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New Iberia, LA

2019-04-02 – Airstream Cajun Country Caravan – Travel to Abbeville, LA

Today is another travel day.  However, all travel days are short here in Cajun Country.  In total, we travel only 160 miles from campsite to campsite.  In fact, the only reason we move as much as we do is that a minimum of five locations are required on a National Caravan, according to the Airstream Club (WBCCI).

So today we drive from New Iberia to Abbeville – a total of 21 miles…!

The countryside is quite varied, but for the most part it is wide open spaces…

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The pictures above and below show sugar cane…

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There are a few small (very small) towns, and a variety of houses:  ramshackle, modest farm houses, very nice older farm houses, and, of course, starter castles and McMansions…  This trip was slow and easy…

This campground is a total opposite of New Iberia; it is small, hidden back in the woods about one mile from the highway, full of trees (no satellite TV for me!), and no amenities other than full hook-ups.

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We parked and set up the Villa and had the rest of the day to catch up of my to-do list – I need to be finalizing the next leg of our trip after the caravan is over.  We will be heading to the east coast, travelling north a bit, then back west to Kentucky, where we begin Springtime in Kentucky Caravan on April 25…

We did a lot of walking around the park to keep our Apple Watches happy.  We found this tree with a nest of three baby owls…

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This was probably the mom, watching nearby…

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We had a GAM again and turned in early.  And an enjoyable time was had by all…

And of course, the McAnoy family on a hiking outing…

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2019-04-01 – Airstream Cajun Country Caravan – New Iberia, LA – The Rice Mill and Avery Island Tabasco

Our first stop today was the Konrico Rice Mill.  It was founded by Mr. Conrad, a local rice grower, in the early 20th century to mill his own rice to avoid paying shipping costs to the far away mills “up north”.  Other neighboring rice growers asked him to mill their rice, so by 1912 he had built this large rice mill and ceased being a farmer…

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We saw a video, and had a mini tour of the facilities.  It was pretty basic.  They were not milling today, so it was quiet.  Of course we visited the store where we could by trinkets and rice products… The amazing part is that the mill operates pretty much as it did in 1912, with the exception of modernization of some of the equipment – like replacing the steam engine with an electric motor on one piece of equipment, and having relatively modern bagging machines.  They still use a stencil and an ink roller to put the company name on the bags of rice…

From the rice mill we drove to Avery Island.  This is the third island we have visited here in SW Louisiana.  The Weeks’ family plantation (Shadows on the Teche) was on Weeks Island, the Jefferson Victorian house was on Jefferson Island, and today we go to Avery Island.  There are five “islands” here in this area.  However, these are not islands at all.  They are the five salt domes that have become the highest land area around.  They are not even near any meaningful water.  It’s just a bit on Louisiana nonsense that people here take for granted…

Anyway, we drove to Avery Island where the McIlhenny family has been growing peppers and making their famous Tabasco sauce for all these many years…  Edmund McIlhenny started growing peppers and making his sauce in 1868 after his banking job ended during the Civil War.  Five generations have run the company ever since.

We watched videos of the growing of the peppers and the making of the sauce.  Basically the peppers are ground into a mash, salt is added, and the mash is cured for three years on white oak barrels.  Then vinegar is added and the soup is stirred for three weeks.  The solids are strained out and the sauce is bottled.  That’s it!

We started, of course, with lunch…

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The walking tour meandered around these very substantial buildings…

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The barrel room.  The tops of the barrels are covered with salt to keep them sealed…

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The vats where the vinegar and the mash are stirred…

 

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The fun part – the four bottling lines.  There had bottled about 200,000 bottles so far today…

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And some fun pictures…

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We returned to the Villa, happy hours ensured, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-03-31 – Airstream Cajun Country Caravan – New Iberia, LA – The Swamp Tour!

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Today is The Swamp Tour!  I had no preconceived notion what a swamp tour was going to be, but this tour was not what I expected…  My picture of a swamp was an area of low-lying, muddy, bug-infested, uncultivated ground where water collects; a bog or marsh.  I think mud, puddles, stagnant, smelly water, and dangerous critters – bugs, snakes, and alligators…

In reality, the better definition is that a swamp is a forested wetland.  Many swamps occur along large rivers where they are critically dependent upon natural water level fluctuations.  Other swamps occur on the shores of large lakes.  The swamp we toured was both – adjacent to a large lake and fed by a bayou (a slow moving, muddy river).

But as for my preconceptions, I did not expect this…!

We boarded a boat with 25 of our friends and slowly cruised though the forest.  The water was covered with green stuff, what most people would call pond scum or algae.  It is neither…

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The reality is this:  it is Lemna Minor, or duckweed.  If you look closely it is like tiny water lilies; it forms an archetypal river scene of muddy, green waters lazily flowing under bald cypresses and water gum tupelos.  That’s what these trees are.

