Doing Good While Traveling: This Week In New Orleans
This weekend I was in New Orleans for Jazz Fest – it was awesome. And New Orleans is definitely able to show tourists a grand ole time – just like before. Only, well, a little different. Katrina changed the people of New Orleans as much as it changed the foundation of the land. When everyone talks about the culture of New Orleans – the music and the food and the history – this storm is now a part of all of that. Everyone you talk to has a story.
It was my first trip back post Katrina. And I wanted to learn as much as I could about how things were now. I have to say that everything I’ve read and heard about New Orleans is true. New Orleans is very much ready for tourists to return. I stayed in the W on Poydras Street – just outside of the quarter. It was vandalized and set on fire after the storm. You’d never know. I walked along the warehouse district and Magazine street is thriving. The nearby Garden District’s gorgeous homes are still standing proudly. And of course the French Quarter buzzes around the clock. Bourbon Street shows no signs of Katrina whatsoever. And yet, the city still needs help.
Once you venture beyond those areas, especially if you wander to the lower 9th ward around the levee – what you see is astonishing. There are dusty roads outlining the shape of the neighborhood but tall green grasses grow where houses used to stand. Some places have battered structures on their plots but many don’t even have that. Even in the slightly better off upper 9th ward there are trailers outside many homes of the homes which remain uninhabitable. Those people are lucky because they’re able to salvage and rebuild. Many residents are still living in limbo or trying to establish their lives elsewhere.
The group I traveled with wanted to do their part to help a city that has provided us all with many a good time. So rather than just listen to music and go home we decided to spend a day volunteering.
What an amazing day it was! Not only did we learn about building (I’d never hammered together wall supports, made cement, or known what a dutch hip was) but we gave back. We heard a little about the family who would live in the house when it was complete – but we felt that we were helping to repair and rebuild a community that remains in tatters in so many ways. I hope that in some way we were able to make their lives better.
What struck me was how many other people came out to help too. On Monday, the day after a rocking performance at Jazz Fest Joss Stone got to work volunteering just like everyone else. You never know just what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet when you volunteer. I think the power of volunteering or doing good and tourism are a pretty powerful combination.
If you want to learn more about voluntourism check out www.travelocity.com/travelforgood. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the people of New Orleans who are rebuilding one house at a time.
My name: Amy is my name, but I'll answer to Ame, Ames or Aimee.
How I earn my keep: My beat is travel, but my passion is collecting stories from people I meet on the road.
Hotel I could move into: Must I pick only one?! The Palacio Duhau a Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires tops my list. For the stunning restoration of the palace and tasteful new tower that create a thoughtful intersection of old and new. Every public and private space captivates. I'd move for the grand Alvear entry as much as for the manicured garden. For the wine and cheese tastings, the dulce de leche, the art gallery, the flower shop and for all the careful attention to detail that went into creating a hotel that is transcendent. If I were to pick a hotel that most felt like me, it would be The Inn at the Manor in the Cotswolds. Oh, I could definitely live there curled up with a book in a leather chair in the bar or outside among the English wildflowers. If I wanted to live in a land far away, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater Lodge would make a unique home with a view of the crater floor from every room (including the loo!), sumptuous beds, endless roses and the most unusual neighbors - massive water buffalo who won't bother you if you stay close to your Maori guide.
If I won the lottery, I'd live in: A historic farmhouse with an enormous barn and hundreds of acres tucked into a small town in New England or a Malibu beach house with stunning views and the surf just steps away. On second thought, winning the lottery means I could jet from coast to coast and enjoy them both.
Favorite way to get around: By foot. Whether in the city or country, I find the best way to get to know someplace is ambling around to discover and sample the distinct sights, sounds, smells, and tastes a place has to offer.
View that took my breath away: Looking toward the sky in Arusha and watching black and white Colobus monkeys scramble among the treetops, jumping from one tree to the next, floating through the sky like a primate version of Superman. Monkeys know how to have a good time!
My most beloved place in the whole world is: The place I visited last. What can I say? I'm fickle.
Follow me on twitter @amyziff