Cajun Country

We were looking forward to spending time in South-West Louisiana for a number of reasons. Firstly, we have a liking for Cajun music and were interested in listening to and finding out more about Zydeco. Secondly, we both enjoyed reading the Detective Dave Robicheaux series of books about New Iberia by James Lee Burke. We were also fascinated by the history of the melting pot of ethnic groups, how they arrived and still keep their culture (including culinary) alive. We learned a lot about the history of how the French, Spanish, and British all played parts in its evolution to modern-day Louisiana. Our first major stop in Louisiana was New Iberia on the Bayou Teche. Our stay there was a good deal longer than planned, we both managed to catch sinus infections that put us out for over two weeks. Staying in one spot seemed like a good idea. Not to fret, we’re both “in the pink” again.

Bayou Teche Museum, New Iberia

The Bayou Teche Museum in downtown New Iberia gave us a good view of the history of the area and has a display of Robicheaux’s ‘Bait and Tackle Shop’; no sign of Batist, though. The artist, George Rodrigue’s early paintings consisted of images from his Louisiana and Cajun heritage. Just recently, Rodrigue allowed his paintings to be displayed and art studio to be reproduced for the museum.

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Spanish Lake and Rip’s Rookery

Sunset at Rip’s Rookery

Spanish Lake, West of New Iberia, is a large natural lake providing fishing and wildlife viewing. For $10 you can drive 5 miles around the lake and discover a barrier requiring a 10 point turn, 5 miles back to the entrance. I was taking an egret shot when the lady manning the entrance, stopped by me on her sunset clearout trip and said in true Cajun fashion, “You stay away from the water, you. They big snakes there.”
Rip’s rookery, a smaller lake also West of town, is a famous place for birdwatchers and many species  use it as a resting place when migrating North or South. We arrived close to sunset and watched flocks of Snowy Egrets, Ibis (curved beak) and Anhingas arrive for overnight rest. The Egrets and Ibis seemed to be happy to intermingle, apart from a few territory squabbles. They were very noisy (see movie below). The Anhingas were content to occupy a space in the upper levels of the trees and watch the show. It was too cold for the Anhingas to put on the usual ‘wing drying’ display.

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Crawfish and Boudin with Tabasco Sauce

No-one can visit this area without sampling the local cuisine. We stopped for lunch in downtown New Iberia at Bon Creole, a great local café. The crawfish Po’ Boy sandwiches were a favorite of Colin’s. The size of the Tabasco Sauce bottle (made in New Iberia) was very impressive along with the murals. A few days later we sampled both Boudin (Cajun sausage) and boiled Crawfish at Crawfishtown USA, ‘Louisiana’s best Crawfish Restaurant’ in Breaux Bridge, East of Lafayette. Colin found the taste indistinguishable from Shrimp (and a bit harder to extract, despite a lesson from the waitress) but it was a fun experience, particularly when Cheryl went to work to help with the extraction.

Crawfish Chimney

Crawfish are amazing creatures, living in ditches and lakes around the area. We found evidence of them, sometimes 100s of yards from visible water. They bury themselves into the ground making ‘chimneys’ with the earth they remove, until they reach the water table. This is not very far in most of Southern Louisiana which was described by a local as ‘a big swamp with a few sandbars where people live’.
We couldn’t leave New Iberia without taking a tour of the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island where peppers are grown, sauce is made and bottled and shipped all around the world. It was well worth the time, the self-guided tour was well organized and interesting. The business was started in 1868 and is still family-owned. The characteristic bottle size was chosen because of a supply of used cologne bottles available in the first few months of production. Colin noticed the plaque recording the fact that they are the sole supplier of Tabasco Sauce to the Queen of England (not surprising as they are the only makers of the sauce).

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Zydeco

The highlight of our visit to South West Louisiana was the local music. Zydeco music is becoming very popular for dancing, particularly in this area. It is an Afro-Creole style, derived from the French Rhythm & Blues Influence, ‘La La’ music, with Cajun lyrics. Zydeco bands have at least one accordion player and a metal ‘rubbing vest’, like a washboard, known locally as a Zydeco Tie. It is often fast-paced with strong rhythms and inspires everyone to dance. There are many Zydeco bands now around the world but this area is where it all started.
Some friends advised us to go to the ‘Café Des Amis’ in Breaux Bridge for their Saturday Zydeco Breakfast. It turned out the restaurant was closed but ‘Buck and Johnny’s’ up the street had taken over the tradition. It’s quite a sight to see and hear the enthusiastic dancers at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning! As in many places we visited in Louisiana, we soon were talking to the friendly people who explained all about the local traditions and culture and gave us pointers on other places to visit. They even attempted to teach both of us some of the dance steps.
Another local tip took us to ‘the best Zydeco spot in Louisiana, Whiskey River’, a bar and Sunday Night dance out in the country overlooking the Atchafalaya Basin, next to a Levee. By the time we found it, it was getting dark and the car park was full and overflowing into a hilly grassed area. Overly confident in our van’s ability, Colin made a run at the hill into the overflow parking. We made it almost to the top but hadn’t allowed for the soggy ground and ended up with wheels spinning and the van settling in to the mud. After a good deal of rocking back and forth and plenty of advice from locals who were either blocked in or blocked out, we managed to get the van rolling backwards down the hill out of trouble. We managed to find a spot along the road and walked back towards the music. We had fun, enjoying the music, talking to locals and taking in the mix of cultures, all dancing together having a good time. (Colin still has nightmares of hundreds of angry drunk dancers trying to get out of the parking lot at closing time).

