Peter A. Boese
What do you get when you combine a 60 pound sack of live crawfish with a 16 foot Alligator in Southern Louisiana? Answer: An exciting party! Well, that is exactly what we experienced at Cajun Encounters last Thursday evening. We had a corporate outing planned at their timber and wrought iron constructed Cajun Pavilion on Honey Island near Slidell, LA. When we arrived, the cooks where boiling water, adding Cajun seasoning, chopping ingredients as they prepared for the party. This gave us time to jump in a few of their custom tour boats and venture up-river through thousands of acres of old Cyprus forest.
The surroundings changed right-away and in no time we were venturing through narrow passages with tremendous sounds of birds, frogs and other swamp creatures that my ears could not identify. Our boat captain and guide explained that this area is known as a prime habitat for some really big alligators and it was our mission to see one of these while we still had enough daylight. We were told that these alligators don’t venture far from where they were hatched and a 16 foot alligator is probably over 70 years-old!
We continued to cruise deeper into the swamp and came across and group of wild feral hogs that were feeding at the edge of the water. The guide commented that none of the hogs were getting close to the water. I asked if that was due to our boat getting closer? He replied that it was most likely due to the fact that we were in an area known for “big gators.” We moved into deeper water close to a channel that ran through an unnamed slough, when all of a sudden a pair of eyes and large nostrils appeared just above the water line. It was the big one, the gator we had been looking for. I have always had respect, and yes – fear for these prehistoric reptiles. I had worked in Africa years ago and knew better than to take a cool “dip” in the nearby river, even though the temperature was over 100 degrees. Those were crocs back then, while these in Louisiana are “gators,” – even so, they both demand the respect and caution of anyone who comes close. From the safety of the boat, we got a really good look at this monster reptile, and so it was time to head back to the pavilion and the Cajun Feast that was waiting for us in big steel pots!
Upon arrival back at the pavilion, a father and son duo where playing tunes on their guitar and accordion while singing lively lyrics in an old Cajun French dialect that was foreign to my ear. I pulled an ice cold Bayou Teche Beer out of a tin wash-basin and took a swig, with a smile, I sensed I was in for a unique experience with these hosts! Just then a very big man came over to welcome me to the party, he called himself “KP” and his handshake was strong, typical for a work-boat captain . KP explained “crawfish season” and the traditions of preparing, peeling and eating these delicious little crustaceans.
I sat a picnic table covered with brown butcher paper with the others as we anticipated this Cajun Feast. I commented that they might serve the food like they do at a Hawaiian Luau – give us a serving tray and ask us to form a line to be served. Boy was I wrong! KP and one of his buddies arrived at our table with what what looked like a small canoe and set it in the middle of the group. He explained that this was a Pirogue (Cajun canoe) and offered to demonstrate how to eat the crawfish served steaming hot with corn, Cajun sausage, potatoes, onions, garlic and a secret blend of spices. We all ate what we thought was a large serving, but KP explained, “a local will eat double what you ate and in half the time!”
After dinner we learned some of the old Cajun dance steps and enjoyed the music that blended-in nicely with the sound of the surrounding swamp. It really gave me an appreciation of the unique culture that the Cajuns have in Southern Louisiana. I am fortunate to have traveled all over the World and have experienced a wide range of cultures; this part of America, with its Cajun culture, culinary traditions, wonderful people and impressive wildlife was a special box to check-off on my bucket-list.
I recommend you try this the next time you visit New Orleans!