Lafayette and Southern Louisiana
Palmetto Island State Park: Another beautiful and secluded state park. As you drive in surrounded by giant oaks, palmetto, and swamp cypress, you feel as though you might be entering a fairy tale. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take advantage of the trails for both hiking and canoeing, but the park is gorgeous as is the country surrounding it.
Watching the Super Bowl in a country bar: We figured that with Ben’s enjoyment of American football, and it being Super Bowl Sunday, we should find somewhere nearby to watch the game. After asking around, we were informed that there was only a single bar within an hour’s drive of the park that was probably playing the game. We thought it might be packed, but while it was a bit busy when we got there, most people left when the game began. Go figure. The food menu was also a bit challenging. They were having a Super Bowl Party so it was free all-you-can-eat meat chili, chicken wings, chips … and nothing else (apparently, they don’t normally have a menu). We enjoyed 6 non-local beers for $12.50 and went home once it was clear Carolina was outmatched / after the halftime show. However, being in America, we did get to see all the ridiculous commercials and especially enjoyed Paul Rudd’s cameo in the Bud Light commercial.
Man made lakes: So this one time a mining company was digging a large cavern to extract salt. Meanwhile, an oil company was drilling into the earth, exploring for oil … but instead found the salt cavern … at which point dozens of acres of nearby land and freshwater were sucked into the cavern destroying homes and obliterating local wildlife as the nearby freshwater became salinated by the salt in the mine. Oh, and there are several of these lakes because people kept on trying to drill for oil where salt mines exist.
The Tabasco Factory on Avery Island: Generally, we have a rule that we don’t go on for-profit tours (unless it’s under $5), so we ended up wandering the museum and gift/hot sauce shop, snacking on all the hot sauce and eating all the pretzels. The museum was well curated with lots of interesting artifacts, and you could try pretty much every product they produce in the gift shop. The location of the facility is also fairly interesting as it’s located on a hill in the swamp (which is unusual) caused by a salt dome where salt is being pushed up by the Earth’s mantle. While the large, sprawling Tabasco facility sits on one corner of the island, pepper fields cover other parts of the island, and most of the rest is covered in dense forests and walking trails … quite nice actually. Oh, and there’s a giant salt mine underneath which may or may not contain oil … we’ll have to wait to find out.
Queen Evangeline’s Parade in Lafayette: Held the evening before Mardi Gras, this parade had a noticeably lower production value, but was lots of fun nonetheless. Many families had come out on a chilly evening to watch local high school bands and their friends march through town. While we’re glad for The Hulk float, it was terrible to see so many people on the floats dressed up as “Indians”.
Cajun Mardi Gras in Iota: We were invited by a friend of a friend to come to Iota for a more traditional French Cajun country Mardi Gras. Initially this celebration would have involved a group of locals getting up (early), getting dressed in festive costumes to hide their identities (cleverly), getting drunk (quickly), getting on horses (awkwardly), drinking more (enthusiastically), chasing down a chicken for dinner (clumsily), and then going door to door bursting in upon their neighbours to gather more ingredients to make dinner (eventually). Things have changed somewhat overtime, as now there are no horses (just truck trailers), neighbours volunteer to be visited upon, and there is a separate part of the festival where kids get to imitate their elders. Unfortunately, one tradition that hasn’t changed is the presence of blackface which is still featured fairly prominently (especially because it is a predominantly white town). Iota is a very small town without much that would appeal to tourists, but we had a nice walk around, listened to some local music, and tried some local Cajun food.
Bonus: St. Martinville (one of the oldest settlements in the state and nexus of French immigration), Rêve Coffee Roasters (awesome coffee and space), the beautiful countryside filled with submerged fields for growing rice and farming crawfish.
Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast
The San Jacinto Monument: A pretty spectacular tower set to commemorate the battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle of the Texas revolution (where Americans in Mexican controlled Texas rebelled against the government). It was late in the day and we were pretty tired (and $$) so we didn’t go up, but it is supposed to have amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
New binoculars: We had pretty much everything we needed for our trip when we set out, and other than food and a few utilitarian items (a sunshade for the front roof and THE Club), we haven’t made any large purchases. But, at some point in Florida the binoculars we had borrowed from my dad fell apart. We were able to keep them together with tape for a little while, but eventually we lost a critical piece and they became monoculars. Binoculars have been a really useful piece of gear on our trip, so we decided it was worth the money to get a new pair, so we purchased a pair of Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 10 x 25 Binoculars. We were sold as soon as we tried them in REI. Smaller, lighter, and easier to carry than our previous pair, they provide better magnification and a much clearer image. No regrets. We also picked up a $20 REI lifetime membership while we were at it. We’ll get some of our money back for future REI purchases, take advantage of member-only sales, and it should make any product returns and exchanges easier.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: We took a detour down the coast with the hopes of seeing some Whooping Cranes at the Aransas refuge – one of the only places where you can see this endangered species. While we did see them, it was from very, very far away so they only appeared as white dots in our binoculars. But, being the tallest bird in North America, they were by far the largest white dots. The refuge is really beautiful though, and has some nice trails and viewing platforms. We saw lots of wildlife including more alligators, frogs, American coots, turkey vultures, ducks, white-tailed deer, and fields of muddy evidence that there were wild hogs about. We also got fairly close to a group of impressive Sandhill Cranes.
Bonus: The maximum speeds on the highway can be up to 85 mph (137 km/h) so best have some driving gloves, the Lynchburg Ferry (a small, free car ferry), more generous distant family in Houston (Hi Mirit and Ronen!).