Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Cajun Country Swamp Tours

The Cajun Country Swamp Tour out of Breaux Bridge, LA, was such a highlight of our trip that we did it twice, once at sunset, and then again in full daylight the next day. The first night, we were with Butch, the owner, and the next day with Shaun, his son. Both were great trips.

Now here is the thing – there is more than one swamp tour company, and you have to be sure to get the right one (this one is the right one.) It’s not like Florida, where you look for the sign. When you get to Lake Martin, where this tour takes place, there is no kiosk, nothing except a tour boat coming in, but even this boat doesn’t have a sign on it. You have to know who you are looking for.

These people were so helpful in getting us booked. We really wanted to be with an eco-tour kind of exploration; some of the swamp tours are purely awful, and exploitive, hard on the animals, disruptive of the environment. We read the reviews; Cajun Country Swamp Tours is the group we wanted to be with. Our sunset cruise was delightful, just us, Butch, who is a wealth of information, and a family of five, the youngest of whom fell asleep almost as soon as the boat left the tie-up. The second day we took a private tour, and they gave us a good price. We like being able to watch the birds, watch the light change, wait for the right shot – it’s worth it to us.

Lake Martin is beautiful, in a lowlands kind of way (it looks a lot like parts of Pensacola.) Taking photos was fun, and also a challenge. Here is the challenge; sometimes the camera doesn’t really understand what it is supposed to focus on, so you think you are shooting a heron, and the camera is busy focusing on the tree two feet behind the heron. Sometimes you want to capture this exact light, but the camera sees ‘this exact light’ a little differently than you do.

This is what the tour boat looks like – very shallow, so it can get into very shallow places, and so it can drift over logs in the swampy areas:

Focus examples:

Now, just settle back in your seat and enjoy the swamp and bayous with us on St. Martin’s Lake:

This is a special bird, the Black Crowned Night Heron, only rarely at St. Martin’s Lake:

Lots of gators, soaking up sun before their long winter’s hibernation:

You might think this is a stump, but you would be wrong. This is Shaun’s duck hide; he built it himself:

This little anhinga lost one wing, probably to an alligator, but has figured out how to climb this tree and then plunge down when he sees a fish. He can’t really fly anymore, but he is managing:

Thousands of birds perched in these trees, the ‘rookery:’

November 1, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, ExPat Life, Photos, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Bon Creole in New Iberia

“OK, but I want to eat lunch at Clementine’s,” I replied, as AdventureMan is scheduling some Cajun Country Swamp Tours for the afternoon and the next day. We drive back into New Iberia, and make sure we are going in the right direction on the one-way Main Street, only to discover Clementine’s is closed on Monday. Oh, Aarrrgh.

But I love my iPhone. I love it because I can put in an address, and it shows me how to get there, when to turn, where we are . . . I love it. I love it because I can put in “great food in New Iberia” and up comes names – and ratings. The highest rating other than Clementine’s is a place called Bon Creole, and it is on the one way street, St. Peters, going in the opposite direction of Main Street, so we turn around and head back in the other direction.

We are HUNGRY. So when we miss it the first time, and have to go around the block, AdventureMan says “I think I saw it, but it looked closed.” I think I saw it, too, but it looked . . . like some dive. As we come around the second time, we see a button-down-shirt-and-chinos kind of guy coming out, so we know it must be open, and he looks like a working local, not some tourist like us. And did I mention we are hungry? We decide to give it a try.

You walk in and order at the counter. I can’t say we got a warm welcome. The woman behind the counter wasn’t rude, she was just working hard, and there really wasn’t a smile. I ordered the daily special, but it was already gone. “OK,” I say, “I’ll take the gumbo, and some potato salad.”

“Potato salad comes with it.” She doesn’t even look up from writing down the order. So far, we are not encouraged, but there are a goodly amount of customers inside, and as we wait for our food, we get to listen in on all the town gossip, which is not unlike town gossip in most towns, who drinks too much, who is going out on who, and can you imagine someone wearing that to church?

Our food arrives, a bowl of gumbo, a bowl of rice and a bowl of potato salad, plastic utensils.

And then, with the first bite, everything changes.

“Oh, WoW!” I say, and my eyes open wide. “Wow!”

AdventureMan is having the same experience. “This is REALLY good!” he says.

We are quiet now, eating this totally delicious seafood gumbo. We are both busy trying to figure out how they made it taste so seafood-y, lots of shrimp, maybe some crab, but the gumbo itself, essence of shellfish, it is SO good.

What if we had judged by the exterior and had ended up in some plastic and mediocre place? What if we had missed this totally awesome seafood gumbo? This gumbo was seriously GOOD.

If you find yourself in New Iberia, hungry and looking for some seriously good gumbo, here is where to find Bon Creole:

Bon Creole also has a lot of fried dishes; we were just looking for something not-fried, but if you like fried, you too will like Bon Creole.

November 1, 2011 Posted by | Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, iPhone, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Avery Island and Tabasco Sauce

Sometimes it’s funny why people make the choices they do. We knew one of the first things we wanted to do on this trip was to visit Avery Island. There are a lot of little reasons. First, was that when AdventureMan was young, he was sent to a far away country, Vietnam, to fight for his country. Most of his time was spent out in the jungle, and they carried most of their food on their backs. They ate something called C-rations, little meals, like with cans of food, and the Avery/McIlhenny Tobasco company made little tiny bottles of tabasco sauce to include with each meal package. It’s a small thing, but those little bottles of tabasco sauce made a difference to those soldiers.

