Chapter 4: NOLA. (N-O-L-A, NOLA)

Did that heading sound like Lola by The Kinks? Excellent, my work here is done.

When I rolled off the plane in New Orleans, after successfully navigating my way from the hostel in Mexico via a stopover in I wanna say Charlotte, I noticed three things.

  1. I was hungover. So. Very. Hungover.
  2. I’d never experienced humidity like the humidity walking out of Louis Armstrong Airport
  3. Hurricane Katrina really made a mark.

Travelling to a place recovering from a disaster is a tough one. I’d gone back and forth so many times on keeping my plans for New Orleans. I’d seen it on the news back in Australia when it happened, and I had no idea what to expect when I arrived, but I remembered how devastating it was recovering from Black Saturday in 2009 and so I decided to go.

I’m so glad I did. New Orleans remains one of my favourite places in the whole wide world and I can only imagine what it looks like now. I arrived just before Jazzfest (which would stop for noone, I was told), so the tourist areas like the Garden District and Bourbon Street were back to relative normal. New Orleans feels like one of those cities on the edge of the map, where pirates stop and ghosts linger. Plus the food is incredible and the music was pretty awesome too.

As soon as I crossed Lake Pontchartrain though, it was very different. The whole east side of New Orleans was still completely destroyed, and they were still locating bodies when I was there, six months after the storm. Out in the swamp there were shacks upside down in trees, and the tour guide who took us out on a boat through the swamp talked about locals who hadn’t been seen since the hurricane hit.

Honey Island Swamp, Outside New Orleans
Honey Island swamp. That green is water.

On the way back we drove through the devastation to see it up close. People on the bus took photo after photo. I took a couple, but the devastation was just so immense, and I begain spotting the markings FEMA had left on the doors to indicate bodies had been located, so I put my camera away and just watched the scene slide by.

I still don’t know where I land on disaster tourism. Does it help the local economy? Absolutely. There was a booming souvenir trade happening in t-shirts badmouthing FEMA and the NOPD. Should you go on a tour to the worst hit places? I don’t know. Would I go on one of those tours to the tsunami area in Japan? Definitely no. Would I go on a bus tour through Chernobyl? Almost certainly yes, but don’t tell my mother.

See? Complicated.

I can’t wait to get back to New Orleans, I really can’t. A Cajun restaurant opened up near where I grew up in Tasmania (of all places!) so I’m not completely cut off from southern food, but nothing will ever top wandering the streets of the French Quarter sipping on my hurricane cocktail and chasing ghosts while the blues drifts out of bars.

Bourbon Street Sunset
Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Next time – there is no apple bigger.

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