Incredible New Orleans: Audubon Park

Last week I realized that I’d lived in Uptown NOLA for 2 months and really hadn’t explored the neighborhood. I knew my way around pretty well, but there were so many places on my to-see list. I’d been putting it off for weeks, admittedly hoping I’d get someone to do it with me. Like many other mid-sized cities, New Orleans can be neighborhood-centric. You live in the quarter, you go out in or near the quarter. None of my old or new friends lived in the neighborhood so I’d end up hanging out with them elsewhere. Still I longed to get to know my neighborhood. ‘Tomorrow’, I’d tell myself.

Then tomorrow came.

Last Monday, I received a Facebook message from my close friend, Dorothy inquiring, “How would you feel if I showed up on your doorstep tomorrow night?”. I replied, “um, that would be AMAZING”. And the next night, there she was, standing outside MSY. It’s awesome to have spontaneous friends with airline points. Aside from my excitement to see her, I was extremely excited that I would finally have someone to join me in exploring the neighborhood. I’d recommended she bring workout clothes so we could go for a few walks in this park I’d heard about. So, the next morning, we chugged water (it was a late night), laced up our sneakers and headed to Audubon park.

I’ve been to a lot of beautiful city parks but what we found when we arrived was a tranquil urban dreamscape.

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Majestic live oaks, centuries old and blanketed with Spanish moss, cast shade on the 2 mile jogging path.

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The path loops around a lagoon, in the center of which is Ochsner Island aka Bird Island, where hundreds of birds nest, including various species of Herons, Ducks, Egrets and Swans.

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As we walked the path, marveling at the beauty of the park, Dorothy spotted something other than birds wading in the Lagoon.

Turtles.

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You may not know this but I am a little bit obsessed with turtles. I chose the hotel for the last day of my Central America trip based almost entirely on the fact that there was a turtle pond. Discovering that there were turtles at Audubon Park was way more exciting than I’d like to admit.

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The lush green oasis also includes a rolling golf course, soccer fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, a pool, and a zoo. It’s the perfect place to go for a run, have a picnic, read a book, or just sit on a bench and reconnect with nature.

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The beauty of Audubon Park has motivated me to exercise everyday since just so I can bask in it (and visit my turtle friends). I feel so at peace when I am there. My thoughts slow down, I am mindful of each precious moment. It is my free meditation retreat.

And guys, there are turtles.

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Dear New Orleans: A Love Letter

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Dear New Orleans,

First let me say, Happy Belated Anniversary. It’s been a year and 3 days since I first laid eyes on you. I still remember how my eyes widened and my heart pounded as I took you in. I knew immediately that we were meant to be.

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Once I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Or talking about you. Or plotting how we could be together again. Admittedly It took a lot of hard work. There were times I got frustrated, or second guessed our love. But I always came back around. When your heart knows, it just knows. The day that I got accepted to Tulane was one of the best days of my life. Not only did it mean that I’d finally be able to achieve one of my professional dreams. It also meant that we’d finally be together.

I had the time of my life during my 81 days in Central America. I met amazing people, made incredible memories and grew in countless, priceless ways. But, when I thought about the end of the trip, I wasn’t sad. Because I knew that although I was leaving behind such a great experience, I was coming home to you. 
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The past two months together have only strengthened my dedication to you as I’ve gotten to know the real you. Not the you that drunk tourists want to be with. Not the you that parties in the streets night after night. No, the you that is so beautiful, I sometimes lose my words.

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There are so many adjectives I could use to try to describe you. Warm. Welcoming. Confident. Funky. Sexy.

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But words don’t do you justice. You’ve been through so much, I wouldn’t blame you for being a little bitter or resentful. But your heart is open and your spirit is resilient.  Your past has made you wiser. Your weaknesses have made you stronger.

I’m far from perfect and so are you. There are things about you that can sometimes make life a little more difficult. Yet, given the chance, I probably wouldn’t change them. Your flaws give you even more character.

Plus, I’ve already learned to drive slow when the road gets bumpy.

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Love always,

Me

 

 

 

 

Days 49-51: Livingston, Guatemala

This is the 4th time I’ve sat down, determined to finish a blog post. New Orleans (and it’s wonderful inhabitants) have a way of offering up enticing distractions. But I will keep trying. I’m going to attempt to finish up my travel posts, considering I got back over a month ago. So, without further adieu…

After a crazy speedboat ride from Belize, we arrived in Livingston, Guatemala drenched but grateful to be unharmed. A fellow passenger remarked that he made the trip regularly but that that ride was “the craziest it’s ever been”. Lucky us.

