By: Pat Austin
BREAUX BRIDGE, LA: Spring is one of the best times to be in Louisiana. We are in Breaux Bridge this week in the heart of Cajun country eating our fill of hot, spicy crawfish and other local specialties, and admiring the azaleas which are bursting into bloom about two weeks ahead of those at home in north Louisiana.
I do my fair share of complaining about Louisiana politics, but for tourism and travel, my state has my heart. My needs are simple, and I don’t need cruises, lavish hotels, or four-star restaurants. Those are nice at certain times, but for me, let me wander the backroads of my home state, meet the locals, and see the sights.
Saturday, for example, we explored downtown Breaux Bridge (the Crawfish Capital of the World), spent an hour in the visitor’s center talking to the ladies working there, then hit the Main Street shops. In the afternoon we drove to Henderson, Louisiana, stopped at the Fisherman’s Wharf where we met about thirty wharf cats who were more than happy to let us pet them for a while. We took the levee road for a while and then popped over the levee when we saw a sign that said “Swamp Tours.” Henderson swamp is part of the Atchafalya Basin and is just breathtaking with its cypress trees, Spanish moss, and cedars.
We found Turtle’s Bar there and went in for a cold beer where we made friends with a couple of Cajun couples who were staying at their camp nearby for the weekend to watch boat races on the bayou. They invited us to come back down next year for the Cajun Mardi Gras (“it’s not parade Mardi Gras—it’s country Mardi Gras!”). Some might describe Turtles Bar as a dive: there are no ferns, no televisions, just good people, dark paneled walls, cold beer, and duck gumbo on the stove in the back room, which we were invited to eat. (It was divine.)
We had not been there long when a couple of young men pulled in their boats with their dogs (Laborador Retrievers); they had come down from Port Barre for a beer (about fifty-five minutes away by boat). Very gracious and polite, they let us pet the dogs (Dude and Bella), and then their owner told them to “get in da boat!” and they returned to the boat to wait for the ride home. Well, then Bella, only six months old, returned to sit in the doorway to wait for his master.
From there we headed to Arnaudville and Bayou Teche brewing where we at Crawfish Pizza, drank some local brews, and listened to a terrific Swamp pop band called Soul Creole.
It was a grand day, but also a very typical day, in Cajun country. One of the guys at Turtles told us, “If you’re ever bored down here, it’s your own fault. There is always something to do!”
This is true: festivals every weekend everywhere, something for all interests. Coming up, for example is the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (with a fantastic lineup this year!), the Scottish Tartan Festival, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, the Rayne Frog Festival, and hundreds more, a distinction which has given Louisiana the title Festival Capital of America. We like to celebrate things here.
And while festivals are great and pull in tourists, sometimes you just want to sit on the banks of the bayou and watch boat races or sit in a bar on the swamp and eat some gumbo with new friends.
So, while I know this isn’t really a tourism blog, and not a Louisiana blog, I do like to occasionally point out that Louisiana isn’t just a state of crazy politicians doing crazy political things; it’s a beautiful state with a big heart and more great food than you can imagine!
Come see us!