My Mardi Gras experience was amazing at best, ridiculous at worst.
To save on cash we used a site called couchsurfers.com and found a creep who offered us space in his house. No, for real, he was an actual creep. More on that in a second.
Roundtrip flight and placement accommodations – $483. I’ll take it.
So here’s the deal on creep host:
I’m traveling with my boy John; friendship circa 2000. When we decided to use Couchsurfers we both started messaging a bunch of locals in hopes of getting a place to stay. John messages Alvin. Alvin denies.
Two weeks later- Alvin messages me. Our correspondence always concealed the gender of the friend that would be staying with me. He has no idea John isn’t the “Japanese” girl he thinks I’m staying with. Alvin, that’s just my profile pic. And neither Dana nor I are Japanese. So there’s that. You can imagine Alvin’s surprise when he finds out John is not actually the Japanese girl he was expecting. Whoops.
We climb into the back of his SUV limo to find an actual Japanese girl whose name of course I don’t remember, and a Vietnamese American 20year old kid from Kentucky named Allen. We learn they met yesterday though they seem they’ve been in love at least 2 weeks. Allen just sort of ended up in the car, and Alvin’s Japanese girl orgy is completely ruined.
We swing by the house, drop off our stuff, and head up Canal for our first experience of this holiday. Americans, beads, music, drinks. Beautiful.
We dip into Cajun Mikes right off Canal; a dive bar that seems to attract travelers-not tourists-Perfect. I order the red beans and rice with sausage, John gets jambalaya with sausage. And though we wait an hour for our food, the tall, lanky New Orleanian made it worth our while. Cajun Mike’s is so bomb! I’m gonna confirm them having the best red beans and sausage, and I loved the “Cochon De Lait” Po’boy which I never actually heard of until Mikes. I still don’t know what it officially translates into but I got a baguette stuffed with pulled pork, mayonnaise, pickles, hot sauce and French fries…and trust me the ingredients together do not make it sound appetizing, but something told me to get it and I did. And it was incredible.
Get some Hurricanes to go, and go.
People are lined up and down the block, camped out, music in the streets. What is happening?!
Drink, walk, familiarize yourself with the French Quarter layout and then hit Bourbon Street. Oh, Bourbon Street; filled with bars selling their specialty drinks. More specifically Tropical Isle’s “hand grenades”, Willie’s and Fat Tuesdays for frozen drinks, and anywhere for “hurricanes”. The grenades are the best. 2 or 3 and you’re ok, but I prefer the one-hitters myself.
It’s impossible to miss the crowds of people occupying the balconies overseeing Bourbon as they toss down beads for the bead peasants. And if you want the big ones, you have to earn them. I trust that I’m making myself clear enough for you all.
**If you want big, exclusive beads, you MUST earn them.
We arrived the Sunday before Mardi Gras aka Fat Tuesday. Just the beginning of what was to come. So, naturally and strategically, I began the hunt for my beads. Singing, dancing, drinking, watching live performances from one venue to the next all down Bourbon Street. You get good beads a couple days before the parade. Think about it, you’re giving them their first showings.
Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) consisted of the same shenanigans from Sunday, we just got to start earlier.
We hit the French Market (a must) and shopped too far and too long. Performances by the river have the crowds moving (not a surprise anymore), and the best shops and restaurants are closing early for the Mardi Gras holiday. So timing your food consumption from the key places you’re looking to eat is essential. We drank and got more beads before hitting Fat Cats around 5pm for live jazz covers, and hip hop ass shaking. Grenade in one hand, now drop it like it’s hot!
Too bad it starts raining on our parade. Raining badly. So grumpily we walk back to our room…45 minutes away. That’s ok. Tomorrow is Mardi Gras. The fattest Tuesday.
Parades begin a week before Mardi Gras, and locals can argue over which parades are the best, but the most people will be out for the parades on Tuesday. We head over to Orleans Ave in Treme; claimed to be the first African American neighborhood. It’s lined with locals’ barbequing, dancing and drinking in celebration of ZULU.
Starting from the end of the parade benefits your bead collection as the floats will have lots left in stock looking to give it all up. However, as antsy as we were, it was impossible to stand and wait for each float. So we walked towards the beginning of the route, and stopped by each float along the way to mingle, flirt, and beg our way into Beadom.
Eventually there are no barricades and you’re walking right alongside a float trying to get attention for beads, toys, panties, but most importantly, coconuts. Only a handful of coconuts are given to parade goers, and almost impossible to get. Of course we got two apiece.
The end of the Zulu parade left us with custom beads, coconuts and a multi-ethnic American dance party in the middle of the block.
When I say the entire city is down for the party, I mean it. LED lights on the bus which would usually read the destinations, instead displayed “it’s carnival party time!” and cops are completely disregarding radio calls on unidentified African American males smoking marijuana to indulge in good times. It really is a beautiful thing.
Although this blog focuses on the Mardi Gras holiday, please don’t disregard the history that shaped the New Orleans of today. There’s so much to learn, so much to see and much more to eat. You just have to see it for yourself.