Saturday, May 4, 2013

Another week of good times rollin’ in Abbeville

April 25-April 30, 2013
Abbeville, Louisiana
Betty’s RV Park

Note: We are now in Houston, but I had still had another week of our time at Betty’s to write about so here it is with a warning that this should be about three separate posts.

My last post only caught us up to our original departure day. Our original plan was to stay at Betty’s RV Park six days and even this plan was an extension of sorts as we eliminated visiting New Orleans to make this happen. By the time our six days were winding down, we both knew that something else would have to be deleted from our future travel plans as we wanted to stay longer to attend Festival International in Lafayette and we both really wanted to experience another Zydeco Breakfast in Breaux Bridge one more time before leaving. The more we discovered about this area, the more we hoped to do before leaving such as: visit a Crystal Rice Plantation Heritage Farm, check out the Tabasco Plant and Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, try the charbroiled candied oysters at Shuck’s Louisiana Seafood House, taste one of over a hundred flavors of daiquiris at Cajun Blenders in Abbeville (one of several drive-through daiquiri bars in the area), take a swamp tour of the Atchafalaya Wildlife Refuge, dance on the bar at Whiskey River Landing—okay maybe not, but at least see others doing it!  We obviously had no clue how much fun we would have here in the heart of Cajun Country, so we extended our stay three more days to at least be able to attend Festival International and dance at one more Zydeco Breakfast.

Lafayette seems to be a great little city.There is definitely a French feeling when you walk down the streets. Even the street signs remind me of Paris and the boutique hotels and cafes add to the European atmosphere.

Festival International is an annual visual and performing arts festival celebrating the French, African, Caribbean and Hispanic influences of the Cajun culture in Southern Louisianan. A primary attraction of the festival is the musical performances that take place on as many as five stages at once. I liked how they decorated the streets with all kinds of banners and artwork for the festival.

The first night we were there, the festival was just getting started with only one main stage--perfect for us as we are not too keen on huge crowds. We chose this night specifically to hear a group named Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band. I previewed many of the music line-ups on YouTube and we liked what we heard when we listened to Frank. 

Our new friends from Betty’s, Jim and Donnalyn, drove us to the festival and we arrived early enough to be in the first row of folks setting up chairs just behind a large dance area by the stage. We were able to leave our chairs and walk around to check out the booths and grab a bite to eat (more po’ boys!) and a drink (beer, wine, or a full range of other beverages).

Keith Frank pumps up the crowd at Festival International

The first band before Keith Frank, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, was a Cajun band and they were pretty entertaining, but Keith Frank was awesome. He has a huge local following and really knew how to get the crowd involved. Interestingly, it was one of the chillier evenings with temps in the mid-50s. Good for outdoor dancing though! Even if you didn't dance, there was no way you could just sit and listen to his music; everyone was on their feet during most of his show.

The next day, Betty sent an e-mail saying she was going to make a hen with rice stuffing for a potluck and invited everyone to join in. We were going to go back to the Festival International, but the potluck with Betty’s wonderful cooking trumped it. Also, we had really been enjoying getting to know the new guests and our growing friendships with those who had been there since we arrived. 

Many of the guests at Betty’s seem to be full-timers with much more experience than us. One couple who recently arrived have 17 years of full-timing. Surprisingly, they bought their Mountain Aire coach in 1996 and it is still their home on the road. A bonus of having conversations with these folks in the evening is learning from their experiences of life on the road—not that I aspire to do this for 17 years!. (One thing’s for sure: they are wise enough to schedule a stay at Betty’s.)

The next day was another sunny one with temps in the high 70s—a good day to visit Avery Island, home of Tabasco sauce, botanical gardens, and an egret rookery. Edmund McIlhenny, the inventor of Tabasco sauce, helped transform the land of his in-laws 250-acre sugar cane plantation and salt mine, into a world famous pepper farm. Avery Island is not really an island – it is actually a huge dome of salt, three miles long,  two and a half miles wide, and eight miles beneath the earth’s surface. I read that if the domes were above the surface, they would be higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. Pretty amazing to imagine.

Touring the plant turned out to be more interesting than we had expected mainly because of an entertaining tour guide. She explained the whole history of the McIlhenny family who first began growing the special peppers used in Tabasco sauce over 125 years ago . Now only the seeds for these peppers are grown at Avery Island and the actual peppers are grown in several different locations in Central America.  The process for making the sauce was also fascinating as I had no idea it was aged for three years in oak barrels previously used for Jack Daniel’s whiskey. The tour also included a short movie that explained the process followed by a visit to the Tabasco Country Store where you could sample a variety of products that are not widely available like raspberry chipotle Tabasco and their jalapeno ice cream which was better than it sounds.
Our main reason for visiting Avery Island was to see the part called Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre garden with semitropical foliage, abundant wildlife, and a centuries-old Buddha. Unfortunately, many of their most prolific flowers, camellias and azaleas, had already bloomed but we enjoyed seeing the live oaks, ponds, and a sacred area called the Asian garden pavilion.

We might have walked the four to five mile loop, but the ticket person told me most people drive because of the number of alligators we might encounter, yet we only saw a few small (4-5’) alligators on the driving part of our exploration of the park. Fortunately, there were several areas where you could park and explore by foot.

