Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another Day at Betty’s: Bryan Champagne’s Swamp Tour

On Tuesday morning we left Betty’s RV Park at 10:40 am, and arrived for our noon swamp tour at 11:45.  I’m being specific on times here for those of you who are thinking of visiting Betty’s and taking this tour.   Even following Betty’s very detailed printed route and not stopping it took us slightly more than an hour.  And, I’ll caution you that there are no restrooms at the swamp landing area so you really should stop for a bathroom break before heading out on the 2 hour tour.  Even with Betty’s instructions we did lose one of Betty’s visiting couples on the way and they didn’t make the tour.

I also suggest you make your reservations in advance since Bryan Champagne’s Swamp Tours are the best!! – and from what we saw they get filled up.  We were the only people reserved for this particular tour on Monday morning and by Tuesday noon the skif was filled.



Just before noon, Bryan pulled up to the landing to drop off the folks he’d taken on the 10 am tour.



It’s not long before Bryan has the noon tour loaded and we are off in the swamp.  Because the swamp cypress drop leaves that cause tannic acid in the water, there are no mosquitoes.  This makes our little cruise even more comfortable since we aren’t swatting or covered in sticky bug spray.



Bryan, a native Creole, who grew up here did an excellent job of explaining the environment.  Since we had several French people on the tour he even did the explaining in two languages.  It really added a nice touch to hear how easily he switch back and forth between the two languages and felt very right in these surroundings.

It was interesting to understand the differences between bayous and swamps  to learn the names of the plants, trees and birds, and understand the seasonal cycles of the habitat.

The cypress particularly caught my interest with the ability to live for hundreds of years, keep the swamp clear of mosquitoes and even offer up these neat little structures called cypress knees.  These are actually part of the tree root structure and will not become trees themselves.  They may look familiar since they are very popular with wood-carvers who love to carve whimsical wizards and Santa Claus’s from them.


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This area is home to the largest number of  species of wading birds in Louisiana including this large blue heron and snowy egret.




There are quite a few duck blinds built out on the lake.  They are built so that the boat can be hidden inside the blind.  What surprised me was that since this is public land, just because you build a blind, doesn’t mean its your blind.  Once built, since it is on public property, it can be used by anyone.  I don’t think I’d want to be here when the guy who built this shows up early the first morning of hunting season to find it already occupied!


The rest of the tour group were really excited when they spied a bald eagle hunting over the lake.  I guess Ken and I are spoiled since in our hometown seeming these beauties along the Mississippi River is a common occurrence.




Of course, that’s not to say that it still isn’t a wonderful treat to watch these majestic creatures in action.


It was about this time, that we got a phone call from Betty.  She wanted to be sure that we knew that her favorite shrimp fisherman had just brought in a big catch and was sitting in one of the small towns on our way back selling fresh shrimp at $2.50 a lb.  I have to say, this is an example of what makes Betty’s special.  She really wants you to get the full ‘taste’ of this area and goes out of her way to make that happen for you.



Closer to water level, with us it seemed that almost every log had at least one yellow-belly turtle sunning itself.



That is, except for the logs that were occupied by the alligators!

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Often, there wasn’t more than a few feet between one of these huge pre-historic reptiles and our boat.

Bryan indicated that they have no problem here with alligators going after humans since they have plenty of their preferred food, fish, in the water.  Of course, if you were to bother one of their nesting sites that he showed us up on the levees you could expect trouble.

Did this one appear to be chuckling as  Bryan said they weren’t interested in ‘people food’?


I know this one and several others certainly put out a creepy 'hiss when we came close!


Bryan had told us that most of the time we would be in water less than 4 foot deep so if we did fall out of the boat we should simply stand up.  You know I think stand up might be an understatement on what I’d be doing here.  I think I’d probably be able to set a record for high jump to get back in that boat with these guys around!

