After leaving New Orleans, our road trip started for real. We listened to Serial back-to-back as we drove into South Louisiana - a.k.a. Cajun Country - past the bayous and swamps that I remembered reading about in bad V.C. Andrews books when I was a teenager. We've all seen the Cajun spice mix, but as the New York Times said, in a travel story last year that piqued my interest, "This may well be the last cohesive cultural enclave in the United States, having preserved — or is attempting to preserve — its own language (a sort of 18th-century French with a lot of diphthongs thrown in), its own music, a celebrated cuisine and a proud and welcoming temperament that is immediately evident to those who travel here."
Breaux Bridge, a tiny backwater in the heart of Cajun Country, was our stop for the night - mainly because I fell in love with Maison Madeleine, a tiny B&B in an 18th century Cajun home right next to a swamp. Isn't it pretty? Once we arrived and got settled, we wandered around the swamps as the light died. We witnessed the most surreal golden sunset...
See? Surreal. Then, dinner. We wanted to try the local delicacies - boudin balls, 'gator everything - and were pointed to Pont Breaux, an old-school restaurant with live Zydeco music every night. There were maybe a dozen people in the whole place, and only one middle-aged couple dancing - but boy, were they going for it. Between bites of their meal, they were up there dancing a strange kind of two-step as the red-faced band wailed a kind of country music in French. Michael was brave and got boudin balls and fried gator; I chickened out and had seafood gumbo and a jacket potato (I really rediscovered my love for jacket potatoes on this trip). Oh, and the local beer - Abita - is really good. (As I write this, I'm beginning to understand how I stacked on three kilos over 11 days!)
In the morning, we rugged up for a swamp tour with a shrivel-faced old guy with a fabulous Cajun accent. Not gonna lie, this tour caused a little tension: Michael had booked a tour of Lake Martin and it's swamps, when I'd asked him to book something in the Atchafalaya swamp. I don't know if we missed out on a 'better' swamp but such are the joys of road tripping - for every great discovery, you wonder what else you've accidentally driven past. Anyway, it was gorgeous. And we saw a big alligator!
Then, we headed off for Natchez, Mississippi - via Lafayette, which is pretty much my favourite word to drawl, and an icecream at the last Borden's ice creamery left in the country. This one was built in 1940, and we met Ella Mae Meaux (what a name! Heaven!) who has been making sundaes for 53 years.
I just loved snapping pictures out the window of all the interesting stuff along the road...
It took us most of the day, but we finally arrived in Natchez - which is about as Gone With The Wind as you're going to get in the South. At one point, the quaint town was home to the most millionaires in the US (thanks to the booming cotton industry and free slave labour) which is why it's so chock-a-block with mansions, and had the dubious honour of being home to the second-largest slave market in the South. Legend goes that it managed to stay intact thanks to Southern hospitality - the ladies left behind in Natchez welcomed the Yankee troops so kindly, they decided not to burn it down like so many other towns. I felt really weird about this place. It's so gorgeous... but has so much blood on it's hands. We stayed at Monmouth Plantation, which is apparently haunted (no bumps in the night for us, phew).
I never thought I'd say this, but I loved driving (and being driven) in the big ole pick-up truck General Motors very kindly loaned us for the trip. It even had built in Wi-Fi!
Is it weird that one of the highlights of the trip for me was wallpaper? BUT LOOK. It's SO beautiful. It's by a French wallpaper house called Zuber, and was the height of fashion in the Antebellum period. This one had several layers of wallpaper over it when the current owners bought Monmouth in the 70s. The house had been abandoned around World War II and was in quite the state, apparently. But look: HEAVEN. I'm now obsessed with this wallpaper, despite it costing thousands per roll. One day!
Look! A novelty/extremely racist cafe! A donut shop! A MALT SHOP! Hello, America.
Next stop: heading east to Tupelo, Barnesville, Charleston and Savannah.