Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Nebraskan in Louisiana

The good people at Heritage Clubs International have kept us so busy that there’s too much to put into one post, so you’re going to be hearing about Lafayette Louisiana in the next few posts. 

Just to reassure everyone that there is a little bit of work being done, here are pictures from the trade show floor where all of Nebraska’s representatives are busy selling the Bank Club Directors on the virtues of our various destinations. 

There’s Grand Island

 South Sioux City

And the Omaha Henry Doorly zoo

 And of course, North Platte.

I have to tell you that there are several things that stand out about the Cajun culture.  The first is food, and the second is music.  Not necessarily in that order.  There is also the warm friendliness of the people, the outstanding climate (at least while we’ve been here), and the beautiful scenery and wildlife.  If I had a recorder, I would post the lively bird songs that can be heard all of the time.  Of course, the hotel staff described them as “annoying”, so it must be something that you get used to after awhile.

After a business meeting for “Heritage Partners” (that’s people like me who are selling a destination, as opposed to the Club Directors, who are the buyers), and breakfast and lunch where we also get to rub shoulders with the Directors, it was time for the evening’s dining and entertainment. 

A crawfish and shrimp boil on the beautiful grounds of the hotel, to the music of a Zydeco band.  
I asked someone to give me a description of Zydeco music, and the best they could come up is funky country.  It kind of sounds like country/bluegrass/celtic/rock/blues/jazz all rolled in to one, at least to my unschooled ears. 

Friday was a crazy busy day.  It started with a breakfast hosted by the Nebraska partners, in which we all get to give a brief spiel about our destination.  That is followed by a two-and-a-half hour trade show where all of us “partners” man our booths and the Club Directors come by and visit us for some one-on-one selling.

After that it was off to our local tours.  I was fortunate enough to be on the one called “Cajun for a day”, which included lunch at McGee’s Landing.

I chose the Shrimp Etouffee, 

and was lucky enough that someone at my table also ordered the fried catfish, which they shared.  It was all delicious. 

After that came a boat tour of the Atchafalaya Swamp.  It is an absolutely incredible place.  It is approximately 20 miles in width and 150 miles long, making it the largest swamp in the United States.  As you can imagine, we only got to see a small portion of it. 

It is home to the bald cypress tree, which is now protected after all of the old-growth timber was logged out some time in the mid-part of the 20th Century. The trees in the pictures are about 80 years old, and the ones they logged out were more than 200 years old.

The moss you see hanging from the trees isn’t a parasite like mistletoe, but a plant that gathers all of it’s nutrients from the air.  The Ford motor company used the moss as stuffing for the cushions of his vehicles, up until about the 1950’s.  They specified that the moss be shipped in cypress crates, and the lumber was also used in the manufacturing process.

At this point it would be good to tell you that our wonderful guide Curtis was a native French-speaking Cajun, and admitted that the Cajuns enjoy a fondness for telling a good story.  So I am only repeating what we were told.  I don’t vouch for it’s truthfulness.

I mentioned the crawfish boil we enjoyed.  I learned that: Louisiana leads the nation, producing more than 90% of the domestic crop. More than 1,600 farmers produce crawfish in some 111,000 acres of ponds. More than 800 commercial fisherman harvest crawfish from natural wetlands, primarily the Atchafalaya Basin. The combined annual yield ranges from 75 million to 105 million pounds. The total economic impact on the Louisiana economy exceeds $120 million annually, and more than 7,000 people depend directly or indirectly on the crawfish industry.  I have vowed to eat more crawfish to support the industry.  Not much of a sacrifice.

On our swamp tour, we saw lots of wildlife, several different species of birds – egrets, herons, and of course, alligators!  Actually, we only saw one alligator, and it slipped under the water before I got the chance to get a picture, but we were told there are LOTS more out there – over a million in the state of Louisiana alone.  There are quite a few alligator farms in the area, and they are required to release 18% of their hatch each year.  Alligators are hunted only one month out of the year.  They are caught on a hook, commonly baited with chicken, then the coup de grace is administered with a firearm. 

The swamp is one of the main reasons the Acadians were able to keep their culture intact as the vast wilderness allowed them some measure of isolation from the attempts at modernization.

If you can make it out, there is a tiny shack in the middle of this picture.  We were told the Cajun couple who lived there raised 11 children in it.

The I-10 bridge through the swamp is 18.2 miles long and is one of the longest bridges in the U.S.  If you look closely at the pillars, you will see that there are high water marks MUCH higher than the water is at the present time.


That’s what I can tell you about the Atchafalaya Swamp from my brief visit.  The rest you’ll just have to learn for yourself.  

More tomorrow on a few more interesting (to me at least) things about my visit. 

Thanks for stopping by.  The coffee is always on.


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