The tour was 2 hours long and cost $20 per adults and $10 for children.  It was money very well spent and I can’t imagine that anyone does a better job of this than Bryan.

After the rest of the group had left, Bryan came over to us with a package of deer backstrap that he told Betty he’d send back so she could fry some for her guests tomorrow night.

By the time we got back to shore it was 2pm and we were definitely ready for lunch.  Jim and Lourie, fellow Betty’s guests had been to the famous Mulate’s many years before and suggested that since it was only about 5 miles away at Breaux Bridge, we might give that a try. 

In line with our increasing inquisitive and explorative attitudes in this lifestyle, Ken and I decided to take a ‘backroad’.   Ok, so it took us about an hour to get there.  We’re glad we hadn’t committed to Jim and Lourie that we’d be there since they already had there food when we arrived but then that gave us a chance to see what they were having before we ordered.  Since it was so close to dinner, Ken and I decided to share appetizers rather than have a full meal.  We did the fried crawfish and the gumbo.  While the food was fine, I don’t think any of the four of us, after all the other great food we’d been experiencing were really blown away but this food.  However, I can imagine that in the evenings when the place is packed and the live Cajun music has the place jumpin’, well then I’m thinking it probably makes the food taste better too!

Apparently not having learned our lesson yet, Ken and I decided to take, yet again, diferent roads back to Betty’s RV Park.  Actually this was so that we could be sure that some of the smaller state roads around Lafayette were ok for the motorhome since Ken preferred those over going back through the middle of the city.

And so, Happy Hour was well underway by the time we got back to Betty’s.

Betty had bought many, many pounds of fresh shrimp, and was busy cleaning the shrimp IMG_0177 while we all shared snacks, drink concoctions and variations of the shrimp that some of the guests had already cooked.

After all of this, no one was interested in doing yet another evening out at a restaurant.  Since I hadn’t planned for cooking, Ken and I waited until later in the evening and then went up the block to the Pizzarama which does a really good thin-crust pizza. 

Ken and I were both so tired after the day out on the lake that we were off to bed soon after back at the rig.

Hugs, C

PS.  You may notice that we were so close behind Molly and Bob at Betty’s that even their blog post today looks very similar to our’s.  I think they were the same alligators!!  The RVers world becomes very small when we all get ideas from each other about where to go and what to see!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Betty’s RV Park

Ken had been watching the weather predictions and decided that to get the nearly 300 miles from Rainbow Plantation, Summerdale, AL to Betty’s RV Park, Abbeville, LA, we needed to get on the road early as the winds were going to pick up as the day went on.  This was unfortunate since Joann and Doug were headed back for brunch at Tin Top Restaurant which I understand was just as awesome as  the meal we had there on Friday evening.  And this time, I’m sure they could hear each other talk since there wasn’t torrential rains falling on the tin roof!

We went next door to say ‘see ya down the road’ (RVers don’t say goodbye!!) to Joann and Doug.  Of course, Ditka and Sox had to say there ‘see ya’s to Fillmore as well!


The drive took us over Mobile Bay and in to the city of Mobile, past the shipyards and the Battleship Memorial Park.


Through the Mobile Tunnel.


Then out of Alabama, into Mississippi and then on in to Louisiana.  It’s not often we can say that we’ve driven straight through 3 states before lunchtime.

This was not one of Ken’s more enjoyable driving experiences since besides pushing the number of miles we were doing today to 300 versus his preferred 200, we were in very gusty winds and dealt with city traffic in Mobile, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.  It didn’t help that we also had a lot of bridges, with one 18.2 miles long over the Atchafalaya Basin, the 10th longest bridge in the world.


Our route also took us through the middle of Lafayette when their appeared to be a university sporting event going on, further slowing our progress.

We arrived at Betty’s RV Park about 4pm an hour later than we’d expected but still in time for happy hour!!


Like we were told,  Betty’s is really just a gravel parking lot with full hookups around Betty’s house. 

