Much as I could easily have stayed a week sipping cocktails and listening to jazz in the languor of New Orleans, we needed to move on and make up time, so we headed West towards Texas, stopping first at Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans’s Garden District. This was the famous graveyard where the original settlers of the swamp city in the 18th century buried their many dead, with whole families being decimated by yellow fever.
They were mostly French and German Catholics, and went in for extravagant family mausoleums (burying bodies below ground is a bad idea in a swamp that is prone to flooding), many of which are now crumbling. This makes for an atmospheric place that has been heavily used in many ‘Southern Gothic’ novels and adaptations, and that feels pleasingly creepy.
Bayou boat ride
Before bidding Louisiana goodbye, we stopped at Jean Lafitte (named for an 18th century pirate), where we had booked a boat tour of the bayou with Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours. Our guide was an old Cajun who knew the bayou like the back of his hand, and pointed out a variety of wildlife in the swamp, including egrets, turtles and alligators. Apparently there is a problem in the bayou of marauding wild pigs who were blown in from farms during Hurricane Katrina, but we didn’t see any of those!
At the end of the trip, we were surprised with an appearance from a young gator who is being cared for (he will be released back into the bayou in September) after losing the end of his tail to a turtle bite. He was quite co-operative and we were all allowed to hold him (his mouth was temporarily taped up to prevent any inadvertent finger loss). I’d never held a baby gator before, and although I’m not sure whether this is really best animal welfare practice, it certainly was fun, and he didn’t seem too bothered by any of it.
After leaving Jean Lafitte, we headed back West on my least favourite road (the Interstate 10). Luckily, it had narrowed to two lanes and was much more driveable, until, just as we switched and I started driving, another storm blew in! So, once again, I had fun driving on the god-forsaken Interstate 10 amidst fork lightning and sheet rain. We had intended to make it to Houston, but given the weather we decided to stop a little earlier, in Beaumont, and make up the rest of the difference to Space Center Houston in the morning. We stopped for dinner at Steamboat Bill’s a drive in restaurant and definite local spot where I had a shrimp etouffee, another regional speciality. Loving the food so far in the South; loving the evening thunderstorms less!