For my alternative spring break, I chose a mystery trip. I handed over my money and then I was on my way to my destination – small town located an hour outside of New Orleans.

Monday: Day One
Today we met our contractors for Habitat For Humanity. Rob and Tony were also from our area in Pennsylvania and were easy to get along with. They explained what Habitat For Humanity was and the process the applicants go through to obtain a home. We then went on a tour of the three houses we would be working on throughout the week. The group got to tear down drywall in one house, repaint the ceiling trim in another, and scrap paint off the other house. They provided lunch for us – homemade southern barbeque ribs!

After work, we went exploring around the nearby town. Our first stop was Laurel Valley, the oldest surviving sugar plantation. Many of the old buildings are still standing, alongside old tractors and nonworking farm machines. There was also a museum and several farm animals to visit. The old man running the plantation was extremely nice and walked us along the property. Next, we went to an old library to listen to a local Cajun band. They let me hold one of their accordions and play a few notes. It was pretty cool. We ended the night by going out for dinner at Bordeaux N’ Thibodeaux. There we ordered fried frog legs, gator bites, and seafood gumbo with crawfish. The frog legs were not my thing.

Tuesday : Day Two
We started the morning removing more drywall and removing more paint off the floors (the past group was a bit messy!). Lunch time came around that we ordered the day before. Our meals came from a place called Cajun Potato, everything you order comes loaded on top of a baked potato. I had a jambalaya potato, it was really good! After lunch we began repainting the doors and trims of one of the houses and quickly cleaned up before the rain began. We had tacos for dinner, something easy after our first long day. It rained off and on the rest of the night, so we didn’t make any plans to leave.

Wednesday : Day Three
We only worked a half day. They wanted us to explore Louisiana and have fun during our stay here. We were here on our spring break after all. During lunch, I found out both of our construction managers were from Pennsylvania! Talk about a small world! Tony had a connection and sent us on a swamp tour for the afternoon. We loaded up in the van and drove truly into the bayou. We had absolutely no idea where we were and had very little to none cell service. The address was a cute little home with a hand painted sign that said “Torres’ Swamp Tours.” We were in the right place. A couple in their late 70s came out to approach us. Obviously not many cars came down their road, they automatically knew we weren’t from the area. The first thing out of Mr. Torres’ mouth was “I musta gone to Heaven with all these angels right here.” He definitely had the Cajun twang. Mr. Torres had grown up on this part of the swamp. His family had owned the land for five generation. He told us he grew up in the swamp, swam in the swamp, hunted in the swamp, and would die in the swamp. He walked us across the street and we boarded his pontoon boat. Immediately, he spotted a group of baby gators. None of us could spot them until he pulled closer. We were amazed at his eyesight. We had no idea how he was spotting anything. During the tour he talked about growing up on the swamp and how grateful he was for us helping Habitat down here. He also knew every single fisherman we passed and would tell stories of their fathers and grandfathers he knew. He was truly the sweetest. About halfway through, he pulled out a bag of marshmallows. He threw one towards a small alligator and it immediately chopped down. The gators went crazy for them! It was the coolest thing!  If you’re near New Orleans, GO ON HIS TOUR. He’s the sweetest man and so knowledgeable. It definitely made the experience.

Thursday: Day Four
Habitat for Humanity gave us another half day today. They wanted us to visit New Orleans! We had also accomplished more than they thought we would during our first few days on site. We headed for the city, a little over an hour away. We were told to stick with a buddy and were released to the city. We walked along the French Quarter, stopping in shops and listening to street performers. We visited Bourbon Street and made a stop at Cafe Du Monde for beignets (we obviously had to be a little touristy!). The city was beautiful with its historic architecture. For dinner we ate at Bubba Gump – which was my first time in one of their restaurants. I wish to visit the Alabama location one day! When it got darker, we walked along Bourbon Street again. It’s just a street full of bars with an endless amount of intoxicated individuals. Being a group of girls, we had college-age boys throw us beads from the balconies, asking us to flash them. We didn’t but at least we were able to keep the beads! On the way home, our adviser ran over a raccoon. She stated it survived, but we also hit it with a 15-passenger van. The raccoon became a running inside joke the rest of the trip (and to this day!).

Friday: Day Five
Today was our last day with Habitat for Humanity.  The local Corvette club came by early in the work day to visit us and begin making dinner. Home-made jambalya from a giant kettle. A majority of the club members had lived in the area for a majority of their lives. They couldn’t stop thanking us. They couldn’t believe a group of college girls would give up their spring break on a beach to help out in Grey, Louisiana.  We continued to wash the volunteer houses and warehouse as they prepared our lunch, wanting to feel like we actually deserved all of their generosity. It was a bittersweet day to know this way the last time we’d be working with Rob and Tony on the houses. We would also have to say goodbye to Miss Michelle, who always made sure we had home-cooked meals for lunch and that you ate more than you should have at each meal. (How can you say no to a sweet southern-lady?)

I had left Sunday morning with no clue what to expect of my week.

I came home Sunday afternoon with absolutely no regrets. My week had been unplanned and unknown to me, yet I enjoyed every moment. The experience was amazing and gave me the chance to interact with other students who I never would have met. With graduation so near, its a little upsetting to know that I’ll never have another amazing service trip like this.

Though I may just bother our adviser to see if I can come back as an alum!

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