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New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: A Travelogue

From March 12-20th, I had the privilege of traveling with some of my cohort to New Orleans

and the Louisiana Gulf Coast for a Medill Explores trip. This is my story.

Over the years, I’ve traveled quite a bit in the US; from family vacations, to road trips with friends, to conferences. I have basked in the California sun while in LA and San Diego, reveled in the feeling of like a tiny speck when surrounded by the grandeur of New York skyscrapers, and enjoyed chatting with friends while driving through the long winding roads of the Colorado mountains. However, nothing could have prepared for the unique life of New Orleans.

– First Night in New Orleans

The first night was kept free for us students to enjoy the city, which was our time to truly let loose. We were lucky to live a few minutes walk away from the French Quarter, a place in New Orleans known for its historic colorful buildings, rich night life, and Cajun food.

The first evening was spent walking around, taking pictures of the gorgeous architecture, eating Cajun food (which included a generous helping of fried alligator bites! Which curiously enough, tastes just like popcorn chicken!)

– Boat Tour around the Delta Marina

The next day, we drove down to the docks to take a 6-hour boat tour around the Delta Marina. We all went on an open-air oyster boat, which given how windy it was that day, did send some shivers running down our spine, but taking in the beauty of the places we saw, and our captain’s informed commentary of the areas we covered, and the rapid disappearance of wetlands due to factors such as oil and gas pipeline construction, oil spill and hurricanes, made up for the cold because we came out of the trip, more informed about Louisiana’s natural diversity.

A special highlight of this trip was that we got to stop and watch some oyster farming live in action, and try a taste! And can I just say, once you’ve had a taste of the freshest oysters from the marina, no shellfish from the fanciest of restaurants will ever compare!

– Port Forchoun and Learning about the BP Oil Spill

The next day we got to learn a little more about the BP Oil Spill and the environmental issues Louisiana faces, and connect with environmental journalist Sara Sneath and former BP Oil employee Leo Lindner, by driving up with them to see Port Forchoun.

– Meeting the Indigenous Tribes of Houma

The fourth day was probably one of my favorite days of the trip because we got to drive up to meet some members of the indigenous tribes of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, around Houma, LA, namely the Pointe-au-chiene tribe, the Grand Caillou/Dullac Band and the United Houma Nation.

I always loved journalism and what I do, but that day was the day I truly realized why I had to become a journalist. Because the stories we heard were unbelievable.

These were people who had lost their homes during the hurricanes, had their schools destroyed, had to relocate and fight to rebuild, and to get the resources owed to them.

And yet, they were some of the kindest, most hospitable people we’d known. They were tired, yes, but their spirit and love for their community prevailed.

And that got me thinking of how we often get caught in our own bubbles sometimes, bogged down by our first world problems, but there’s so many people who genuinely have to fight to survive. It’s time we actually take the time to learn about stories and cultures other than our own, and ask what we can do to help.

– Rounding off the Week with Weekend Parades

The next few days were a whirlwind of activities, from touring the Lower Ninth Ward and the Mississippi River levee, to visiting the Healthy Gulf office to learn more about Louisiana’s environmental issues and the work they do to preserve coastal life to seeing some of the community gardens of New Orleans.

We also got to watch the Mardi Gras weekend parades, which was a colorful gala of dancers, marching bands, and crowds of joyful people. My friends and I also manage to snag some free Mardi Gras necklaces, graciously thrown down to us from the parade floats!

-Heading home with Warm Beignets

Our last day was filled with one last tour of New Orleans, where we had our last taste of delicious gumbo: a popular stew in New Orleans, made with seafood or chicken and sausages, rice, and bell peppers and onions, as well as some cajun spiced fried food, something we got to eat every day! My favorite food continued to be the fresh oysters because literally nothing compared to that.

Something we had heard of, but did not get a chance to try were the famous Cafe Du Monde beignets . Beignets are fried dough balls, sprinkled with powdered sugar, typically taken with a cafe au lait or a hot chocolate. My friends and I had resolved to try some but with our busy schedules, we didn’t manage to get time to try beignets until the last day. To our dismay, when we eagerly arrived at Cafe Du Monde, there was a long line extending up until the end of the street. So we accepted our fate and turned to leave for the airport after finishing our sightseeing.

In an act of serendipity, when we arrived at the gate, we were informed that our airport actually had a branch of Cafe Du Monde. So we did not have to go home beignet-less but instead got the chance to grab a beignet and a hot chocolate for the plane.

Reporting in general is an intensive, time consuming process, but when you understand the larger implications of the stories that need to be told and the voices that need to be amplified, it all turns out to be worth it.

For more insight on my NOLA experience, listen to my podcast:

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