Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day 3, Driving down to Venice, LA

Day 3 - New Orleans to Venice, LA

Barry had always wanted to drive as far south in Louisiana as he could get. Well we did just that. After breakfast. About 3 blocks from our hotel is a restaurant called Café Beignet. It was obviously convenient, but we didn't realize at the time that the beignets were FAR better to our tastes than the much more famous ones at the Café du Monde, which we tried later. The beignets here, served three per serving, are like fried raised doughnuts on the outside and cream puffs on the inside, and they are covered with confectioner's sugar. I had mine with New Orleans café-au-lait, a steamed milk mixed with coffee and chicory. Strong but really good!

We drove down LA Route 23 to Venice, which calls itself "The End Of The World". The road was 4-lane divided and completely flat for nearly the entire 81 mile length. We followed the west shore of the Mississippi, and as we approached the village of Empire, we crossed a large bridge. From the top, we were looking out into the Gulf of Mexico, and all we could see was water with little bits of swamp land and bayou as far as we could see.

Throughout the trip today, we noticed damage from Katrina. Buildings which were not built on stilts didn't survive for the most part. A new motel is a collection of FEMA-like trailers. Katrina actually came ashore at Port Sulphur, LA, which is exactly 2" above sea level. With a storm surge of even 2 feet, everything would have been flooded. At Pointe a la Hache, the storm surge hit over 14 feet before the gauges failed. In coastal Mississippi, only a bit higher above sea level, storm surges reached as high as 26 feet -- and the whole area is only about 5 feet above sea level. No wonder, we were told, all the casinos along the Mississippi coast filed for bankruptcy after Katrina!

Reconstructed buildings are nearly all on tall stilts -- even the South Plaquemines Parish Middle School. Those which weren't on stilts didn't survive, for the most part.

When we arrived in Venice, certainly not a traditional tourist spot, we saw evidence of the oil industry. Helicopter pads were everywhere, Oil rig parts, pipes, all the equipment needed by the hundreds of off-shore drilling rigs, were everywhere.

And then we found the Venice Marina. And the shrimp boat fleet. And Crawgator's Bar and Grille. Not even a sign outside to indicate that it was a restaurant, but were we pleasantly surprised. The wait staff was friendly and talkative, and didn't mind being asked all kinds of questions by two tourists. This is the spot from where deep-sea fishing takes off, and the successful bring in their catch to be filleted and packed fresh on the spot. The food (shrimp, of course) was wonderful and the onion rings were first-class.

On the way back we stopped at numerous spots on the road, which as I said, was only inches above sea level. If this area had Maine's tides, it'd be under water 12 hours a day!

We photographed cypress swamps, egrets, the water, everything one would expect, and not, of the gulf area.

A car in the bayou, and the "Avalanche", a ship that capsized during Katrina, are both still there.

One of the really sad aspects of Katrina was the cemeteries. In this part of Louisiana, burials are all above ground because of the high water table. So coffins are placed in above ground mausoleums.

When Katrina came ashore with 140 mile per hour winds and 14 feet of water, these mausoleums were often smashed, and the coffins are floated away. Sadly, many will never be found.

And so we returned to New Orleans, having completed one of the major goals of the trip -- driving to "The End Of The World."

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