Author’s NoteI belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.
Road Tripping USA Part Nine
After leaving New Orleans we passed through La Flourish Parish, Terrebonne Parish, Assumption Parish, Iberia Parish and entered Vermilion Parish. In Abbeville we stopped at the tourist information where I learned that Parish is the name for ‘county’ in Louisiana. It dates back to the Napoleonic Code when France controlled this area. Louisiana is the only state that uses the word.
Acadians are descendants of French colonists who settled Acadia, now known as Nova Scotia, Canada. During the Great Expulsion, 1755 to 1764, the British deported the Acadians to the thirteen colonies. In Louisiana, they became known as Cajuns taken from les Cadiens. Vermilion Parish has the most Cajun people in the state who trace their origins back to Nova Scotia. The woman I talked to in the tourist info told me she had gone to Nova Scotia during the summer to trace her family name there.
She also told me that when Hurricane Katrina went through, it hit New Orleans and much of the eastern part of the state and missed this area. About a month later Hurricane Rita came and that is when Abbeville was damaged. They were still working to recover.
The morning was windy and cool. The clouds made it seem darker than it was so I didn’t realize the time. I woke at 8:30. On our drive we passed through a lot of marshland and saw small fields that looked like they were deliberately flooded. In one place we saw a man in a small aluminium boat out in the middle of one of those fields.
The day remained dull and overcast. At 12:00 noon it was 40F (9C). We only stopped to have lunch. There were signs telling us that we were on a Hurricane Evacuation Route. Because of the time change and the time of year, it was getting dark early. We were stopping at around 4:00-4:30pm. So our days were getting shorter.
We entered Lake Charles from the south and pulled into a Walmart. Mike wanted some authentic Cajun music so he went shopping. While in the store he asked one woman if there were any good restaurants where we could try Cajun food. She told him any restaurant in town would do. He asked another woman and she gave him a list of a few places she liked or had heard were good. Mike came back out with a CD, a bag of groceries, and papers describing some tourist attractions in the area. He showed me his list of restaurants but I didn’t feel like driving to any of them for supper.
I went through the pamphlets and found some places to visit within a short distance of the city: an alligator refuge, a rum distillery, which Mike was interested in, and a scenic bridge. I said let's go see them before we left in the morning. I also found an advertisement for a restaurant called Cajun Kitchen. We had seen signs along the road so we thought after we looked at those attractions, which were east of Lake Charles we would return to the city and have lunch there.
I listened to the CD I had bought but it wasn't what I was looking for so I went back in the store. I talked with a young man about music. The young woman, Angelle, who I had talked with earlier came over and the two apparently were a couple. As we chatted I told them about what we were doing and how we were travelling.
Justin, the young man, told his girlfriend that when he got old he wanted to be just like me.
“Why?” I asked, surprised.
“I don't want to be afraid to talk with people when I get older. I want to meet people, I want to do things.”
Justin advised me on a couple of CDs to buy. The young woman asked me if my wife and I had tried one of the restaurants. I said no. Justin said that he and Angelle would cook us a real Cajun meal if we wanted to go to his apartment the next evening. He didn't get off work until 9:00pm so it would be late.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I protested.
“I understand that we are strangers and you might be fearful of us,” Justin said.
“No,” I said. “We have a saying that ‘Strangers are just friends we haven't met yet’.”
I went to the motorhome and asked Joan. She thought it was so nice of them to offer that she hated to turn them down when they were willing to go through all that effort.
“It’s going to be pretty late,” I told her.
“We’ve met so many nice people on our trip,” she said. “Let's change our plans for tomorrow and do it. We could talk with them and get to know them.”
I went back in and gave them some money to pay for the ingredients for the meal. They agreed to meet us the next evening at 9:00pm in the parking lot.
The next day It was cool and overcast day. We went to the Bayou Rum Distillery in Lacassine. This is the largest privately owned rum distillery in the United States. They use 100% Louisiana unrefined cane sugar and molasses. The tour had already started so we watched a video about sugar cane harvesting and the making of rum. Cane has to be processed within two days of picking it. At the distillery it is processed in 18 hours.We bellied up to the tasting bar and sampled the three different types of rum they produced: gold, silver and Satsuma orange infused rum which was first bottled in 2014. I bought two bottles of the new Satsuma rum and Mike picked up a bag of sugar cane sticks. When he looked at them in the camper he saw that they were a product of, and packaged in, Hawaii.
