Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Orleans Anniversary Trip: Saturday Dec. 15 2007

While Bernie and I were getting beignets on Friday, we checked out tour plans. Lo and behold, the tour ticket agent was Karla Boullion, my tour guide from my last NO trip. I had just been telling Bernie what an excellent guide she was, then we walked over to the ticketing booth, and there she was.
She had injured herself fixing up her new home, and was doing booth duty until she was well enough to lead tours again.

I asked her what tour was the best option, and she recommended the Honey Island Swamp tour.

That was exactly the tour I had in mind, so we booked it for the next day.

Running into Karla was like running into an old friend!
So....on Saturday we snoozed in a bit, then headed out. A bus picked us up at the hotel, and drove us almost to the Mississippi border. We saw several of the neighborhoods that had been underwater during Katrina. The guide told us only 10% of the neighborhoods are now inhabited. FEMA trailers were to be seen as well as the blue tarps on roof tops.
They were regular looking neighborhood, except all the windows were either gone or boarded up.
We had to go inside the gift shop...I LOVED the Christmas garland and wreath made from local materials.
Pine cones, Spanish moss, and red berried branches.
I should know the name of the green stuff as we have it growing in our yard.

Isn't the Spanish moss mysterious and lovely at the same time?

We headed inside for air conditioning and gift shopping.
I loved the colorful collage of Louisiana themed refrigerator magnets.
A coffee mug told the Legend of the Spanish Moss.
This "Legend of..." stuff is getting to be pretty popular in children's literature.

Overhead the sky was crystal clear blue, with no wind. The moss dangling from bare branches...I wondered what it looked like when there were autumn leaves on the tree.
We got aboard the boat, and discovered we had a little female anole along for the ride as well.
You can see one of the Katrina search spray paint markers on the piling in the center below this house. It had been underwater at one point.
Anole rode alone....hopping on people, running along the railing.
Our first alligator sighting.
Look at your left, just below the vegetation touching the edge of the picture, from the island. It is a little six foot long female.
There are a few on the beach area as well, but they are harder to see.
The big males are already hibernating.
Close up of Ms. Anole. Love her white pearly back design. Notice that here she is brown. She was quite fearless. Watch her riding along here.
I'm happy....
Bernie's happy....
Under the bridge we go. The bridge will open; the concrete block is lowered as a counter weight to draw the bridge open.
The boat wove through small water passages.
The other people in the boat were from Spain, Sweden, Korea and Uruguay.
I had never felt the world to be as small as I did after finding out where everyone else was from.
Just pretty...
The water was often covered with water lily. We glided right over it.
Two more gators. One on each end of the horizontal log. One on the left is in profile, the one on the right is looking straight ahead. Alligators are rather docile, unlike crocodiles which will stalk and attack.
Yup, alligators are basically lazy critters, devoted to sunning themselves and eating turtles, ducks and fish. They have to be at 70 degrees minimum to digest food, that is why these girls are enjoying the day. They are small enough to heat up; the bulls are already on the bottom of the swamp hibernating because they can't heat up their big bodies as fast. Once the air temp drops, all the gators head to the bottom of the swamp for winter.
The guide didn't expect to see any gators out; the next day the temperature dropped from low 80's to the low 40's. Our timing was good!
Another gator....there's at least two million gators in Louisiana.
Close up of the plants covering the water. The leaves are about the size of a clover petal.
Honey Island Swamp got named for the honey found inside the hollowed out cypress trees.
It was a gorgeous sight wherever I looked.
Hey there, Gorgeous!

Spanish moss is so dreamy looking.
Our guide Nolan showed us processed Spanish moss. Moss was harvested, soaked in water, then beatened to remove the grey covering, revealing a filament that is a hard as horse hair. It was actually used as "horse hair" for stuffing in the original Model T Fords and also for weaving blankets during the Civil War. It really felt just like horse hair!
I always thought swamps would be smelly like stagnant water, and with tons of mosquitoes.
Actually, since the water is gently flowing, the air is incredibly fresh and there were no bugs. The guide says mosquitoes are actually rather rare in the heart of the swamp as there is little standing water.
You can't see it, but there was a gator swimming across our water trail in the picture above.
It was all water under the plant covering.
I learned that a swamp is water covered forest floor, and a marsh is water covered meadow.

