Fat Tuesday—the last day of Mardi Gras—always gets me thinking about a trip I took to New Orleans several years ago with some girlfriends. By bus. (If I could offer just one piece of travel advice, it would be this: Don’t take a bus from Toronto to Louisiana.)
Common sense should have told us better than to venture on a cross-continent bus trip. And after thirty hours, five McDonald’s stops, and a 26er of duty-free vanilla vodka (don’t ask), I felt like I had abandoned my sense of adventure somewhere near the Windsor border. Our bodies ached from being in cramped quarters, and our bus mates were grating on our nerves. But then, we arrived in New Orleans. Which is when I realized—if I could offer just two pieces of travel advice, the second would be this: No matter how miserable the ride, the destination can make it all worthwhile.
On Bourbon Street, streamers and twinkling bits of confetti were flying through the air. The buildings—all pastel pinks and yellows and blues—were adorned with beautiful wrought iron, curlicued balconies decorated with strands of tacky purple and gold tinsel. Swarms of people decked out in feathered masks and boas filled the balconies, some of them hanging far over, trying to touch the crowd below. As we wandered, I realized that two-by-fours had been propped up underneath, in order to prevent the platforms from collapsing under the incredible weight of the over-capacity crowd.
The crowd on the street was so tightly packed that the road itself appeared to be moving. A clammy humidity from the Mississippi River blanketed us, intensifying the closeness of everyone and everything. We had been warned of the dangers of New Orleans – Mardi Gras is a pick-pocket’s haven – yet we never once felt unsafe amidst the throng of strangers. Rather, the claustrophobic confinement made me feel safer than I’ve ever felt walking the streets of Toronto.
We worked our way through the mass, stopping every few feet to talk, flirt, and collect falling beads. My right palm stung from the slap of crayon-coloured beads, while the left was numb from my icy Hurricane (a New Orleans speciality that tastes like a bucket of rum mixed with a shot of #6 red food colouring).
Sounds of jazz poured out from the smaller pubs, while the pulsing beat of Top 40s pop blared from the bigger clubs, and above it all, the oh-so-classy cries of “Show us your tits!” from the balconies above. It was hot and sticky and crowded, loud and overwhelming, reeking of booze, sweat, and humidity, and a disgrace to women’s rights. But, drunk on atmosphere as much as from the sugared rum, I was loving every minute of it.