Delta Blues & Cajun Spice: Day 4

Breaux Bridge, LA, to New Orleans, LA: A Cajun Country day of swamp gators, crawfish étouffée, and antebellum plantations topped off with some New Orleans zydeco

A cabin at Bayou Boudin & Cracklin, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
A cabin at Bayou Boudin & Cracklin, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Down in the wolly swamp

I knew that Bayou Boudin & Cracklin (100 W. Mills Ave., Breaux Bridge, LA, tel. 337-332-6158,, doubles from $60) in Breaux Bridge, LA, was going be a perfect place to spend the night when I had called for a reservation and couldn't understand a word the guy on the other end was saying.

Rocky Sonnier spoke in a swamp-thick Paul Prudhommese, punctuating every sentence with a deep chuckle, so all I could make out was that he was (a) definitely Cajun and (b) really friendly.

He had eventually passed the phone to his wife, Lisa, who watered down her accent and peppered it with enough English that I managed to book one of their cabins overlooking the Bayou Teche with a back porch symphony of frogs to lull us to sleep.

Mississippi Delta Road Trip
• Intro
• Day 1: Memphis, Hernando, Oxford, and Clarksdale
• Day 2: Helena, the crossroads, Leland, the Levee
• Day 3: Vicksburg, Natchez Trace, Natchez
• Day 4: Breaux Bridge, St. Martinsville, New Iberia, Franklin, New Orleans
• Practical info

The Sonniers greeted us at breakfast in the main Acadian house, built in 1869. After I inhaled a “Cajun Platter” of cracklin' (fried pork rinds), boudin sausage, eggs, and hoghead cheese (a terrine made from pig’s-skull scrapings), Lisa Sonnier asked about our plans. I said I’d been looking forward to a swamp tour (Cajun Country Swamp Tours, 108 Mills Ave., Breaux Bridge, LA, 337-319-0010,, $20).

She whipped out her phone to call a local guide while my dad panicked. “Wait,” he said. “You never said anything about a swamp tour.”

Dad is afraid of snakes; something about a run-in with a nest of rattlers back when he was a kid.

Eventually, I talked my reluctant father into it, and we drove south of town to Lake Martin to meet Walter "Butch" Guchereau, a wiry Breaux Bridge native with a crawfish skiff and degrees in zoology and botany. His knowledge stretched from local history and bird biology to the meaning of “bayou" (derived from a Choctaw word for slow-moving stream) and the habits of water snakes (which did not make Dad happy).

Butch spent two hours threading his boat through labyrinths of cypress kneeling in the swamp waters, their branches dripping with gray-green tangles of Spanish moss—neither Spanish nor moss but a bromeliad that to early French explorers looked like the pointy beards of their rival Spaniards.

The Cajuns have found many uses for Spanish moss. After being cured by burying it in the mud—killing the outer living layer to leave a tangle of tough black filaments—and ginned into bales, the moss would be used to stuff mattresses, caulk houses, even mend fishing nets.

Henry Ford—always savvy when it came to finding ways to get materials for free—required that auto parts from the south be shipped in crates made of cypress planks (which he turned into door panels and dashboards) packed with dried Spanish moss (to stuff the car seats).

Butch also volunteers for the Nature Conservancy, which has helped preserve portions of the lake's surrounding swampland as a vast bird rookery for more than 30,000 nesting waterfowl. It being late June, the rookery was fluttering with hundreds of giant white egrets, flapping from tree to tree in a scene straight out of Land of the Lost.

With 256 bird species living or passing through the swamp, our ornithological lesson didn't end with egrets. I've never seen so many different birds: great blue herons, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, Mississippi kites, white ibis, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, and a peregrine falcon...and those are just the ones I remembered to jot down.

At one point, Butch nosed the skiff into a floating blanket of water hyacinth so we could get close to a nesting pair of purple gallinules: brilliant purple, green, and blue swamp hens with striking red-and-gold beaks padding around on the lilies in comically oversized yellow feet.

Butch was also poking around for the gator he knew all visitors are dying to see. AS he did so, a young boy in our group asked if the swamp had any snakes. Dad quickly scooted closer to the center of the boat as, despite my warning glare, Butch happily began describing several native species, including ones that could swim.

I grabbed Dad’s arm to keep him from jumping overboard and flailing toward dry land and Butch went on to explain that snake numbers were dwindling as the alligator population slowly recovered thanks to new hunting restrictions. Butch soon found two little gators napping on logs, we dutifully snapped our photographs, and he motored for shore.

