Friday, 8 April 2016

Our Epic Detour: Mardi Gras Shenanigans

Our EPIC Detour:
Mardi Gras Shenanigans

By mid-afternoon on Day 3 of our (so far, not so) Epic adventure across the US, we reached Louisiana. While this was my first time celebrating Mardi Gras, it actually was not my first time in New Orleans. I had visited the city a few years prior as it was the port of call for a cruise I went on with my family. My sister had visited the city pre-Katrina on a school trip back in high school, so we were fortunate enough to have her as a guide during that trip. She was able to give us better insight into how the city had drastically changed yet somehow managed to maintain it's mysterious and haunting aura that allures people back year after year. Although I never really had a chance to fully explore the city in all its glory during that trip, I was given a good enough taste to want to come back and that one quality that really stayed clear in my mind was the mystery.

New Orleans:
A city where carnival masks are both grotesque and beautiful, a hint of magic and voodoo roam freely throughout the streets, and jazz wraps around the French Quarter like a warm blanket.

But bare with me as this is where I might lose you. While New Orleans captured part of my heart, I was NOT a fan of Mardi Gras. Granted, I think it had much to do with the fact that our couchsurfing host damn near scared us shitless with horror stories of friends getting raped and killed when they ventured too far from Bourbon Street, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Since the festival was in full swing, the closest place we could find that would accept us for the night was in Luling, Louisiana which was only a 30 minute drive to the city of New Orleans. Our couchsurfing host Michael and his mother warmly welcomed us into their home and offered us enough fried chicken, jambalaya and gumbo to feed a small country. It was a warm southern welcome indeed; one that a girl could really get used to (boys take notes!!).

Once we got ourselves settled into our room, we all took turns savouring a much needed and well-deserved shower before getting to the main purpose of our trip: Mardi Gras (or Carnival). 

Now let me explain how things started of terrible and gradually got worse. While Michael was a very accommodating host, he did very little to ease our minds about our venture into the streets of New Orlean's French Quarter. By that, I mean he expertly showed us all the places on a map where we could get shot and murdered, all the drinks we needed to avoid unless we planned on getting roofied or passing out on a street corner, and other terrible things that could potentially happen if we weren't careful. To illustrate his point further, he even gave us real life examples of such terrible things; sometimes going into a little more detail than necessary. I mean, the guy told us vivid stories of his friends getting killed, woman raped and drugged, and other such gang related violence that had occurred as a result of wandering a bit too far passed Bourbon. And by a bit too far I mean, ANY street north of the tourist ridden Bourbon Street. Safe to say, the three of us were practically glued to each other the entire time; a definite buzz kill to the trip. Look, I know that crime in New Orleans IS in fact a problem, but I felt that the way he approached it did not give us any peace of mind in the slightest. While it is important to know these things (safety first!) telling us only the bad parts and skipping the good isn't the best way to welcome a guest into a city that you so call love. Definitely not recommending that he run for ambassador of New Orleans any time soon that's for sure...

That being said, his advice wasn't all bad...he did recommend us a couple of places that were (in his words) "not terrible" and parades that were "potentially" worth seeing. I mean, with that kind of enthusiasm I'm sure you're all booking your next trip to join in on all the fun... 

So, with all this new knowledge at our arsenal we got ourselves ready and were back on the road to explore the infamous - and now only slightly terrifying - New Orleans.

When we got to the city the first problem we encountered was parking. Isn't it always the first problem, no matter where you are? See for us, everywhere that Michael had recommended we park was taken (of course) and we were reluctant to venture too far from said places - you know, with that high risk of being raped and mutilated in the back of our minds. Thanks again Michael.

It was when we were almost completely SOL that we found a place that MAY or MAY NOT have be a parking spot. It was one those times when the lines were blurred between what is right and what is wrong...literally, the lines on the ground were almost completely faded into oblivion. Hence how it could have been a potential parking spot or just the faded remnants of a body never know in this city.

After we parked in this precarious spot, I went over to ask a couple of policemen who were chilling in their car nearby if it was okay to park there (as getting a parking ticket or being towed was not on our list of things we hoped to accomplish that day). After explaining our predicament, I was given a noncommittal shrug to which we took as a firm okay.

Score one for us! We found a parking spot. We are living the dream.

