18. Louisiana

You don’t fall in love with this southern state at first sight. What you think you know beforehand—of beads and Mardi Gras madness and badness—can be underwhelming, to say the least. Rather, it is when you are fully present, feeling every beat and strum and tap and taste, when the layers of this culture get beneath your tongue and under your skin. You realize that, like most places, what you thought you already knew isn’t reality, not at all.

Often, as travelers, it is easier to figure out what you want to see and where you want to go far ahead of time, as you plan out your itinerary. It was in Layfayette, our first stop in Louisiana, that we threw away our checklist and decided to explore by word of mouth and discovery.

What we found were bayous and beignets, Po’ Boys and chicory coffee, drive-through daquiris and boiled crawfish, plantation history and toe tapping jazz and zydeco, and too many examples of genuine southern hospitality to recount.

Lafayette

After doing little to no research to find a place to stay for a few nights, we opted to stay at Bayou Wilderness RV Resort in Carencro since it was the only RV park we could find that wasn’t a year-round trailer park (not that there’s anything wrong with it and we really liked how the name engendered visions of lonely swamps and gators).

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Waking up our first day, we headed into town for a slow feast of beignets while sippin’ on Community coffee at T-Coons. With full bellies and high blood sugar, we decided to take in some history at Vermillionville and were, once again, pleasantly surprised by the organization of this organization (an early Cajun and Creole heritage village).

We learned about the birth of Creole and Zydeco music and more about the colonists and people indigenous to this area. If you find yourself in this part of the world, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours in Vermillionville.

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Since the beignets only go so far, we were happy to get to our next stop, Olde Tyme Grocery for some shrimp Po’ Boys. We all agreed that apart from the calamari sandwiches in Madrid, these sandwiches were the best we’ve ever tasted. No wonder this joint has won all sorts of awards for this very sandwich.

Anyone know a good place to get Po’ Boy sandwiches in Singapore?

So, after a bit of culture and happy guts, we headed to Lake Martin Rookery for some exercise and in search of swamp creatures, snakes, turtles, birds, and gators. And, while we did find turtles and snakes, we also found a gaggle of kids on spring break, taking a hike with grandma, calling us ma’am and sir as they told us all about life in Lafayette.

When we asked these local experts for dining recommendations, Popeyes and KFC were their top two faves.

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We didn’t get more than a few miles in when Jason’s sandal broke. Yes, this meant walking back through the tall grass with snakes and all sorts of creepy crawlies. Jason wins the hardcore award (or the dummy award for hiking in a swamp in flip flops).

After the “swamp incident”, we stopped in to Parish brewery for just a taste to compare their draft to Oregon goodness. Indi liked the water.

For dinner that night, although we passed on the fast food recommendations, when we saw a sign for crustaceans at one of the many daquiri drive-through shops (Stuff Cajun People Like #12), we indeed, did drive in and dove right in with orders for drinks (virgin for Indi, of course), boudin balls and three pounds of crawfish to go.

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How has the rest of the country not caught on to this? Oh yeah, there’s that whole drinking and driving thing.

After getting back to camp and watching a YouTube instructional video on how to peel and eat crawfish, we were still going about it like west coasters. Fortunately for us, a kind local neighbor came to our rescue and showed us how to correctly (how to not waste the majority of the good stuff inside) peel and shuck and suck out the guts of the little fellas.

The next day, we hit the road for New Orleans and real beds in an Airbnb rental close to the Garden District. When we rented the place, the owner sent several emails warning us about the location. When we checked it out online, we saw that the Central City location seemed just about right for us, since our favorite thing about renting a place is the opportunity to live like a local.

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We were a little worried when we inputted our Airbnb’s rental address into our GPS and it led us here… luckily our place is the one on the right.

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Our hood

Southern Hospitality in New Orleans

We must have been at the house for an hour before someone pounded on the metal security door. The door opened to a guy in his 50’s, standing there rocking the middle aged Harley look (bandana, black t-shirt and a vest, black jeans, motorcycle boots, scraggly long hair and mustache). He seemed harmless enough so we opened the door and he rushed in, excited to tell us that his Harley was on the sidewalk next to our trailer on the street and that he would be watching Cicak for us, to make sure that “no one messes with it”.

This was the first of many friendly encounters with our neighbors, including a sweet woman in her late 70’s who wanted us to know that she couldn’t believe that the police would be inhospitable enough to go and put a boot on our trailer! We explained that the boot is ours and is a theft deterrent (like a club for a car) and then went on to have a  conversation about her fascinating life, growing up in New Orleans.

In our days and nights in New Orleans, as you might expect, we did a lot of walking, gawking, and stuffing our faces.

Jason even tried something new.

 

One highlight was a meander through the oak-lined Garden District and the antebellum Victorian mansions that transported us back to the time– just after the Louisiana Purchase–when this neighborhood was built to separate the cotton, sugar, and shipping magnates from the Europeans down in the French Quarter. This is also where we found the Lafayette #1 cemetery.

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We also took the trolley into the city, walked the prerequisite block down Bourbon Street and though the French Quarter for a taste of the city.

Later, we happily departed for Frenchmen Street, feeling far away from the neon of the French Quarter as we followed the rustic wooden bar signs to the live music—blues, jazz, funk— pumping out of every doorway. Great music, food, and dancing? Yes, please! We could have spent days sampling the music on offer.

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Music, Cotton, and Ribs in Ferriday

Our destination for this day trip was the Frogmore Cotton Plantation. We learned more about life on the plantation, cotton growing (including Eli Whitney’s gin, of course),  sharecropping, and slave culture. This was another time that we felt so lucky to experience the links to the past. We will leave this year feeling more deeply rooted to our American history and hope that Indi will continue to feel grounded even as we live far away from home.

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Before heading back across the mighty Mississippi, we stopped at the Delta Music Museum to learn more about the musical heritage of the Mississippi River Delta Region. After the museum, we just had to stop at the Butt Hut, for some of the best pulled pork we’ve had–so far.

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If we had to choose one state to explore more deeply, it would be Louisiana. We left reluctantly, with the dual promise to return one day and the siren call of Mississippi calling us north.

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