by Christina Moon, F10
Day 1: We have our first classes sitting on a levee right on the bank of the Mississippi then head across the street to an old plantation with gorgeous old live oaks and Spanish moss everywhere. Next stop – Zam’s Swamp Tours in Thibodaux, LA. It’s hard to describe the scope of things you will find at Zam’s. We take a pontoon boat ride down through the bayou, spotting gators lying in the swamps on either side of us. Back at headquarters, there are pythons, goats, rabbits, geese, snapping turtles, and more gators to look at! They let us hold some of the smaller guys, but beware of their oldest and by far largest “pet”. One of their experienced trainers hops in to give us a demonstration, but I’m fine staying behind the fence and being awed from a distance. After such a full day, some yummy chicken and sausage gumbo and a good night’s rest at our home for the week, LUMCON (the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium), is just what the doctor ordered!
Day 2: Grits and biscuits for breakfast – we are eating authentically down here. And we need the energy for a canoe expedition to the marsh to check out the ecology and geology of this area. Everyone and everything gets a little muddy in the process, but we manage to take a sample of the core of the land here. The probe sinks down about 15 meters, which is equivalent to around 3,000 years of history! A field trip to a local shrimp distributor is the highlight of the afternoon and we watch the catches being offloaded from the boats and travel down a long conveyer belt to be weighed and packaged. After dinner, tonight is for dancing! The Jolly Inn, located in Houma, LA, has a live band playing Cajun music that is lively enough to get all of us up on our feet for a little waltz, two-step, or line dance.
Day 3: Our first stop on the way from LUMCON to Grand Isle is a quick look at Port Fourchon. Usually a bustling seaport with significant petroleum industry traffic from offshore Gulf oil platforms and drilling rigs, today it is quiet and there is little activity in the area. This is our first hint of the changes that both 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and this summer’s BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill have had here. Our host in Grand Isle is Mr. Chris Hernandez, a senior town official with strong ties to the community. He shares personal stories with us and even invites us to visit him home – he is a truly incredible and generous man. We also meet the mayor of Grand Isle, Mr. David Camardelle, who tells us about what kind of actions are taken each time a devastating storm hits Louisiana. We learn that these occur quite often and that rebuilding is the theme of the town. We head down to the beach, shovel in hand, and start digging in search of oil. It doesn’t take long to find it – only about one foot down you can see the stains on the sand. You can smell it, too, and also pick up tar balls that have washed ashore and have a tacky, sludgy texture. Oil rigs are visible in the distance and right in front of us is the harsh reality that the oil spill troubles continue. We end our day on a festive note, however, with a delicious blue crab dinner! They are piled high on the table and accompanied with lots of sausage, corn on the cob, potatoes, hot sauce, and napkins!
Day 4: On our last day we head to New Orleans! A walkabout reveals the rich history of the city and plenty of character. We have some free time to explore the French Quarter, Bourbon Street with its jazz halls and nightlife attractions. There are flags hanging from nearly every storefront, many displaying the symbol of New Orleans, the fleur-de-lis, and boasting of the Saints’ recent Super Bowl victory. I suggest the legendary Café du Monde for a quick snack – their menu offers coffee au lait, hot chocolate, and beignets – that’s it! Beignets are square pieces of dough, friend and COVERED with powdered sugar, and they make Café du Monde famous. Then it’s time for a trip down the Mississippi River aboard the Natchez, a steamship. Watching the great wheel churn through the water, it’s amazing to think about how many people used to travel this way. We, on the other hand, are headed back to Mystic tonight by way of airplane, but our trip to Louisiana has given us a glimpse of what seems like an entirely different world, even though we have only traveled south within our country. There is a unique sweetness to the lifestyle down in Louisiana, a strength and passion among its residents. They are resilient and forever hopeful, even amidst the hardships that have hit them recently. This trip serves as a reminder for us that the difficult times still continue, but Louisiana will survive as they always have to stand as a beautiful and inspiring place.