coffee. I was thinking how nice it all was when I went into a tourist information office to get a map and the man told me not to walk back to my hostel as somebody was held at gunpoint the the week. So I survived Colombia and Guatemala but the USA is apparently the most dangerous!?

The first night a few of us from the hostel hit the town, bar hopping down Frenchmen Street. This street is great, bar after bar all with live music and no cover charge. We watched folk bands, blues bands, jazz bands ... fantastic! Later we were looking for Bourbon Street and we asked directions from a local woman who had had a few too many and gave us a drunken lecture on how its full of tourists and that if we want to experience New Orleans we should go to her local bar which is just down the road and 'tell them Jill sent you'. So we did. Walking back in the early hours I was a bit concerned as I didn't want to be robbed at the very end of my trip in the USA of all places. Jonathon said it was fine and not to worry, but when we turned around and Sam was gone he didn't seem so sure. 'Well I didn't see anybody lurking around who could have taken him out!!' he said, 'I'll have to go and look for him on my bicycle!!'. This was hysterical enough before he then broke out in to a sprint back to the hostel, pretending he was only running to make sure I wasn't faster than him. Not to worry, Sam was already back at the hostel having taken a short cut :)
Bourbon Street at night is, as Jill said, full of tourists especially around Mardi Gras. I seem to the be only person in the world not to know this, but I soon found out that at Mardi Gras people throw beads - from the parade floats for fun, and from balconies and bars down Bourbon Street if you flash your boobs. So I didn't collect any beads that night! In one of the bars a black dude came out with the funniest chat up line I've ever had. He was with a woman who it seemed had just given him and his friend a ride into town. While her back was turned he turned on the char - 'hey girrrrrl, for a white chick you fine!!!! baby you thick!!!'. Thick??? I said 'are you calling me fat?!'. He assured me this was a compliment and proceeded to lay a series of napkins on the bar to illustrate the scale from skinny, thick, too thick, fat, very fat, disgusting Hmmm ... he wanted to take me to dinner at an expensive restaurant, telling me 'wear something sexaaay'. I said I'm a backpacker mate, I'm afraid this it!! Needless to say I didn't call him!! I did drink the Hurricane cocktails that they bought me though, big mistake. I thought it was just a rum and coke. Sampling the 'Hand Grenade' the following night, marketed as New Orleans' strongest drink and a lurid green sickly sweet combination, was an even bigger mistake. I needed a few days to recover after New Orleans!

The next day Sam, Jonathon and I hired bicycles and rode around the city. This was great - after I started peddling I suddenly realised that there were no brakes. Apparently this is how the bikes are around here - to break you have to peddle backwards! It was like learning to ride all over again and ever so often I'd forget and frantically try to slam on the breaks. I  thought I was doing well until I rode right into the back of Sam and later when Jonathon was trying to tell me where a certain street was he said 'you know, that was right about where that car almost hit you'. Oh dear!!

Deciding I should do something culturalI signed up for a cemetary tour. This is more interesting than it sounds because due to the high water levels they have to bury their dead overground. My guide cheerfully told me that in the past you would bury granny on Monday and she'd be floating down the river on Tuesday. They have these mass family graves where after one  year the coffin is removed and the body, naturally cremated due to the soaring heat, is thrown back into the grave minus the coffin. So it's very environmentally friendly. If you can prove that there are no living relative you can actually take over a different family's grave too. They had to move a entire graveyard to build a stadium - apparently there was no way they could have got all the bodies and this is why the team was doomed for failure. The most interesting thing for me were the Voodoo graves. Voodoo was, and still is, very popular in New Orleans, with a lot of people being Catholic as well practising a bit of Voodoo on the side. The famous Voodoo queen Marie is apparently buried here, and you can ask her for favour if you leave her a gift, draw three crosses with your finger on the gravestone and turn around three times ... let's see if Marie helps me out with my request!

I was planning on leaving for Miami the following Saturday, as the hostels were all booked out for the end of Mardi Gras. I hadn't actually intended to come for Mardi Gras, that's just how it worked out. But one night I met two girls in a bar, Kate and Josie, who said I had to stay for the weekend and I could sleep on their couch so I ended up staying longer. Yes I actually moved in with random people that I met in a bar and it all worked out fine :) The Mardi Gras parades were really good fun - I was staying 'uptown' so also managed to experience the local Mardi Gras which is family orientated. As our friend Jill said, the tourists have ruined Mardi Gras! For some reason I used to think that Mardi Gras was a gay rights parade. I had no idea how big it is and how excited everyone gets. There are huge 'superfloats' with 'krewes' of people on board. People pay a small fortune to join one of these exclusive 'krewes'. One of them is an all  female krewe, and they throw out (or rather hand out!) big glittery shoes as gifts. My new friends took me to see where they were being made. Another krewe throws out painted coconuts, and some of the 'throws' are coveted prizes for the Mardi Gras enthusiasts. It's a dangerous business - I got hit in the mouth by a stack of beads the first night and on the head the second. But no harm done!! :) We turned into big kids running along with the parades desperate to collect more and more beads. Except that I can't actually bring them home with me unless I'm willing to pay a few hundred dollars excess baggage for a some cheap plastic beads :s

So after a week in New Orleans as much as I love this place I had enough of moving from sofa to sofa and all the hostels were still booked out so I decided to move on to the final stop, Miami!
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Vanessa on

I enjoyed reading your blog and your depiction of Mardi Gras! I am from New Awlins. Moved to Houston 8 years ago.

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