I had picked Breaux Bridge as our main stop in Cajun country because, as crawfish capital of the world, it is where crawfish etouffée was invented. It is also home to the renowned Café des Amis (140 E. Bridge St., Breaux Bridge, LA, tel. 337-332-5273,, crawfish etouffée $11.95), converted from an old 1890s general store in 1992 by former state legislator Dickie Breaux, descendent of the town founder. This place is so Cajun they feature live zydeco music during Saturday breakfast, though Wednesday lunch—I had a crawfish-stuffed chicken breast topped with étouffée—didn’t disappoint, either.

A drive through Cajun Country

We had only an afternoon to sample some more of Cajun country as we made our way to New Orleans. First stop: St. Martinsville, once called the Cajun Paris and home to one of the south’s oldest churches, the gorgeous 1765 St. Martin of Tours. A few blocks behind it the ivy-clad Evangeline Oak spreads its branches along the bayou over the spot where the heroes in Longfellow's epic love poem were said to have reunited.

We toured Shadows-on-the-Teche (317 E. Main St., New Iberia, LA, tel. 877-200-4924,, $8), an 1834 sugar plantation built on the bayou in New Iberia and now preserved by the National Trust. It keeps the place humming along as if this were still the 19th century and the Weeks family that lived here for four generations had merely stepped out for a moment. Our guide was appropriately fussy and prim and chock full of information. After the house tour she left us alone to explore the landscaped grounds with the crisp instruction to watch out for gators if we wandered down by the bayou.

With the afternoon slipping away, Dad and I decided to hop onto Rte. 90 to zip toward New Orleans, detouring back onto local Rte. 182 to cruise through the town of Franklin, its main street—a tunnel of live oak dripping Spanish moss—lined by a surfeit of antebellum mansions.

Walking in New Orleans

We crossed the Mississippi one last time into New Orleans’ ( French Quarter, settled into a suite in the 19th century Olivier House hotel (828 Toulouse St., New Orleans, LA, tel. 504-525-8456,, doubles from $69) a fantastically inexpensive hotel in the French Quarter installed in the maze of several interlinked 19th century townhouses. While Dad got ready for dinner in our duplex suite, I slipped out of the giant windows to sit on our wrought-iron balcony and listen to the swirl of live music coming from Bourbon Street half a block away.

In the age-old Napoleon House café (500 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA, tel. 504-524-9752,, jambalaya from $2.50, sandwiches from $5.25), a National Historic Landmark which 200 years ago belonged to New Orleans' mayor, we chowed down on a bowl of jambalaya and a gooey muffuletta, New Orleans' signature Italian-inspired cold cuts sandwich (a Southern cousin to hoagies, subs, and grinders).

The trip wouldn’t have been complete without one last night of music. Since Preservation Hall was closed, and we were too tired to venture farther afield for some New Orleans jazz, we spent a tired hour trolling the nightly frat party of Bourbon Street. We passed joint after thumping joint blasting the same tired old playlist of rock and roll hits until, finally, we heard the entwined sounds of a fiddle, guitar, drums, and washboard: we had found the zydeco.

It was coming from the Old Opera House (601 Bourbon St. at Toulouse St., New Orleans, LA, tel. 504-522-3265,, a bar at the crossroads of Bourbon and Toulouse Streets, right back where we started just a block from our hotel. As the clock edged toward midnight and the music heated up, Dad and I hoisted our two-for-one beers and toasted our days spent among some of America’s greatest music legends in the heartland of Cajun country and the Mississippi Delta.



• Cajun Country Swamp Tours, 108 Mills Ave., Breaux Bridge, LA, 337-319-0010,, $20.
• Shadows-on-the-Teche, 317 E. Main St., New Iberia, LA, 877-200-4924,, $8.
• The Old Opera House, 601 Bourbon St. at Toulouse St., New Orleans, LA, 504-522-3265,


• Café des Amis, 140 E. Bridge St., Breaux Bridge, LA, 337-332-5273,, crawfish etouffée $14.

• Napoleon House, 500 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA, 504-524-9752,, jambalaya from $2.50, sandwiches from $5s.25.


• Olivier House, 828 Toulouse St., New Orleans, LA, 504-525-8456,, doubles $69–$145.


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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in June 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

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