Our Halloween began with a scene out of American Horror Story. Our Lafayette Airbnb creaked and moaned all night, cats mysteriously appeared from nowhere and then disappeared just as quickly. An inaccessible outhouse looked mighty menacing. I half expected a creepy clown to appear in the window with a devilish smile.
We were staying in Lafayette, the centre of Creole and Cajun culture in the US about 2 hours drive out of New Orleans, or NOLA if you follow the colloquial reference. It was a slight deviation from our travels south on our meandering Mississippi road trip from Dallas via Memphis. Our reason for the detour was to get up close and personal with some large reptiles. Why a crew from Australia needed to travel half-way across the world to see alligators when we have man-eating crocodiles in abundance is a very good question.
Basin Landing, Atchafalaya
We had hooked up with Basin Landing based in Atchafalaya who had an airboat running awaiting our slightly late arrival. An airboat is a flat-bottomed boat with a massive engine and an even bigger fan used to propel the boat over pretty much anything the Bayou could throw at it. We climbed aboard, put on our much-needed ear muffs and tore into the swamp. Despite the, now duller, roar of the engine the Bayou was quite a peaceful place. Birds flying this way and that. Trees and mangroves permanently semi-submerged and a littering of trunks of trees left over from extensive logging that once occurred in the region.
We cruised through many natural canals seeing fish flop into the air and birds dashing out of our way as the behemoth of the airboat ploughed through the water. The canals narrowed gradually as did the speed and we floated into a still pond. At about the same time a few floating logs up ahead dipped their noses beneath the water. Alligators. We edged closer and soon a number of these large reptiles came swimming over with the promise of a meal, hopefully not us. The Alligators initially thrashed about but soon were quite playful after their initial feed from our more than competent guide. Eventually, he was able to stroke their chins and even lift them up slightly by their jaw.
Halloween on Bourbon St, New Orleans
With swamp tour done and all fingers and toes intact we were on the road to New Orleans, the Big Easy, another one of the many colloquialisms applied to this party town of the south. Being a Saturday, 2 days before Halloween, the evening in town was expected to be in full freaky swing. Our road trip party of five had become 7 with the addition of Canadian friends Jen and Ken. Our attention now turned to get kitted out for a night with the ghosts and ghouls. With blood spatter, make-up, wigs and outfits sorted we were suitably attired for a night out.
As an Aussie I felt a little overdressed in blood to feel like I would be allowed anywhere in town, although it was too late, Uber was on its way. Our driver into town had a 5-seat pick-up truck. He was happy though for our overflow to sit in the back! So here we are zooming on the freeway into New Orleans with zombie’s, evil doctors, witches and others recently deceased looking bodies hanging out the back of a pickup truck!
Arriving into town we realised very quickly we were not alone. Everyone was in fancy dress, and the streets were packed with goblins, ghouls ghosts and it was through the zombie apocalypse had actually just occurred. This was Bourbon St in the French quarter which is where I expect most people end up when visiting New Orleans. Yet, on Halloween, there was no other place I think in the whole US of A you would want to be to experience an American style Halloween. I know there is a massive parade in New York City but this was the people’s Halloween, where anything and everything goes!
We had sketched out a rough pub crawl and moved between places meeting fellow ‘undead’ along the way. It was actually more entertaining in the streets than in the bars so we followed the lead of many others and took our frosty drinks into the streets. From there the night took over and we essentially went with the flow getting pictures taken with random strangers in random bars in random poses. Many a surprise to see on camera the next morning!
On the actual day of Halloween, we took a trip out to the nearby Whitney Plantation which was central to the slave trade of the mid-1800’s, a different type of horror story altogether. A quite sombre but insightful tour of a Plantation explaining the conditions and status the slaves were exposed to. A unique viewpoint being that no one person or group were responsible for slavery. It was an industry that everyone participated in. Also that after the slave trade laws were abolished the inequality continued and still continues today. The access to education and basic services limits the development of any group to gain a sense of freedom and equality.
Haunted House Experience
Having not had our fix of horror just yet, we went to a deserted industrial area in the outskirts of town, in the dark of night, in New Orleans! As we approached what we believed to be the entrance, zombies appeared from behind some parked cars and chased us down the street. All part of the fun! While waiting to enter the house we were entertained by street performers swinging from ropes attached to hooks embedded in the flesh of their backs! All the while some graphic horror movie clips were screening along with a pyrotechnics show full of sudden explosions. Quite the sensory overload for an already hectic weekend workout for the senses!
Into the haunted house and it was a fright a second as we made our way through room after room of freaky scenes with ghosts, zombies, axe murderers (you name it) looking to attack us at every turn. Along with the lighting, creepy sound effects and also the official police officers posted at regular intervals made it quite the existential experience! So we felt a suitable way to end our Halloween in New Orleans.
Writing this post has me on edge once again but also reflecting on a very full and action-packed adventure to the deep south and experiencing Halloween USA style, a festival not as celebrated or recognised in Australia yet it’s a great experience and an easy way to blend with the locals, even if they do have blood oozing out of their face. An experience that will pleasantly haunt you for many years to come!