“Hello?” I answered a call mid morning Thursday on the land line coming from somewhere in the French Quarter of New Orleans, LA.
On the other end a charming accent said, “Hello? This is Anne-Marie calling. We are four people from Amsterdam in New Orleans. We have rented a car and are coming to you for a wetland tour at noon. Will this work for you?”
I listened, intrigued, looking at the clock on the kitchen wall and thinking my boat is already in the water, fueled up and ready to go. I heard myself answering almost instantly, “Sure. That will work. Bring sunscreen, hats, water, and don’t use a GPS because you will get lost. Here is my cell phone number in case you get lost. Do you need directions?”
“Oh, no, we will find you. No problem. See you at noon, then ok?”
“Okay, sounds good.”
This should really be interesting, I thought as I altered my day to fit a 2.5 hour tour into the middle of it. It will be scorching hot at that time, was my next thought, but it’s a Thursday, so there won’t be a lot of boat traffic.
Around 11:30, I headed up to my boat, which was docked near Camp Dularge, and got everything ready to go. Headed to the marina and tied up to wait for my Dutch travelers. Around noon another charming female voice with a Dutch lilt said, “Yes, Anne-Marie here. We will be a little later than expected, about 15 minutes, we estimate. Will you wait for us?”
“Yes, I’m here, and I will wait for you.”
When they arrived exactly 15 minutes later, I was surprised to see two women in the front, and two men in the back of the rented SUV. When I approached the passenger window to show them where to park, a lovely blond, middle-aged woman reached across from the driver’s seat, hand outstretched and said, “Hi! I’m Anne-Marie the First, the one who called you to book the trip. And this is Anne-Marie the Second who called you to say we would be late.”
What charming ladies they were. I heard masculine voices from the backseat offering up names, but I told them I’d meet them when they disembarked. The men turned out to be Rene` and Sebastian, also with wonderful Dutch accents, who said they were only along as the luggage luggers, water bearers, and grocery shoppers, which I found very intriguing, indeed!
I’m usually pretty good at summing up people and their relationships with each other right away, and it helps if they tell me who belongs to whom upon introductions. As there were NO last names given, this was going to be a fun Matching Game for me as the trip wore on.
Before taking off, Anne-Marie the First pulled a copy of Lonely Planet’s Guide to New Orleans out of her travel bag to show me the page that listed my wetland tour. That is how she found me, and I had no clue that my tours were in Lonely Planet, but I’m really glad to be there. She said it meant to her that I was famous. Well, I’m certainly not famous, but it made me feel good to hear someone from across the ocean say so! She also said she chose me from other tours because I was a woman, and they are all about girl power. Well, I sort of gathered that from the guys being relegated to the back seat and carrying the bags.
I’m not sure of the typical personality that Hollanders are known for, but these folks were very friendly and outgoing, talkative, and full of life. And when we got on the boat, they loosened up even more, their “we’re on holiday” aura was just what this captain needed.
When I asked them what they were interested in seeing, Anna M. the First answered quickly, “We want to see beauty, birds, wildlife, and alligators. Can we see alligators?”
“Well, unlike some tours, I don’t feed the gators. What we see is strictly what we happen upon, because I have not conditioned them to come to my boat. This is not the best time of day to see most wildlife, because they are smart enough to be resting in the shade this time of day. But I’ll take you where we have the greatest chance of seeing gators.”
That sounded like a great plan to them, and once we were underway, they really let their hair down and started to enjoy what I soon found out was there final day of “holiday”. Rene`, the poor mistreated luggage boy, had been warned to cover his bald head with sunscreen to protect it from the strength of this south Louisiana sun. They don’t have a lot of sun in Holland; therefore, they don’t get tanned much AND they look way younger than their years.
So, Renee` begrudgingly applied a healthy dose of sunscreen to his head, and then Anne-Marie the First did the very difficult duty of slathering sunscreen all over his back. In the foreground is Sebastian taking a picture for their holiday scrapbook. Uh, I was only slightly distracted from my task of driving the boat and taking photos.
There was light-hearted teasing and joking amongst the four, which often included me in one way or another. At one point, I stood up so I could see over Sebastian’s head in order to avoid hitting crab traps, and there was Renee`, rubbing sunscreen all over his chest and six-pack. I jokingly said, “Renee`! Please STOP THAT!” to which Anna M. the Second scolded me saying,
“I just asked him (in Dutch) to please continue because we would not get to enjoy such a sight again until next year!”
They really had me wondering the dynamics of their relationships at that point, because honestly, there were no sexual undertones or overtones, there was nothing familial about these people, and they didn’t act like they were married couples, either. Turns out they are three psychiatrists who work in the same office, and Renee` is their able-minded (and able-bodied) Administrator.
They came to New Orleans to attend a “psychiatrist congress“, and they planned one extra day in which to get away from the city and do something fun. They chose to come down the bayou and take a wetland tour with me, and I am so glad they did.
We had a wonderful exchange of ideas about the differences in our countries, the similarities in the houses on pilings, the food in New Orleans, the unhealthy way Americans eat. It was interesting that “the boys did the shopping for this excursion” and they bought baby carrots, granola bars, apples, bananas, and a box of saltine crackers. They explained to me that the food in the French Quarter was not so good, and that they could not find fresh fruits and veggies in any restaurant. I guess no one bothered to tell them where the Farmer’s Market was located.
They shared their snacks with me, and when they opened the saltines, Anne-Marie the Second asked me if I wanted a “cookie”. I watched them as they, one by one, took a small stack of “cookies” and tasted them. I listened to them discuss the saltiness of the “cookies” in their native tongue. I enjoyed listening to them speak to each other in Dutch throughout the whole trip.
We spoke very little of the oil spill, which was fine with me. They didn’t want the usual educational tour that focuses on wetland loss and the causes; and when I got them up into the swamp, they were like children at an amusement park. I turned off the motor, and allowed them to drift into the magnificence, the sounds of the swamp surrounding us.
Being from a very large city, with very little sunshine, they were indeed in another world out there with me. It made my soul swell with great pride to introduce them to such a unique ecosystem and to teach them about the unique characteristics of the swamp.
When we arrived back at the landing three hours later, they seemed very pleased with the tour and Anne-Marie the First said she planned to write an email to Lonely Planet letting them know what a great tour this was and very much worth the drive out of the city. For that, I was very, very thankful. She then said she would have her secretary copy the listing from the book and email it to me so I could see just how famous I really was! That made me laugh.
All in all, it was a much-needed break for Bayou Woman from the tension of the you-know-what. While the Hollanders were very appreciative of the beautiful scenery made possible by the wetland tour, I was likewise very appreciative of the scenery they brought with them from Amsterdam . . .
Still enjoying a BP FREE Holiday!