We knew when we crossed the Louisiana border on I-10 that we were somewhere different- according to the CB radio at least. Next clue was the bilingual ‘Welcome’ sign- in English and French. The dialect and language changed almost completely within 5 miles of crossing into the only state we know of with an official meat pie designation (it is the Natchitoches meat pie). We’re still in good ole’ Louisiana, have the Louisiana playlist loaded up on the iPod, and plan to return to this fascinating state someday- so consider our newfound affection for the local ways as you read on.

True in every detail- down to the dense cobwebs that look like they're holding up the equipment. In the original building, this place screams authentic, and according to the guide, is fully operational 'when needed'.

Wow, Louisiana is different. Our first destination was a rice mill tour in New Iberia, then a trip to the neighboring Avery Island- home of Tabasco. Full water and empty tanks in Bussie make lodging an easy decision when we pull into a new town. (A blog reader commented this week that we always seem to be on the lookout for a deal- and she hit it on the head! Anytime we can save $20-60 on a nights ‘lodging’ fee, we’re in with both feet.) We have developed radar when entering a new town that scans for the local Walmart or alternative large open parking lots. Those spots provide a position to legally park and do some Google map or white van recon for the best spot to park overnight and not cause too much trouble. We spotted a nearly deserted Kmart and moved in on a few spots, then loaded up and headed for the rice mill.

"...and open the doors and there's all the people"... Actually, open these doors and it showed the way the mill worked in fine detail- a cool diorama obviously hand built for this tour.

The Konrico Rice Mill offered a factory tour, proudly priced (about $27 for our family) to make you think it was going to be awesome- but expensive enough to push Kelly to ask the lady: “Is it worth it?” Of course she said it was, and we were there, and we’d never been inside a rice mill before, so we paid up and headed for the mill with another friendly couple- a mother and son. We followed along with our tour guide, a late 50’s lady that confidently repeated the lines that described what was before us- the oldest rice mill in the land- at over a hundred years old, and on the national historic register. It was interesting inside, authentically equipped with original equipment in a wooden framework, with hand lettered signs and a sharp model of the mill that opened up and demonstrated the mill operation. This custom created diorama made the whole operation easy to understand as we walked through- depicting the upper floors and underfoot conveyors clearly. We learned (among many other things) that white rice is brown rice, milled longer to strip the bran off of the brown rice after husking the shell. At the end of the tour, rice samples were served and a chance to take home any of several hundred local souvenirs, including the only alligators we’ve seen so far- and it was just he severed head. The large gator head was $250., and the affordable baby head was just $16. Hard to resist a gator head when you’re collecting oddities from across the US… We opted to stay over at the New Iberia WM, and tackle Tabasco the next morning since we had run later after getting some school in at the start of the day.

Morning always comes so fast- and we’ve gotten pretty slack about ‘up and at ‘em’ at the crack of dawn. Kelly makes a good case for late rising some days, early rise on others- and the kids always make a good case for late rising- so when they coincide, I just go along with it. Heavy persistent rain had developed overnight, and provided some motivation to stay in bed! We did eventually get on the road to Avery Island- less than 10 miles outside of New Iberia. This short drive would provide a look at some creative wetland construction, and a first look at the backroads of Louisiana.

Perhaps this guy had a bad experience with water in his RV, or that this entire area of LA was lifted in some fashion against the high water table. Houses, sheds, and RV's were protected against high water in most cases- but this was the highest lift job we witnessed while traveling through. Maybe it's not bolted on and can be jerked down for an emergency evacuation? See it on the only road into Avery Island.

Avery Island is a private island owned by the McIlhenney family, who still actively run the Tabasco bottling operation- in fact- this is the only place in the word that Tabasco is produced and bottled. For all of the bottles that we see on tables in every restaurant and home, it’s crazy that they can produce enough to meet that demand! Peppers are grown around the world and processed here into 700,000 bottles of the sauce on each of four workdays every week. Wow. We visited on Sunday, so it wasn’t run ning, but we imagined that the smoke would be billowing out of this factory when producing such quantities of the hot stuff. At the end of this spicy tour, Tabasco in every form was ready for sampling, including a surprisingly flavorful spicy Jalapeno and Spicy ice cream. The only rule about the ice cream was that you had to try both flavors, which the kids were happy to oblige- although a couple didn’t finish their samples. You’ll never know until you try it- right, Mom? I was happy to finish their samples.

That's a big serving of heartburn no matter who you are! Staring off the tour with samples of their early advertising and choice of bottles- the first batches of Tabasco were hand filled into reclaimed cologne bottles by the founder.

Back to the trip command center for some lunch, then we made out for the neighboring town of Morgan City to scope out the next day’s planned stops- but we got as far as the local movie theater and felt compelled to check out the show times. The rain pouring down helped steer us that way I suppose. We were pleased to happen there in time to catch a movie for the matinee price of $4.50. All the shows started at the same time, which was handy for a family splitting up, in a theater we didn’t know personally. Of note, this is the first movie I have seen a movie in since selling our theater in April of 2010. The sound was good, the seats comfortable and the scratches on the print were bearable after a few minutes. We (myself + older children) watched True Grit (Cohen brothers). We do love watching good movies!

Quiet day at the movies on a Sunday afternoon despite the persistent downpour outside. After wards we were treated to a tour of the projection room (after asking politely).

I predict that I will become very frustrated if I have to pay for any silly movies that I could previously walk out of (no financial risk when you own the place). True Grit worked out to be truly good. The popcorn had too much hull and was chewy- topped with flavored oil. I asked the gal if they used real butter- she didn’t know- makes me miss the properly educated staff at Reel Mountain- focused on the fine details that make it such a pleasant experience- and help me understand what customers meant when they expressed relief to be back at ‘their theater’ after travelling or going to another venue. (I didn’t get out much when running our own theater). We have been renting a lot of Redbox movies, and even I can accept the risk of a $1 movie, or walk out if it doesn’t hold it own. It is strange to be on the other side of the popcorn counter, though, and I really don’t know how to answer the kids when they ask if I miss having a theater? No, I’ve said.

I don’t think so.

Entering Avery Island cost $1 per vehicle. Of interest are the marks that they have carved into the frame for the water level of hurricane Rita (green circle) and Ike (yellow). To save his back, the man used a paddle to extend the vehicle receipt and take your money, creative and cool.