There were not many rigs here.  Betty said she had just had 5 rigs pull out earlier in the day.  One of these was Molly and Bob whose blog we also follow and with whom we are Facebook friends. So sorry we just missed them as Betty confirmed what was in their blog, that the group had quite a great time!

Sunday evenings were also not the best nights for eating out in Abbeville since most of the popular restaurants were closed. After a few drinks on the patio with Betty and another couple, we decided to follow the lead of the other couple and go to the local Chinese buffet which also happened to serve  local shrimp and gumbo.  While it wasn’t the type of restaurant we expected to be visiting when at Betty’s it was really not bad and a huge selection on a $7.75 buffet.

Betty had suggested, based on the types of activities we like that we be sure to get in Bryan Champagne’s Swamp Tour.   Ken called on Monday morning and found that there was nothing available on Monday but made a reservation for noon Tuesday.  Instead he called to the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm since we both were intrigued by the combination rice/crawfish farms in the area.

We are apparently here in the slow season as far as tourism is concerned and so we were Mona’s only tour participants for the day.   A lot of the tour was really more of a classroom education with videos and explanations on the timing of how the fields are flooded, the ‘seed’ crawfish added, the rice sown from an airplane, the fields drained, the crawfish digging down deep in the soil as the ground dries and becomes warmer, the rice harvested, milled, polished, then the fields flooded again so the crawfish, now the female crawfish with young attached come back up to the water and then the largest of the crawfish harvested from the traps.


The natural enemies dealt with in this kind of farming are different from our more traditional Midwest farming.  Hurricanes can ruin rice fields by salinating the waters.  Nutria rats (look like our muskrats) burrow holes in the little levees between fields causing problems maintaining the right levels of water at the right times for the rice.  Turtles, egrets and other birds make a feast of the baby crawfish.   It seems they have also had some serious problems when man has tried to ‘better’ the process, for example, several years ago when a supposedly well-tested pesticide Fipronil (ICON) for the rice killed off the crawfish and much of the other wildlife in the area.


The land here is particularly suited for rice production because there is a tight clay layer about 2 feet below the surface that acts as a sort of liner to hold in the amount of water needed for rice paddies. With the cost of fuel for pumping and the scarcity of fresh water as a resource, there are several ways these farmers optimize getting the water in and out of  their fields.   The one that is not immediately obvious is how the various fields are built up a slightly different levels so that they pump water in to the highest field first and then after a time,  drain that water in to the next slightly low field, and then the next and so on.

They are also very careful on this particular farm to insure that there is no contamination of the rice crop by things such as petroleum products.  For this reason, their crawfish harvesting boats are actually run off of a vegetable oil based fuel. 


There is a hydraulic rotor in the back of these crafts that is operated with pedals that allow the man in the boat to operate he boat with his feet so both hands are free to pull in and dump the traps.  They dump the trap contents onto a type of  slanted tray with holes on the end that allow the smaller crawfish to fall back in to the water. 

After the tour Ken and I took some different back roads to zigzag our way back to Abbeville, again, just in time for Happy Hour!

This time there were several new arrivals at the park that joined us and the hour extended well in to dinner time. That’s Betty in the center of the picture in the pink top.


The suggestion restaurant for the evening was Shucks which is famous for the wide variety of oysters served.  They have a separate room next to the kitchen for doing nothing but shucking the large quantities of oysters they serve.


The proprietor was great.  When we told him we were from Betty’s, he said, “Ah, Happy Hour has let out!!”  He saw us personally to our table and then proceeded to suggest different ways as visitors we might get the best overall sampling of what was best at Shucks. He also told us about some combinations not officially on the menu that gave us a good taste across the menu.

Ken and I decided to order a variety of different things to share, the crawfish etouffee, along with a combination tray of oysters served in 4 different ways, with  crab au gratin for the main course.  The six of us at the table shared 2 bread puddings for dessert that were also absolutely spectacular.

