CAJUN HEARTLAND …the soul of the south

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Laissez les bons temps rouler!  This Cajun French phrase means ‘Let the good times roll!’  And they do when you journey through the miles of bayou, listen to a unique French language and eat lots of good food.  Welcome to Cajun Country!

Also known as Acadiana, the area was originally established by French settlers exiled from Nova Scotia by the British in 1755.  Today, it’s the largest French-speaking area in the United States.  Fantasy’s Cajun Heartland tour takes us out on the waterways, through the villages and out for some delicious meals. Jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice are just some of the delicacies in store, and all with a touch of cayenne!

CAJUN MUSICOur trip begins with two nights camping in the Big Easy – New Orleans!  We attend our Orientation and Get-Acquainted Party with our WagonMaster and TailGunner to enjoy our first taste of authentic Cajun food at our Welcome Dinner.  Allons danson!  (Or let’s dance in French.)  We’re joined by our own Cajun Zydeco band, complete with dance instructors to teach us how to celebrate the way the Cajuns do – joyfully!

We’re off the next morning for a New Orleans city tour, including the somewhat creepy but beautiful City of the Dead cemeteries. We also explore the tranquil mid-city neighborhood of Bayou St. John, the opulent Garden District and the historic Jackson Square. Then off to the Old Ursuline Convent (the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley), the Pharmacy Museum (which illustrates some questionable medical practices of the 19th century) and the Jackson Barracks at Washington Artillery Park.  There’s so much to do here! We continue our gastronomical adventures with a delicious New Orleans-style lunch at Tujague’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.

That afternoon, we travel to the site of the Battle of New Orleans, where an 1815 ragtag group of Americans faced off against the British Army – the world’s mightiest military force of the time.  War had been raging since 1812, and the British wanted to capture the port of New Orleans.  General Andrew Jackson was sent to defend the city, and within an hour after the battle started, the British surrendered.  Ironically, the United States and Great Britain had signed a peace treaty two weeks earlier, but that news had not yet reached American shores.

GATOR FARMWe leave NOLA’s city lights behind and travel to the small community of Gibson the next day.  We visit the San Francisco Plantation, the most opulent plantation house in North America, and also tour Oak Alley’s Big House and slave quarters.  That evening, we feast again on Shrimp Creole and enjoy some Cajun humor from a local comedian.  The following day is one of the trip’s highlights – we enter Gator Country, riding a swamp boat to explore Louisiana’s back country and its meandering murky bayous.  Next, we board an air boat, a specialty fan boat that brings us close and personal with alligators and other exotic native wildlife.  We top the tour off with a visit to an alligator farm before heading back to camp for an authentic crawfish boil, a Louisiana delicacy.  We end the night dancing and singing to live Cajun music.

SHRIMPEROur adventures continue the next day when we drive on to Grand Isle, Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island.  Here are miles of beaches and boundless wildlife.  We visit Grand Isle State Park, home to 280 species of fish, including birds and other wildlife.  Our Wagonmaster prepares a surprise Cajun dish that evening, and the next morning, we’re off and running to tour the island and take a short cruise aboard an authentic shrimp trawler.   Tonight’s meal features an authentic Cajun shrimp boil.

We leave the island behind and head to Morgan City, more of a small town than a city, but definitely rich in history.  It’s Fais do-do all over again as we enjoy a gumbo dinner with more live Cajun music and dance instructors.  (By this time, we should be getting the steps!)  The next morning, we tour the town, visiting the shrimp docks and the Carillon Tower, a 106 foot structure that houses 61 bronze bells and one of the largest carillons in the world.  We walk right on board and enjoy lunch at ‘Mr. Charlie,’ an oil rig that drilled hundreds of offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico.  More good food this evening – tonight it’s oyster and artichoke Cajun Soup.  And we may be eating Cajun food for a good long time since we’re treated to a Cajun cooking lesson.

We move on to our final destination – Breaux Bridge, aka the ‘Crawfish Capital of the World.’  Along the way, we look at the contrasting lifestyles of old plantation homes and Cajun cottages.  Once we arrive at camp, it’s time for (you guessed it) dinner!  And it’s another Louisiana delicacy – fried catfish!  There’s more live Cajun music to practice those dance steps we learned the other night.  We start the next day touring New Iberia, where we visit The Shadows, a classic Revival-style home nestled among towering live oak trees draped with Spanish moss.

AVERY ISLAND - TOBASCO FACTORYOur tour continues to Avery Island, home to one of the key ingredients of this tour – the McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco Factory.  We see the Tabasco Museum, greenhouse, barrel warehouse and the factory itself.  While on the island, we tour Jungle Gardens, 170 acres of semitropical foliage and abundant wildlife.  We return to New Iberia to visit the Conrad Company’s Konrico Rice Mill, founded in 1912 and a rare surviving example of a factory using a belt-driven power transmission. Then it’s dinner time – tonight’s specialty is a new and different taste for us, Crawfish Etouffee, a thick stew seasoned to perfection and full of plump crawfish served over rice.

The next day we tour the heart of Cajun Country, Lafayette, which claims to be the ‘Happiest City in America.’  First stop is the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, featuring massive brick walls contrasting with graceful arches and delicate brickwork.  Next we visit the beautifully restored home of Alexandre Mouton, the 12th governor of Louisiana.  We drive through the home of the Ragin’ Cajuns, the University of Louisiana.  Those Fantasy cooks get a break tonight as we dine at Prejean’s Restaurant, which serves not only award-winning food, but preserves Cajun culture in its décor and live music.

Our next stop is St. Martinville, a small town on the banks of the Bayou Teche.  We visit the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, which depicts the different and diverse cultures of the people living in the area – Acadians, Creoles, Indians, Africans, French, Spaniards and slaves.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem Evangeline in 1847, making people more aware of the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and their settlement in Louisiana. Founded in 1765, St. Martin de Tours Church is our next stop and is one of the oldest Catholic churches in America established by Acadian exiles.

We finally pay homage to the lowly crawfish (which we’ve been eating all along) by touring a working crawfish farm and watching the tiny creatures being scooped from their crawfish ponds.  The joie de vivre of our Cajun adventures flourishes at our Farewell Cochon (stuffed pork chops) Dinner, as the good times continue to roll.  The next morning, we’re up for coffee and one more taste of Cajun cuisine – a breakfast boudin.  We leave this remarkable and unique land with a true appreciation of our new traveling friends and of course, the Cajun community.