Mike and I drove to the Gator Chateau on Rue de L’Acadie. This is home to orphaned baby and rescued mature alligators. They are looked after until they are able to be released back into the wild. When I walked in the woman asked me if I wanted to hold an alligator and I said yes. She picked one up from the heated glass container and gave it to me. It was warm and soft and squirmy. I had to hold it tight. She took a picture of me and then returned the alligator to the box. I asked about alligator feeding and she said that they are hibernating.
We saw a sign for boudin, a Cajun dish, and decided to try it. We turned off the highway and went into a small restaurant beside a service station. As we entered the restaurant I saw a sign that rice field crawfish were out of season. Those were the fields under water that we had seen and the man in the aluminium had been checking on his crawfish.
We each ordered boudin, which we found out was made from rice and pork rolled into a ball and deep fried. We enjoyed ours so much that Mike ordered more. I asked about the alligator balls advertised but I was told that they were out of season.
Mike and I drove to the historic Lorrain Bridge on Lorrain Road near Hayes. The original Lorrain Bridge was built in the early 1900s as a draw bridge over the Bayou Lacassine. It was closed in 1998 for safety reasons. It was rebuilt (not as a drawbridge) and opened again in 2004. It is 209ft (63.7m) in length.
We drove along the Bayou for a ways just enjoying being in the peaceful scenery and quiet area. A Bayou is the name for a creek or river that flows so slowly that it doesn’t appear to be moving at all. They are usually found in flat or low-lying areas. It can also refer to a marshy lake or wetland.
We met Justin and Angelle and followed them to their apartment. They had purchased the ingredients and began preparing the meal. Angelle cut the vegetables up while Justin did the cooking. Mike had told him that I can’t tolerate spicy food so he modified the ingredients for me. We’d sample one dish while he made the next and we talked.
Justin told us he wanted to start a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, and we told him to let us know when that happened and we would come to it. Angelle was raised back in the Bayou and had moved to town to get a job at Walmart. That was where they met. We told them that I was a writer and Mike was retired but had worked in the oil patch in Alberta for many years. We had five children and seven grandchildren.
It was a relaxed, enjoyable evening that lasted until about 1:30 in the morning. As we were leaving they gave us a container of Creole spices and a jar of jam from Texas. I gave them copies of my books.
It was as if we were destined to meet that young couple. When we’d driven into Lake Charles the first evening we asked Lola for a Walmart. She gave us a few to pick from. We selected one but as we were driving to it we passed a different one. I told Mike, let’s just stop here. It was the one Justine and Angelle worked at.
In Texas, we passed through Burnet and turn onto a narrow road to the Longhorn State Park. At the Long Horn Caverns I booked to take the next tour. While waiting I went to the former administration building that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), which was a public relief program operated by a government agency to find work for unemployed, unmarried men. The administration building is used for exhibits but was empty when I went through it. I climbed the steps to look out over the area. Behind the visitor’s center is a trailhead and I strolled the Backbone Ridge Trail, turned onto the 3 Minute Loop and then returned on the Loop D trail through the bush of the area.I visited the observation tower that had two sets of circular metal stairs to the top. From there I had a panoramic view of the Texas landscape.
The tour of the caverns is a 1½ mile (2.4km) round trip. When these caves were discovered, the CCC hired a number of men to clear all the debris--rocks, mud, dirt--from them so they could be opened to the public. They used that debris to make the road to the caverns. The grand staircase at the entrance was built by the CCC.
The guide told us some of the cavern’s history. This was a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War. They manufactured gunpowder here using the bat guano. Sam Bass was an outlaw who hid out here and the entrance is named after him. During the 1920s, the cave was used as a speakeasy and dancehall by the nearby residents. It was used as a bomb shelter during the Cold War and supplies that could last for months were stocked here.
A young woman was captured and taken into the cave. Three Texas Rangers repelled down to rescue her. She married one of the rangers and they lived in Burnet.
There is the Crystal City, which is a room full of calcite crystals, and a waterfall that isn't really a waterfall. It is called that because of its formation from dripping water. There are small bats, some only about the size of a thumb, in the cave. They are independent and like to sleep alone. We could see some of them hanging onto the wall.
The cave started as limestone then turned to dolomite the further we went. When we reached the far end we were 135ft (41m) underground.