We had planned 2 days of sightseeing in New Orleans – just enough time to admire the French and Spanish architecture, savour some Creole cuisine, and try out a few overnight camping spots. Since choosing New Orleans as a destination, I had been planning the beautiful photos I would capture and the vanlife tales and recommendations that I would share here in this blog. Unfortunately, this is not the experience we had, and I have a very different story to share. Our story is one of poor planning, hasty decisions, bad luck, and unexpected adventures the likes of which I had never imagined, all in the deepest depths of Cajun Country.
We arrived at the Bayou-Segnette State Park early in the morning for a day of planning, chores, and admin before setting out on our New Orleans adventure the next day. Upon arriving, we discovered that the Park was full (on a cold, grey Tuesday!) and that the other nearby State Park was also full. Apparently, New Orleans is a popular place… who knew?! We did… obviously… and should have made a reservation. Also, many sites were occupied by tornado victims; don’t they know that privileged Canadians need those spots (lol)? We’re usually flexible when it comes to camping options, but we’d been traveling and boondocking for 3 days straight, were in serious need of a shower, and were not in the mood to start calling around to crowded private RV parks and driving back across New Orleans in morning traffic to get there. Hmm, we had a decision to make.
We decided then and there that our New Orleans adventure was becoming too much of a hassle and that clearly destiny had other plans for us (ya – it was destiny, not poor planning). Studying a map, I spied the Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, smack in the middle of the largest swamp in the US and just a few hours west. I’d always wanted to spend some time in Louisiana’s bayous… this was our opportunity! As a bonus, the city of Lafayette is close by and would surely satisfy our desire for some unique architecture and tasty food. With that, a new plan was born. Before we knew it, we were traveling across the state on Highway 90 – destination: the swamp!
When we got about 20 miles from the State Park, we obediently followed Google Maps through the backroads, which soon turned to dirt and gravel. The landscape transformed from fields to swamps, and the road got bumpier and dirtier as we went. Our decision to take the scenic route was biting us in the butt. Why doesn’t Google have an “avoid gravel road” option?! Why didn’t we just take the Interstate? These are the thoughts I was contemplating as the final 20 minutes (according to Google) of our trip stretched into an hour in Slow Sally time. You can imagine that at this point, our mood was souring.
The entrance gate to the State Park was a sight for sore eyes but as we arrived, the winds were howling, and the sky was spitting rain. The office staff advised us to choose any space and pay tomorrow as they were closing early due to a severe storm and tornado warning. Oh! Our current location on a remote (and low) little island in the middle of a swamp was probably not ideal under the circumstances, but it was too late now. We made up for this misfortune by finding a perfect, fully serviced site with a river view, and went about getting to the chores and admin we’d been planning all day. What could go wrong? Everything!
- Fail # 1 – Check the weather. Best to make sure we weren’t about to be swept away by a tornado. Surprise! No cell service or WiFi. Well, I thought, that makes for a night full of suspense. Also, I guess no trip planning or admin during our stay.
- Fail #2 – De-winterize the van and fill our water tank. Marc spent more than an hour filling and flushing the water tank in the rain. Just as he was finishing up, he pulled out the hose, and noticed the water was purple… like seriously, purple! Had they put antifreeze in the lines? Had we just gone through all that to end up with antifreeze back in our tank? Marc was starting to lose it.
At that point, we decided to stop trying for the day. We each had mediocre warm-ish showers (at least that worked out), cooked a quick meal, and went to bed hoping for a better day tomorrow. We fell asleep to a raging thunderstorm, with fingers crossed that we wouldn’t wake up underwater in the morning.
Morning came and with it, a little sun. We didn’t blow away or flood overnight… things were looking up. We had coffee on our viewing platform overlooking the swamp, which was very cool. We decided this place deserved a chance and paid for a second night so that we would have the day to explore. But first, a load of laundry.
- Fail #3 – Do the laundry. The camp host assured us that the potassium in the water (that was apparently the cause of the purple colour) had been flushed and the water was now fine. When I pulled the clothes out of the dryer, they smelled fresh and floral. Finally, a successful chore. As I started folding the clothes, I noticed rust discoloration on all the light-coloured clothes. Sh*t! Apparently, the rust is the reason for adding the purple potassium to the water. There was no winning.
After 3 fails, we decided “screw the chores”, time to make the best of this adventure.
Alligator Hunting in Lake Fausse Pointe State Park
Serious water quality issues aside, Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, we discovered, is a very cool place. It’s located smack in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest swamp in the US. Its muddy waters are full of wildlife, including alligators. We set out on the park’s longest trail on an alligator hunt. The park website informed us that “Exploring the park is all about the boardwalks. Keep your boots dry as you hike the elevated walkways through healthy stands of cypress trees.” There were indeed boardwalks, but not nearly enough to keep our boots dry. It was one wet, swampy walk but to be fair, I think that added to the fun of the trail.
