Rural, Small Town
|Lodging||Historic Inns and B&Bs|
|Distance & Duration||Up to 120 miles/3-7 days|
|Difficulty||Moderate to Strenuous|
|Highlights||Food, Music, Architecture, Wildlife|
There are all sorts of places you can transport yourself into a different experience, but a bayou has to be among the oldest, tastiest, and most Spanish-moss bedraped places do it. Slow moving water deep in the delta has nurtured a distinctive ecosystem and culture for a long time. Stir it with a paddle and you’ll get your roux.
The best bayou for your cooking might well be the longest of them all, the 130 mile Bayou Teche. It’s also one of the oldest--once the route of the Mississippi River itself. You wind through forested borders of sugar cane fields, past quaint fishing camps, huge twisting oaks, and the grand old plantation homes. You float through neighborhoods and towns, past big boat works and old sugar refineries (still fragrantly processing each fall), and sneak past backyards, each one showing different capacities to laissez les bon temps rouler.
Ahh, what could be more relaxing than drifting past so many other people's plans to ...relax? Maybe not for the competitors of the Tour du Teche, the fourth biggest flat water paddling race in the country, which takes place every October. You paddle the route of the race, but aren't here for the prize money this time. You take your time, staying at great bed and breakfasts and eating whever strikes your fancy in the land of cajun cuisine. You can’t get this kind anywhere else.
Where else can you see alligators, nutria, water moccasins, turtles, herons, and egrets; hear gars flushing from lilies, and fear a jumping mullet will land in your lap?
Where else can you taste delectable boudin balls, crab pistolettes, crawfish pies, alligator sausage, turduckin, various gumbos, or a crawfish tail you’ve peeled from your own huge pile? And where else would people across generations set down their beers to get up and dance to THAT music, and on a Saturday morning?
The paddle’s easy pace lets you build a discriminating palette for it all: an accordion versus a squeeze box, a Cajun fiddle and a Zydeco washboard, and the waltz, the two-step, even the Mamou Jitterbug. Each town has its own flavor, in Franklin’s historical architecture, St. Martinsville’s steamboat hotel and tree in the Wordsworth poem, Breaux Bridge’s crawfish and dancing, New Iberia’s Tabasco, rice mill, and downtown plantation home. There are historic B&B’s in every town, restaurants are local, and grocery stores mom & pop. And just like every batch of boudin is different, so is the music and dancing. You particularly liked the big bold moves of one athletic, brown-eyed couple in New Iberia, while your friend admired the grace of a blue-haired pair. About the outstanding music of the young fiddle player, however, you were in complete agreement.
As the bayou slowly widens from small offshoot to wide thoroughfare, you begin to savor class and culture variations too. Because homes pass by as specimens to inspect, you become an expert in each species, picking the prime examples of plantation, farm house, chatau nuveaux, bungalow, trailer, and barn. And, of course, there is the accent that’s nothing like the generic southern one just a few hours to the north.
Somewhere above Franklin you paddle past a collection of good-old-boys zip-launching themselves into the bayou and stop to tell them, “That’s the first zip line we’ve seen.”
“Everbod’ gon’ be wontin’ one when dey see our’," says the ringleader of the bunch. "Everbod’ up and down da bayou gonna ha’em.”
By the time you reach the bottom of the Bayou--maybe all the way to Morgan City--you might find yourself wanting to keep going, looking for the next genius fiddler, beautiful dancing couple, one of a kind boudin or B&B. You know the good stuff by now, and, it turns out, it’s everywhere, though you never could find the riskiest kind of boudin, the rare, mythical, illegal red boudin, of the blood sausage variety.
So you will return, maybe for the traditional Cajun Mardi Gras, when drinking, happy folks in costumes and masks ride farm to farm on horseback asking for ingredients for the party’s gumbo. Paddling a bayou you can’t help but stir up a rue, and collect memories for your own tasty dish.
Bayou Teche Experience: Corey Werk is the young transplant from Los Angeles (though he has Louisiana roots), veteran Tour du Teche racer, and new outfitter in Breaux Bridge. He’ll set you up with a shuttle, kayak/bicycle rental, or just good advice. Yes, Corey will Werk for you (sorry).
|Day 1||Port Barre to Breaux Bridge, with lunch in Amaudville||
33 miles total:
18 miles to Arnaudville
15 miles to Breaux Bridge
Cory Werk from Bayou Teche Experience dropped us off early at the put in Port Barre and we set off down the narrow bayou.
We heard there there is a bed and breakfast in Arnaudville, which is a good option if you want to shorten your paddling day. Ask Cory about it: as soon as we find out more we will post it here.
When we got to Breaux Bridge checked into Au Bayou Teche Bed and Breakfast, a fabulously restored and outfitted old boarding house right on the Bayou.
|Day 2||Breaux Bridge to St. Martinsville||15 miles||
We made the trip to St. Martinsville about five miles longer with a side trip to Lake Martin, which is full of alligators and worth it if you have the arms to paddle. There are a couple of portages involved, including a somewhat tricky one over the floating boom that seperates Bayou Teche from the canal. Don't be decieved by the straigtness of the canal on the map--it's magically overhung with trees, none of which appeared to us to have snakes hanging from them!
