“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time”.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011: It is 0900 and reluctantly, we leave Covington, Louisiana and our good friends Johnny and Eileen.
We used I-10 to quickly get west of the New Orleans morning traffic. In a few miles we dropped down on LA-12 to the town of Pumpkin Center and soon we were heading southwest on LA-22, the Louisiana Scenic Byway.
This is the Atchafalaya Basin area…..at 20 miles wide and 150 miles long it is largest swamp in the United States. A note of disclosure, I couldn’t find a safe place to pull over and snap a few photos so I grabbed the following from Google Images…..it does represent how the area looked however.
We passed many bayous with homes built on pier’s out over the water. In the larger communities there were tall earthen levees that provided some protection to the area by any storm related surge of water. Some of the levees had grazing cattle clinging to the steep terrain like mountain goats. There were large stands of live oak trees draped with Spanish moss and many Cyprus trees at the water’s edge.
Coming to the small town of Stephensville, Louisiana we stopped for lunch in a nice waterfront park. I walked a short ways down the road to the Stephensville Elementary School where I was greeted by Dr. Rawls, the principal. I told him of Marvelous Monkey and the Pennsylvania school’s geography project and he told me the history of the town which I promptly wrote on a card that I’ll send to Stephens’s school. When I asked about the levee across the road from the school, he said that the potential of flooding didn’t concern him but that the swamp on the other side did. Almost on a weekly basis an alligator from the swamp finds its way onto school property. He has taken it upon himself to patrol the grounds daily before the school children are let out for recess. When he does encounter an alligator he casually shoos it away by throwing small stones at it.
Back on the road we soon came to LA-90 and continued west toward Lafayette. We notice signs that announced “Future Corridor of Interstate 49”. Looks like highway progress is coming to this are of rural Louisiana…..too bad.
Around mid-afternoon we came to the town of New Iberia and headed south toward Avery Island and the land of Tabasco. Paying a one dollar toll to cross the twenty foot bridge to this private island we made our way to the Tabasco visitors’ center. We enjoyed a presentation of the history of the Avery and McIlhenny families, the cultivation of the Tabasco peppers and production of Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce.
We learned that the finished sauce is put in white oak barrels where it ages for three years. As an interesting side note, the barrels are actually leftover whiskey barrels purchased from the Johnny Walker distillery. At the end of the aging process the sauce is mixed with a little vinegar and Avery island salt then allowed to steep before being bottled.
During the factory tour we watched the predominantly automated process of filling, capping and labeling the bottles. There are actually six different flavors of pepper sauce being manufactured and sold worldwide. We even received some free samples!
The women in the picture below comprise the Quality Assurance Department. The QA inspector who is seated personally samples every bottle of the finished product as it exits the production line. She then carefully recaps the bottle and sends it down the line for the final process of applying the clear plastic tamper band. She is known as “Iron Stomach Irene” and has consumed millions of ounces of Tabasco during her many years with the company.
OK…..I made that last part up. But they do have a very rigorous and controlled quality procedure which makes Tabasco the world’s finest pepper sauce.
The Pepper Pickers, also known as the Peter Pipers, are charged with picking a peck of peppers an hour by use of a sophisticated diagnostic tool. This piece of test equipment is called “le petit bâton rouge”. Absolutely true…..it is a little red stick painted the correct Tabasco Pepper hue that the pickers hold beside each pepper to determine optimum ripeness. If any peppers enter the factory before they are ripe the offending Peter Piper Pepper Picker is severely chastised and punished by a whack from the “le gros bâton noir. OK…..um, I made that part up as well. Sorry, I must be under the influence of Tabasco, I can’t help myself, I need help!
After the factory tour, we made our way to the company store where all things Tabasco was offered for sale. After picking up some souvenirs we decided to have an early dinner at the Tabasco Cafe. Keeping with my tradition to sample many regional foods on this trip, I had a Louisiana Boudin (pronounced Boo Dan), a sausage of sorts. Now the thing tasted far better than it looked. I did take a few pictures of the Boudin before I ate it but none of them made the thing look remotely edible. I have no idea what was in it…..as with most sausage, that’s probably a good thing. So if anyone Google’s the ingredients that go into a Louisiana Boudin…..please keep it to yourselves. Kit being far more sensible enjoyed some red beans and rice, another great regional food.