It was also decided that we now have 4 more people joining us on the swamp tour tomorrow.  This is great for us for two reasons, first, because it sounds like the more people going at one time, the longer Bryan extends the tour AND because when she heard we were all going, Betty, called Bryan to send back something special with us for her to cook up for us tomorrow night….hmmm….tomorrow sounds really cool!!!  

Stay tuned…..if I don’t post for several days, you best come looking though to see if the gators got us!!

Hugs, C

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mobile Bay and Royal Red Shrimp

Ken and I decided to take advantage of what was likely our last good day of weather here at Rainbow Plantation SKP Park by heading out to explore in the jeep.

We first wanted to get some pictures of examples of  the structures on deeded lots where RVers are using this park as their home base.  These types of buildings are one kind of option people living the RV lifestyle have for maintaining some sort of home presence but still being on the road a lot. IMG_0010


Most use a design where the center of the structure where there is the most height is also where they have their 14 foot doors required for the rigs.



The advantage of being here at an ERP Park is the community activities, pool, wifi,  and secure location conducive to being on the road for extended periods.


Once out of the park, Ken and I headed toward Mobile Bay and the little town of Fairhope.  We took the great leftover pizza from the prior night as our picnic lunch and once we reached Fairhope pulled over in the bayside park to enjoy the view while eating.


Ken made friend with on of the locals who was sailing his model sailing ship in t bay waters.


While Ken was enjoying learning sailing with his new friend, I enjoyed the gorgeous rose garden.



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Although the nasty weather was already starting to edge in, you could still see the Mobile, Alabama skyline as a background behind the real sailboats that were cruising the bay.



We made our way back to Rainbow Plantation in time to meet Joann and Doug for a trip to the Tin Top Restaurant.  Fellow RV-Dreamers, Jo and Fred and Laurie and Odel had recommended this restaurant and in particular the local special local catch, the Royal Red Shrimp.  (Note I have the links in this paragraph to all three blogs published by these couples – want to enjoy travelling, get to know folks like this through following their travels…and once in awhile like us right now you’re actually blessed to get to spend time in person!)

We left the campground just as the first round of the bad weather came through and Ken transported us through the downpours down to Bon Secour and Tin Top Restaurant. We chose to sit on the screen porch when we arrived at the restaurant which meant with the ‘tin tip’ roof we have the steady drum of the rainstorm as background music to our conversation. 

Once again, our fellow RVers lead us to a perfect meal.  Ken had the pecan crusted grouper with a   sauce and Doug had a steak. Both were very pleased.  Joann and I went for the Royal Red Shrimp.  I can’t recall ever having better shrimp.




The night did not continue so well once we got back to our rigs.  We were not asleep long before our weather radio went off with the first weather warning and it continued to go off a total of five times during the night.  We were not in the direct path of any of the warnings but it did rain and blow some. 

Since the stormy weather continued through the day we didn’t plan much except a trip in to town to restock groceries and check out the local Coleman Outlet store.  Ken also had to get his Waffle House fix for lunch!

I also had difficulties with the park wifi working, most likely due to the weather—the reason I’ve got two days combined here.

We had Doug and Joann over to our rig for dinner.  Ken figured the radar was giving positive indications that he could grill the salmon outside but he ended up getting himself pretty rainsoaked by the time it was finished!.  Joann brought some great cole slaw and a wonderful weightwatchers cake.

It was a nice evening for conversation. Joann and Doug are the only other RVers we’ve ever met with a background with Unity Church so it was nice to be able to spend time talking to kindred spirits in that regard.  In fact, Joann did a guided meditation CD that they gave us as a gift, something very special to us that we’ll enjoy together and will be an especially nice way to ‘revisit’ with Joann as we continue our journey.

