The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
Cajun Culture and the Atchafalaya Wilderness
Paddling down the Atchafalaya yields a wonderful opportunity for exploring small channels, bayous, back bays and back channels and the Cajun people who inhabit them. A lot has changed with the flood control projects and petrochemical projects of the last century, but the Atchafalaya is still a human place as well as a wild place. Can both live in harmony? If this is possible anywhere in North America, the harmony between man and nature is possible in the Atchafalaya. As you paddle through the extensive forests, swamps of the Atchfalaya Basin, watch for opportunities for visitation in some of its small communities. One such place to experience some of this intimacy with nature, this deep sense of place following the Old Channel of the Atchfalaya River through Butte La Rose. Follow the Old Channel at the Split at mile 56.5. The Atchafalaya Basin is a place where man and nature coexist in some kind of harmony; where Cajun families live on the waterways and the outdoors is an intimate part of their daily lives; where houses have been built on stilts hanging over the river, or on wooded banks of the bayou, or on houseboats, and where the communities end the deep woods begin. Wave your hand hullo for passing fishing boats and crawdadders. They may not wave back, but then again they might. Don’t expect handouts. People fish here for a living, not for sport. In fact, you might offer to buy a fish, or a bag of fresh-caught crawfish, for an incomparable meal over the campfire. If someone waves you over to their dock or houseboat, by all means go over for a visit. You might be offered a cup of coffee or tea. By all means accept this offering. Sharing a cup of coffee is a Cajun tradition as old as the arrival of the Acadians. You would do well to carry a thermos and fill it up with hot coffee every morning. You might make a few new friends when you pull out your thermos and offer them a cup of campfire joe. Especially if you buy one of the local South Louisiana favorites like Mello Joy. Mello Joy is the Atchafalaya favorite, or so I’m told by one of its residents. What are the other choices?
SOLA Coffee Companies
Coffee, and the serving and sharing of it, is a fine tradition honed to perfection in Southern Louisiana. Ce Bon! In Cajun country you will be considered unfriendly if you don’t offer you guests or visitors a cup of fresh brew. We identified Community Coffee above because it is housed right on the banks of the river in Baton Rouge, and commands such a strong presence. But there are many, many other great SoLa choices to sample including French Market, River Road, Luzianne, Cafe Du Monde (CDM), Union Coffee, and Mello Joy. Paddler Robert Landreneau who grew up in a multi-generational Lafayette family swears by Mello Joy. I prefer River Road Organic. Baby’s Coffee in Breaux Bridge should be added if possible. Try them all. Be sure to sample at least one chicory blend. Chicory is as SoLa as it gets! Chicory is roasted sassafras, derived from native traditions, and commonly used in SoLa during the depression and the World Wars as a coffee substitute or extender. Not everyone enjoys chicory, but you can cut the bitterness with some sugar and milk like they do at Cafe du Monde. You’ll soon find out which most titillates your personal coffee senses! They’re all good if they’re from SoLa, and will be fresher roasted than most other store-bought coffees you’ll find anywhere else in America. And there is a reason for this: bulk coffee beans arrive here at these same ports quicker from coffee-growing nations in Latin and South America than they do anywhere else in the US! You’re in SoLa now, dear paddler, and you might as well taste it all, the freshest beans in America. Enjoy the sensation!
How to Brew a Great-Tasting Pot of River-Rat Coffee:
Regardless of kind or blend, here’s how to brew the thickest, tastiest and strongest river-rat coffee possible. First of all you will need a driftwood fire, preferably including willow wood. Gather some filtered Atchafalaya River water (or other). Pour grounds into an enamel coffeepot (or other) so that you have 2 to 3 inches of grounds sitting on the bottom of the pot. Boil water separately over willow fire. Pour boiling water over grounds. With a large spoon stir 3 times counter-clockwise, and then 3 times clockwise. Let sit 5 minutes. Stir again, first 3 times counter-clockwise, and then 3 times clockwise. Let sit 1 minute. (Note: chicory blends might need a little longer to settle out. Repeat above if necessary.) It is now ready to pour! Fill your cups, and re-top the coffee pot with fresh boiling water. We call this “the never-ending-pot-of-coffee.” You can repeat the refill three times before the coffee grounds get too weak.