Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Betty's RV and Abbeville, LA

Carol's idea of Mecca
one hot mama
Once more we found ourselves traversing an area devastated by a hurricane. Hurricane Rita, bourn out of the same 2005 season as Wilma, was rated a notch below Wilma as the 4th most intense Atlantic storm on record. Scattered debris was still much in evidence. Highway 82, the route we chose to explore coming across southeastern Louisiana had been heavily damaged during the storm. Although much of it has been repaired, there we a few rough patches. Be sure and stop at Sha Sha’s cafĂ© (intersection of LA 27 and LA 82) for their cheeseburger and onion rings – made fresh.
We’re now very much in the heart of Acadian Louisiana, the designation given to the 22 parishes that make up the French Louisiana region home to a large Francophone population. By the way, Louisiana calls what most of the rest of the country calls counties, parishes, because of the extensive Catholic Church presence.
Les Cadiens or les Acadiens, Cajuns are the Acadian exiles from Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The most pronounced sign we’re in Acadiana: Cajun patois, a variety of dialects of the French language. Local music and culinary tastes also definitely suggested we were not in Texas any longer. Cajuns have molded, and still hold sway over, the region’s culture.
The area also has Native American tribes (locally the Atakapas) and enclaves of mixed-race Louisiana Creole people (French, German, Spanish and Africans). When we get closer to New Orleans, we’ve been told, to expect a more Creole influence, especially in music and food.
Betty and Carol in front of a little of Betty's artwork
Friends suggested that we must stay at Betty’s RV Park in Abbeville, which put us within a short drive of Avery Island. Turns out that Betty’s is not just an RV park – it’s a local institution. Not a fancy park with somewhat uneven and loosely laid out gravel sites, but be sure not to miss happy hour to get all the inside scoop on local history and goings on. Betty knows it all and what little she doesn’t know, some of her “regulars” who keep coming back season after season will fill in the blank spots. That evening we sampled local food at the Riverfront in Abbeville. Yum!
General Store outside and in
If you have ever used Tobasco sauce (and who hasn’t at least tried it?) Avery Island should be a familiar name. It isn’t an island in the traditional sense (you would be hard pressed to find an “island” on a map marked Avery), it is and island of land isolated by swamps and marshes. It is also Louisiana’s largest of five salt domes (not unlike High Island in Texas). Part bird sanctuary and a source of salt, it is best known for the origins of Tobasco Sauce and where it is still produced today. An island visit has been on Carol’s bucket list for years so naturally it was a must-do.
A dollar paid at a small toll bridge will admit you after 9:00 a.m. A short drive along a gravel road will get you to the factory where short tours are conducted. Being Sunday, the factory was not in operation so the factory portion was pretty quiet. The general store, on the other hand, was in full swing where if something can be manufactured with a Tobasco Sauce logo, you’ll find it there.  The only disappointment about the store was that it accepted credit cards.
 Avery Island drive and a local pond
While most of the island access is closed to the public the 250-acre Jungle Gardens is available for an additional entrance fee of $8 per adult. A 4-mile drive through Live Oak forests and gardens (camellias were done blooming and azalea were on the wane), it allowed for frequent stops for birding. Bird City, a large heron rookery is also part of the park drive.
By early afternoon we’d done and seen everything there was to see at Avery and headed back to Abbeville. We managed to hit a few roadside wet areas, which yielded Glossy Ibis, Fish Crow and shorebirds before returning to Betty’s and happy hour.
 Lake Martin and in the bayou
 Tom kept his hands in the boat at all times
Monday was a full day. First we had a brief take-away breakfast at Suire’s Grocery & Restaurant in Kaplan on our way to Champagne’s “Cajun Swamp Tours”. “Swamp tour” was a bit of a misnomer since the tour was mostly through a bayou ecosystem. A bayou is basically a stream with very slow moving water and is easily navigable with the right boat. A swamp area may extend outward from the edges of a bayou. Both a swamp and bayou are largely forested areas submerged in water but swamps tend to be stagnant whereas bayous are constantly refreshed.
 Gerald Judice and Tom
We also paid a short visit to Gerald Judice’s home, a local artisan and craftsman who sold pieces of salvaged Cypress. Tom will use the wood he purchased to create a sign for our RV. Rest assured the sign will not include any caricature of a woman bending over in her garden.
A very late lunch (or a very early dinner) was had at another local well-known eatery, Prejean’s in Lafayette. We dined on a hearty bowl of their three-time world champion chicken and sausage gumbo. We realized that the dining area was live-streamed to the web so we sent the link to Facebook via Tom’s iPod. Both Robin and Robyn were online, saw us and asked us to wave – so we did. Amazing what technology can do these days!
 Black Vulture
Back to Betty’s for happy hour and chat with folks. Betty’s bubbly and outgoing personality certainly made everyone feel welcome and in a short time we learned a great deal about shrimping, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the history of Abbeville. Also made some new friends who we will stay in touch with via Facebook. Oh, and Betty has started collecting license plates a few years ago (she wished she had started a lot sooner). We noticed she didn’t have one from WI so we left autographed one of our old truck plates and left it with her – she was tickled to have it. If you’ve ever at Betty’s be sure to look for our plate. 

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