Somebody once described Louisiana as being different than any other place in the world – turns out, that guy we met in the laundry room of an RV park that had the CRAZIEST accent, was totally right.
Not only were all the houses suddenly on stilts, but the demographics suddenly changed to a stark black and white. Having both grown up in racially diverse towns, the segregation and blatant tension was a little unnerving.
I love waving at children, who always stare at you with their mouth open in disbelief, but here in Louisiana, not everyone waves back.
The flora had also changed drastically. Instead of the copious wildflowers we enjoyed in Texas, only the crimson clover remained.
In all four states in which we spent our last two months, the Mexican influence was undeniable – in other words, you didn’t have to look very far to find a burrito. As soon as we crossed into Louisiana, what would’ve been a taco stand only a few miles before was a po-boy shop (for those who don’t know what a po-boy is, I sure as hell didn’t, it’s pretty much a sandwich, hoagie, sub, grinder, whathaveyou, prepared on a baguette, traditionally with fried catfish/shrimp/etc.), while every store and restaurant proudly announced to passerbys “fresh crawfish, raw or boiled.”
While we were both a little concerned about whether or not we would still be able to find tortillas (we eat a lot of tacos), we were still pretty excited to try some traditional Southern food.
But enough about food (for now), let’s talk about turtles.
As we spend about 90% of our time on the road, you tend to notice little things like size and cleanliness of shoulders, frequency of counties (Texas has over 300), and who’s more likely to wave (men), but above all else, you notice the roadkill.
Our first roadkill sighting was an egret in CA, not exactly what I was expecting, but birds were pretty popular through that first stretch of farmland. Throughout the rest of CA, AZ, and NM, the roadkill varied from one thing to another, nothing getting hit noticeably more than the next thing.
In Texas, the roadkill density nearly quadrupled those in previous states. The most popular being deer and armadillos. There was one 30 mile stretch somewhere in Texas where we saw deer, in various stages of decomposition from so fresh it hasn’t started to smell, to bleached white bones, every 20 feet. This was the day Ben acquired his jaw bones, which are still mounted on the front of his bike.
In Louisiana, the roadkill mainly consisted of armadillos, snakes, possums, and….turtles.
Unlike any other animal (we still haven’t seen a live armadillo), we have been lucky enough to come across quite a few live turtles, and nothing can brighten your day more than saving a poor little turtle, or two, from certain death.
Since we’re on the topic of roadkill, I must tell you about our most intense roadkill sighting, which happened about 2 miles after we saved our first turtle somewhere in western Louisiana. I start to notice stained red streaks on the deserted highway. I rode it off to be nothing out of the ordinary, there’s so much stuff on the roads these days, but the stains continued for about a quarter of a mile. Just as I was starting to think those red stains might be blood, I looked up and sure enough, a giant boar was lying on the side of the road. It obviously had been dragged down the highway….for a quarter of a mile….hopefully it was quick.
That night we stayed in Chicot State Park, and it was beautiful. Another thing that changed as soon as we crossed into Louisiana were the trees. Imagine riding in a never ending green tunnel. We also saw a couple of live wild pigs on the side of the road.
The next day, as we pulled into a Piggly Wiggly, which is a grocery store for those who couldn’t figure it out from the name (I still can’t get over how ridiculous it is, piggly wiggly!?) we met Scotty and Collin, two guys who had also ridden out from CA. Scotty actually grew up in Irvine, the same town I grew up. Small world! We rode with these two charming fellows out to Morganza, 40 miles north of Baton Rouge, and split the $12/tent fee at an RV park between the 4 of us. Score!
A few miles before we rode into town, we spotted two bald eagles, one in its nest and the other in a nearby tree. A good omen.
We spent the night happily drinking beers and laughing at the word “koozie.”
Before entering Baton Rouge, we had to cross the Mississippi River. This bridge was built within the last 5 years and is absolutely stunning. The guy we stayed with that night, Mark, had actually helped make the bridge a little more bike friendly, and thanks to him, it was a wonderful experience.
Our first stop in Baton Rouge was at Dave’s Bicycle Repair, probably the most legit mechanic in the entire city (according to quite a few people). Working out of his garage, Dave will gladly deliver any road-side assistance and will even pick you up if you run into trouble in the area. If you’re in the area and need some help or simply need those fancy schwalbe tires nobody else carries, give him a call!
Mark, our host in Baton Rouge, is a member of Baton Rouge Association for Safe Streets (BRASS) and helped organize Baton Rouge’s 3rd annual Bike Festival, which we participated in that weekend. He also introduced us to loquats, an absolutely delicious japanese plum. I sent the seeds home to my mom in hopes of one day mowing down on them. Yumm.
Our first night in town, we ate at Chimes, where we had blackened alligator, boudin balls, duck and sausage gumbo, and crawfish etouffee.
We washed it all down with some Abita beers, a Louisiana brewing company.
First day in town, we checked out downtown Baton Rouge and spent some time in a free museum that taught us all about Louisiana history and culture.
Next day, off to New Orleans. Many people outside of Louisiana highly recommended that we visit this city, but every Louisianan we told either thought we were crazy to even consider going there, or were seriously worried about our safety. We took the bus at 6:30 am. I slept the whole way of course…
We were on a mission to experience as much local flavor as possible, and of course by that I mean eating as much local flavor as possible.
Breakfast at Surreys – shrimp and grits and banana fritters french toast. totally opposite but both absolutely delicious.
Spanish moss in Audobon park
Beignets and Cafe au laits at Cafe du Monde – SOOOOO much powdered sugar!
Shrimp po-boys at Domalies (sp?)
Snoballs at a local coffee shop. Peach and Vanilla with condensed milk.
We stopped here because I had gotten some sawdust in my eyes and decided I needed a snoball to make life better again (a likely story) and ran into our wonderful host for the evening – Tom! We originally were planning on staying in New Orleans for a couple nights but were unable to find a place. It was the final four that weekend (baskeball) and the city was packed with fans. Tom invited us to listen to him and his friend play fiddle and piano, respectively, and then asked if we needed a place to stay! Music, shelter, and snoballs. Yes!
For dinner we had red beans and rice, jambalaya, and more gumbo.
That night we saw Tom’s friend the pianist play a show with a guy named Sick, who was quite the entertainer. As the show went on, it got steadily dirtier…and hilarious. Good night, good music, good company.
Next morning, went back to Surrey’s with Tom. Had a crab omelette with avocado and cream cheese and huevos rancheros.
For lunch we had muffalettas, the last “local flavor” on our list.
Headed back to Baton Rouge on the bus. Some guy tried to buy Ben’s bike for $500.
Mark picked us up on the other side and we rode around the city together. That night we went to an art show and bar, part of the 3rd annual bike festivities.
Next day we were back on the road. Only a short ride (~30 miles) to Jackson, LA, our last stop in Louisiana. Stayed with Perry and Lep, a wonderful couple that built their own house, twice! We shared a wonderful dinner and watched their dogs do fun tricks.
Next stop, Mississippi and the Natchez Trace!