Saturday, September 26, 2009

Street Views of New Orleans

I am still back in my list of blogging topics because I have been very busy with school and other mundane activities. Anyway I shared my experience of the swamp tour in New Orleans, now let me tell you a little about the roads and what I saw around there. First of all I didn't travel much of the city except for the downtown areas. So I don't know what the suburbs look like and my opinion of downtown New Orleans is definitely not great... this is one of the rundown cities in the US that I have visited. The roads are narrow, potholed, there is the tram that still runs, like in Kolkata, the city seems heavily dependent on tourism. This is city is quite like any big city in India, one can see abject poverty as well as extravagant opulence. Fancy flyovers and highways, but narrow roads within the city. Dirty sidewalks especially around the Bourbon street area. Skyscrapers overshadow small homes and generally it is obvious that there is a lot of poverty in the city.
Our host was telling that earlier he would walk to his work which is just a mile away. He stopped doing so because every day he would be accosted by at least 3-4 dirty, grimy, beggars (pan-handlers) asking for a Quarter (25 cents), food, etc. They would not beg but rather ask/ demand. Now he drives the distance or takes the tram. Here are some pictures I shot while travelling in the car check it out and let me know what you feel?

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Appealing Customized Gifts

Buying a gift for that special person in our life is relatively easier than deciding on one item for a 1,000 people. For example how would you decide on a giveaway for your school fundraiser? Jewelry, make up, etc would be too feminine, sporting goods would appear too boyish and gift cards too impersonal.

While recently trying to decide on prizes for a fund-raiser for a non-profit I volunteer with I hit upon this idea of giving away embroidered custom tote bags for all the volunteers and special contributors. That is when I found this website which offers several customized products. Embroidered shirts, hats, promotional items and a wide array of different products. The best part is I didn't have to step out of the house to get the products. I just visited their website and placed the order online, a few days later the products landed up at home just as I expected. The quality was superb, colors were as shown and everyone was simply thrilled.

Wild Partying in New Orleans

It is long overdue but then I can't resist sharing the experience of our visit to the wildest party place I have been to. Bourbon street in downtown New Orleans is a place where all the good things are available... Booze of all types, brands, and blends flows like water from then hands of pretty damsels, burly bartenders and also stripped up gays and male strippers. The narrow street comes alive only after the rest of the city sleeps. This is the place where everything not available in the morning hours becomes readily yours for a price. There is music, dancing, drinking, smoking, both male and female strippers... and of course a homosexual part of the street too.

We parked in a multi-storied parking lot and walked the rest of the way into Bourbon street. As we entered the street we were welcomed by the blaring blues and jazz music which spilled out from the bars. Touts were holding placards and yelling "3 for the price of one" or "2 for the price of one" etc to attract the patrons. Some even tried to block our way and herd us into their bars but we politely pushed our way forward into the depths of Bourbon street.
One thing I must say is that this street has lots of musical talent. Every bar/ nightclub has a live band playing and their music is really fantastic. We stepped into a bar which was playing blues and enjoyed their soul-stirring performance for sometime. I was particularly impressed by the saxophone player's versatility to sing and the play the sax with equal elan.

As moved deeper into the street of pleasures I was surprised to see a fairly large gathering of devout Christians with large placards "Jesus loves you", "God loves Gays" and shouting slogans against the bar culture in the street. Ironically not many of the visitors were even giving a second glance to the boisterous group and were minding their own business of enjoying booze, music, and everything else available.....

The next part of Bourbon street was certainly the wildest and perhaps a tad bit scary too. The past two years in the US I have seen scantily clad women and girls everywhere... in the streets, on college campuses, in cafes etc. But here it was quite the opposite, women seemed to be fully clothed but some men on the other hand were stripped down to the bare minimum. Leather underwear, chains, mini skirts, and what not... to see fully grown men wearing so little clothing was a bit of a shock. Surprisingly this part of the Bourbon street seemed quite neglected by the city authorities, there was litter piled high along sidewalks, beer cans, plastic bottles, paper, and all kinds of trash was strewn around. Street lights were few and far between.. perhaps the government doesn't like homosexuals...

We had had enough by then so we retraced our steps along the street to our car and headed to a nice Chinese restaurant to grab a vegetarian dinner before heading home to sleep. Almost all the eateries on Bourbon street served alligator meat and prided themselves in their seafood offerings with very few or no choices for grass eaters like us.

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Own a Motorcycle? Get great parts here!!!

Motorcycling or biking as it is commonly known is not as simple as buying a two-wheeler off the shop and riding it on the road. It is more like a sub-culture with enthusiasts spending enormous amounts of time and money to customize their toys before riding them on the road. Few of the enthusiasts went one step further and promoted businesses in this area. At one point of time getting the right sport bike exhaust was a challenge. But now thanks to the internet and several websites there are thousands of different motorcycle parts which are easily available. Bike enthusiasts need to just go online order and then customize their wheels. There are special accessories for big brands like Harleys, Sport Bikes, Goldwings etc. The community of riders who ride cruisers and customize them is completely different from those who ride sport bikes. Online communities cater to all the genres of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Swamp Tour - II

Continuing from where I left off...
The guide gunned the boat deeper into the swamps through the channels passing adjacent to a large brackish water lake/ lagoon where shrimp farming is being practiced. As the boat lurched in the shallow waters of the swamps the guide explained that the water appears brown not because it is dirty because of the presence of a bacteria which stains the water. It is surprising that there were homes along the water channel and some had the most common sign I have seen in the US... "FOR SALE". There were speed limit signs for boats with warning of prosecution for violations, law enforcement everywhere, good for the local residents. Wish there was similar enforcement for alligators to prevent them from attacking humans :) and another law to make gators to voluntarily come forward to get culled :)...

