Louisiana Fried Chicken
On Monday, we headed out nice and early for our Cajun Encounters swamp tour. Of all the choices I listed for the day, Eva went with the tour, and after all the walking of the previous day, I was looking forward to driving and letting someone else take the reins.
Cajun Encounters is a family-run tour company, which takes visitors out into the Honey Island Swamp, one of the “least-altered river swamps in the United States”.
It is here for the tourists, to be sure, and the group activities started early. The family with the baby said they had some bait, if we needed to lure some ‘gators, prompting laughter from all, and for the couple with two small children to offer up theirs as well, as we walked to the boat.
Troy, our captain, was a likeable fellow, who spoke as though he had done this thousands of times…and probably had. He asked the group to say where they were from and what they were here to see. Here to see? Um…I’m thinking maybe a swamp?
Repeat: Eva and I, are NOT GOOD at team-building.
It turns out, most people just want to see ‘gators. Frankly, they aren’t that thrilling. Here is one, sunning himself on a log, then hiding under the water when he got sick of being photographed. I don’t blame him.
It isn’t a great time to see ‘gators (too cool), much to the disappointment of the group, but they are soothed by tales of summertime, when the water is apparently thick with them. For now, we have to make do with the raccoons. They know their part in this play, clamouring for their daily supply of protein pellets and hot dogs (the marshmallows inspired too many complaints from punters), but they sure are cute…especially the little blonde one.
Captain Troy was a wealth of information about all aspects of the swamp. He played here as a kid, inner-tubing and swimming, and literally knows it like the back of his hand. He calls the pigs like dogs (heeeeeere, pig pig pig), and I was quite looking forward to seeing them, because they are apparently far more dangerous than the ‘gators. They didn’t come for their snack today, but I believe him when he says how unusual that is. We saw other creatures, here and there.
The swamp is full of cypress trees, which, according to Troy, is worth more than mahogany and teak (and is illegal to cut them down in here). They have a really unusual structure, with accompanying knees protruding around them. It hasn’t been determined what role the knees serve, with aeration or stabilisation being possibilities, but they are all through the swamp.
I enjoyed the tour most when it turned its attention to the people. These homes are on the banks of the river that feeds into the swamp and, whilst many of them are holiday homes, others are inhabited all year round.
Some of the locals make their living catching the crawfish and catfish that literally have a place on every menu around here.
They like their decorations. The houses are covered with The Little Mermaid decals, and flags, and horned skulls, along with the favoured signs;
“It’s not krooked, you r drunk”
“I like tourists. They taste great.”
And, of course, the wildly-popular Saints fleur-de-lis. According to Troy, New Orleans has four seasons: carnival, shrimp, hunting, and football, and it’s football season right now. These guys are American and they are are Saints supporters, and that’s just about all that matters.
The swamp was very peaceful (or, at least, it was when our group stopped searching for, talking about, and describing how they would shoot, ‘gators). There were several times when it occurred to me how nice it would be to sit on the front porch with a beer in the evenings, down here in the bayou.
This bridge was interesting (or, correction, I remember thinking my dad would find it interesting – it’s not always the same thing). It is on a highway that leads from California to Florida, and is one of the few remaining bridges that raises in such a way that the little house (where the mechanism is instigated) raises with it. Apparently the water reached the house during hurricane Katrina, which really gives you an eye-opening perspective on how much went through here. It must have been truly devastating.
All in all, the swamp tour was a worthwhile way to spend a morning, if not for the more obvious reasons.
Having worked up an appetite, Eva and I headed to Willie Mae’s Scotch House, in the heart of Treme, to have some fried chicken for lunch. Willie Mae’s has been here since 1957. Take a minute to look through these pictures, because they will give you an idea of how special the place is. And use google maps to look around here, to give you a sense of the building and surrounding area.
When we arrived, there was a queue down the street, which we joined…hesitantly. It was right on 12 noon, so I figured it was just about to open, only to discover that it had been open since 10am, and there was pretty much ALWAYS a queue.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, people kept coming out, saying things like, “Oh. My. God. How good was that”, and looking around and giving us all an enthusiastic, “it’s worth it!”.
Then it started to rain. And Eva started looking at me with her “explain yourself” expression. It didn’t get any better when we were asked if we wanted to share our table with the two guys behind us, or wait longer for a table of our own.
“We’re fine to share”, I replied…now refusing to look at Eva.
See this picture? This was taken back when I had no idea I was about to eat one of the best things I have ever eaten…namely fried chicken, fried okra and sweet potato fries from Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans. Eva had the chicken tenders and mashed potato…and iced tea, naturally. Equally incredible. Eva wanted me to try the mash and tell her what was in it. Who knows? If they told me, they’d probably have to kill me.
The crunch on that bloody chicken was to die for. I suspect I ate whilst doing the heavy breathing that I do without realising, when I’m hungry and very, very interested. Fortunately, the pilot (yes…we were THAT friendly) beside me was sucking as much chicken off his bones as I was.
It was incredible.
To round off the day, we went on an anti-slavery plantation road trip, which involves driving past each of the major plantations and sparing a thought for the lives that were lived there in servitude. We might have taken a tour of the Whitney Plantation, being the only one that actually focusses on slavery, but it was a little late in the day and we had missed the last call.
Evergreen earned a picture, but only because it was the filming location of Django Unchained.
On the drive home, we saw some beautiful clouds and beautiful houses, in that order.
New Orleans sure is pretty…and how about that chicken?!