Seeing this red Chinese arch took us by surprise as most of the gardens are natural landscapes.

We walked the path through the arch and were even more surprised to see a huge Buddha statue from the tenth century. The plaque explained that in the 1920s, a Chinese warlord sent the Buddha to America, but no one claimed it so it sat in a New York City warehouse. In 1936, two friends of E. A. McIlhenny purchased the statue and sent it to him by rail as a surprise gift.

E.A. responded by designing an Asian-influenced setting for the sacred statue housed in a glass temple, surrounded by seven hills of knowledge. This part of the gardens is supposedly a sacred place as people from all over the world come here to offer prayers to the Buddha and experience the solemnity of his view.

The most amazing part of the gardens is called Bird City, a nesting area that McIlhenny built in the late 1800s to help protect the snowy egret. This egret was at one time in danger of becoming extinct because of the popularity of their feathers for hats. Today, it is estimated that over 20,000 egrets migrate each year to the island for a safe place to raise their young.

February through April are prime nesting times for the birds, and so we were lucky to see these adorable egret babies as well. 

The next day we were off to take two of the Zydeco Breakfast. We left the park at 6:30 a.m. again as Breaux Bridge is about 45 minutes away and there is typically a long line to get in before the doors open at 7:30 a.m.  The first time we came here we arrived by 7:15 and we were near the front of the line; not so this week.  We underestimated the crowd that would be here because of the Festival International.  Oh, well. We met another couple here from the park, Alice and Gene, and enjoyed visiting with them while in line.

I did a blog post about Café des Ami already so I am not going to say much more than what a blast. I love the idea of dancing in the morning. While we here, we learned about a Sunday opportunity that supposedly was not to be missed: a 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. dance at Whiskey River Landing, a Cajun dance hall and bar. Just what we needed to hear as our plans were to leave on Sunday.  When we returned to Betty’s later on Saturday, she also invited to a special party at her favorite casino on Tuesday night.  To sweeten the pot even more, Marvin, one of the longer term residents of the park, offered to give me a special Louisiana wine glass if we stayed. We definitely felt caught in Betty’s web, and so we extended our stay another three days! And, yes, I now am the proud owner of a gold painted fleur de lis wine glass.

We got together a group of four others to join us at Whiskey River Landing and the best news was that our new favorite Zydeco band was playing: Geno Delafose. 

The setting for this bar is awesome as it is sits right on a waterway that is part of the Atchafalaya Basin. hen we arrived at 4 p.m. there were cars parked everywhere. 

This place is a classic with two old bars decorated with all kinds of stuffed Louisiana wildlife and a huge plywood dance floor overlooking the water decorated with Christmas lights and mardi gras beads. The bar was written up in Men’s Journal as one of the fifty best bars in America.

We all did a fair amount of dancing and totally enjoyed watching the eclectic crowds this place attracts. By this time, we recognized several of the dancers from all the other places we went while here. One dancer in particular, whom I featured in two videos on previous posts, showed up as usual and proved just as entertaining to watch. I actually had the chance to dance the last dance with him, but I have no photos to prove it.

The best part of the night came when we heard the band say it was their last song and people jumped up on the bar to dance. We had heard this was a tradition, but I didn’t believe it ‘til I saw it. What a hoot!

On Monday, I realized it was my last chance to cook for a crowd, so I made Coq au Vin and homemade bread and others in the park brought side dishes and dessert.  We had about 14 people join in and it seemed a fitting way to celebrate our final night on Betty’s porch as Tuesday several of us were going with Betty to the Cypress Bayou Casino.  The casino offered a free dinner, dancing, and drinks to those with special invitations (high rollers?) and each invitee could bring three guests. So eight of us headed out together and had fun dancing, trying out a few machines, and enjoying the lively atmosphere.

All good things must come to an end. . . really.  We had plenty of reasons to stay for the weekend as Betty was making her famous gumbo and the Crawfish Festival was happening, but I finally realized this is a place where there is always something special to do. It took fortitude and a pinky swear with Vic, but we managed to liberate ourselves from the web on Wednesday morning with Houston as our next destination.  I had to take several deep breaths to say my goodbyes and hide the tears behind my sunglasses. We will be back!

waving goodbye at bettys


  1. So glad you had a memorable stay. Betty is quite the hostess. Seems to know all the hot spots and great places to explore. More campgrounds should take her lead!

  2. What a fabulous time. I can hardly wait to meet Betty and get caught in the web. How does she keep up with everything going on and everyone around? What a dynamite place with way too many things to do and see. It's a wonder there is ever a spot at Betty's. Nice of you to give yours up to someone else.

  3. I can see why you had a difficult time pulling yourself away and why many stay so long. What a fabulous place! Looks like this will be a hard place to duplicate. Glad you had such a great stay. I can't wait to visit the Tabasco factory.

    1. The tough thing about staying at Betty's is there is no other place like it. That is why so many of her guests come back again and again--even to stay in a local motel if they no longer have a motorhome!

  4. And a GOOD Time was had by all!! Great Post.

  5. Don't you love that zydeco! Ayeee! Louisiana is among our favorite places too! Great read and the pictures were great as usual.

    1. Yes, now we are considering taking a Zydeco cruise. These folks sure know how to live life fully.


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