New York 3

Katrina and Sandy

The stories from each city are horrific but as different as chalk and cheese. From the other side of the world we watched but struggled to understand.

Two areas in New Orleans come to mind, the superdome stadium and the convention centre. The stories from the superdome are tragic and we felt for the people at the time but we didn’t know the context.

To get to New Orleans from Baton Rouge you drive over long bridges across the swamps. When I say long I mean tens of kilometres long. When you drive any significant distance in and around the city you do so on elevated roadways. They are everywhere. They are draped like spaghetti around the stadium where the world saw all of those people stranded for many days. There are on and off ramps (effectively boat ramps into the floodwaters linked to the rest of the USA) that are 150m from the stadium. People have said they were stopped from using them to take supplies to those trapped at the stadium.

The convention centre is on the river bank not far from where I put into the Mississippi. We drove past looking for access to the river before settling on a point in the French Quarter. The road is higher there and did not flood. You can walk from the convention centre to the bridge that crosses to the other side of the river and is connected to the elevated road system. Many people gathered there hoping to get a lift out. Some walked to the bridge only to be turned back. Military vehicles and police drove the roadway. Some people were shot.

Accounts from both places almost beggar belief but it is difficult to check their veracity. Human stories, acts of kindness, tragedy and despair abound but let’s just look clinically at the situation. There was terrible flooding where the levees failed but in most areas the water was not flowing significantly. After the hurricane it was just a flood, something that millions of people in the world deal with on a regular basis. So what happened, how do you get such a monumental failure in systems?

Now switch to New York. Superstorm Sandy belted the East Coast. It flooded the subway system. Waves crashed through all of the low areas near the river. All the people I talked to on the water reckoned their boat houses had about 1.2m of water in them. It stopped the city for five days. Go to the coast and houses were washed away. Boardwalks and other infrastructure finished up in the Atlantic. Most has been rebuilt less than three years later.

You get the feeling that Sandy was bad but New York is resilient and organised. Occupy Sandy was formed immediately and started relief work using the Occupy Wall St networkk You simply can’t evacuate a city of that size anyway. After ten years the effects of Katrina are obvious. After three years the effects of Sandy are not.

What is the difference? Is it an example of rich and poor, haves and have nots? Maybe strong arm tactics are applied more to the poor? Is it fear? I can’t answer any of those questions.

Perhaps this example, unrelated as it seems, might help. We have just had an invasion of Portuguese-man-of-war on the Jersey Coast south of New York. People are fearful of the water. The reporting uses words like “deadly”. These things are blue bottles, no more no less. After a few days nor’easter they are common on Australian east coast beaches but here they are a big deal.

Americans are taught to be fearful. They are taught to follow rules. Despite the fact that all the cops we met have been wonderfully friendly and helpful, they never step outside the rule book. Is it possible that New Orleans had many more poor people, or dare I say, black people and that fear resulted in a policy of containment?


Klaas    Hi, this is I, without a lie, waiting on a good old Aussie pie.

Almost back home, can’t wait to hug my Wolfie (and maybe some of you). As you probably already know, leaving New York after a three week stay on the 14th July on the Queen Mary 2 to Southampton via Halifax and arriving Sydney on the 25th, then Coffs Harbour and home the 27th.

Analysis of the six months expedition?. Overall a great experience, Steve did an unbelievable job in doing what he did. After living with him every day for six months I can honestly say that he is an outstanding human and unique in what he has done. I,who have always prided myself on physical performance admit he is a better man than I (In some aspects) Let us not go overboard. Hail, rain, cold, hot, he walked, paddled, kayaked some four thousand kilometres under extreme conditions, without complaining, sore, fatigued, but never down.

The media let him down badly but he never wavered in his goal bringing the message of Global Warming to anyone willing to listen. The man is a human dynamo. We are about to part company and go home while he will continue his quest, kayaking up the Avon, down the Thames, across the channel to France, up the Seine to coincide with the World Forum on Climate Change in Paris late November. I wish him the best of luck, good weather and hopefully finally acceptance by the public through the media about the issues he is passionate about .I am going to miss him as a friend and hope his dreams will be fulfilled.