So here we are walking the streets of New Orleans , glued to each other like Kim Kardashian is to a front facing camera, and so far it was going just swell. And by that, I of course mean that things were absolutely terrible. We started to check out an outdoor market and art gallery until we noticed that some greasy old men were simultaneously checking us out. Brilliant. Just what we needed to ease our worries and make the trip more exciting. They even took our collective repulsion as consent to grab hold to our derrieres. Charming.

At this point we decided it was time to move a bit closer to the action. And by that, I meant the French Quarter and not getting sexually assaulted by senior citizens. Unfortunately, getting sexually harassed by geriatrics and sleazy men alike just does not do it for me. I know, I'm a party pooper what can I say.

When we got to Bourbon Street it was a literal attack to the senses. There were bright colours and loud music and beads flying everywhere; not too mention the pungent aroma of booze, vomit and piss. Yes, good sir, t'was a classy affair indeed.

SIDE NOTE: Something you can probably gather about me (if you've read basically ANY of my other blog posts) is that I truly dislike touristy things. I have always believed that the heart of a city is found through a local's perspective which is why I choose couchsurfing over hotels or hostels, resent most guide books and truly believe that if a place needs to advertise itself to gain visitors, it's probably not worth seeing. But just like you can't go to London without seeing Big Ben or visit Paris without walking up the steps of the Eiffel Tower, there are definitely some exceptions to the rule. Unfortunately for me, Mardi Gras was NOT one of those exceptions.

In fact, Mardi Gras is the epitome of a tourist trap BUT it doesn't have to be. It's all in how you approach the festival (ideally with an open mind and not an open shirt). Now I know you're probably thinking, "who the hell is this chick to say what is the right or wrong way to celebrate a festival? This girl went there once and now she thinks she is some big shot whose opinions matter?" And now you might be thinking "who the hell is this chick to say she knows what I'm thinking. You don't know me. You don't know my struggle; my trials and tribulations. You don't pour my cereal *snaps fingers*". Okay you are totally right. Who the hell am I to think that I know everything. I clearly don't, and if you know me at all you'll know that I'm wrong almost 90% of the time (at least I'm consistent!). I can really only speak my mind and voice my opinion based my own experience, and someone else can have drastically different view on the festival from their own. But from my experience, I honestly felt that the infamous Mardi Gras that everyone talks about and is familiar with - you know, the one where girls flash their tits for beads and everyone drinks excessive amounts of alcohol and parties like its 1999 - isn't the true spirit of the festival. 

First of all, I feel like I need to stress this point: ONLY TOURISTS FLASH THEIR BOOBS FOR BEADS. No self respecting person would chose to expose themselves just to get a few cheap dollar store beads. And just as a side note, I am all for freeing the nipple, but that campaign has nothing to do with advocating boobs for beads; that is just ridiculous. That being said, you do you girl (or guy). But if you really want beads, there is a much better way to obtain them and I am not talking about buying them because that notion is almost as ridiculous as flashing your tatas for them (okay, not really but still a terrible idea).

If you really want beads, go to one of the many parades and I assure you that you will get more beads than you will ever need in your life. Even better that this, I can downright promise you that getting them will feel much more satisfying, if only slightly more painful. Seriously, those people on the floats whip them at your head. But more on that later...

Walkie Talkie Adventures

Okay, so by now we had already walked down Bourbon Street and saw more boobs than we ever thought possible along with many other questionable things. Things that will forever be scarred into my memory (*shudder*). Let me just say that seeing a man snorting cocaine off another mans shoe because he dropped it was one of the least worrisome sights. As you can only imagine we are less than delighted with our experience thus far so we collectively agreed that a pint of ice cold brew was more than necessary. With a new destination in mind, we hightailed it away from the chaos and directly into the least chaotic pub in sight. With newly acquired liquid encouragement in our fists we started to collect our travel experiences up until this point of our journey. This was when we realized that nothing of note had happened on our "epic" detour. Seriously bummed out now knowing that our expectations have drifted way further from our reality, we started to drink a bit more... Alcohol is always the cure for disappointment, just ask Hemingway...okay, bad example scratch that. Stay in school kids.

During our alcohol induced haze we started to play around with our walkie talkies, calling out to each other in code names from our 2ft apart distance. Yes, we are cool don't even deny it. And to answer the ever apparent question: "why in god's name have you brought walkie talkies with you?", I will counter you with a why the hell not?

