Just west of New Orleans, I-10 travels across the vast Atchafalaya Swamp and into Acadiana—also known as Cajun Country. Life is different here. The language is a lilting French/English patois. The music is a vibrant and plaintive mélange of accordion and fiddle. And the food is a delicious melding of locally available ingredients, most notably crawfish, smoked meats, and rice.
Underlying everything is a sense of “joie de vivre” that infuses daily life—a joyful exuberance that is readily extended to visitors. This was our third visit to Cajun Country—and it won’t be our last.
We booked four nights in the heart of Cajun Country at Poche’s Fish’N’Camp—our favorite spot in Breaux Bridge. And quickly realized that once again, we didn’t give ourselves enough time here. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, just missing the weekend gatherings where people of all ages convene in cafés, bars, and dance halls to make music and dance. (We experienced a Cajun Saturday morning music jam on our last visit a couple of years ago. You can see a short video here.) From now on, we’ll make sure that we arrive prior to the weekend. Even better, we’ll stay a full week.
If nothing else, the Cajun culture is a testimonial to the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of community. In the mid-1700’s, the Acadians were driven out of their chosen homeland of Acadia (present day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), where they had happily and peacefully lived for 150 years. Their villages were burned, families split up, and thousands perished as a result of the inhumane conditions they endured during the deportation.
Along the coast, bayous, and upland prairies of south Louisiana, a few thousand Acadians found refuge. I can only imagine what a shock it must have been to start all over again in hot and humid Louisiana, replete with alligators and other swamp terrors. The Cajuns are a resourceful lot, though—they fished, hunted, farmed, and set about recreating their Acadia (“idyllic place”). And alligator ended up on the menu.
Despite missing the weekend community gatherings, we found plenty to occupy ourselves. We visited the Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, a small National Historical Park. The displays are lovingly crafted from heirlooms donated by the families who settled here. There’s also a rather morose half-hour film that focuses on the tragic history of the exiled Acadians. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much attention given to their resilient spirit and the exuberant culture and close community they’ve created après exile.
Despite the attempts of the government in the early 20th century to “mainstream” the Cajuns (including forbidding French to be spoken in schools), the culture thrives today. In 1971, one-third of the state was recognized as “Acadiana” by the Louisiana State Legislature.
A visit to Vermilionville—next door to the cultural center—is a delight. We spent half a day wandering through the living history museum on the banks of the bayou, where costumed staff, craftspeople, and musicians go about the activities of 18th-19th century daily life of south Louisiana with great authenticity. And we also spent part of a day walking the trails at nearby Lake Martin and Cypress Island, where we were happy to see thousands of nesting egrets and herons (albeit far-off views).
We were there mid-April, at the height of crawfish season when the crustaceans are at their largest and fattest. Once considered a poor-people’s food (the term “mudbug” is still commonly used), the Cajuns took to them with relish, and crawfish are now celebrated as a delicacy. We set out to buy crawfish for dinner. “Y’all want tree or five pounds?” inquired the young man with a warm smile and a delightful Cajun accent. “Want dem medium or spicy? Spicy are hot hot,” he warned. Actually, I’d been thinking one pound, since it was only the two of us. But three pounds turned out to be just the right amount.
Mudbugs look like miniature lobsters, and the tails (which contain the sweet, tender meat) make up only one-third of the creatures. We peeled the meat out of the tails and made crawfish étouffée for dinner that night, a classic Cajun dish. It begins, like all Cajun cuisine, with sautéing the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and is seasoned with a healthy pinch of cayenne. It was delicious.
About the RV Park:
Poche’s Fish-N-Camp is a very nice RV park with level concrete sites situated around fishing ponds. The park offers full hook-ups, good Verizon, a nice laundromat, and peaceful surroundings. It’s in the boonies, but only about 5 miles from the town of Breaux Bridge, and 10 miles from Lafayette. You’re in the heart of Cajun Country here. With Passport America, it’s a bargain at $20 per night.
Next Up: A Birder’s Paradise: High Island, TX