By FYLLIS HOCKMAN
Mardi Gras falls rather late this year – March 5th to be exact. That gives you plenty of time to plan a trip to Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou country where friendly people, parades and good times roll. And while New Orleans is typically considered ground zero for Fat Tuesday, let us suggest an alternate destination just 45 minutes away from the Big Easy.
Lafourche Parish offers an authentic Cajun experience just like its well known and commercial cousin, yet it is more accessible, affordable and unapologetically down home.
During Mardi Gras season, the Parish is decked out in the traditional Carnival colors of purple, gold and green. Seventeen family-friendly parades are slated to take place and spots to catch beads, trinkets and smiles will be as abundant as king cakes, barbecue and
But in many other ways, Lafourche,
located on a 106-mile-long bayou in
southeastern Louisiana, is a far cry from Bourbon Street, beignets and bar stools. Here, life revolves around the bayou, where fishing, shrimping and oystering are time-honored professions. When asking for directions, it’s either up the bayou, down the bayou or across the
bayou. And when you say, “See you
later, alligator,” it is quite possible you will see an alligator sooner rather than later.
We learned this on our initial ride on an airboat, a combination of a large rusty old rowboat with multiple mismatched seats at varying elevations. With Captain Jeremy presiding, we
proceeded on a thrill ride through extensive native greenery and wetlands at 40 miles per hour.
First, we communed with Big Al, a 13-foot gator weighing in at 1000 pounds. To accentuate his largesse, Jeremy picked up his tail as well as his very large pointy-nailed, four-toed foot
to illustrate how close they’ve become over the years.
Then his buddy, Sneaky, upstaged
him by practically joining us on the boat
as Jeremy deposited bits of chicken into
his enormous and menacing mouth. A
bit further down the bayou, Brutus came
when called. Okay, so he knew there
was chicken waiting, but still.
If history is your thing, visit Laurel
Valley Village, the largest surviving
19th- and 20th-century sugar plantation
complex in the United States. It contains
nearly 60 original structures including
a 1905 general store with a delightful assortment of the odd, the old, and sometimes unidentifiable. Most items were tools and farm implements used in the cultivation of sugarcane. And the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building offers a look at how boats of yesteryear (pirogues, skiffs and dugout boats) were built.
Dining options allow you to sample cultural foods created from centuries old recipes of French, Spanish, German, African, Native American and Italian influences.
Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou has over 25 fairs and festivals throughout the year which celebrate everything from gumbo to Cajun jam music, all proclaiming the proud sense of community and the emphasis on family.
Being Cajun means something
different to the locals, depending
upon whom you ask. To many, it’s
the honored heritage imbued by the
French Acadians who settled here in
the 1750s. For others, it’s the catfish fingers and special gumbo (no okra please – that’s New Orleans Creolestyle). Often, it’s the music – slightly different than New Orleans Zydeco – created with accordions, fiddles, guitars,