Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Louisiana Cajun Prairie - May 2000


In May 2000, Anne and I went on a biking vacation.  It was the first active adventure trip we had taken together.   We had recently got into Cajun and Zydeco music and I thought a trip to Louisiana would be a chance to experience the music first hand.  We went on a five day trip with a tour company that specialized in biking thru the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana.  

The focus of the tour was to experience the Cajun culture.  We biked the back roads of the Cajun prairie, ate Cajun food, stayed in quaint B&B’s, met local people, heard stories from the region, and went dancing every night.  The tour company - French Louisiana Bike Tours, did a really nice job.  Tour leader Michael and his friend Wayne were great hosts. 

We biked in a big circle around Lafayette.  I learned that the Cajun country is not near New Orleans, but rather it’s on the western side of the Mississippi, northwest of New Orleans. The Cajuns we met had some scorn for New Orleans calling a place where Yankees come down to vomit in the streets.  Having been in New Orleans a couple of times, I knew that description wasn’t entirely inaccurate.   

The Cajun prairie is flat.  The only hill we had was riding up over a highway overpass.   Most of the roads had us zig zaging around crayfish ponds, rice paddies, and pastures. It’s also really different.  There are two places in this country that I’ve been to where it felt like a foreign country; Santa Fe and the Cajun prairie of Louisiana.  It’s different because, the language is different (most people speak French), the signs are mostly in French, the food is different, and the people behaved differently (e.g. most restaurants had live bands and there most always dancing).  

We had 15 in our group, mostly retired, many doctors, who were very fit, and loved to party.  Michael had a small school bus that would lug us around to the various restaurants and dance halls in each town.  Being on the school bus with a bunch of drunken doctors telling dirty jokes and singing was entertaining.   



The group members (as I recall) where;


Marvin & Nancy:        both retired, living in Orange Beach, AL
Wayne & Harriet         retired general MD, living in Orange Beach, AL
Bruno & Sandy           working ER MD from Orange Beach, AL
Marion                         teaching MD from MS.
Tom                             boat repair shop owner from West Palm, FL
Tom & Mona               retire pediatric MD and his 30 yr old trophy wife from Cincinnati, OH
Sean & Nancy             Construction firm owner from Cincinnati, OH
Barbara                        friend of the MD’s from Orange Beach

We all had a great time together.  The people were fun loving and outgoing.  The weather was great, with all sunny days and temps in the 80’s.  Our host, Michael, loved to party and dance.   He was a real Cajun and did a great job exposing us to the Cajun culture.  Below are some of my noteworthy comments and memories from this trip.

Most of the street signs are in French.  All the roads and streets were Rue de this and Rue de that.  Rivers are slow moving and called bayou’s.  We bike along the Bayou Teche, which in French essentially means the snake river.

Bayou Teche
We learned that the Cajuns love to party.  Allons dancez! – lets dance and  Fais Do Do! - lets party.   Every place we ate had a Cajun band and a dance floor full of people.  At Mulates, kids in the local high school honor society (the Beta Society) had the dance floor while we were eating our diner.  All these high school kids were up waltzing, jitterbugging, and two stepping.  We wouldn’t see that back in New England.  At Mulates, we saw Lee Benoit play.  He was really good and sang most songs in French.  A very touching moment was when he turned his back and sang a song to his wife Valerie, who was in the band.


Our host Michael loved to dance.  His face would light up and feet would start tapping every time a two step started playing.  He made a point of getting each lady in our group on the dance floor whenever he could.  Harriet, who was in her mid 80’s, gave a panic look every time she danced the Cajun Jitterbug with Michael.  At Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Michael stood outside the ladies room asking ladies coming out the door to dance with him.  He got shot down seven times, but got an A+ for effort and perserverance. 

Michael Cajun Jitterbug
Fred’s Lounge in Mamou was a must see.  Michael told us we had to get there by 11:00 am in order to experience the party.   It was a Saturday morning.  I got there around 10:30 am and found the party in full swing.  The bar was packed with everyone drinking beers, dancing, and with a Cajun band playing right in the middle.  And it was all being broadcast over the radio.  Big signs on the wall said no dancing on the tables.  The party ended at noon time with most folks going back to their farms.  In New England, folks would be hanging around the coffee shop eating donuts, but in Mamou, Saturday morning is party time.


Fred's Lounge
One high point was staying at the Country House B&B in Washington.  It was run by Miss June Lowrey.  Miss June was a very interesting lady.  She had lived on a plantation with her husband, was a part-time artist, and now ran a very nice B&B.  She was a very elegant and engaging lady.  While most were taking naps, a few of us spent a lazy afternoon on her porch drinking ice tea and just talking and listening to her tell stories about living on the plantation.  She engaged each one of us wanting to know what we did and where we were from.  Anne and I stayed in the room called “Miss Polly’s Suite”.

Cat on Miss June Lowery's Porch
  
At one town, we stayed in an old plantation house called Chretian Point.  It was huge and looked right out of the movie, Gone With the Wind.  Anne and I stayed in “The Nursery” which had a large four posted bed that required a small step ladder to get up onto it.  Prior to going out to dinner, we all sat on the front porch and drank mint juleps.  Michael's assistant, Wayne, rode his bike up to the front of the “big house” yelling “Miss Scarlet, Miss Scarlet, da Yankees is comin, da Yankees is comin!”  It was hilarious.  As we were getting to leave, Mona (the trophy wife of one of the doctors) went around and drank the last few drops from everyone’s glass.

In Eunice, we stayed at Potiers Prairie Cajun Inn.  We had a nice Cajun meal and afterward had a talk from the Reverand Paul Potier, who spent the most time trying to sell us Budreaus Butt Rub, which was some type of cure-all skin lotion.  That night we went to the Liberty Theater, which runs a show called Rendezvous De Cajuns.  It’s basically a Cajun version of the Prairie Home Companion with dancing.  It’s broadcast live over a local TV channel.  Anne and I impressed our group by getting up to dance a waltz in front of 100+ people while on Louisiana TV.



Overall, it was a fun trip. 

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