Wednesday 22nd February – Devastation, Water Farms and a Boat Ride

I didn’t feel any better in the morning, still down on myself for what had happened last night. I did the bathroom thing. I did the breakfast thing. I got down on my knees and had a good look under all four corners of the Astro, making sure everything looked ok and felt tight. Thankfully, apart from a few errant bits of gravel, it looked ok, I would just have to endure the sounds of mud and bits of rock falling away as I drove.

I got straight off the highway, not wanting any more of that and took back highways to get to New Orleans. Since I’d driven most of it at night, I didn’t see much of the state of Mississippi, it would not be the same for Louisiana. At the suburb just before New Orleans, I was shocked to see a community in complete disrepair. This was the place that hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and the devastation looked as though it had happened two weeks ago! I couldn’t believe it, how could a place be left in such a state for so long! I was furious with the American institution for letting this happen! I later found out that while this community had been hit hard by Katrina, the damage I was seeing was actually from tornadoes that tore through the town EXACTLY two weeks ago. Sorry America, I take it back. It’s hard to imagine such a sunny beautiful place turning into destruction like that, I was lucky to have missed it. I drove down the streets, looking at the damage. Every house had blue tarps on their roofs, there were piles of rubble and storm rubbish everywhere and one in every three houses had been reduced to rubble. Work crews were out in force cleaning up and doing repair work, there were even signs for various contracting repair businesses stuck in every available patch of grass.

There was no such damage in the city of New Orleans. I drove through the town and parked outside the visitor’s center. After loitering around at the desk while the receptionist had a personal conversation with a person she knew on the other side, I took a few brochures and walked out in disgust. Bloody customer service (I’m clearly still in a bad mood from yesterday). Though I felt more like curling up into a ball in a quiet room somewhere to think on my sins, I paid for parking (not wanting the alternative hassle) and walked the streets of New Orleans. The French Quarter is a very pretty network of well laid out streets. Tourists were everywhere, either wandering on foot or taking a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. I walked through Jackson Square, ducked inside the main church for a quick look, then enjoyed the busking band outside playing some great upbeat music. I wandered pretty aimlessly through the narrow streets admiring the architecture and the various gay men strutting their stuff as only gay men can.

I even subtly followed a horse-drawn carriage tour for a bit to gleen some information about the city and some of the oldest buildings. I ended up at the markets and wandered those for a bit before making my way along the great Mississippi River and back to the car. There were quite a few homeless bums around, most of them looking young and fit surprisingly. Probably homeless by choice? I spent my last half hour of parking time trying to find a free collection of New Orleans history as reported in my Lonely Planet guide but had no luck, so I returned to the car.

I was still feeling down, but resolved to carry on, I planned my route through Louisiana and on to Texas. Again, I stayed off the major highways and after stopping for lunch under the shade of a big bridge, I was on a beautiful back-highway that wound through farmland. I couldn’t figure out what everyone was farming, but the fields were all covered with water, but there were no reeds or anything growing out of them, only what looked like submerged cages every now and then. Maybe crab or lobster or something? I’m calling them water farms.

The water farms grew in number as the number of cars dwindled down to just me. When the highway started following the coast line of the Gulf of Mexico, I really was the only one out there. Without noticing, I’d started singing along to the music I was playing. I think that, and the stunning views of the water farms from a high bridge starting to lift my spirits.

To get across to Holly Beach from Cameron, there is a small inlet in the way so me and Astro had to take a ferry! For only $1, the “Feliciana”, which could probably only take seven cars maximum, would take us across the channel. All the signs said to stay in your vehicle while on board, but after I’d parked, a lady from the boat came over and told me I could get out because clearly I was a tourist. She told me we had to wait for a container ship to pass through and that you can often see dolphins at the head of the ship. She wasn’t wrong. Not only were there dolphins swimming at the front of the ship, there were dolphins jumping completely out of the water in front of the ship! They were having a great time and I was loving watching them. A redneck parked behind me didn’t even greet me before he said, “You’re not from around here are ya?” I hardly had to explain that I wasn’t so he proceeded to tell me that such big boats suck water out of the channel for a few moments before it fills up again. He pointed it out to me again and again. Friendly guy, but I just wanted to watch the dolphins! I prefer blending in, like when I get asked for directions in Paris, instead of standing out like a sore thumb tourist, but I couldn’t really help it.

Once the ship passed and we got going, the ferry ride took all of five minutes. At the east bank, I was the last to get off the boat, driving around the central tower to get off. The boat operators wished me good travels. I was happy that my camp was only another ten minutes away. It was just past 5pm and an early, easy camp was definitely on the cards. The small community of Holly Beach is just a collection of houses on stilts arranged in a neat grid amongst some narrow roads. I drove up and down the road closest to the beach and found a few other campers, but also a spot all to myself. I was very careful driving near the sand and made sure I parked on a bit of grass just for good measure. I will not be getting stuck again.

Finally ready to speak about last night’s ordeal, I called Mum and Dad and told them all about it. They were gracious, withholding their laughter knowing how much it had upset me, but after telling them I felt much better about it. I would have liked to walk along the beach while I talked to them, but the reception wasn’t good enough so I watched the sunset from my comfy chair and it was a beauty. While there was still some orange on the horizon, I went for a walk amongst the lowering tide and watched a flock of pelicans dive in and out of the ocean for their dinner. They made beautiful silhouettes against the colourful sky. I had the whole beach to myself, not another soul in sight.

The ocean wind was strong and cool, making for a refreshing night inside the van where I fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

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