The more I drive the more each town looks alike. I don’t necessarily mean the old centers of town but the surrounding areas. Each town or city is surrounded by the same big box stores all over America. They are all familiar as I see them taking over the outskirts of my home town as well. Home Depot, Walmart and all the common fast food places like McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King are the familiar facades I see every day and they are always busy. The marked “Historic Downtowns” are often quiet with few shops open. In Truth or Consequences, NM, I walked the quiet streets looking at all the vacant storefronts and saw very few people. This is pretty common in my experience. Drive a bit outside of the downtown and there are all the people in their vehicles, loading up on what they “need” from the big department stores.
I don’t go into cities very often, preferring to stay in the countryside and in small towns where I hope to get a more ‘authentic’ feel for the place. It’s a struggle when I’m in a city like New Orleans, where I will be later today, to find the less touristy places. In an attempt to experience the real Nola (what locals call New Orleans) I have found a host through Couchsurfing. It’s my first time using this site but I have heard many good things about it. The guy who has agreed to let me park in his carport is a thrift store junkie like me and he has offered to take me yard-saling tomorrow. I’m not against doing the touristy things and will be sure to see the French Quarter and take in some of the common sights but I also want to get behind the scenes a little.
In the same vein I wanted very badly to go on a swamp tour, a very touristy thing indeed. I called ‘A Cajun Swamp Man’ whom I got a pamphlet for at the tourist bureau. He wasn’t going out that day and gave me the number for Jimmy. I just happened to pull into the restaurant he launches the tour from and was lucky to be about 20 minutes early. I’m really glad it turned out the way it did because he was not only cheaper but had a much smaller boat with only seven people going. Turns out the other tour holds up to 40 people! I, of course, was the only person there traveling alone. I encounter this all the time and have learned to accept people asking where the other part of my party is. In fact, when I called they booked me in for two people.
The tour lasted about 2.5 hours and was a mere $15. Jimmy was a great guide and told us stories of his parents hunting and trapping snakes and gators for a living in the 1950s. They used very simple tools. They would go out in a flat bottomed canoe and he used a long pole to find the gators on the bottom. When he found one he’d poke and prod at it until it was angry enough to come to the surface at which time she would kill it by a hatchet to the head. Back then they were only killed for their hides so if it was too big to put in the boat they’d skin it there and throw the rest back. And if that wasn’t dangerous enough she also hunted snakes with her bare hands!
Although it isn’t alligator season we did manage to witness two of them sunning themselves by the banks of the swamp. We also saw many turtle and an amazing array of birds. I didn't quite see what I imagined I would and am going to continue looking for other swamp tours. I was hoping to get deeper in and see the huge trees growing out of the water. Still, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.
I ended the day with a big bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo at the Bayou Delight restaurant. I asked the waitress if she knew a place I could park for the night and she suggested a little spot down the road. I was worried I'd get asked to move but I didn't. I slept by a river under some hanging moss trees. It was a lovely spot.