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Acadian Village

The term ‘Cajun’ is a derivation from ‘Acadian’. Acadia is an area in the Canadian Maritime Provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island) which was fought over by the British and French. The war was settled by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht but when many of the local French-speaking people refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain, participated in the ongoing hostilities and were concerned about religious freedom to continue practicing their Roman Catholic religion. This led to The Expulsion of the Acadians during 1755-1764. After deportation, many of them migrated to Louisiana and became the ancestors of today’s Cajun people.
North of Lafayette, is ‘Acadian Village’ the oldest reconstruction of a typical Acadian settlement. It was built with local labor and is a showcase of historic homes alongside winding bayous depicting Acadian immigrant life. It has been very beautifully and faithfully constructed and is also now a fund-raising source for LARC (Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens), its beneficiaries living nearby in a group home. We spent a pleasant afternoon touring the village and reading about Acadian life in the 1800s.

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4 Movies: Zydeco Brunch (1.09 min); Zydeco at Whiskey River (43 sec); Catfish (13 sec); Birds at Rip’s Rookery (59 sec)

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  • Cajun Country

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    Cajun Country, Louisiana

  • 4 Comments on “Cajun Country

    1. What an adventure, so glad you both are well. As soon as that lady told you “big snakes”, Louisana would have been a distance memory. As always, the narrative and pictures are beautiful. Love you, Mar
      From Cheryl: So good to hear from you and to see that your streak of being the first to read our blog continues. You are amazing. I think you are right about the snake comment, if it was up to me, we wouldn’t have stayed much longer. There is so much swamp land in Louisiana, I would hate to be there in the summer with all those mosquitoes. Let alone the alligators and snakes.

    2. Très agréable de visiter les States avec vous deux. Je sais enfin d’où vient le tabasco! J’adore cette sauce, j’en mets partout mais je ne savais que c’était fabriqué chez les cajuns. A little piece of french soul in that country. Thank you Cheryl and Colin for sharing your travel.
      From Cheryl: Thank you for your lovely comments, and we’re so glad you now know where Tabasco sauce comes from. It was a hoot to see the factory and to taste all the flavors in their gift shop. Being in Cajun country and in New Orleans is very much a part of French culture in the United States. We heard French all around us being spoken.

    3. I love this post, mostly because we also have great memories of Louisiana (minus the prejudice we experienced talking to the locals at the bars)! I am so envious: Zydeco is at the top of my genre favorites. So fun. Sounds too too fun!!! That pic of the lake at sundown…well…took my breath away.
      From Cheryl: I love that you love Zydeco too!!! It’s such an amazing beat and sound. We had dancing lessons by locals, just took us in hand and off we went. Both of us! Everyone we met were very helpful and friendly. Didn’t hit the prejudice quotient here, although we expected it. Just lucky I think! Thanks for loving Colin’s pictures.

    4. My much overdue comment: Loved this blog! Yes, gorgeous photo of the lake at sunset and New Iberia/ Lafayette are bucket list places for Steve and me. I took Zydeco dance lessons a while back, and have often fantasized about dancing where it originated. Loved those images. And Colin, were you up in the rafters when you filmed the dancers? Also loved the visit to Acadian Village. Fantastic photos!! Laissez les bon temps router!
      From Cheryl: I love that you love Zydeco too!!! It’s such an amazing beat and sound. We had dancing lessons by locals, just took us in hand and off we went. Both of us! Everyone we met were very helpful and friendly. Thanks for loving Colin’s pictures. It means so much to him. Loved that you loved the Acadian Village, it was great to walk around this spotless, well preserved little town. We are letting the good times roll, but we’ll be happy to stop rolling for awhile and be back home. I miss my friends, my waterbed, my laundry facilities, my bath, and walking around space. But it has been a thrill and an amazing adventure. So glad we were able to do it. More to come later this year perhaps.

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