The cypress is shedding its rust red tiny feather like leaves. Cypress live to be thousands of years old, and the wood will not rot. All the French Quarter houses were built using the cypress back in the late 1700's-early 1800's. Most of the really old trees were harvested at that time.
Our guide Nolan: A real live Cajun. He was Kelly Ripah's family's guide a few weeks ago. He said he didn't have a guide shirt that day, and actually was wearing an extremely dirty tee shirt when he was called upon to lead the private tour.
Isn't that always the way?

Cajuns are of French heritage. They left France, moved to Arcadia Canada, then were booted out for refusing to pledge to the English king, so they came to New Orleans back in the early 1700's. They have their own foods, language, music and culture. Cajuns are especially known for making their living fishing and hunting.
This is an ancient cypress that has been struck by lighting. The lighting halted its growth, but the tree then forms the thorny appearance. This particular tree has shown up in a lot of movies, including Interview with a Vampire. It is a landmark within the swamp.
The area was so serene and so quiet , it was hard to imagine a film crew set up there. Honey Island Swamp is a nature preserve, so great care is taken when ever it is entered for any reason.
A squirrel nest far above us. One of the advantages of going in winter; in summer all the trees would be in full leaf and it would be more difficult to see the birds and the distance.
Ms. Anole has switched her brown color to green now. It never ceases to amaze me how fast they change color.
The gently running water is muddy brown, as the soil is clay based. There is no bedrock in Louisiana, the soil goes 40 feet deep, so the water always has a brown tinge.

A pretty little red berry bush in the middle of the swamp.
Rather Christmasy, don't you think?
As soon as the tour was over, a wind kicked up. By the time we were back in our room the wind was gusting at 35 miles per hour. We could hear it howling, and watched the storm cloud bands move in from our hotel window.

Time for our Anniversary dinner.

This night we checked Fromers for a rating before going to The Bourbon House for dinner. I had the quail; everything on the menu was fabulous!
After dinner, we walked around the French Quarter again.

The hotel lobbies were all so beautifully decorated for Christmas!
A fairy was posing on one street corner.
I got sprinked with fairy dust.
A magical way to end the evening, don't you think?
Today, December 18th is our actual anniversary date.
You may see our wedding pictures here.
Thirty one years it has been for us.
And we are still having fun.


Laura said...

Happy Anniversary!!! I loved the virtual tour, thanks for taking me along for the ride. Cute anole. Cute Mommy, cute Daddy! I can't wait to see you on Saturday! (P.S. can you send your itenerary?) Love you and have a wonderful day. Your anniversary present is here waiting for you. So is Meowsie. He said he'd make a throw up painting for you, but I told him that would be alright, Tigs probably has already gotten that for you!

Lovella said...

Happy Anniversary Jill and Bernie. I haven't looked at your wedding pictures, I'm saving that for a treat in a bit.
Your swamp tour looks fascinating. I didn't remember that alligators hibernate. Wow, as usual, I've learned an interesting tidbit. Thank you.

running wildly said...

What a lovely time it looks like! I had no idea squirrels had nests. Why I didn't know that.....I have no idea.

The photos are breath-taking. And what a drastic change from serene swamp (hee hee) to glamorous hotel in one swift swoop. It's lovely to see a seasoned married couple still enjoying one another.

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad, I love the pictures. You described the trip perfectly. Looks like you two had a perfect day too! Looking forward to seeing you guys later this week...Until Then, lots of love....


Amy Letinsky said...

Happy Anniversary! I love seeing couples celebrating their marriage and having such fun in the process! Great pictures! I've never been to New Orleans, and now I feel that I've had a great introduction! Thaks so much for being our tour guides.