Later, as we flew in and out of the Middle East, Delta had a special short feature on Avery Island. Long story short, we’ve always wanted to visit there, and now we had the opportunity.

(You have to see this mosquito statue to appreciate it; it must be about 5 feet long and 4 feet high, and there are several of them. )

It was a beautiful morning, and the drive was beautiful, too, cool and lovely. Avery island is surrounded by a kind of river/moat, so it really is an island that once used to be a sugar cane plantation. As soon as we opened our car doors, the mosquitos came at me; I am a mosquito magnet.

The tour of the factory had already started, so I scooted over to the country store, which is a really run place. Who would think there could be so many products devoted to Tabasco Sauce?

Oops! Time to get back over to the factory for our tour, which is like 5 minutes, then a 10 minute movie. Just before the movie starts, the guide (who also works in the gift shop while the movie is running) gives each person tiny sample bottles of several Tabasco products – cool!

After the movie, we get to tour alongside the factory and go into the museum. Very cool. Thousands and thousands of tobasco bottles being filled, and each day they post which country(ies) they are sending this batch to. Today is Ireland.


Tabasco is made with a secret formula of specially grown tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. Lucky for them, they have their own salt mine on the property. Just about everything they need to make tabasco sauce, right at their fingertips. This was a fun tour to take, and one of our dreams was fulfilled.

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Food, Ireland, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

A Visit to Cajun Country in Louisiana

I guess I might have mentioned a time or two that I read an author named James Lee Burke. I remember the very first book I read – A Morning For Flamingos. I remember where I found it – the US Forces library on Lindsay Air Station. I remember it was late winter in Germany, the time when you think Spring will never come, that it will be grim and grey and cold for the rest of your life. I sought escape, which Mysteries/Detective novels provide, but I never expected poetry. From the very first page of A Morning for Flamingos, I was spellbound. While his novels have some horrific violence in them, and his detective Dave Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic with some seriously self-destructive issues, you can sort of skim through the bad parts; there will be more poetry soon.

He is one of the few authors I will buy in hard cover.

I’ve been waiting. I wanted to see New Iberia, but I had to find a time when all the universal factors would line up – AdventureMan would be in the same country as me, the weather would be cool enough that travel would be enjoyable, and there was a low likelihood of running into a lot of tourists. The stars aligned, and off we went, a mere five hours away, to Cajun Louisiana.

We drove to New Orleans, first, visiting the welcome station to pick up brochures and figure out what we wanted to see and where we wanted to stay.

The welcome center was clean and well stocked, lots of bathrooms available for the visitors, lots of visitors, and ladies behind the counters full of first hand information about where we should go, where we should eat and where we might stay.

I have a thing about bridges. I had an accident on a bridge once, and I’m still a little nervous about bridges. This is the kind of bridge I hate:

This southernmost part of Louisiana is lowland, and there are bridges everywhere. Some of them are bridges like I have never seen anywhere else:

We arrived in the middle of the sugar cane harvest. I didn’t know what fields of sugar cane looked like; now I do:

There were big huge carts full of cane, all going to be processed on the same day they were cut:

All this time we were looking at sugar cane, we were getting hungrier and hungrier, but it was Sunday, and a lot of places were already closed, if they had been open at all. We finally found a restaurant in New Iberia, Pelicans, where I shocked my husband by ordering the vegetable plate – but it was all deep fried vegetables; asparagus, green beans, broccoli and carrots. He had a BBQ sandwich.

I think we were the only tourists in the place. The bar was full; the restaurant was empty, except for us.

We wanted to find someplace really fun to stay, full of character, and I had been looking at some cabins in Breaux Bridge. When we got ready to check them out, we discovered that the people who ran it were gone! There was a phone number, which we called, and the very kind owner called back and told us to go take a look, and which cabins were available.

You know, things just aren’t the way they used to be. I remember my Mom and Dad’s house, the first one they bought. The closet in the Master bedroom was only about 4 feet by 3 feet deep, with one bar and with a shelf. People had fewer clothes then, even in Alaska, where they also had heavy coats and ski pants and stuff. Bathrooms were small, only what was necessary, not like the spa-bathrooms people want now (me included.)

These cabins were cute. They were built right out over the bayou, and you could fish off your own balcony, each cabin separate and free standing. The place was clean. It was also really small, with small beds and small bathrooms. I don’t have asthma, but there was a musty smell, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe. We also like a good mattress, so we can sleep well. I looked at AdventureMan, who was looking at me. We were both on the same track; we couldn’t stay there. I called the lady back. “The cabins are really nice,” I said, “But we’re old and have allergies. We can’t stay here.” My husband was looking at me in a mixture of horror and hysteria. As we got in the car, his shoulders were shaking. He put a quiver in his voice (my voice did NOT quiver) and started saying “We’re o-o-o-o-ld, and we . . .” We were both rolling with laughter. I just didn’t know what else to say. We used to stay in places like this, but now we put a higher value on sleep.

We headed for a tried and true Marriott – actually, two of them – in Lafayette, only to discover that there was an oil and gas conference starting this week and there were NO rooms at the Marriott. We headed back toward New Iberia and settled into a Hampton Inn – nice, clean, roomy, and no character, we could have been in Seattle or Pennsylvania, but we could breathe.

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment