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Houma, LA   05/22/06 (Day 27)

You Can’t Miss It


We’re going to be honest. Things have not been going as smoothly as they usually do when we travel. So far we’ve resisted the urge to whine and complain and bore you with a long list of mishaps (and we’re not going to do that now), but it’s beginning to feel like we’re driving under a dark cloud of misfortune and today is no better.

After leaving Grand Isle, we head up toward prime Atchafalaya swampland near Houma in search of a boat swamp tour. This should not be a challenge since southern Louisiana is lousy with folks with a boat who want to show you their swamp. The hard part, it turns out, is finding their docks. After driving literally in circles for about an hour we end up 30 miles or so from where we’re supposed to be. Demoralized and hungry, we give up and head to nearby Morgan City where we manage to find Swamp Jack only to be told that he does not have eight customers and he will not take his boat out for less than eight people. He blames the price of fuel, but we blame that dark cloud we mentioned before.

But our hearts are set on a swamp tour, so we head BACK to Houma and make it to the dock where Cajun Man Swamp Tours departs from. We’re just in time to join the three o’clock tour ($30 per person) which turns out to be a mixed blessing. Yes, we’re on a swamp tour, but Cajun Man—like the overwhelming majority of the swamp tour guides and operators in the area—is more about spectacle than Mother Nature.

Born with the name Ron Guidry, Cajun Man (who says he really is Cajun and we have no reason to doubt him) has been doing basically the same schtick for years (including during his appearances on major TV networks and in a Kia commercial). It involves one part cantankerousness, one part homemade Cajun accordion playing and one part stupid animal tricks.

All but the ten or so alligators we saw during our two hour swamp tour was lured to boat with a bit of raw meat and Cajun Man’s strange guttural clucking (a crew of visiting Japanese chefs on the boat with us immediately and inexplicably started emulating the cluck—and while we’re on the subject, what were a bunch of Japanese chefs doing in southern Louisiana learning how to cook Cajun food anyway?).

It all ends up feeling a bit like a floating circus.

“Tourists just want to see alligators,” Cajun Man says wearily. And he’s not wrong. But we usually like to earn our animal sightings through perseverance and good old fashioned luck, not chicken necks. I did learn one thing: the number of inches from an alligator’s nose to his eyes is the number of feet long he is. Or so Cajun Man says.

We were assured by a local environmentalist that not all swamp tours are like that and she recommended Dean Wilson of Last Wilderness Swamp Tours (225-692-4114) if you’re looking for a tour that’s heavy on education and observation and light on three ring shenanigans. Unfortunately, we did not have time to stay and check him out ourselves, so if you take a tour with him, .

Dinner that night in Little Iberia is every bit as entertaining as our swamp tour, which is obvious the moment we walk into the smoke-choked bar/dining room of the Guiding Star restaurant. Boiled seafood is what they do so that’s what we ate: a mix of boiled crabs and boiled crawfish, made extra succulent with the addition of the dregs from the nearby Tabasco plant in the cooking water. Even the accompanying corn on the cob and boiled red potatoes is cooked in the spicy brew and it was a delicious revelation.

Just as we’re getting the hang of how to best extract the good stuff from a crawfish or a crab with your bare hands (messy, but effective), an older woman walks in alone. She is wearing a lavender pant suit and is clearly known to the staff. She sits at what we imagine to be “her” table then puts on a pair of surgical gloves before digging into her own heaping tray of boiled crawfish. We were duly impressed.

Did we mention you can buy Avon products at the Guiding Star as well?

That night our email inbox holds our very first OnStar vehicle diagnostic report. Somehow, they remotely give our truck a checkup then email us the report. She’s doing just fine, thanks for asking, though she remains sadly nameless.

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