Duckweed is a very natural part of the enclosed environments of such swamps, and is a valuable source of protein for animals that consume it, notably most kinds of waterfowl. It has more protein than soybeans, and some parts of the world actually raise it commercially as a food crop.  To our “manicured lawn” mentality, it appears to be scum, the sign of stagnant water, as it no doubt did for generations of settlers who avoided swamps like the plague.  The ducks and other birds apparently disagree.

The swamp was quiet, cool, bug-free, and odor-free.  It was a beautiful, quiet time to contemplate the beauty of a fully functioning ecosystem.  The water here is 1′-2′ deep, but during spring flooding it can rise another 4′-5′.  The adjacent lake, in contrast, is 8′-10′ deep normally.

As we floated along we saw wonderful vistas into the forest…

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These larger plants growing along with the duckweed are an invasive species, and the State does eradicate it when necessary…

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We saw birds.  Lots of birds.  The tour bordered on a bird sanctuary where we could see hundred of nesting egrets.  We also saw ibis, heron, and ducks…

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And, yes, we saw a small alligator.  Normally, on warm days, alligators are everywhere.  But today is cold and the water is warm. so the alligators stay underwater as much as possible…

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We spent two hours on the swamp.  It was delightful, something that should not be missed if you have the opportunity…

We returned to the docks:

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We drove back into “downtown” St. Martinville.  Another totally dead town… We ate at Clambaugh’s – sort of an event venue with no decoration or atmosphere at all, but pretty good food.  Then we walked over to the cultural center to see more displays of the Cajun and Creole cultures.  Interestingly, there were three or four exhibits that purported to explain the difference between Creole and Cajun, and they all contradicted each other…

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As best as I could figure, Cajuns are descendants of the Acadians who were deported from Nova Scotia in the late 18th century.  Creoles were here when the Acadians arrived.  There are Creole who are white and there are Creole who are people of color – African, Spanish, Mexican, Indian.  They all seemed to assimilate until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960 encouraged them to reclaim some of their ethnic heritage.

Also at this location we saw the Evangeline Oak, made famous by the Longfellow poem, “Evangeline”, about Acadian lovers who were separated during the Nova Scotia deportation and who tragically meet again here.  The poem is based on a semi-true story.

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We had another stroll along The Bayou Teche…

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We returned to the Villa.  We had another Drivers Meeting, and we turned in early.  It was cold!

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-03-30 – Airstream Cajun Country Caravan – New Iberia, LA

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Today we get to see a Big House!  No, this isn’t it – this is the Visitors Center, across the street.  The house is called “Shadows on the Teche”.  Shadows is the house, named for the shadows from the giant Live Oak trees that envelope the house and grounds.  Teche is the name of the bayou the house faces.  (A bayou is a shallow, slow moving, muddy  river…)

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Here is the Big House, in all its glory…

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The house was built between 1831-1834.  It was occupied by four generations of the same family until 1958.  Ownership was transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation one day before the fourth generation occupant died…

The house today sits on 2 1/2 acres near the center of the town of New Iberia.  When it was built it was the center of a 158 acre farm.  The farm was only as wide as the current property, about 325′, but it stretched over two miles in either direction.  The family’s wealth came from their sugar cane plantation about 15 miles away.  (Due to swamps, bayous, and water being generally everywhere, it took 5-6 hours to travel from this house to the plantation…)  This farm was used for growing food to feed the family, their employees, and their 200 slaves.  Fortunately, right before the Civil War the owner subdivided the farm with the intention of selling town lots and small farms.  The war interrupted all that.  However, after the war, they were able to sell the lots as needed to raise cash, and they were able to hire and pay their former slaves to keep the plantation going.  In contrast, many (most?) plantation owners lost their land to pay taxes and other debts…

The grounds are beautiful, shaded by these 250 year old Live Oak trees…

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Behind the house is the Bayou Teche…

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We began the tour of the house on the front porch.  In contrast to plantations in Virginia (Mt. Vernon) the front door faces the street, not the bayou.  The stairs are here on the exterior, because interior stairs would block the breezes.  Everything about the design of the house is intended to maximize bringing the cooling breezes through the house.  Another unique thing is that the main living quarters are on the second floor, as protection from potential flooding.  This house has never flooded, but it has come close.  It is on the highest land in the area – about 18′ above sea level…

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The first room we saw upstairs was the master bedroom and its adjacent sitting room..

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The Living Room is in the center of the house, facing porches in the front and in the rear.

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Two secondary bedrooms complete the rooms on the upper floor…

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We noted that these clerestory windows are for decoration only – inside is a plastered wall…

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On the ground floor is a work room and storage room…  The Kitchen was in a separate building behind the house.

