The Great American Road Trip: New Orleans
// June 17th Austin, TX → New Orleans, LA //
The alarm went off way too early, but I rolled out of bed into the stuffy hostel room and attempted to put in my contacts and do my makeup in the dark without disturbing the snoozing guests. Sadly, this hostel didn’t have breakfast, so we ate oatmeal packets from our car stash and hit the road. Whenever I have my own hostel, I will FOR SURE have breakfast, even if it’s just toast and peanut butter. Otherwise, I start my day disappointed.
The drive was long, passing along the Louisiana coastline, and pretty uneventful right until we got about an hour outside of New Orleans. Traffic piled up for as far as I could see and the GPS announced there was a twenty minute delay. All types of cop cars and ambulances rushed ahead. As we inched past the center of the action, we saw a car completely smushed into the barrier, to the point that the drivers side door was touching the passenger side. We carried on, even more conscious of the road.
The freeway narrowed to two lanes in each direction as we entered miles and miles of suspended bridgeway above the bayou. There was murky water on either side of the highway and dark green mysterious looking trees hanging their feathery branches close to the water. The New Orleans skyline came into view, including the massive sports arenas, and the road dipped into urban street blocks as we navigated through the neighborhood to a street parking spot right in front of the hostel. We were greeted by two girls working the front desk in the parlor, one named Meg who had worked at the Las Vegas hostels too. The hostel was an old mansion with a grand staircase leading upstairs and enormously high ceilings. We dropped our bags down in our four-bed room, greeted our roommate and chilled for a bit while settling in.
The sun went down and we wandered outside to the patio for the nightly pre-game party. The hostel staff guided our hodgepodge group of Aussies, Brits, and Americans through a game of King’s Cup while more and more guests joined in the festivities. Soon we were debating over Australian gun regulations, wanderlusting over a Canadian riding his motorcycle from Toronto to New Orleans, and cheering on a girl from Tasmania every time she lost Never Have I Ever. We were all joking around and enjoying each other’s company as if we’d known each other for years.
Eventually, the staff led our rowdy group out of the hostel and to the streetcar, which was had been in operation since the early 1900s. Our party continued on the street car and along the city blocks around Frenchmen St, where each bar had a different live jazz band blasting music to the street. Our large group broke off into smaller groups with each bar we went to. We ended up at a fantastic bar with a live big band screaming into their instruments and dancing on stage and throughout the crowd. It was exactly what I wanted to experience for a New Orleans night out. After the crowd-shaking performance, we separated from the group and walked around to Bourbon street to witness the madness. We wandered through the sleepy dark neighborhoods in between Frenchman and Bourbon St and imagined the lives of the people that inhabit these quaint, tree surrounded, balcony porch-adorned homes with stately columns. The smell of vomit started to waft through the air, the shouts grew louder, and soon our quiet neighborhood stroll turned into blocks and blocks of rowdy bars and beverages sold by the fishbowl. Shiny plastic beads were everywhere–in the street, hanging from trees, swinging around the necks of men and women drunkenly swaying from bar balconies. People were everywhere, stumbling around the barricaded street. We took in all the carnage and drunken debauchery, and hopped on the streetcar back to the hostel in the wee hours.
// June 18th NOLA //
Morning came all too soon as we rolled out of bed and met with the hostel owner, Robert, for a morning interview out on the patio. Beer cans and red plastic cups surrounded our table, as a tribute to the festivities of the night before. We talked for hours in the hot sun about his hostel and the inspiration he’s gotten from his mother, who opened up a motel in Montana all by herself. His passion brought him back to New Orleans to create one of the best hostels in the United States. His perspective about sharing information and helping all hostels for the sake of the industry was refreshing. After our chat, he invited us out to lunch to experience the local cuisine. We continued our conversation over traditional greasy and delicious Po’boys. I ordered an incredible sweet potato fry sandwich with meat gravy and fried pickles. Oh and sweet tea, of course.
Robert took us on a tour of his city, around the massive reservoir, past his favorite park, and through the charming historic houses of the Garden District. We hopped out at the Lafayette Cemetery to stroll through the crowded rows of mausoleums. They use these instead of gravestones, since the city deals with large amounts of flooding. Our stroll took us back through the quaint neighborhood and out to the trolley tracks, lined with plastic beads hanging from trees, poles, and all other possible surfaces.
After some laundry and chilling at the hostel, we took the streetcar for a joy ride around the city–the lazy way to take in the sites. Our route passed under the tree canopy by Tulane and Loyola and row after row of balcony adorned houses. On our way back in the other direction, we looked down a street and witnessed a huge commotion with crowds of people. We hopped off the train at the next stop and went to explore and find out what the fuss was about. We followed the sound of shouts and brass instruments until we found ourselves among a crowd watching a parade with floats loaded with men and women dressed in all their Sunday best, sipping on drinks and dancing to the music blasting from their speakers. Music was coming from every direction, interrupted only by the cheering crowd, the roar of a badass female motorcycle crew, and the rolling wheels of coolers as people set up makeshift bars out of their Igloos and truck beds. Despite the fact that we stuck out as the only white people there, we joined in the festivities and danced along with the rest of the crowd next to the floats for blocks and blocks. I saw a father get up on a building overhang and do a dance routine with his little son, dressed in matching outfits. Apparently this is a weekly thing, and every Sunday after church, the neighborhood organizations get together and celebrate.
After the parade ended, we headed back to the hostel for round two of drinking games on the back patio. This time, we led the games because the new hostel staff had no control over the group and was trying to play Cards Against Humanity, which doesn’t work with a group of twenty backpackers trying to get drunk. Kings Cup was much more our speed and soon enough everyone was laughing and cheering like the night before. The hostel staff led everyone out to a local venue for some live music, but it was in a sketchy area and miles away from the hostel, so we were content with eating savory cheddar and bacon beignets and walking back to the hostel.
// June 19th NOLA → Kingsland, Georgia //
We had another long day on the road ahead of us, so we had an early breakfast, snapped some photos of the hostel, chatted with the owner and said our goodbyes. But, we didn’t leave New Orleans without trying their famous “chicory coffee” at a local cafe on St Charles.
For some reason, whenever I took the wheel it was POURING rain, especially when we crossed into Florida, after passing through Mississippi and Alabama. The windshield wipers did their best to frantically keep up, but visibility was no more than five feet ahead. Even with the hazard lights on, it felt safer to move at a snail’s pace than to pull over on the side of the road and risk not being seen. The sky was dark and ominous as we pulled into a rural Walmart to replenish our supply of canned veggies, chili, and bread. We treated ourselves to fresh prepared salads, which felt like a feast compared to our tinned meals. This whole time we were stressing about the idea of setting up the tent in the pouring rain and sleeping in the miserable dampness. The rain let up to a drizzle for half an hour as we rolled up to the KOA and raced to put up the tent and battle the ravenous mosquitoes during the quick respite. We wandered around our new surroundings and discovered we were the only tent on the property.
As if the weather didn’t make the day depressing enough, this campsite was in sad shape. The “petting zoo” was populated with caged chickens and a feisty goat. The residents of the property seemed to have been living in the RV park for way too many years. The rundown outdoor lounge reeked of fish, because someone had left a decaying skinned fish in the sink. The “game room” was a terrifying wood paneled room that smelled like there were dead bodies hidden under the warped pool table or inside the pixelly arcade games. The mosquitoes were unrelenting in their attack, so we gave up and ate our pre-made salads inside the stuffy sweltering car, picking the lesser of evils. I braved the showers because I couldn’t stand the stickiness and then ran to the tent to avoid getting even more bug bites. So hot. so sticky. Rained overnight. Bleh.