Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Big Easy

AKA: New Orleans. My dad's been working down there for over a year now with the Army Corps of Engineers, helping to design a nifty huge retractable flood wall that will keep the city safe when the next monster hurricane comes around. Go Dad! Sarah and I got to visit him for the weekend and experience some of what New Orleans has to offer.

So the apartment my dad lives in is on a street that crosses Canal St. and becomes the infamous Bourbon St. Sarah and I decided to only venture down that street in the broad daylight in order to avoid glimpses of the seedy night life.

The French Quarter was pretty cool to walk around though, with a lot of cool shops, restaurants and bars, and plenty of decorative balconies lining the streets. By mid-morning that Friday there were already a bunch of tourists around. We set out for Cafe du Monde, a famous cafe that several people have told us about. Though when we saw the huge line to get inside, we decided to grab some brunch across the street at Cafe Beignet, which at first looked like a cool quaint coffeehouse. Um... bad idea. This is a picture of the gross iced coffee with soy milk that Sarah was given. It took forever for them to get me my omelete, and the service was horrible. Of course I looked at the coffee bar with my judgmental specialty coffee industry eye, and it failed in so many respects.

We got to walk around a lot with no agenda except for exploring the French Quarter. We strolled the streets, looked in windows, enjoyed the occasional musician, and stared at the silver-painted robot guy wondering if he just sleeps in all his makeup. At one point we wandered over to the Mississippi River. We probably would have walked by the river for a lot longer if it weren't for the blasted sun beating down on us... It must have been 100 degrees or so by noon that day.

So after a few hours of the French Quarter, we set out in search of a Starbucks and grabbed a couple Frappuccinos to cool down. Honestly, we're not big on a ton of walking around in the heat doing the tourist thing, so we headed back to the apartment and watched TV until my dad came home from work.

Dad took us out to this really neat restaurant called Jacque-Imo's. We had a spectacular meal! Sarah ordered "Godzilla vs. Fried Green Tomatoes" and I had the Country-Fried Venison. The oh-so-tasty sweet cornbread muffins alone would have been enough to eat! If you're ever in New Orleans, try out this really cool restaurant.

On Saturday we did some more touristy exploration of the French Quarter, complete with the horse-drawn carriage tour and checking out the free museum run by the National Park people. A seafood festival was going on, so we got to see a dancing crawfish lead a spontaneous parade with a brass band. We also took a picture in front of the cathedral that looks like a Disney World castle.

Okay, so the best part of our trip took place on Saturday night. Dad decided to sign us up ahead of time for one of those "Swamp Tour" deals where they take you on an airboat and go on a real backwater bayou and let you see hundreds of gators at night. We joined a dozen other people on an airboat called the "Cajun Limo" and set out with this young guy piloting and giving us the rundown on the animals and plants and the swampland we were passing through. Just a few minutes into the tour we had to jump a levee in the airboat:

Well, right after we got to the other side of the levee, some huge piece of hard plastic covering our airboat's engine snapped off, blew into the airboat propeller, and got ripped to shreds. Here's what we looked like as they tried to diagnose the problem...

So our airboat broke down. It still ran enough to idle over to a dock where a taxi and a van promptly came by to pick up our group and take us back to where we launched from. On the way there we saw a pickup truck on the side of the road sticking up out of a ditch at a 90 degree angle, with its driver trying to pull on the tailgate to pull it back down to level... that sight along with our swamp airboat breaking down made us feel like we were in some kind of reality TV show. When we got back to the place, they put us in the "Cajun Limo II" and our young boat captain was replaced with this awesome old dude with a thick cajun accent. He took us back out into the swamp and in no time started looking for a baby gator to bring into the boat. The young guy got up to the front and grabbed this pole with a claw on the end and tried to grab little gators as we snuck up to them. When he finally got one pinned down, the old cajun guy came up and manhandled the gator into the boat. Well, right when he brought it in the boat they dropped the gator! Now picture us there on the FRONT ROW when they drop a 5-foot gator onto the boat deck just a couple feet in front of us... CRAZY!!! Well the old dude didn't hesitate and actually stomped on the gator's head with his heavy boot to pin him down while they got him under control. After that, they let me grab the gator myself and we snapped a picture. If you watch the video, see if you can understand even half of what this old gator wrestler says...

We eventually dropped the gator back into the water and continued on the tour. The other cool/strange thing that happened was that we pulled up to a gator nest, chased away the 6-foot long mother gator, and rummaged through her nest to pull out a gator egg for show and tell. Who does that?

So that wrapped up our New Orleans experience. Right after the swamp tour we hopped in the car and drove 8 hours home through the night, stopping just for some short rests.

On to the next adventure!


Lesli said...

That looks like a super fun trip! I could understand the guy pretty well, but maybe its because I grew up in the south :) The dancing crawfish is really the funniest thing! :)

Jackleen said...

Hey Sarah and Jonathan, looks like a lot of fun. Sarah, let me know when you all are leaving the country, and I also want your address in the States. I have something to send you. ;o)

Kathryn said...

Our church just went on a mission trip to NOLA, and they experienced some of the cajun cuisine and downtown....but not the exciting swamp tour! Aaron will be sad he missed that.
We look forward to seeing y'all on the 11th at the PARTY!!

Joyous said...

I just keep watching that video over and over again to see if I can understand the dude...and it's impossible for me to make out what he's saying! I crack up every time.