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The formal Dining Room, used only for parties and distinguished visitors, is in the center of the ground floor.

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In a corner of the Dining Room is a “cellarette”, where wine and other beverages were kept.  Ice was inserted into the drawer below the bottles…

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There was also an Office and a “Bathing Room” on the ground floor.  The Bathing Room contained a bathtub.  Other bodily functions were handled via a chamber pot or a commode chair… and slaves to empty them…

During the Civil War Union Troops occupied the ground floor rooms.  Mrs. Weeks refused to leave, and she continued to live upstairs.

After the war Mr. Weeks was able to retain the former slaves as contract workers on the plantation and to pay them in cash, probably thanks to having the ability to sell lots carved out of the original farm.

The final owner and resident of the house was Weeks Hall, great grandson of David Weeks, who had built the house but died (in New Haven, CT) before the house was finished.  Weeks Hall moved in around 1922.  He never married and had no children.  He added a bathroom and a Kitchen and lived in the house until his death in 1958.  He had started to restore the house, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation finished the job, taking out the kitchen and bathroom and adding climate control to protect the contents.

After our very fun tour we traveled a few miles away to Rip Van Winkle Gardens and The Joseph Jefferson House… Joseph Jefferson was a wealthy actor who played Rip Van Winkle in live theater productions all over the country.  He bought and built this place to have a country vacation home.

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The house was an ugly conglomeration of Victorian kitsch…Fortunately for you, dear reader, interior photos were not permitted, so you didn’t have to look at it; however, we did…

The grounds (Rip Van Winkle Gardens) are beautiful…

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We started the tour with lunch in the delightful cafe.  We had seafood bisque and muffuletta, a sandwich made with round Italian bread and filled usually with cold cuts, cheese, and olive salad.  The muffuletta is one of the great sandwiches of New Orleans and southern Louisiana.  Food was great!

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The fun history story here is that in the 1920s the house was bought by the neighbor, Mr. Bayless, a horticulturist.  He designed and planted the gardens.  In 1980 his son inherited the property.  Having the same opinion of the house as I do, he had a new house built not far from the current cafe.  Unfortunately, the entire property sits atop a salt dome, which was being mined, and oil drilling was taking place around the salt dome, which is quite common in this area.  Oops!  A drilling rig punched a hole into the salt dome and within a few minutes the lake dropped 150′ as it flooded the mines.  The receding lake also took about 60 acres of land with it, including the brand new house of Mr. Bayless.  Within a few hours the lake filled up again from the Gulf of Mexico via the local bayou.  Today the lake is brackish, it contains some salt water fish, and all that remains of the brand new house is the chimney…

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We returned to the Villa, and we had another GAM, where we met another five of the caravan couples…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-03-29 – Airstream Cajun Country Caravan – Traveling to New Iberia, LA

Travel days are generally slow and relaxing, especially when we are only traveling 41 miles…

We left Breaux Bridge (actually closer to Butte La Rose…) and proceeded on the route.  We are traveling in a clockwise manner around southwestern Louisiana…

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GPS devices on the computer, on our phones, and in the truck all told us to turn right when exiting the RV park.  Our leaders, and our caravan driving instructions, said turn left.  Apparently to the right is a pontoon bridge with overhead clearance of 9′-6″ (most Airstreams are just under 10′-0″…); also there is a levee to be crossed – steep up, then a steep down, leaving a rig bottoming out at the top.  Bad idea!

So we turned left.  We stopped to fuel the truck and to restock the refrigerator.  Then we stopped for a flagger at road construction.  Then we stopped to wait for a coal train… This is why a 41 mile trip took almost 3 hours… But the countryside was beautiful.  This is a prosperous part of the state, with many McMansions and starter castles lining the highway…

This RV park is part of the Sugarena, sort of a fairgrounds type of place.  The parking spots all have concrete pads and full hook-ups, including cable.  And no trees to get in the way of my satellite TV…

Shortly after we arrived most of the folks set out to do some shopping… very few trucks to be seen…

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As a side note, when we were at the State Capitol yesterday we saw these water-filled areas next to the Mississippi River:

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What you don’t see here is that for most of the year these areas are parking lots.  There are floodgates in the levees that are usually opened in April to help relieve the spring flooding down stream.  This year these floodgates have been open, and these parking lots and other overflow areas have been fully flooded, since February.  And the spring surge hasn’t started yet…

So after a relaxing afternoon we gathered at 4:00 for a GAM – Get Acquainted Meeting.  We will have four or five of these in the next few days.  We met with five other couples and we, well, got acquainted.  Tomorrow is our turn to host another five couples…

After the GAM/Happy Hour broke up some caravanners got together to play a little music…

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We turned in early, as is out custom.  And speaking of customs, here are a few pictures of some of our grandchildren

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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