Avery Island is also a private wildlife refuge. In the late 1800’s the Snowy Egret was slaughtered to near extension by “plume hunters”. They were looking to sell the magnificent feathers to milliners for use in the making of ladies hats. The son of the founder of the Tabasco Company, Edward Avery McIlhenny, worked diligently to save these beautiful birds by creating a wetland and bird sanctuary. Today the island is home to hundreds of nesting pairs of snowy Egrets as well as other migratory birds.
Back to New Iberia, LA and west on LA-90 where we connected with I-10 once again. Nearing the little town of Egan, Louisiana and being it was late afternoon we decided to stop for the night. We located a very convenient and fairly run down RV Park right off the interstate. It was cheap and had everything we needed so we pulled in for the night. Later came a good old boy in a beat up motorhome and entertained us with his life story. His tale sounded like every Country and Western song you ever heard and would take a whole journal issue to relate. See me sometime and I’ll fill in the details.
The RV Park was next to a swamp and there was an alligator barrier fence to keep the critters at bay. I did notice a woman with rather large hair walking her small dog on one of those retractable leashes, you know, the ones that look kinda like a fishing reel. Any way she proceeded to walk Fluffy along the bank of that swamp…..guess she was trolling.
Thursday, January 20, 2011: Up and gone by 1000 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50’s. Back on I-10 and heading west toward Lake Charles, Louisiana. Being as this area is dead flat, there is no wind and very little traffic I decided to conduct a mileage check:
- 55 MPH=12.4 MPG
- 60 MPH=10.8 MPG
- 65 MPH=10.2 MPG
- 70 MPH= 8.4 MPG
Yea, I know…..it doesn’t make sense to me either. I guess the speed vs. miles per gallon ratio is not consistent. So, anyway…..can you guess what speed we favor?
Pulled into a truck stop near Lake Charles, LA for fuel and something to snack on. Keeping with my regional diet plan I selected a bag of Spicy Cracklin. I could have had a southern three course meal by adding a homemade Moon Pie and a fine vintage RC Cola, but I wasn’t that hungry…..or adventurous. The menu also featured corn dogs and fried Boudin Balls sitting majestically in a plastic box under a heat lamp. Some good eatin there, I tell ya. A virtual one stop backwoods marketplace…..one is able to get fuel and gas.
Rolled into Texas around noon and stopped at a very nice visitors’ center to get our “Winter Texan” stamp of approval. We picked up maps, brochures and information for our journey into South Texas. As we walked back to the parking lot we noticed that our little rig was made into a motorhome/fifth wheel sandwich. Oh, the indignity. I wonder what kinda mileage those monsters get.
We considered getting off I-10 and taking a detour through Galveston, TX but we wanted to be at Kit’s sisters’ place by the weekend so we decided to explore that area on a future trip.
Back on I-10 we noticed a sign that said “El Paso 880 miles”. Yikes…..Texas really is one big state. Back east we covered 10 states in that distance.
Near Beaumont, Texas we drove through a heavy wind and rain storm. We considered pulling off the interstate and waiting it out. However we noticed the skies ahead appeared to be brighter so we just slowed down and took it real easy. Within five minutes we punched out the other side of the storm and there was even sun peeking through the clouds. I had forgotten how intense and short the storms can be in this area of the country. There were no reports of tornado’s but the storm looked as if it could have spawned some.
The winds remained strong from the west…..unfortunately we were now headed straight into them. I did a quick mileage check and discovered at 60 MPH our MPG had dropped to 8.5. It always amazes me the effect of wind resistance on a high profile vehicle.
Tired of the Interstate, we pulled off on TX-71 toward Austin. Soon we crossed the Colorado River…..huh? Then we crossed that same river three more times…..triple huh??? Hope it isn’t thee Colorado River or Lucy has some serious splanin to do (that last sentence works better if you say it out loud using a Ricky Ricardo voice).
