Five days in New Orleans with my two best friends from high school, one of whom has been living there for the past few years, was definitely a highlight of the year so far. We three haven’t gotten together in a while, so what better place than New Orleans?! But beyond the friendship, there were some experiences that really stood out to me – the swamps, the cocktails and the cemeteries.
We visited swamps in three different places – the Audubon Zoo; the Pearl River Eco Tour in Slidell (just east of New Orleans); and the Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. And we saw alligators in all three places! Seriously, I fell in love with the mysterious, lush swamps and could have spent all day sitting in the Barataria Preserve.
The Audubon Zoo, of course, was educational as well, and we learned much about the swamps and who inhabits them, even the leucistic white alligator, a ghostly and massive unique reptile.
The Pearl River Eco Tour was an in-depth ride on a small boat (about 20 people) through the Honey Island Swamp, apparently one of the least altered river swamps in the country. Our guide, a native, told us about growing up in the swamps as well as all about what we saw. It was pretty amazing to see wild alligators! Some came up to the boat, hoping for a bite of hot dog or marshmallow, graciously offered by the guide, while some just eyed us from a distance.
The Batararia Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Park was probably my favorite, however. The boardwalks meandered through the swamp and ended in a marsh, which, while lovely, couldn’t compare to the swamp. We saw alligators (truly wild, not expecting a snack!), a racoon, several snakes, turtles, squirrels, birds, bugs (at least they weren’t too bad), and lots and lots and lots of Spanish moss. And I got a new stamp in my National Parks Passport!
After all these swamp experiences, we had to cool off somehow – so naturally, local specialty cocktails were the choice! I tried a Creole Queen at Cafe Pontalba; a Sazerac at Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone, as well as it’s signature drink the Monteleone; blueberry mojitos at St. Joe’s Bar on Magazine Street; and daquiris from the daiquri shop near my friend’s apartment. We balanced out the expensive drinks with local beers. Gotta try all the local flavors!
We ended our trip with some visits to the cemeteries. Alas, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is closed to the casual tourist; you have to be in a tour group. By the time we got to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, it had just closed. Although we checked out the Old Town Slidell cemetery, it couldn’t compete with the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which we visited on our way to the airport. I wish we’d had time to do a guided tour of it, because I’m sure we would have learned so much more. Next time!
I’d love to go back and experience more, but I’ll probably want to return to the swamps and see more alligators! It’s fascinating to see them in the wild, after having only seen them in zoos in aquariums. I was tempted to bring one back… but I didn’t. Next time!