Biking through the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans isn’t jockeying to the top of everyone’s travel to-do’s. It is one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina and is still working to rebuild. But owners of Confederacy of Cruisers, Jeff Shyman and Lycia Ferguson, saw an incredible story they wanted to share. Sure there is still plenty of headway to be made but what about all of the progress that has been plowed through?
Having joined a bike tour with this crew, I can say it’s pretty remarkable. There is the history- seeing incredible Steamboat Houses, cruising by the home of Fats Domino and stopping in at the House of Dance and Feathers (A Mardi Gras Museum). You will also learn about the current rebuilding efforts and tour a green home built by Bayou Bienvenue to support environmental issues. We chowed down on a po-boy and rode by homes built by the Make it Right foundation started by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Other tours outside of the Ninth Ward Rebirth include: Creole Culture, History & Drinking, and Neighborhood Culinary.
I caught up with Lycia Ferguso to learn more about Confederacy of Cruisers
Q: When did Jeff come up with the idea for the business?
Jeff Shyman and I were traveling in Peru. We enjoyed travelling but had never taken tours before. But in South America, we found that we weren’t able to see the things we wanted to without taking a tour. One day we were on a bus sneaking out of a city that protesters were closing off with boulders. There were only two seats left, one next to the driver and one in the back, so we sat separately. When we arrived at our destination, Jeff told me that he thought he wanted to be a tour guide.
Q: Why bikes?
Everyone in New Orleans rides bikes, so this would allow tourists to fit in but also visit areas they would never get to see otherwise. When we returned to New Orleans after our South American travels, Jeff started studying history and in about eight months he had sorted out what he felt was important and fun. We set up a route, found a nice starting location, ordered five bikes, put up a website and waited. Our first booking was on April 19, 2008.
Q: When did you start doing tours of the Lower Ninth Ward? And how did you wrestle with the possible conflict of offering tours to a devastated area?
We started tours to the Lower Ninth Ward in 2009. We had a friend that was particularly interested in the plight and hardships of the neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina and all sorts of people were interested in seeing what happened. At the time, bus tours were going to the area gawking at the residents through the tinted windows of the bus. The neighborhood wasn’t happy about this.
We didn’t want to highlight what had happened there. We wanted to show people what was so important about the neighborhood and why it was important to bring back such a special place. We wanted to make sure that our tours would bring attention and money to the neighborhood. We went to community meetings and pitched our idea. Everyone was on board with what we wanted to do. We have always stopped at a neighborhood po-boy shop and other local businesses. We also give 10 percent of our proceeds from the Ninth Ward tour back to the community.
What activities and sights can visitors expect on your tours?
On the Ninth Ward tour, we take people to see the Mississippi River and the levee. We go to Bayou Bienvenue to learn about environmental issues. Customers visit a local po-boy shop and the House of Dance & Feathers (a Mardi Gras Indian Museum). We also go to the Make it Right foundation houses and Fats Domino’s house.
What do you love most about New Orleans?
I fell in love the first time I set foot here in 1993: I love the street culture. I love the community and that people wanted to live life instead of watch TV. I love that everyone says hello to you in passing. I love the music and the food and that the city has a little something for everyone and is accepting of everybody. I love all the characters and that the city takes care of the characters. I love second lines and brass bands. And I love that you can parade in the street for no reason or for any reason.