The night began, as it always did, heading to Atlanta. The fading sunlight and flying carlight carried us into the night on excitement and hope for the weekend before us.
My travel companions were two other English girls, a Dutch girl, and copious amounts of biscuits.
My Midnight Train to Georgia
The bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. We thought it was the Mississippi River, but we knew we were approaching NOLA nonetheless. The sunrise promised it.
We dropped out of America and landed in a sea of flying beads and semi-nudity. NOLA was like no place on earth, and nowhere does Mardi Gras like New Orleanians
The infamous Bourbon St, the place to be for sickly flourescent shots and swamp-themed bars. After a man in a parade put a garter on my leg, my friends and I pretended to be a bridal party for the rest of the day. We danced on stage in a club and took selfies with a stag do, giggling behind our hands at our own hilarity.
This is Conan. He’s a homeless artist who played harmonica for us, recited to us one of his poems and shared with us his joint and his home made moonshine (don’t try this at home , kids).
Conan’s art. I bought the second from the right. I lugged it across the city all night, cross-country when it was time to return to Knoxville, and eventually across the Atlantic Ocean when my year abroad came to an end. I love it, and I love to tell the story of the man who made it.
Conan’s bike seemed to be laden with most of his worldly possessions and guarded by this demonic skull. In the explosion of life and insanity that was Mardi Gras, this seemed perfectly normal.
One in a series of endless highlights from the trip: the man who introduced us to Conan told us he could get us into a parade – we jumped at the chance.
We threw every one of the beads we had collected that day at the crowd cheering and dancing all around us. We worked out how to dance and walk at the same time. We took turns helping to push the Doctor Who-themed float. We were IN a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans and we milked the story for all it was worth when we got home.
Waking up to alcohol headaches and excitement hangovers, we spent the morning at a swamp tour, where we could not have felt further away from the city as skeleton trees and buildings watched us float silently down the river.
We saw alligators just emerging from hibernation and fed marshmallows to the wild pigs and raccoons which crowded around our boat
Our last parade that afternoon was bittersweet – everyone was keenly aware of the rapidly approaching end of Mardi Gras and it hung in the air like smoke.
We lapped up the last dregs of street food and festival atmosphere as we wandered around the French Quarter, putting off going back to our hostel, putting off the end of our NOLA adventure.
Decorated in swathes of purple, green, and gold beads, we left New Orleans in a blur of sleeplessness and disorientation; the rest of America had ceased to exist to us while we were gone. We didn’t need to talk about how much we loved the trip, how much we would miss the place, we knew we would be back.