Thursday, March 22, 2007

Texas and Louisiana

“Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas any more” is our response to new surroundings. We’ve sure found new surroundings in Louisiana as we visit for the first time. We see azaleas blooming in the wild and in most yards here in Lafayette. It’s green—meaning spring has arrived. And the accents are quite distinctive.

We toured the Tabasco bottling plant on Avery Island—who would have thought the chili mash had to ferment for three years before the hot sauce in that little bottle could be made? Mr. McIlhenny was quite a Renaissance man, with interests in hot sauce, the snowy egret, and cultivating camellias, among other things.

The Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, laid out by McIlhenny, were amazing. There we saw small alligators living in the wild, turtles, a Buddha in a temple, an oak tree used as a survey marker almost 200 years ago and still growing. And there are azaleas, wisteria, camellias, bamboo and holly growing in abundance. Another feature was Bird Island, a breeding place for snowy egrets for nearly a century. The once nearly extinct birds are flourishing and amazing to watch in such large numbers.

We also went on a swamp tour on the Atchafalaya Basin south of Lafayette. There we saw cypress trees and houseboats and got a little feel for living in bayou country. For two days we also sampled local foods—ettouffee, gumbo, deep-fried catfish, alligator, crawfish, oysters and shrimp, boudain and sausage. We think we will pass the next time such things are offered. We are pretty set in our eating habits. But we did give them a try.

Our last day in Lafayette, we drove to New Iberia on Bayou Teche to tour a plantation owner’s home that was built in the 1830s. We have spent a lot of time in two Colorado Historical Association historic houses in Trinidad and know that much of the furniture and appointments are not really associated with the house. But Shadows on the Teche is operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and about 80 percent of the furnishings actually belonged to the Weeks family that built the house. We had a great tour, given by a teenage boy, Matthew, who really knew his stuff, and the house is wonderfully maintained and fascinating. The gardens and the views from the house are wonderful.

We spent two nights in Beaumont, Texas, before coming to Lafayette, Louisiana. There it rained for hours at a time over a 24-hour period. No severe storms, but in Houston, about 90 miles southwest, there was flooding. We were glad to be in Beaumont.

Beaumont was not a planned stop. But Tuesday was a day for changed plans. We were headed out for a run. On the way, we stopped at the RV park office to find a local park to run in and to sign up for another day in Houston. We were told we could only stay if we moved to another site—there was a rodeo in town and our site was reserved for the next 10 days. Even though we planned to visit the Museum of Funeral Service in the afternoon, we decided it wasn’t worth spending an hour moving the trailer first.

So, instead of going for a run, we returned to the trailer, prepared to leave and were on the road by 9:45 am. We called the Louisiana state park we were planning to stay in and they had vacancies. But as we drove east on I-10, I suggested we could stay in Beaumont, Texas. After looking in the Trailer Life Directory, I called the Gulf Coast RV Resort and made reservations. As luck would have it, they accept Passport America, so we would be staying two nights for $30, instead of one night in Houston for $25.50.

Wednesday we went running in the Beaumont RV park. We dodged and ran through puddles, but it was good to get the exercise. This was our second run at sea level and it’s great. I can run for 3 miles and not be out of breath—tired, maybe, but not out of breath. There is so much oxygen.

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