  1. We are 90's kids in all our glory.
  2. We were on a cross country road trip without the use of our cell phones and at the time, found our selves in a city where splitting up could have be potentially hazardous.  
  3. We didn't want to risk losing our phones and walkie talkies are small and easily transportable. Plus, who would dare steal a walkie talkie?
  4. AND We got to call each other by code names and sign off with "over and out".

Now good sir, I ask you once more why the hell not? 

Well, as we were fooling around and getting more and more obnoxious with our codenames, we heard another person's voice on the line. Taken completely aback, we all looked at each other in shock: "Did you hear that? Did that just happen?" After 5 minutes of our collective gawking and radio silence, we concluded that no one had said anything and it was all in our head, probably a result of that liquid encouragement. That was until we heard it again and it now became our mission to find out who the other person on the other line was and discover their whereabouts. I blame Kim Possible, Spy Kids and all the other early 2000 spy shows that fuelled this insanity... 

Once establishing our battle plans, we proceeded to move outside to acquire better reception. At first the guy on the line was reluctant to give his whereabouts to us. I can't imagine why? Three girls with a set of walkie talkies asking you to tell them where you are, isn't strange AT ALL. So obviously this tactic wasn't working so we switched to humour, slight blackmail and maybe some desperate pleading....Anyway, in the end we found the guy only to discover that he works at a hotel as a security guard, which explained the walkie talkie. Apparently no one else was cool enough to use a walkie talkie outside of their job....who knew? Something else we discovered was that the guy we met was very different than the one we pictured. It's funny when a persons voice doesn't quite match their face! I wonder if my telephone voice matches mine? Actually, I don't think I want to know that answer...

So our walkie talkie adventures led us on a wild goose chase around the city but we ended up meeting some pretty cool people! We later learned that everyone who worked at the hotel could hear our entire conversations (oops!) and thought they were getting pranked by each other (which further explained their hesitation to give out any information). The valet guys also thought that some drunk girls must have stolen one of their walkie talkies and were being stupid....again, oops! Either way, this ended up being one of the highlights of the night! 

After chatting with them for a while we ended up taking their advice and hitting up one of the parades. This was where we discovered the true Mardi Gras. There was dancing and music and plenty more locals than there were tourists. Already a good sign! We ended up scoring more beads than we could carry and a few other treats. There was no holds barred with the people who were working on the floats. They literally WHIPPED beads at you with a speed and power that would impress a Major League pitcher. And I am not talking about one or two beads; I am talking about entire packages of them. Look away at the wrong moment and RIP. I almost scored the Mardi Gras spear (the golden catch of a Mardi Gras parade) but some woman snatched it straight out of my hands. Seriously, these people were crazy! What killed me more than almost getting killed from this woman's abuse was the fact that I was absolutely livid that she stole my spear. HOW DARE SHE STEAL THE MOST COVETED MARDI GRAS CATCH STRAIGHT OUT OF MY HANDS. Let's forget the fact that it was plastic and most likely would have gone straight into the bin afterwords, this was all about my dignity and bragging rights! I find it funny how something as silly as a parade can turn the most mature of adults into incredibly obnoxious and unreasonable children, myself included. Oh well, I guess everybody needs an excuse to be a kid once and a while, and Carnival is the best excuse for that for sure!

After watching the parade we wandered around for a bit and then headed home. By now we were so weighed down by Mardi Gras beads that our necks were beginning to cramp up. Also, it had started to rain. So we hightailed it back to the car and then we ventured back to our couchsurfing accommodations for a much deserved sleep.

The next morning we packed the car back up, said our goodbyes and thank yous to Michael and his mom and were then back on the road. As we neared Baton Rouge we stopped for some lunch at Popeyes and had the BEST chicken po-boy that I have ever had in my life. Also, the crew at Popeyes were full of southern hospitality giving us free sweet tea (YUM) and much more food than we initially ordered (Becca ordered popcorn shrimp and was given like 20 pieces instead of the 8 that she expected). When we were back in the car, I cranked up the Chuck Berry for one last Louisiana hoo-rah and whilst singing our hearts out we drove past all the murky swamplands with Texas in our sight. We maybe even spotted an Alligator here or there...or were they Crocodiles? I really wouldn't know the difference, but I sure as hell don't want to be close enough to either one of them to find out.

 Overall it was a great trip, even though it wasn't what we expected (though things rarely are). But we live and learn!

Next up: Texas Baby! 

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