We stared intently into the bayou at every opportunity but never managed to catch a glimpse of a gator. They’re not out and about in the cold weather. We did however keep entertained by finding the nub forests, creeping vines, lots of birds, and… yup… a juvenile northern cottonmouth – one of the most venomous snakes in the US. Seeing it was both thrilling and terrifying. Hilariously, it was snoozing on some roots, surrounded by about 5 signs indicating not to sit in the roots because it was full of cottonmouths. It knows its place. We continued on with a new respect for nature and with Walter on a much tighter leash.
We spent the rest of our time in the Park reading real books (that’s what you do when you don’t have internet), hanging out on our viewing platform, and taking one final, slightly mauve shower (yup, despite assurances to the contrary, the water was still purple).
Eating Stuff in Lafayette
After 2 days in the swamp, it was time for some internet and urban exploring. We headed out to Lafayette on the paved road (yes, the road from the north is paved). We visited Lafayette several years ago and somehow forgot how small the downtown is. “Urban exploring” is a stretch to describe the experience. As we sat in a parking lot trying to plan our day, I discovered that the city’s mainstreet does not even rank amongst the top 10 in Louisiana. Well, that was disappointing. But having learned our lesson about hasty decisions, we decided to give Lafayette a chance.
I don’t recommend Lafayette for urban exploring (it’s cute-ish but there’s not a lot to it), but I do recommend it for eating. We had one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had at Pops Po-Boys. Po Boy sandwiches are a Louisiana specialty. The place was bustling and there was a great city-owned picnic area just across the street – perfect for dining with Walter. We won’t forget those sandwiches anytime soon and highly recommend them. We also stopped for coffee and biscotti at Reve Coffee Roasters, it was one of the best lattes of the trip so far. What Lafayette lacks in activities, it more than makes up for with food.
Exploring New Iberia
Just 25 minutes south of Lafayette, New Iberia’s mainstreet does make the top 10 and we managed to squeeze in a visit. New Iberia is known for its unique history, culture, and cuisine, which reflects its Indigenous, Spanish, French, African American, and Creole heritage. The buildings and streetscape were reminiscent of some that we’ve seen in New Orleans, and we had fun exploring all of the town’s little nooks and crannies. If we’d had more time there, we would have liked to explore Tabasco Island (yes – like Tabasco sauce) and savour some of the local culinary specialties.
Sometimes we need to remember that with our vanlife travels, what we’ve signed up for is an adventure, not a vacation, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I’m still a bit disappointed to have missed New Orleans, we have seen it before, and it wouldn’t have been new to us. Our unexpected adventures through the swamp and into the little town of New Iberia were new and unique experiences that we won’t soon forget. It’s not the adventure we planned but it’s one that in hindsight, I absolutely would not trade.
For all of you who are interested in having a similar adventure, I can assure you that poor planning, hasty decisions, and a little bad luck are, in our experience, one of the surest ways to end up on a big adventure 😉
Stay tuned for our next post which, with any luck, will be from sunny Mexico. Will they let us in? Stay tuned.
11 thoughts on “It All Goes Wrong in Cajun Country: Vanlife Louisiana”
Fun and games! Glad all ended well. Xo
It did! We still have a bunch of stained clothes but the friendly office staff gave us some commercial strength detergent that they think will work… we shall see!
This is a beautiful story (now that I know you are all dry, clean and safe!) New Orleans sure is a place that I would love to visit one day, and this makes it even more inspiring!
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There’s so much to see in Louisiana. I’d like to get back to New Iberia and a bunch of the other little towns with notable main streets. I also want to get back to Lake Fausse Pointe in warmer weather to see some alligators!
We spent some time at Lake Fausse Pointe and in the New Iberia area on our western USA tent-camping trip in 2012 (when you have some time and a wifi connection, you could check out https://sandenrickenroute.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/the-bayou-teche-can-you-say-cajun/). Happy that you were able to make something out of your New Orleans misadventure and get a taste of Cajun country.
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Thanks Rick, I’ll check this out for sure!
div dir=”ltr”>Woah, Natalie, th
Fascinating post…we are glad your adventures turned out o.k. Like you, we never would’ve anticipated full campgrounds due to storms. Looking forward to your Mexico adventures!
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Never a dull moment. Well, actually, probably a lot of dull moments but you get the idea.
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Haha, yes – we’ll said!