It’s now early Sunday morning and we are starting to pack up to move on to Betty’s RV Park.  We’d really like to travel back to Bon Secour with Joann and Doug for Sunday brunch but the weather forecast calls for increasing winds as the day goes on so Ken wants to get on the road as early as possible.

Hugs, C

Friday, April 23, 2010

Moving??? – and Rainbow Plantation

Ok, in my past life I was a project manager and known for being sometimes OVERLY attentive to planning and detail.

After less than a year away from work, it seems I’m so carefree that I’m totally forgetting what day it is and just sitting enjoying the world when it’s time to move on!

Thursday we woke up to a beautiful sunrise, which is also at low tide.



Thinking tomorrow was moving day, we decided to make it an easy day of doing some general cleanup around the rig and enjoying the lovely Gulf weather at Hohum.

I had just put a batch of wash in the dryer when Ken came to inform me that we were actually suppose to be checking out today according to the front office. For the first time in a long time I pulled out my spreadsheet of overall trip plan and realized, ‘yes’, we were to leave today, not tomorrow….hmmm, just how different have I become to not even pay attention to something like that!!

Well, HoHum was more than happy to have us stay for another night but now I realized it made more sense to go ahead and pack up and move on to Rainbow Plantation especially since Joann and Doug were going to move there today as well and it looked like our weather in Alabama for the weekend was not looking good. Better try to get at least one good weather day in there on Friday.

We made the decision to move at 11:45 and by 12:30 were on the road. The guys at HoHum had recommended that we nix the GPS suggested route and drive through the Apilachicola National Forest to get back to I-10. This was a great suggestion since it was a pretty drive AND there was no traffic so we made very good time.

We did 270 miles with only a brief rest area stop and Ken was feeling much better and comfortable with the long bridges around Pensacola.

Joann and Doug called to let us know that they were in their spot and had requested the spot next to them for us which was very nice of them since we didn’t know if we’d get in before the office closed.

As it turned out, we’d not thought about crossing time zones and so arrived at the office by 4:15, in plenty of time to sign in.

Here we are parked in size # 78. Joann and Doug are the fifth wheel and truck next to us in site #77.


We took some time to set up and sit around talking with Doug and Joann and then the four of us piled in the jeep to go in to Foley for pizza. We went to the Mellow Mushroom, a recommendation from fellow Rv-Dreamer, Jo Wishnie. Thanks so much, Jo, create recommendation and really good pizza with some unique combinations. Ken and I ordered two pizzas knowing we’d have enough for leftovers. We are use to having pizza at least once a week and have not had any since we left on this trip so this was a great ‘fix’ and gives Ken some of his favorite leftover snacks to grab on his midnight refrigerator raids.

Joann invited us over for a piece of homemade Key Lime Pie, a weight watchers recipe that is in the RV-Dreams recipe book. Really awesome and only 3 points…like after all that pizza I was able to keep to points today!!

Ken snapped this picture of Joann, Fillmore and me as we enjoyed the evening with the Dubrouillet family.


Hugs, C

PS. Yes, Unity friends, the dog's name is Fillmore....Joann is a retired Unity Minister!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

St. George Island


We had our morning coffee  while watching this scene in front of the rig.  Two of the three host couples here at HoHum have these really slick fishing boats and were coming in from early morning fishing, bringing in a nice catch of sea trout.  






By mid day we were on our way for an adventure on St. George Island.  The 25 mile trek from Hohum was mostly along beautiful shoreline and included the 4 mile long St. George Bridge. 



The St. George Lighthouse is directly in front of you and you reach the island.  This is the recently rebuilt version of the structure which actually toppled in 2005.  Local volunteer organizations are doing an outstanding job of restoring this part of local history, using as many of the original materials as possible and the original plans for the lighthouse found in the National Archives in Washington, DC.