We saw a great deal, about a quarter of the states in the US. A lot of preconceived notions proved wrong, eg US is a super power with highly developed technology, bullshit, half the time my phone did not work, pollution is bad, like signs along the mighty Mississippi warning you not to eat the fish you catch, chemical plants emitting a foul stench which the locals say causes defects in babies and early death etc. I personally had sore eyes for the time I was around there. A lot of motels were sub-standard. Especially in the Southern states a lot of poverty with lots of beggars on street corners. The gap between rich and poor very pronounced. The Northern states might have won the war but they did not win the heart and souls of many Southerners in Dixie land. Housing for the poor is nothing to write home about. Mostly consists of rectangular wooden structures like forty foot containers which they seem to plonk willy nilly on a piece of land. They are mass produced and I’ve seen thousands of them. No verandas, no gardens, no chickens or a piggy or two. In all the trailer parks we have stayed there are lots of permanents and a lot of itinerant workers use caravans.

The Southern states are like my country of birth, flat as a pancake. Once you come to North Carolina you see the changes, the scenery is magnificent and the living standard seems to be better, the further North one travels, and East, it seems to increase. One thing the Yanks excel in is roads. They are good, plentiful and very well sign posted. The under and over passes quite architecturally pleasing. Lots of hill billies in the rural areas as opposed to the sophistication of towns like Austin or Dallas in. Texas, New Orleans’ French Quarter. Baton Rouge I remember as grid locked traffic, Memphis is a city and if you can delete Elvis, another city on the Mississippi, etc. I loved the Outer Banks and Chesapeake Bay, the almost continuous city all the way to the jewel in the Crown, New York.

I love New York, alive, vibrant, exciting. Very expensive though and rip off tourist orientated. Lynne and I were wandering around and wanted a toilet.( A word the Americans don’t understand, one asks for the bathroom) We spotted the Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue and went in. Magnificent chandeliers and six thousand tons of marble floors, walls and staircase and a unique oval bar. I ordered a beer and Lynne had a glass of chardonnay. We visited the bathroom which was all gold plumbing, including the toilets, talked to the three bartenders, two Italians and one Bosnian and asked for the bill. $36.  Do you mind. That was one expensive piss.

Another day we hopped on the Red two decker “Hop on Hop off’ and went everywhere, Central Park, Harlem, Times Square, Broadway, China Town, little Italy, Wall street etc. Madam Lynne “Had” to see a live Broadway show of course. Old scrooge me wasn’t too sure about that but was over ruled (apparently females have either two votes or veto rights and we went to see the latest musical hit on Broadway called “Something Rotten”. Mind you, it was hilarious and I laughed a lot but still think it was not as good as “The Producers ” which we saw in Sydney’s Crown Casino and did not cost US$155= per seat. The St James theatre where is was staged seats 1710 people. Think of the money with two performances per day. I’m seriously contemplating going into show business.

On a whole, the food is crap. At best it’s mediocre Almost all food is deep fried and full of sugar. One of the highlights of the journey was the airboat ride on the great Bayou between New Orleans and Baton Rouge patting “Big Alfie”, 13’2″ of Alligator. Wandering through the Blackwater Swamp looking for Black bear and making friends with squirrels which are everywhere.

See you all hopefully shortly. xx Klaas

Lynne:     Well, my incredible journey is coming to an end. I had no idea what to expect, most of my impressions have come from what I’ve seen on movies and TV. I have to say that at times I have been disappointed in what I have seen and heard. We have sampled many different eating places along the way. The table service on the whole is poor. The African Americans are excellent in this area, efficient, happy, chatty. The food is deep fried almost without exception, 90% of all foods have added sugar and the shelves in the supermarkets are loaded with every kind of donut, cookies, cakes, sweets; cereals are no exception, aimed, it seems, at the young consumer.  So called muesli containing chocolate bits and one even with smarties mixed in. The only place I could see carrying good healthy food were organic food stores, very expensive. The only place I saw rolled oats. Our rv sites have on the whole have been excellent, especially the KOA, kamps of America, similar to our 5 star parks, however, the present one is abysmal. Cleanliness is non-existent but enough said, they are not the norm.

Having said all that America has been a wonderful experience, New York is amazing, full of life and soul. We have been through many beautiful areas, met many great people, had lots of fun. Steve’s journey was another fantastic experience for me. Total commitment to his mission, many very perilous situations, particularly on the Mississippi, tough going albeit by kayak, bicycle or just walking with kayak in tow, many in harsh weathers. It has been a pleasure to travel with him. We have had some funny experiences along the way and this trip will be long remembered. Julianne and Renate joined us at various times and were invaluable. Julianne will be joining Steve on his next adventure from UK to France. She is the navigator and I wish them good luck and safe end of journey. Don’t lose him Julianne!!!! He gets upset!!!