Thursday, January 19, 2006

Travelogue Thursday: Avery Island, LA

HA! And you thought I was just going off on some bizarre tangent yesterday! But there was a method to my madness -- a travelogue teaser!

This week's - week, HA! I'm lucky if I can squeeze out one of these a month. But anyway, today's travelogue covers Avery Island, LA - a picturesque garden of oriental plants and accoutrements, a bird sanctuary, and home to the McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco Sauce.

My first experience with Avery Island was on my honeymoon in 1994. The wife and I had decided that we didn't really want to go just one place for our honeymoon. So, we drove through southern Louisiana and did a quick stop on the Mississippi coast to say hi to some pals.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWe didn't have any stops planned, but decided to drive Hwy. 167 south until we married up with Hwy. 90 and would stop at any interesting sites along the way. A couple of those stops are for future travelogues, but the stop that probably had the greatest impact on us both was Avery Island.

Hwy. 167 merges into I-49 in Alexandria and it was pretty smooth sailing down to Lafayette and all of that beautiful country. We got onto 90 and the horrible condition of that road slowed down our travels considerably. Slowed enough that a sign that says, "Avery Island Jungle Garden and Bird Sanctuary Ahead" caught our eye and prompted us to take the trip. And (see map) it's only about 10 miles off of Hwy. 90 and only an hour down the road from Lafayette.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI'm not sure what we were expecting but what we found has become one of our favorite places on Earth. Avery Island is owned by the McIlhenny Company and the area not taken up by the Tabasco Plant is a jungle garden and bird sanctuary. A swamp with bamboo, a Buddha-infested shrine, torii gates and beauty.

One of the first things you will notice there will be a slight stinging in the eyes from the Tabasco plant. It's not bad and you quickly get used to.

We were shocked at every turn that this little salt flat in the middle of nowhere Louisiana had been turned into an Oriental jungle garden paradise. What's interesting is that this chapter in my life served as a foreshadowing moment as the next place I lived - for a real length of time - was Okinawa.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOh, I have some personal photos of this and future trips to Avery Island. However, I'm both too lazy to find the ones I want to use and most of them are a bit too personal to post. I was lucky enough to find some gorgeous shots from a Google Images search.

Yes. 'Gators abound. And they roam free. There are no fences. You are warned when you enter the park to watch where you walk. However, most of the waterside scenery is via drive-by. You can get as close to a 'gator as you'd care too on any given day. I suggest you only get close enough for a decent zoom lens shot.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOne of the main oddity attractions to the jungle gardens is a Buddhist shrine. Given the setting, it looks in place. Rather than being juxtaposed against the Cajun culture off the island, the garden provides the transformation needed for one to temporarily forget they're in the middle of Acadiana. You are surrounded by the pretty scenery and this odd, brightly colored shrine, with a 900-year-old Buddha statue in it.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOutside the shrine, on a little plaque, is an inscription that reads:

Peacefully I rest upon this lagoon's bank
As pale green bamboos sway above my throne.
Clouds of blossoms soften the sifted light
Falling golden and misty through the boughs above.
Long days of travel have brought me from my home,
Yet I have known no hour of calmer rest....

E.A. McIlhenny wrote that in 1936 and I think it puts one in the mood of the place. The condensed story of the statue is this: An inscription on the statue says that it was fashioned by Chon-Ha-Chin, a noted maker of Buddha statues in ancient times. The Emperor Hui-Tsung (1100-1125) ordered the statue for the Shonfa temple in northeast Beijing. Later, the temple was looted by a rebel general who sent the statue by sea to New York in 1936. A friend of the McIlhennys purchased the statue as a gift and had it shipped to Avery Island.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comNear the shrine, well, throughout the jungle garden, really, is bamboo and little trails leading you through it. I wish this photo was mine, but it was taken by Darren Clark. It is wonderful and you can see more of his stuff at his website: and click the blog link also, awesome, AWESOME stuff!

As with any vegetation-laden area in Louisiana, you must expect to get eaten alive by bugs. You CANNOT! forget bug spray. I suggest wearing sleeves and long pants also. Those of you in the Southeast may think you know bugs, but if you haven't been to Louisiana, you do not. A completely different level of mosquito thrives in the land of Louisiana. An evil breed. They will be the ones pushing all other mosquitoes backs against the wall when the mosquito revolution comes.

So, if you find yourself in southern Louisiana or if you live there and (God forbid) have never been, take the time to stop in and marvel at how beautiful man can co-exist with nature. Make sure to tour the Tabasco plant also, neat stuff there.

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