They are now doing a careful reconstruction of the Keeper’s House.  This should give visitor’s a real sense of what the lighthouse keeper’s life was like 100 years ago.  I was really impressed by this community project.  They’ve also done a very good job of documenting their progress online at the St. George Light Organization website




We drove toward the west part of the island which is mostly private residences but with places for public access to the beach every so often.  This is where we were able to let the dogs out of for a stroll on the beach. 


For those with beach loving dogs, be aware that an increasing number of beaches DO NOT allow pets.  AND, the State Park on St. George Island DOES NOT allow dogs on the beach.  However, the St. George community prides itself on being one of the few remaining ‘dog friendly’ beach towns and leashed dogs are allowed on the public beaches outside the state park.

I guess Ditka decided this would be a great beach for sand-castle building since he went to work digging in the sand.  Actually he was bound and determine to catch some of those pesky little creatures that he kept smelling in the sand.


The pups have so much fun on the beach, it frustrates me that there are people who allow their dogs to do their business on the beach, or allow them to run off-leash,  and so cause the increase in restrictions we have seen.

While the dogs were having their fun, Ken and I got our best view and best shot of the porpoises that seem to be so populous along this coast.  There were probably about 20 in this large pod.  This is one of my new favorite pictures!!  These gentle creatures appeared so graceful, playful and carefree.


Next we decided to do lunch as the Blue Parrot, a recommendation from one of the hosts back at HoHum.



We sat on the porch overlooking the Gulf.

I tried the local specialty, oysters, which I’ve never had fried before.  Great!







When we were nearly finished eating, the owner stopped by our table and asked if we were from Illinois.  When we said yes, he said he noticed the dogs napping in the back of the jeep, and just wanted to be sure we knew that they were actually welcome at the restaurant so long as we stayed in the lower level down by the beach tiki bar and umbrella tables.  Darn, wish we would have known later.  This is really good to know though for people who are coming to the island for the day, since most, like us, don’t like to leave the dogs in vehicles.  While we leave the jeep open so they have shade and plenty of air, we love the idea of a restaurant where they can set at our feet while we eat.  Again, the owner mentioned that here at St. George they pride themselves on being pet-friendly.

As usual, Sox and Ditka, attracted attention and we had a conversation outside the restaurant with folks who were staying at the state park and had made the 8 mile bicycle ride in from the campground to the town.  They confirmed that the island was set up to be very bicycle friendly which is also something we will keep in mind the next time we come back.



We drove to the state park and paid the $5 entrance fee.  This is a beautiful, untouched area of sand dunes and beaches.




We took the dogs on a short walk down one of the nature trails and drove through the campground to check it out.  These are electric/water sites.  While there were several motorhomes in the campground, you would need to be careful on what you are assigned since some of the sites are small.    Since this has no sewer and is up to a mile walk/ride to actually get to the beach and dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, we decided we are happy we chose HoHum over the state park with our great view over the Gulf, community atmosphere and full hookups.




As we left St. George, we drove by several vendors with their rigs selling their fresh caught seafood.  We already had a steak laid out for dinner so we passed them by but this is another part of the island life that we’ll likely take part of in another visit.

It’s become obvious that this Forgotten Coast, has become one of our new favorite parts of this great USA and so as we explore we are already coming up with ideas on what we will do ‘next time’.

One final note, there are SO MANY good local restaurants down here and local seafood specialties that there was no way we could try out all the recommendations.  Next time, we’ll need to check out the Harry A’s just as you get off the bridge in St. George and also ‘The Hut’ in Eastport where you get on the bridge from the mainland.  Local specialties are basically anything to do with oysters and shrimp which are the big catches in this area.  I also understand that Harry A’s serves some Conch Fritters that rival the vendors in Key West!

While I haven’t gained back any of the weight I lost before this trip,  I am certainly not continuing to lose and wonder how folks live this lifestyle without packing on the pounds.  As you’ve probably picked up, one of our absolute favorite parts of travelling is enjoying the local flavors at the small town restaurants, and that’s really hard to do and count weight watchers points!!

Hugs, C