"There is a house in New Orleans..."
In shops, on houses, clothes, walls, in restaurants. This symbol. It’s called the Fleur de Lis.
You can see it all across the Southern States. We flew through Alabama and Mississippi spending only a day in each state, so we’ve focused the majority of this blog on Louisiana. Check out the Southern States album here.
It’s a French style lily, and in 2008 the governor of Louisiana officially made it the symbol of the state. Named after King Louis XIV of France, Louisiana has a strong French heritage – however since 2005, the Fleur de Lis has come to signify the rebirth of Louisiana, and New Orleans specifically after Hurricane Katrina.
We spent two rest days in New Orleans enjoying ourselves – it’s a brilliant city, a real party town. In the image for this blog you can see us enjoying a local delicacy: “The Hand Grenade”. We spent time getting lost in the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, relaxing next to the Mississippi, and eating in the restaurants. Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 - although we remember it from the news neither of us quite realised how devastating it was.
New Orleans was particularly vulnerable as it is actually below sea level. After the levee system (flood defences) were breached, 80% of the city was flooded. That’s a city the size of Bristol or Edinburgh practically underwater.
It’s interesting reading more about it. Apparently the levees were of flawed design, which saved $100 million in the building, but due to the inadequate depth contributed to the flooding. The cost of Katrina was 1,245 dead, and an estimated $108 billion in damages. Read more here.
Not enough space to cover now, but another interesting fact: France used to “own” about a third of the USA before Napoleon sold it to Thomas Jefferson. There's more online, it's called the Louisiana Purchase.
Louisiana has had a tough year in 2016 as well with flooding, due to abnormally heavy August rainfall. This before and after video shows the extent of it. Our host in Lafayette, Karl, (the boyfriend, of a friend of a friend of a friend – not a typo) told us many of the flooded areas were not designated “flood zones”. As a result, people didn’t have the right insurance and so lost everything in the freak rains.
As we cycled through Southern Louisiana, the landscape becomes more industrial. The area thrives on sugar cane production, you can see fields and fields of it as you cycle through. It’s hot now, but in summer it must be near unbearable. Whilst riding by, we were imagining how hard it must have been for the slaves who worked in those fields back in the day.
Another big industry in this part of the state is oil. They’ve been heavily impacted by the slump in the oil price; similar to the north east of Scotland back home. Lots of people have lost jobs.
Some of the characters here in the “Deep South” are worth a mention. A gentleman approached us outside a Walmart. This is paraphrased a bit, but generally the conversation went:
“Where y’all from?”
“We’re from the UK, and we live in London” – (a bit of chit chat)
“Say, I can’t get my head around how you elected a Muslim Mayor”
“What is it that you can’t get your head around?”
“Y’all are so liberal over there. Y’all have open borders and are letting everything and everyone into the country. We have a president who’s doing the same and we got these Muslims and ISIS and all sorts coming in.”
“Hmm… Have you seen many ISIS members here in Louisiana?”
“Well, you can never tell these days. Here in the USA we gotta keep the freedoms which y’all don’t have”
“We’ve just arrived, so aren’t really sure what freedoms you have that we don’t – could you help us understand?”
“Y’all can’t own guns over there!”
We also met a lad who asked us about politics in the UK. After giving him a very brief overview he said:
“Well, the only politician I know from the UK is Nigel Farage and I follow him on twitter. I pretty much agree with what he says – and by the way congratulations on getting your independence from the EU”
On that same night we were meeting some friends of our host, and had an interesting chat about US gun culture. Genuinely, one of the girls said (in hysterical laughter, after a few beers and some weed):
“My Mum was cleaning her gun the other day… and it went off… and shot through the window pane!!! Hahaha!!!”
All this said, it’s worth clarifying that everyone we’ve met here has been extremely friendly, and these views don't represent everyone we’ve met. I suppose it’s just more interesting to write about:
Peoples’ opinions which are so different to what we’re used to at home
The fact people love sharing them so much, i.e. the guy outside Walmart. Can’t recall ever having a political debate with a stranger outside a Tesco!
The last week has been so far off the tourist trail, the most regular question we get aside from “where are you from?, where are you going?” etc, is “what are you doing here?”
Clearly not a lot of tourists come down these ways, let alone cycling. Aside from in New Orleans I don't think we saw another cyclist in the entire state. It seems as if some of the locals would be less surprised at a UFO sighting, than two Brits on bikes.
Living on the road, day-to-day is like nothing else. Each day we don’t know who we’ll meet and often where we’ll sleep. Sometimes we have contacts we can stay with. Occasionally we’ll find hosts through couch surfing, or warm showers (see last blog). More often, we ask people if we can camp on their ranch or yard.
Any of the above options can throw up hilarious situations. Here is literally the last four nights:
Thursday (27 Oct): Camped in yard of Johnna and family, Bayou Vista, Louisiana. Kindly invited in for pizza and Louisiana fried chicken.
Friday (28 Oct): Hosted by Dom, Couch Surfing, Lake Charles, Louisiana. Invited his mates round to meet British people. Stayed up till 2am drinking and hearing about gun culture (above).
Saturday (29 Oct): Kindly hosted by Latasha, Couch Surfing, Beaumont, Texas. Stumbled across an outdoor screening of Star Wars. Joined a Halloween party with a bizarre drag act. Then slept on floor of a slightly creepy house with cockroaches.
Sunday (30 Oct): Camped on Arian’s Ranch, Cleveland, Texas. We each had very brief introduction to horse riding and being a cowboy. Check it out:
We’re fully into Texas now. It’s very satisfying to look at the map and see we’re over a third of way across the USA. Though we are aware the desert and mountain stages are still to come...
Texas is the second largest state, after Alaska, the width is 790 miles, roughly Land’s End to John O’Groats. We’ve loved it so far, and are looking forward to a rest in Austin, and learning more about the “Lone Star State”.