Pulled into a Wal*Mart parking lot for some groceries and walking around time. We then retreated to our camper and enjoyed a nice meal while watching all the local folks try and peer into our tinted windows. That is always hilarious because the windows are so dark that if we leave the lights off there is no way anyone can see inside…..but we have a really nice view of everything outside. We even spotted a few local Walmartians in their native dress.
Pulled into Kyle, Texas and a nice reunion with Kit’s sister and her husband Don. They too escaped California a few years ago and really love living the Texas lifestyle. As in the past, they allowed us to camp in their dooryard or what I like to call “The Open Bar Ranch and RV Park.
Friday, January 20th through Monday, January 24th, 2011–Kyle Texas: Howdy, pardner! Now where did I last leave my Stetson?
We enjoyed a great four day stay in Kyle, Texas which is located about 25 miles south of Austin. This is our fourth time in this very nice area of Texas in the past two years. Since we have already seen most everything, we decided to just take a few down days to clean out the truck and trailer, attend to some vehicle maintenance, eat some great Texas food and visit with our hosts.
Don and Char live in a very nice newer development…..however this is Texas and the Texas lifestyle is never far away. Here is a photo of their neighbors, just a couple of houses down.
The above picture appears to have some symbolism. There must be some commentary there concerning bovine race relations but I’ll be darned if I can figure it out.
One can’t visit south Texas without sampling some great Texas Barbeque. Char and Don drove us through the beautiful hill country west of their home to Driftwood, Texas and a locally favorite joint called The Saltlick.
The Beef Brisket, Sausage and Pork Ribs were just incredible……and the complete meal was plentiful and fairly inexpensive. The town of Driftwood is in a dry county so it’s BYOB which further adds to the value.
The place was founded by an old guy that built a barbeque pit in a shed on his property. He would sleep in a cot beside the pit and feed wood to the fire all night long. When done, he would sell his barbeque to friends, neighbors and the occasionally traveller who would come along. Soon, word spread and he built a screen room around his pit to provide onsite dining. The place continued to gain a following and he added on some more. Today The Saltlick can feed 200 people in one sitting and will often see 2,000 folks a night feasting on the best barbeque in existence…..all of it coming off the original pit.
Website for The Salt Lick Restaurant: http://www.saltlickbbq.com/index.html and another for a pretty good review on the place: http://www.travel-austin-texas.com/salt-lick.html. This area has a lot to offer, but if it didn’t, I would still travel here for the food. Absolutely incredible.
Don and Char have a nesting pair of rare and erotic birds that they are raising in their backyard. These Dry Plains Flamingo’s (genus: Pinkus Wireleggus) are difficult to keep in the hot Texas sun and must be monitored constantly. Fortunately Don enjoys watching over them with a cold beer in his hand.
We spent part of the afternoon visiting with a couple of ex-patriots from Maine. Ray and Darlene, originally from Topsham, Maine, moved to Texas a few years ago. They have been long time RV enthusiasts, even hosting in a few state campgrounds. Just recently, they decided to return to full time RV’ing and are very excited about living the nomadic lifestyle once again.
One morning Don provided an authentic south Texas breakfast. We enjoyed Migas, Kolaches and sampled some Menudo. It all was excellent!
Now Kyle is near Austin, the state capital and a city with a lot of traffic. Many folks that have to commute into Austin on a daily basis use their horns and a digit or two as much, if not more, than their brakes. The automotive original equipment horns are too wimpy so many commuters have upgraded to a larger horn as this fellow did.
Well, tomorrow is Tuesday, January 25th and we have been on our excellent adventure for two whole weeks. Our plan is to leave in the morning for the Texas Gulf Coast and the town of Corpus Christi. Stay tuned.
Kit’s Corner: We had a nice few days of downtime in Kyle. Next time through, we may try and take in some of the famous country music in Austin. It always seems like by Saturday night, we are all “exhausted” by our downtime and content watching TV for a few hours. Must be an age thing. Maybe, we could just take a nap during the afternoon to gain some energy…. LOL.
Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma