Between Lafayette and Baton Rouge is an 18.2 mile bridge on pilings from Maringouin to Henderson. This is how Interstate 10 crosses the Atchafalaya Basin or Swamp. It is the largest swamp in the United States. It is a combination of stable wetlands and a growing delta system. There seems to be water of some sort everywhere. There is beautiful Spanish moss growing from the cypress trees and then fan palms growing underneath. It stretches for miles.
We arrived at the Poche (po-shay) Plantation about 3:00. We made good time although the Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was bumper to bumper. The book said the RV park is 20 minutes from Baton Rouge and New Orleans - not! Anyway it's in a very historic district with the road, the levee and then the Mississippi right outside the gate. There is virtually nothing down here - one restaurant within 5 minutes that's only open at lunch, several plantations and old churches.
Tuesday we drove to AAA in New Orleans for some maps. Then we went and checked out an RV Park that was closer to New Orleans. In the meantime, we got a phone call from them saying they had a cancellation for the 30th to January 3. They also have a daily shuttle which will get us to the French Quarter for New Year's then a $20 cab ride back. That works. On the way back we stopped at Laura Plantation, a Creole Sugar Plantation. Creole is a combination of European, West African and Native American cultures. Jasmine, our tour guide, turns out is a relative of Alex Haley who wrote Roots. Jasmine also said that her great great grandfather bought his way out of slavery at the age of 75 in the mid 1800's for $33.00 As you aged as a slave your value diminished until you were worth nothing. She was an excellent guide. We toured the plantation house, the gardens, and the slave quarters. She told some great stories. There were four generations of women who were President of the plantation over the years since 1840. It was run totally as a business with everything geared to what the President or business could get out of it. At one point, Elizabeth decided that it was cheaper to breed her own slaves than buy them. Elizabeth bought 15 male slaves and 15 women slaves for breeding. The breeding plan began to pay for itself in 10 years when the first children could go to work. This only worked up until the Civil War. Another interesting tidbit - all of Fats Domino's family was born and raised on this plantation - Fats himself was born in New Orleans.
Wednesday we had to be ready for the 10 am weekly tour of our own plantation, Poche. If you were a guest in the park, it was free. We think it was free for everyone. It was a lot of fun. When we first arrived on the front porch, 14 of us, we were met by a cute little dog. Mark Anderson, who has owned it since late 2004, arrived on his dirt bike with another dog. Word is that the dogs were two of three that had been just abandoned. Apparently Mark purchased the plantation at auction one day. He and his wife were there to buy antiques, but since they were serving mint juleps, and he had too many, when the house came up last and there were no other bidders, he ended up with it. He told some great stories throughout the 2 hour tour, some believable and some not so much, but every one was prefaced with the words "true story". The house was totally empty when he purchased, including all the lights. So Mark and his wife proceeded to fill it with wonderful old things. Several people actually returned items to the house that had been there before.
Sprinkled throughout Mark's stories were those of a "ghost". Several guests in the bed & breakfast upstairs had written stories in the guest book. Mark had the crew from the haunted house TV show come to the house and nothing happened. One night he was called to the house at about 11:30 by the current guests saying they wanted to stay in another house on the property or leave right away. Mark came right over and burst in the back door. He was met by a ghostly "eye" and some very strange noises. He ran back out and checked in at all the windows. He slowly went back in the back door - turns out it was the robot vacuum programmed to come on at about 11:30 and finish about 2 am.
At the time Hurricane Katrina hit, Mark and his wife had been living in the house for about 4 hours (after living in their RV for 8-9 years) when the power went out. By morning, before they heard about the flooding in New Orleans, people began coming up the road and along the levee. In all about 185 people stayed in the house for about 3 years. There are still 17 people living in trailers there. Miss Pat, with a shape like Aunt Jemima (Mark's description), was one of those evacuees. She took over the cooking for everyone and stayed up until a few weeks ago. Her repaired house in the 9th Ward of New Orleans was finally ready. However, she hates it. She calls her neighbourhood the Jack O'Lantern - some houses are fixed up, others are rotting, others are missing - like teeth. All her former neighbours are gone and have not come back. She has asked to come back to the house to live and will return next week. They will provide her with a mobile home and a new gas stove in the house.
It may seem that Mark is independently wealthy. We know he owned several newspapers in the area. His family owns 26,000 acres of sugar cane and he gets a 20% cut from that. He is also developing another RV Park just down the road that used to house FEMA trailers after Katrina. Right now it houses a lot of workers from neighbouring plants. Mark was not impressed at all with those who moved into the FEMA trailers after Katrina. He claims they were crooks who stole.
Thursday we packed up and headed for Pontchartrain Landing RV Park, much closer to New Orleans. We hung out for the rest of the day, doing laundry, etc. This new park has a small open air bar upstairs so we went up for a couple of drinks. The park is only a couple of years' old. It was a bit muddy because of the rain and the fact it is only gravel.
Friday we drove into Bourbon Street, luckily found a parking space and walked around a bit. The line-up for beignets at Cafe du Monde was about 100 people each for the sit-down and the take-out so we gave that up. The plan had been to take the shuttle from the RV Park into Bourbon Street on New Year's Eve and cab home. After our walkabout it soon became apparent that the zoo had already begun and we could see it would be no place for us on New Year's Eve. So our plan changed. We decided to stay home, watch the Canucks game, go up to the little bar and order a pizza, which they make there, and ring in the New Year there. After our walk in town, we headed out through the Warehouse District and ended up at the levee on the Mississippi out near Tulane University. We went into Cooter's Bar and Grill for lunch. Crazy line-up there too. You go in the door, turn right, order your food, get a number, go pick up drinks at the bar and find a seat. When your number appears on the screen you go up and get your food. Larry had a burger and Maureen had a half order of a Muffaletta Sandwich - imagine a 10-inch sesame hamburger bun filled with ham, salami, provolone cheese and olive salad - she had half of that and it was huge.
After lunch we drove back in through the Garden District and saw all the mansions along St. Charles Avenue.
Saturday - Happy New Year! We got on LA 90 and headed east. We ended up on the route we had taken five years ago with all the houses on stilts. It was obvious that they were all new. We had an amazing rain storm along the way. We came to Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours which is where we had taken our swamp tour five years ago. There were 68 people there for the noon tour! Even with the bad weather, which sort of cleared up while we were there. Our guide was Captain Ted Gauthier, a native who had grown up in the bayous. He was a fountain of information from natural lore to recipes. At the end he told us of the effect of Katrina. The water rose 14.9 feet as a result of storm surge. He reiterated how fragile life is - in a 24 hour period he had gone from drinking coffee sitting on the sand in front of his house he owned to having nothing - no house, nothing in it, no tourists, no job. He thanked everyone for coming and keeping New Orleans alive. It was very sad.
On the way back, we wandered up and down around Bourbon Street. People had not stopped since the day before. There were still lots of people down there. Then basically five blocks away from the French Quarter, in the Lower 9th Ward, you come face to face with the results of Katrina again. As we said earlier, some houses have been rebuilt, some are empty and boarded up, some have been demolished. The roads are in horrible shape so even if your house is restored, it's not a very nice place to live. The tourists have come back but to that core area that was not affected too much. The surrounding areas are very sad. People are trying but they are losing the battle.
Sunday, Jan 2 we just wandered around seeing some other areas. On the 3rd we headed north to Tupelo Mississippi, the birthplace of the "King of Rock & Roll" Elvis Presley.