Published: October 26th 2011October 20th 2011
Louisiana doesn't always get such a good rap . True, over the years it has probably earned its reputation for corruption in governments, hot steamy weather, a shambolic approach to reconstruction of its principle city and high crime levels. None of these factors did anything, as far as we were concerned, to outweigh the allure of possibly of catching some good blues, cajun and zydeco music, and getting some creole and cajun food at the source. We were also keen to have a little look at Dave Robicheaux's stamping ground and check out Treme. The state has always been high on our list of 'must sees' for the USA.
At Natchez we decided that it would be good to drive down the Louisiana side which is closer to the river. It is just possible that we assumed that side would be like the side of the Mississippi at Natchez, with a nice high bank giving views of the water while we took a leisurely drive down the lower reaches of the largest river in North America. Thinking of getting some good scenic shots we took the closest road to the Mississippi. Unfortunately, we never clapped eyes on the water of
the actual river until we were almost at New Orleans. Notwithstanding the total failure of that aspect of our pla,n we had an interesting drive on and off the levees and through little towns. For most of the way the land was very, very flat and all under cultivation. Mainly cotton early but later on miles of cane fields.
One of the many villages we found was well known to us. Over the last 10 years, each time we have had a look at Google Maps to check out the map of our block of land it has defaulted to the 'other Batchelor', the one in Louisiana. Our road took us through the other Batchelor. There isn't much to it. Less even than ours. There was a store complete with a 3 or 4 metre stuffed alligator as a display item. Just like the real Batchelor Store it had a post office as part of it and fuel pumps. But I really think that Malcolm and Judy should consider adding a drive-through daiquiri stand and a sort of mini casino. Those were the bits doing the business. Those and the southern fried chicken and biscuits on sale in the
sorry about the fuzziness but you get the idea
take-away up the back. None of your Kentucky stuff here. This was the real thing – I think. Tasted good, and possibly not terribly healthy.
Our camp in New Orleans was in a KOA about 16 miles from the centre. They had a free shuttle in and out of town every day though. The shuttle drivers took different routes into town each time we took it. They also chatted constantly about the places we were passing. Depending on the traffic the 16 miles can take 45 minutes or so and, thus, we had an hour-and-a-half informal tour of New Orleans each day. Some great information, good stories and good humour.
On our way down through Louisiana to New Orleans we picked up a public radio station that was broadcasting direct from the Acadian Music Festival in Lafayette, a few hours west of New Orleans. Immediate thought - we'll change direction and go there. Then we heard the announcer mention that these were the last few hours. The festival had started two days before. Soon after that we lost the radion signal and had to search for a closer station.
On this next station we picked up an
outside broadcast from the Crescent City Blues Festival in New Orleans. It sounded pretty good and we did curse a little that we were were missing it too, until we heard that it was continuing the next day. So that is where we spent the next day. Lafayette Park a few blocks away from the French Quarter was the venue.
The acts were on for an hour each and we were there for the best part of 6 hours. Ed Wills and Blues 4 Sale were a very good blues band, Ed Lindell was great but he relied a bit more on brass than we liked, Luther Kent was very good but fairly jazzy, Homemade Jamz was very good and put on an excellent set. The pick of the day was the last act we saw Super Chikan and Watermelon Slim. We had missed Kenny Wayne Shepherd the previous day but we were more than satisfied with the day we had. The Festival was apparently the 6th annual event. There were plenty of locals there but the crowd wasn't oppressive. It was also free. Plenty of good food on sale and, for once, you could get a beer on
the site. A good happy crowd, lovely weather and good music.
The French Quarter is the big tourist draw and, for the most part, deservedly so. We were told that there had been a plan at one time to bulldoze the area and redevelop but this was stopped afer a couple of blocks were destroyed. Many, many businesses are pleased that the place was saved. It is good to walk around. Unlike any other US city we had seen and a lot like many French towns. Unlike a French town though it was not clean, tidy nor conspicuously well maintained. You can get a good feed of cajun or creole food in any one of the hundreds of restaurants and there are plenty of bars. We didn't go out on the town for a night and were a little thankful when we headed for Bourbon Street the morning after. They had just finished the hose-out and the whiff was not good at all.
We wanted to have a look at a bayou and found a tour with one of the major agencies. Costly and involved a half hour trip on a bus to pick up the swamp boat.
not something you could listen to for very long
We were mostly interested in hearing about the bayou and having a look but everyone else on the boat was into the alligators. The North American alligator grows to a maximum of about 16 feet, although there have apparently been reports of 18 feet monsters. The ones we saw were generallly between a metre and 2, although there was one of decent size, over 3 metres. They had been fed for years on marshmallows but this could no longer happen. They shoot them here but aren't able to do so until they are 4 foot long and then only with a tag issued by the authorities. We kept quiet about our crocs although the guide did mention that the Australian and African ones were much larger than these. We had a few quiet smiles thinking about the reaction people would have to the crocodile population on any river in the Top End, both in numbers and size.
Leaving New Orleans we had a nice drive staying off the interstates and wandering the back blocks of Louisiana. Drove past some lovely old plantation houses at Franklin, and through ship building yards, the place near Morgan City where those oil rigs
Just needs planting
at the edge of the Mississippi
are bred and some places where they were working and a lot of cane fields. It's harvest time and they seem to still burn cane here but the fires are pretty slow. Things are all very green. The weather went bad with a big cold front coming through. We were ready to camp in Lafayette but a bit of a look at the forecast convinced us that camping in very strong winds expected overnight would not be comfortable so we found a cheap motel. It is nice that the motels are getting a little cheaper now. Not a lot more than the campgrounds.
Lafayette was a possible for some good cajun music and it may have been so if it was later in the week but we were there on a Tuesday. There were a couple of possibilities but a long way across town, in a restaurant and it was cold and wet. We did visit an an Arcadian village called Vermillionville, the original name of the area. It had good exhibits showing Arcadian life after the people were expelled from Canada in mid-1700s. An excellent educational resource but also good for the tourist. A restaurant with good cajun
You can just make out the servo/supermarket/daiquiri bar/casino on the left. The grain elevator is the biggest building in town
food was on the premises.
Louisiana was a worthwhile visit. Laid back and just a little sloppy around the edges but interesting and enjoyable. Compared to a lot of the other states we visited, alcohol was easier to obtain, there were casinos/pokies in service stations, a lot of the roads were as bad as we've seen, the people were as friendly as any we've seen, and definitely didn't mind a chat.
There are more photos below