Zydeco, Gators and Hamburger Buns – Louisiana, USA

Zydeco, Gators and Hamburger Buns
Louisiana, USA

We headed deeper into Acadiana. The Ragin’ Cajun kept us entertained on 100.3 FM, with zydeco and accordions and lots of talk about fish rodeos. Prizes for the biggest redfish, lemon fish, seacat, speck, and sheephead. We crossed the Bayou Des Allemands and entered LaFourche Parish on a straight road where every yard held a boat, including an ark-in-progress with a sign that read, “That’s a big boat PAW PAW.” 100.3 spun more accordion-rich Cajun tunes celebrating “vivant sur les bayous Louisianes” and “la vie acadienne.”

We were looking for a place to get into the swamp and see some gators. Adam found it. Munson’s Swamp Tours sat seven miles off the highway in a cane field in Schriever. We had three hours before the next tour, so we took Bill Munson’s advice on how to fill up, eating salisbury steak and mashed potatoes and catfish po’boys at Wilson’s Kountry Korner, and heading down Route 309 to sightsee. “It’s scenic,” Bill had said. Eerie black cypress knees poked out of the duckweed-covered swamp on both sides of the thin road. A truck pulling a bass boat appeared ahead of us. “Follow that boat,” urged Adam. His fishing rod was in his lap, ready to go. At Chacahoula, we passed the Silverado Lounge, where the band Way Down South was scheduled to play. We’d heard about the band from Otis, who’d called in to 100.3 to talk to the Ragin’ Cajun.

Adam threw his line into a stinking canal near Leighton and got a few good pulls. Carrion eaters were nibbling the eyeballs from scores of bloated, severed fish heads that floated around the dock, so Dana and I told Adam to hurry it up. This was no idyllic Natchez scene.

Back at Munson’s, we boarded a small pontoon with three passengers from California, also going cross-country. Their van was fitted out a lot like New Paint, and we peeked in each others’ vehicles looking for improvement ideas for our own rolling homes. We envied their bigger interior space, and they envied our entertainment system and stacking boxes.

Feeding Frenzy
Feeding Frenzy
We made our way into the bayou with Joey, who’d been a Munson’s guide for 12 years, and Ashley, who drove the boat. When I’d paid Bill Munson earlier, he assured me we’d picked the right tour and that we’d get more than “just a boat ride.” He explained his swamp is private, with nothing to scare off the wildlife.

Bill and Deb Munson lease their bayou routes, once natural, but straightened when men came in to harvest cypress, from the Cox family, owners of the 3,600-acre Bull Run sugar cane plantation.
Rice grows north, but here near Houma, it’s cane, processed at Raceland and Thibodaux plants. Joey knew everything about this watery land, its people, problems and pleasures. And he knew everything about alligators. Our little group, adults and kids alike, had a grand time out on the fecund, tree-draped bayou.

Joey and Ashley dangled raw chicken and hamburger buns over the pontoon’s sides, an edible siren call to streams of gators that sliced through the brown water toward the boat. They came from all directions. They came three and four in a row, like an armada. Sometimes several swarmed the boat at once, jumping out of the water to snatch the chicken, swallowing it as they disappeared, then lurking for more.

Up Close and Personal With the Gators
Up Close and Personal With the Gators
This bayou was part of the Atchafalaya Basin, created by the Mississippi’s natural course. John from California commented that the Mississippi would like to return to its true path, but man can’t let it because “New Orleans’d be under water.” Ashley grunted. “We don’t need Nawlins. Nawlins is a big pain.”

The raccoons on the banks kept two eyes open for the gators that lived to lunge out of the water and eat them. Joey pointed out a raccoon bridge � a giant cypress arched over the bayou and worn smooth from sliding raccoons. A baby raccoon house up in a tree kept orphans safe until they were grown, then released. Joey kept a baby at home. “Got ‘im pretty much trained. He sucks his own bottle.”

John and Adam asked Joey all the horrible black bayou what-if questions they could think of. Joey answered like a true Cajun.

“Is there quicksand?”
“There’s slush. It’ll fill in right over you.”

“What if the boat starts to sink?”
“Git to the bank and climb a tree. That’d be your only chance.”

“Anything else dangerous besides gators?”
“I’d rather wrastle an alligator than mess with the snakes.”

“Lost anybody on the tour?”
“Don’t keep track. It’s bad for da business.”

Excerpted from “Ribbons of Highway: A Mother-Child Journey Across America” by Lori Hein. I’d spent 25 years traveling the globe. After September 11, I felt a need to explore my own country, so I gathered up my two kids, also veteran globetrotters, and we set out on a 12,000-mile back road journey into the heart of America, embracing it as it embraced us.