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Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 7
New Orleans


Henry Swanson  
Day 4

I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone...

Woke, showered, dressed and joined Ms. Greta, Angela and Michael in the dining room for another incredibly delicious Angela-made breakfast of fresh fruit with whipped cream, orange juice, coffee and tasty apple pancakes made especially for Ms. Greta. We plan on kidnapping Angela and taking her home to Tucson with us.
Said goodbye to Ms. Greta, Angela and Michael, then drove west on Carollton to I-10 West, along the west bank of Lake Ponchartrain, to La Place, Louisianna, for the noon Cajun Pride Swamp Tour. Along the way we stopped at SEVEN electronics stores in search of a battery charger (which I had forgotten to pack) for our digital camera. We finally located one at the Radio Shack in La Place.
As I was getting out of our rented Jeep at the Cajun Pride parking lot and putting the car keys in the pocket of my jeans, I suddenly realized that I had put on Carol's jeans by mistake. That explains why, as we left the B&B, I had the feeling that I had somehow gotten taller during the night, since my jeans were suddenly too short. We both nearly wet our jeans from laughing when we realized what happened. We still laugh about it to this day.
Welcome to alligator country
The swamp (actually "bayou") tour, led by Captain Greg, was awesome. Captain Greg took eight of us on a flat bottom boat, drifting slowly into the bayou. Within minutes we began to spot alligators sunning themselves at high tide. He took us around a bend and we soon found ourselves surrounded by at least a dozen alligators, some large, some huge, and all hungry.
Lovely Lousianna bayou
David and Captain Greg
Captain Greg spied a raccoon, so he anchored the boat and jumped off and fed it marshmallows and allowed me to do the same. I wondered what effect the marshmallow diet had on this little creature with hands like humans.
Rocky Raccoon comes to the party
David feeding Rocky Raccoon
Lots of alligators in this bayou
Then Captain Greg began to feed crabs, chicken parts and marshmallows to the alligators and allowed me to do the same. Did I mention that some were huge? We saw a couple that were at least 12 to 14 feet long. Captain Greg warned me to drop the chicken as the alligators lunged for it and to then get my fingers out of the way quickly. Having a fondness for guitar playing and needing my fingers for that activity, he didn't have to tell me twice. However, I was a bit slow to snap my hand back at one point and the gator's nose brushed my hand. At that point I let another volunteer take over.
Captain Greg feeds a 14-foot alligator
Captain Greg feeds marshmallows to alligators from his mouth
Alligators everywhere
The hour and a half tour by Cajun Pride Swamp Tours (http://www.cajunpridetours.com) was worth every penny of the $23 charge. Captain Greg was full of information about the area, the wildlife and history. He also had a great sense of humor and pulled a practical joke on Carol that had us all laughing. At the end of the tour he passed around a live baby alligator and we took turns holding it.
Carol holding a baby alligator
After the terrific tour, we drove up Highway 51 a mile or so to Peavine's Bait and Snack Shack where we enjoyed seafood gumbo, crab and corn gumbo, and a platter of softshelled crabs, shrimp and catfish as we gazed out upon the vast expanse of Lake Ponchartrain. Lunch was out of this world. As we left, we snapped some photos of a friendly woman cutting up catfish for tonight's dinner menu.
Dinner preparation at Peavine's Bait and Snack Shack
We jumped back in the Jeep and drove west on I-10 about ten more miles and crossed the Mississippi River, curved around the bend to Vacherie, a small, rural, Louisianna town, where we snapped some photos of the 200-year-old "white" Oak Alley Plantation, with its majestic tree-lined lane. We also took some self-photos along the earthen levee of the majestic Mississippi River.
Oak Alley Plantation
Some history of Oak Alley Plantation
Carol and David along the banks of the Mississippi River
We then took a fabulous tour of the Creole plantation called Laura. Jay, our guide, is from a local family whose roots go back many generations, and is an historian with an uncanny knowledge of the Creole history and culture. The Laura Plantation is the only preserved and re-constructed Creole plantation in existence. We were quite fortunate to be joined on our tour by two more historians, Belmont and Nina Haydel, both charming and uncannily knowledgeable authors of books on Creole history. Nina is the author of a wonderful children's book on Creole culture. Belmont is a Fulbright Scholar and like Jay, has Creole blood going back many generations.
The Main House at Laura Plantation
Jay, our remarkable guide at Laura Plantation
Slaves quarters at Laura Plantation
Inside the slave's quarters at Laura Plantation
Scholars Belmont and Nina Haydel at Laura Plantation
The Plantation itself is a must-see and is interesting for many reasons, not least of which is its lineage of generations of strong women who owned and ran the businesses. Not unlike Scarlett and Tara. After touring the main house and outlying slave quarters and gardens, the tour was over. We could have stayed and chatted with Jay and Belmont and Nina for many hours, but the Plantation was closing for the day. So we bid our new friends adieu and traveled back to New Orleans in no time via I-10. All-in-all, truly a wonder-filled day of adventure with interesting and stimulating sights and people.
On our way back to the B&B, we stopped at a market and bought food, water, a cooler and blue ice for the next several days of work with Habitat for Humanity.
Home again to the 1896 O'Malley house, where I quickly changed out of Carol's jeans and into my own, deciphered the enigma of the Radio Shack battery charger, visited with lovely Angela, then drove downtown once again to Cochon for delicious oysters, beer and wine. Tommy once again took great care of us.
After dinner we drove back up Canal Street and fell into bed at 9:30, ready to hit the ground running in the morning at Habitat for Humanity's Musician's Village in the Ninth Ward. Our main purpose in coming to New Orleans is to lend a hand, small as it may be, to the reconstruction of this one-of-a-kind national treasure that is New Orleans.

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