Speed Limits on water too....

Large bird looks majestic and beautiful

I saw numerous birds such as cranes, egrets, ducks, an occasional eagle flying past ignoring the noise and spray raised by the boats as if it were their daily obstacles. The vegetation/ mangrooves became thicker as we ventured deeper into the swamps forcing the captain to slow the boat almost to a crawl as we passed an oil well which pumped away the black gold from the depths of the earth. Evidence that there is no corner in the earth which has not been explored and exploited by some greedy human being.

Duck with its chicks on a pier

An oil well in the swamps... quietly pumping away

After more lurching in shallow waters the captain stopped the boat and started shouting "oup... oup... oup... oup..." rather loudly. Initially I couldn't quite understand why he was yelling, but it soon became evident that he was trying to attract some wild alligators. Soon a few alligators were sighted around the boat and they started swimming towards the noise. The captain took out a bag of marshmallows and threw one into the water which was immediately grabbed by a hungry gator. Several gators came up as more marshmallows were thrown into water. The guide jokingly also said that if one of us wished to swim with the gators we were welcome to jump overboard.

Going deeper into the swamps... supposedly wild and unchartered territory

Gator coming for Marshmallows

Gator poses for a picture

Our tour guide playing with the Gator...

That's me handling the baby Gator...

We left the place and got back into the main channel after playing with the gators for some more time. The real surprise awaited us here. The tour guide produced a small one-year old gator and allowed everyone on the boat to carry it like a pet and get a feel of it. The yearling looked like the garden lizard but only more scaly, rough skinned and lazy. The baby gator didn't open its mouth, I wonder why... the guide mentioned that it usually doesn't open its mouth and bite but if it was suitably irritated it would. None of us tried to make it open its mouth was we passed it around. The last part of the tour was a fast boat ride through the channels, the twin-engine passenger boat showed its true power as the guide gunned it towards the pier. It churned up frothy waves and created a line of white as we sped towards our destination where we ended our short swamp tour.

Waves formed by the boat

As we disembarked from the boat the captain stood by the door gratefully accepting the tips handed out to him by passengers. There were boards all around the boat and the ticket counter which read "Tips accepted and appreciated"... Well that is how marketing is done I guess... instead of asking just say it...

What I must say here is that the guide did a good job in showing us the important sights around the swamp, gave us the true gator experience and even let us handle a year-old gator. He was funny and his narrative absorbing and never overbearing or overly seeking money. I think this kind of a positive attitude will generate lot more revenue than outright solicitation of tips.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Swamp Tour in Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana thrives on tourism related industries. Swamp and Plantation tours, night clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, trinket stores, Native American and Cajun burial ground tours, etc are frequented by visitors, thanks to entrepreneurs offering these locations as attractive tours. I have always been an outdoors and adventure person so we decided to go on a swamp tour across the Barataria Swamps on a covered boat.
As we waited at the boat pier for the tour to start, I was surprised by the number of alligator products that were being sold at the souvenir store. Slaughtered gator heads for $15-35, Gator claws as back scratchers for a few dollars, gator skin, etc. It gave me an uneasy feeling in my stomach to see that these regal reptiles were being farm-bred for human consumption not only as meat but as these souvenir samples. We human beings often refer to wild animals as wild, cruel and savage etc, but I am convinced that it is the other way round. It is human beings that are cruel and not the animals. For wild animals it is a question of survival when they attack humans, but for us it is often pride, an urge to show off, etc that drives to attack animals.

Gator head for sale!!! Can humans get any more barbaric???

After a few minutes our tour-guide came and hollered for all of us to get into the boat. The guide was a tough-looking bearded man with a great sense of humor. He started the tour by saying that "Alligators are cold blooded like most women," and introduced us to the waterways on which we would be traveling and also the surrounding habitations where Cajuns of the Bayou continue to live amidst swamps. I was amazed to know that the waterway we were on was actually man-made, it certainly didn't appear so. I am pretty certain lots of slaves labored on this project and many perished too.

Man made water channel; amazing human endeavor!!!

As the tour progressed the guide pointed out a 2000 year old Native American Burial Mound adjacent to a Cajun cemetery and a small Fishing village!

Cajun cemetery and the Native American burial mound

The fishing village was particularly interesting because there was a large building on the wharf into which a drunk had plowed his speed boat. The wrecked boat and the broken building had been boarded up awaiting renovation. As we slowly ambled on, I saw several species of wildlife such as birds, turtles, furry animals, and of course a number of small to large Alligators or simply Gators.

The fishing village where a drunk boat driver had rammed the building!!!

Here are some pictures, but wait there is more to the tour... will blog in the next post.. including how we handled a 1-year old baby gator and fed large adult gators with marshmallows and more.

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