Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana

13th - 16th February 2011

Our visit to Alabama consisted of the drive across the very small coastal area of the state lying between Florida's panhandle and the State of Mississippi.    It felt, somehow, that Alabama was short-changed on the seaside front.

We devoted one whole night to Mississippi, camping at the Shepard State Park, where we had the first chance to put our new bikes to the test.

Next morning we were in Louisiana, driving over the long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain and through New Orleans.   Even from our quick drive by on the Interstate, the damage from Hurricane Katrina was very evident, with many buildings still damaged and boarded up, their residents presumably still to return to the city.   

We also spotted several of New Orleans distinctive graveyards, with great tombs above ground and water level.

Driving over Lake Pontchartrain

New Orleans Graveyard

After driving on Interstate 10 through New Orleans, where, to use a nautical reference, the road state could only be described as "rough", we needed to make a couple of improvements to our bike rack, strengthening it with weight-bearing straps.    The drill had to come out again to repair a damaged supporting strut which stiffened Harvey's side bumper.   Harvey did not enjoy his New Orleans visit!   

Based on recommendation by Cole, our Louisiana native friend, we headed to the small town of New Iberia to sample local southern Louisiana bayou life.  On checking into our campground in the town, we got into conversation with a genuine tobacco chewing and spitting local.    Perhaps conversation is an exaggeration, he talked, we couldn't really understand through his thick accent!

We strolled around the campground's large pond that evening, hoping for a glimpse of the resident alligator, only to be disappointed.

One of New Iberia's claims to fame is its proximity to the Tabasco Sauce Factory on Avery Island.     We visited the next day to take the tour and learn how the famous spicy condiment, apparently even a favourite of the Queen based on the factory's Royal Appointment Sign, was prepared.     


Tabasco Factory

We learned that the hot peppers, some grown locally on their own plantation, some in South America from Avery Island seeds, are only picked once their colour matches perfectly with the "Petit Baton Rouge" or small red stick issued to the pickers.      The peppers were aged in used oak barrels supplied by the Jack Daniels Bourbon  Distillery (who were only permitted to use barrels once).   The barrels were sealed with salt from Avery Island's own salt mine and left to stand for three years.   Only when matured were the peppers made into the world-famous sauce.    

After sampling some merchandise, we left with mouths ablaze to cycle around the neighbouring Jungle Gardens.     This garden and nature reserve were created on their island by the Tabasco Sauce McIlhanny family, primarily to safeguard the future of White Egrets.    These birds had been hunted almost to extinction when their plumage was prized for ladies' hats.   The island was also reputed to have quite a collection of alligator residents but again we were unlucky.

Spanish Moss at Avery Island

Trying to spot alligator in bayou waters thick with weed

It being our wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to lunch, the ideal opportunity to sample local Cajun fare.  First we decided to seek out a local French style bakery marked on our map.    After a long drive, we failed to locate it.   Instead we decided to try a seafood restaurant recommended by locals.    Of course, this was located at the opposite end of town and when we tracked it down, it was closed.     

For our last attempt we headed to the town's "fancy" restaurant by now starving.     There we finally spotted alligator, item number fifteen on the menu!     We were here to try local fare so gave it a try, assured by the waiter that it tasted "just like chicken".     Our starter arrived fried and breaded in small chunks, tasting perhaps like fishy chicken and somewhat chewier!      If this and our main course was a typical Cajun selection, it seemed the local fare was mostly fried, brown and hot!

Phil working on his alligator.

Brown fried crawfish, served with brown crawfish etouffee and brown hot seafood gumbo.

The town of New Iberia's Konriko rice mill, preserved in its original condition from 1912 had been placed on the U.S. Government's National Register of Historic Places.   Despite our arrival ten minutes late for the last tour of the day, the friendly guides accommodated us and showed us around the historic facility.     It was interesting to see the process of rice milling, as frequent consumer of this staple, we were remarkably ignorant about its production.   

Historic Konriko Rice Mill

Original 1912 trolleys, still in use.

Our journey west continued next day and by lunch time we arrived at the Sam Houston Jones Louisiana State Park.     We were ready for a hike and set out to one of the park's trails.   Despite the scary signs, warning of alligators, as we walked along the swampy bayou, the only scare we received was from a grumpy, hissing goose we disturbed as we crossed the bridge under which he was hiding.

Strange rustlings in the undergrowth turned out to be the park's resident armadillos, foraging for food.

Next morning we were bound for Texas.....


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