We began our way up the hill to immigration, eager dock boys lapping at our feet.

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dock boy, far left

For the uninitiated, dock boys are the boys (and in this case, men) who wait at entry ports for tourists then try to lead them towards hotels that will give them a commission for new guests. They followed us all the way to immigration, hounding us the entire time. “What’s your name?” “Where you from?” “Stay at [hotel] it’s real nice. Good price.

I take you there!”

It’s annoying and exhausting, especially after a long day of travel.  And they don’t even help you carry your bags.

(Not that you should ever give your bag to a stranger. Don’t)

After a lightning quick immigration process, we made our way back down the hill, dock boy lapping at our heels. I already knew where I would be staying if they had vacancies, and I informed him of this. Still he marched in front us and as we approached hotels, acted as a marketing representative for each one. “Real cheap!” “This place is brand new” “Lots of backpackers there”

Our intended destination was a bit of a walk from the town but he stuck with us like a shadow. At one point, as we trudged along, I asked him if he was our bodyguard. He grunted in response.

We finally made it to Casa Rosada, the highest rated Livinston hotel on Trip Advisor at the time. Luckily they had several rooms available. After an exhausting journey, I was eager to check in and drop my heavy bags. But first, I had to get rid of our shadow.

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The dock boy/man had followed us all the way to the reception, yammering on nervously about the perks of the hotel. Once cash was exchanged for the room, he began muttering about his “services”, not so subtly implying that I owed him money. Tired and annoyed I inquired what exactly I owed him for. For following us to the hotel? The hotel that I had already been planning to check into? For making the long trek to the hotel even more tiresome with his creepy nervous energy? Much appreciated, bro. Safely on hotel grounds, I declined his offer and he slinked away. While I understand that these men live in deep poverty and are trying to make money, I’m not going to support harrassment. During the trip there were dock boys who were genuinely useful in finding a hotel and who were compensated by that hotel (and by me). Following tourists who repeatedly tell you they don’t need your help is not behavior that should be encouraged. :End of rant:.

There isn’t much to say about the two days in Livingston. I walked into town a couple times but it was mostly just your standard tourist shops and a couple restaurants. The population was a mix of Garifuna, afro-caribbean, mayan and latin residents. I didn’t find them to be particularly friendly, as in some tourist towns, mostly they just went about their business. The parts of town I saw weren’t particularly charming or interesting. In fact, since Livingston was my first taste of Guatemala, I was nervous that the rest of the country was going to be a disappointment.

One thing in Livingston that was not a disappointment was Casa Rosada. It had lush, well appointed grounds, adorable rooms and a beautiful view of the Rio Dulce.  It was such a calming, almost dreamy location. I spent much of the two days there lounging on the outdoor sofas with my cat friend, admiring the view.


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The days were warm and sunny until around 3:00 when the skies would darken and the drizzle would begin. It rained off and on for the remainder of the evenings, sometimes a light mist, sometimes a roof pounding downpour. I was completely unprepared for this change in weather, clothing-wise. But after a hot, sticky, rainless month in Belize, I wasn’t complaining. I also made a new friend at a local restaurant. This is Erica.

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Don’t let the smiling picture fool you. Shortly after this was taken,  I glanced down and noticed she’d shat on my thigh. Thanks, amiga. Then, after attempting to eat my hair, she climbed onto my head and could not be persuaded to get down. I began to panic slightly as a bird with loose bowels is not my preference for a hat. I calmly attempted to extract her without disturbing the group of Israeli tourists dining beside me. She simply squawked and threatened to peck my hand. Finally I walked into the kitchen and had the owner remove her from my head before her next anal explosion.

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So to review, there was a parrot in a dining establishment, defecating on diners which I then brought into the kitchen where meals were being prepared. Health and safety codes are a little more lax in Guatemala. (And the pizza was damn good.)

Livingston isn’t somewhere I’d recommend for more than a few days but if you’re passing through, Casa Rosada is definitely worth checking out. Please send my best to Erica.

 

Wi-finally

I’ve been in NOLA for a month and, without home wi-fi access,  I’ve been burning through my cell phone data plan like a forest fire. Today finally, Wifi was installed and I can start to release the blog posts that have  knocking around in my head.

Right after I finish this margarita…