We have a two hour tour of a cypress swamp booked and we head over there this morning. It’s a hot sweaty wait but finally we’re in the historic Westwego fishing village of the Bayou, making our way down in a slow, roofed boat with our guide whose family have lived and fished here for over a hundred years. We could have paid more and had a noisy open air speed boat. Glad we didn’t do that as they pass us in the full sun and make so much noise it’s deafening. We’re just slipping quietly by.
Our guide tells us stories about the indigenous people who knew how to hunt and fish here while still protecting the delicate eco system using the natural resources for medicines and food, until the white man barges in and makes sweeping changes. They bring in the water hyacinth which turns into a troublesome weed, so they bring in a large river rat that is completely vegetarian but then THEY grow humungas in size, up to 60 inches long and over 60 lbs in weight as they chew through the water hyacinth. They soon become such a big problem they issue licenses to the locals to cull them. Eeewwww, I’m imagining big rat like things the size of Paddy. That would be be pretty horrible.
Very soon we are rewarded with alligators who swim up to the boat, and fast. They look very used to the boats presence. The driver throws out marshmallows and the alligators sweep up to eat them. Apparently they resemble fish eggs. I wonder if now they have a sweet tooth or are constantly disappointed. This morning the people we met at Coups last night see us at breakfast, and he tell us he’s a marine biologist in Florida, so I ask him about the marshmallows and he says it’s illegal to do that in Florida, partly because it’s not their natural food but also they see humans as providing food and not having that fear they should have naturally. He cites the news that a two year old girl was down at the waters edge somewhere and snatched by an alligator. Whether he was being predatory or she just frightened him, no one knows.
Our driver tells us the females lay between 25 and 50 eggs over just a few weeks and protects them with her life from all manner of predators, but once they hatch she doesn’t give a toss about them and in fact will eat them herself if she’s hungry. They’re on their own from the minute they hatch and very few survive.
Spanish Moss is hanging from all the trees giving the place an eerie feeling. He says we can do a night tour but it’s pretty scary. He tells us that as a child he had to come down river and collect the Spanish moss as it was used as a filler in bedding but he hated doing it. It was always covered in bugs and bees and he’d often get stung. They would fill the boat for a payment of just $6.
The brackish water sustained many different kinds of fish and you’d never go hungry if you lived down by the swamp and he swings close by some water to grab some of the seed heads to show us the nutty seeds that are delicious in their season. He tells us the Willow tree bark stripped to a pink line can be chewed for a pain killer.
He gives us some history of the area. “Creole people are coloured people with a French heritage and that’s where the word ‘crayons’ comes from he adds. The Cajun people are white people. They’ve come from Arcadia. French – Canadian areas and settled here in Louisianna. That’s where the word Caucasian comes from, he continues, though I don’t know about the ‘cau’ bit but we are Cajun”, he adds smiling.
Then he gets a surprise out for us. A little Alligator who is just two years old and measures about eighteen inches long. He can still pack a powerful bite, little as he us he warns us as some take turns to hold him. Every parts a weapon, and he shows us how a tail can break a mans leg. They grow about a foot a year in the wild but much faster when farmed with food available all day, every day. It’s been interesting and seeing them close up is quite amazing. They are like a dinosaur alright. Something from another time.
We are returned to our hotel and Ren and I are soon on our way to our New Orleans Cooking lesson. We have a large group and we are more ‘watching a demonstration’, than actually cooking, but I learn a lot about the creole style. Our menu was gumbo, creole, rice and pralines. Our chef was seven foot tall and three hundred pounds. Not about. He was. He told us. A very big guy. He told us about some of the history of the food and laughing said they enjoy every last bit of their food. They don’t much around with napkins as they lick their fingers and they lick the persons fingers sitting next to them too if they aren’t quick. I’ve heard the names of these foods before but never tasted any until coming here and it’s all very tasty. The spices being a big part of the deliciousness, are just hot enough to wake up your taste buds. I can’t wait to try this at home.
Gilbert realises this afternoon he may have been pick pocketed last night. His wallet is gone and the last time he had it was after dinner when we wandered down Frenchmans St enjoying the bands. While he had no cards what so ever in it and only a few dollars, it’s a bit gutting to have it happen again. I’m wondering if he’s dropped it and ask at reception in case it was handed in. Our Persian friend is on and she tells me that one day she went out with a handbag over her shoulder like I have mine, and when she went to pay for something it was gone. Didn’t even feel it go! Jesus if it happens to the locals we haven’t got much chance I tell the others as I grip my bag tightly to me. Bastards. I almost wish someone would try it so I can punch them in the face it makes me so mad and I’m kind’ve glad this is our last night here. Also glad it didn’t happen earlier as it might’ve stopped us doing all the cool things we’ve done.
We have one last place to try that was recommended to us and it’s called ‘Little Gem’ a restaurant known for good food, mid priced and great live music, and very close. We are not disappointed on any score and Gilbert announces its the best place we’ve been to while here. The band, and especially the lead singer is bloody good. Brittany Chauntae. It’s her last night in New ‘Awlins’ as she heads west to record and take a rest while she has her first baby. We gladly tip these guys and it’s been a fitting end to our time here, as tomorrow we fly to San Diego.