You could, spend the night at The Cottage at Lake Martin, which would allow you to make a dawn paddle back though the cyprus swamp.
When we got to St. Martinsville, we bike-locked our canoe to a tree, and walked about half a mile to Bienvenu House Bed & Breakfast, the oldest home in town. Can't say every guest will be so lucky, but we got an impromptu theatrical interlude from the hostess that you gotta see to believe. Great food and a beautiful old house make it a nice stay whatever your theatrical tastes.
We stuffed ourselves with delectable crawfish at the Kajun King, right on the corner of South Main and East Bridge in the center of town and you would do well to do the same.
|Day 3-4||St. Martinville to New Iberia||23 miles||
We arrived at Bayou Teche Guest Cottage (337-364-1933) in mid-afternoon to find the owner and some friends enjoying a glass of white wine on the lawn overlooking the bayou. "Thank you, don't mind if we do join you..."
It's a perfect spot with a little dock and big lawn right on the bayou, just right for paddlers and an easy walk to downtown New Iberia. We took a rest day here, because there is so much to do and music, to boot.
Shadows on the Teche: the kind of plantation home you imagine, good tour, right on the bayou and downtown, with a guide who absolutely swears that the slaves here were the happiest slaves in the entire South.
Cafe Des Amis: no doubt this new version will be a success and their website will be up soon. As mentioned above, there’s live music and dancing Saturday and Sunday brunches.
Clementine: some prefer to eat in the bar of this restaurant where there’s often live music, but we enjoyed the dining room for the descriptions of Cajun folk songs lining the walls.
Tabasco Sauce Factory: Avery Island is about 6 miles “inland” from the bayou and how to get out there is a riddle for the car free set. But if you solve it, everyone says try the ice cream. We did, however, make it to the Konrico Rice Museaum, which is a must for all old rice museum buffs.
|Day 4-5||New Iberia to Franklin||42 miles||
This was absolutely epic and crazy in terms of the distance we paddled, but boy, were we proud of ourselves when we fell into the Prevost House: whether you stay in Prevost house proper, with it's twelve foot ceilings and fantastic regional art collection, or in the equally tasteful and more intimate cottage next door, you won't be disappointed.
There is a new bed and breakfast in Jeanerette, where we stopped for lunch, which would have probably made for a more sensible two days of paddling. Still, if a couple of 50 year old guys can make the paddle....why can't you?
|Day 6||Franklin to Morgan City||27 miles||Okay, we didn't make it. After our big day paddling to Franklin that we called it quits and called Cory. But YOU COULD go all the way to Morgan city. If you do, be sure to let us know about it.|
Bayou: a slow moving body of water; the word sounds French but it's Louisiana French, originally from Choctaw bayuk
Beignet: a deep fried pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar, roughly triangular, usually eaten at the Cafe du Monde on the corner of Jackson Square in NOLA, but they’re standard on some menus as far up as my own Shreveport too; basically fried dough with a distinguished European attitude; we all want that, so they’re worth looking for.
Boudin: a soft sausage of cajun-spiced rice dressing made with pork or seafood, developed as Cajun fast food, and if it doesn’t become part of the general fast food landscape in our country at some point, capitalism just isn’t working; some people don’t eat the skin, and others think what’s left is a bit gross, so just eat it.
Crawfish (Crayfish, Crawdad, Mudbug): a 2-4 inch fresh-water lobster-like shellfish, found in any puddle of water in the bayou state; become a skilled peeler and you can put away a couple pounds in no time (my fingers were still telling me about the cayenne pepper the next day, but that might been combined effect of paddling with rubber gripping gloves)
Cajun: short for Acadian and the term for the culture of Francophone Louisiana, and thanks to French settlers being so rudely thrown out of Nova Scotia by the English during the French and Indian War of the mid-18th century.
Cher: “dear” in French; pronounced “sha” as “shack” without the ck, ’course, who you gonna fool?
Gumbo: a roux based stew, often of seafood, or of chicken and anduille sausage; if society is indeed progressing it should become a staple in American kitchens eventually; an especially easy dish for big gatherings if you follow the Alton Brown’s recommendation that you cook the rue in the oven, not on the stovetop.
Etouffe: a creole or cajun stew of seafood or chicken and a reddish, orange gravy; not based on a rue, not particularly spicy, or, well, good, for some of us. Seems like the filling for a better taste, when done right, the delectable pastry-crusted crawfish pie.
Andouille: supposedly an insult in France, it’s a good, meaty sausage here; and not spiced like german wursts, brats, and the ol’ dog, but with wine and spices for it’s own flavor altogether; good in gumbo with chicken, btw.
Fais do do: a Cajun country dance party; usually in the daylight, with lots o’ kin...
Laissez le bon temps rouler: “Let the good times roll” of course, and with all these accoutrements, one hopes.
Squeezebox: sure, it’s the name of that racey song by the Who from 1975, but it also refers to the Cajun accordian, which is just like the other “belows driven reed aerophones,” but one without a keyboard, just a single row of buttons.
Zydeco: from Creole culture; a blend that’s a little African, Carribean, Spanish, and Cajun too; might always be the last word in any glossary, but could soon move up your list of favorite music, so get started listening
...down the bayou!
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