"Que te vayas con el rio"
So says John Ruskey, and in effect, I can say that the river Mississippi is now within me 'a vitam aeternam'.
The sunset near to baton rouge
Before I start this article, I'd just like to thank John Ruskey – who graciously lent me the canoe and all the material which went with it, and above all his experience and good vibes. My encounter with John and the river Mississippi was unforgettable. THANK-YOU John. Next, I'd like to thank Layne Logue, Mike Beck Christopher Staudinger and his family who let me stay and shower! Oh! What pleasure it gavce me to have a shower after 5 days of canoeing!
Sunrise on the mississippi on my little island.
The navigation of the river Mississippi, was quite frankly a seminal part of my voyage. It has always been a child-hood dream of mine, that I have now realised. I love the adventures of Tom Sawyer and I had always wanted to experience first hand the atmosphere as the Mississippi arrives at New Orleans, the capital of jazz. Finding a canoe wasn't easy. My first stop was Cairo, the first town on the river, it's there where the truck dropped me off. I quickly understood that I was properly up shit creek without a paddle. Having not found a canoe at Cairo I decided to contiue along the river, stopping at every town, Charleston, New Madrid, carusthersville... it was there that I decided to look on the net! Bingo! I found a place that sold second hand canoes, near Helena, south of Memphis... So off I went thumbing a lift south-ward!
It was at Helena that I first met John Fewkes or 'Mad-dog' as he was called, who told that he wasn't in fact the owner of the company, so he wasn't sure if he could sell me a canoe, but he could take me to John Ruskey, the owner. Lots of Johns in this company.... Off we went to see John, but only after he'd taken me on a tour of Helena – a town of former glory, built it resources but also on blues!
Then it was off to Clarksdale – a town a bit like Helena, but more impressive. Here we talk about the blues, eat the blues and drink the blues...they live the blues! All the towns here seem to battle to see which one was the birthplace of the blues, it's funny. Next it was off to quapaw canoe, John ruskey's canoe hire company. I told him about my project, and he wasn't at all surprised, which was refreshing because when I tell people, they always tell me that Im insane cos it's so dangerous.
John Ruskey or 'drift-wood' prepared the material, and even asked me to come with him the day after on a little trip! I accepted and spent the evening with him and his family!
The day after the canoes were put in the water, and a group of about twenty people, including me, set off. It was a great day, John taught me how the navigate and steer on the river, and we all spent an afternoon on a little island for a spot to eat – which gave us a chance to have a laugh and a swim! After that it was my moment to leave alone.... good-byes were said and with a little sadness, I set off to fulfill my dream.
John using the guitar as a paddle!
So there I was, so small on a huge river, but my canoe – named 'sunny' -had already had the large experience of the Mississippi, as it had already been from saint louis to Helena. We were therefore going to be partner to New Orleans aswell! How to describe the Mississippi to you all..... well, it's wide and long! There are loads of small sand banks which welcome a multitude of wildlife, from birds to alligators, snakes and my good friends – the mosquitoes! The river is so large that sometimes I felt like tom hanks on my little island of sand. I spent most of my time on the water with my friends – the jumping fish. No need to fish here, they jump directly into the boat! One even jumped into me once. It doesnt help to have a heart condition, it scares the shit out of you! I spend 95% of the time on the mississippi alone, and I liked that! Loads of people asked me if I felt alone, but no! I never got the blues!! it was a moment of great reflexion in my life, on my next projects, on the people that I meet, on myself. And all that accompanied with the improvised songs and whistles of Pierrot!
Waking up from a night on an island
I arrived at new Orleans at night. I had promised myself I'd do this journey and I had succeeded. I had arrived in New Orleans the last night of the carnaval. It was magic, the stars were out and the lights from the town stood out from a great distance, leading me there. At 4 o'clock in the morning the roads of New Orleans were incredible, they were celebrating the red dress run and there were loads of people in fancy dress, and fairly drunk. Happily I wasn't, but I was very tired. It helped to communicate! In the morning I visited the town and napped on the grass whilst I waited for John's contact – Christopher – who was going to collect 'sunny'.
My arrival at the pontoon at 14hrs was a bit like the reception at a yacht race (I exaggerate) all the people who came to chill out also came to welcome the insane guy who had done the Mississippi in a canoe! It was very touching, and I spoke to lots of people, some of which invited me back to theirs to tell them about my adventures.
Now, Im resting a few days at Christopher's, a programmed respite, fishing on the lac Bayou and visiting New Orleans, then I'm off again in the direction of Lafayette and Mount pleasant – the town where a friend I met in Venezuela lives, 12 years ago.
Small anecdote: looking at google maps, I came across a lake called 'Borgne' like my surname. Pierre Le Borgne arrived at the lake Borgne and the loop is now closed as I walk upon the footprints of my corsican ancestors.
Crescent City Connection by night (bridges of New Orléans)
Sunny in front of New Orléans Cathédral.