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For some strange reason the refrain of Hank William’s Jambalaya was echoing in my head as I drove up to the Houma Area Convention and visitors Bureau located on the outskirts of Houma in Gray, Louisiana. No it wasn’t Jambalaya or Crawfish Pie that was on my mind on this beautiful fall afternoon. Instead I was thinking about having “big fun on the Bayou”If you are going to take a ride in Louisiana’s Wetlands, you will definitely want to make the visitors center one of your first stops. The visitors center has all sorts of maps, brochures and guides including one that is designed with motorcyclists in mind. Their special motorcycle brochure features a number of self-guided tours throughout the region and is easy to read and follow and fits nicely in a windshield pouch or tank bag.According to Kelley Gustafson of the Houma CVB, there are several great loops including State Highway 57. “You get to see the marsh; it’s just you and the road and marsh on either side of you, trees and grass. It’s real peaceful, sometimes at certain times of the year you can see birds and different types of wildlife while you are going down there.”Before heading out into the marsh, you may want to head downtown and pay a visit to the Bayou Terrebonne Water Life Museum where you will learn about the importance of Louisiana’s wetlands and the vital role they play in this region.Just outside the museum I stopped to view the Acadian Odyssey Monument. The monument was dedicated in 2011 and commemorates the 1755 Deportation of French Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British. More than 7000 Acadians died during the forced exile. Many of the survivors ended up in Terrebonne Parish and other parts of south Louisiana. Today of course they are known as Cajuns… and have contributed much to the rich culture and heritage of this region…Just across Bayou there is a beautiful fountain which features statues of a Native American woman and her two children. The fountain and statues commemorate another group of people who played an important role in defining the culture and heritage of this area, the Houma Nation…

From the fountain, I took a stroll down the Bayou and a brief walking tour of downtown Houma. Then I jumped on the lipstick bike and headed over to the Regional Military Museum on Barrow Street.

Now a lot of towns have military Museums, with planes, tanks, guns and such, but this museum has something very unique. Houma’s Regional Military Museum features living history. On any given day you will find real live military veterans here who are ready to share stories of their military experience with you.

The museum was actually started by veterans who liked to meet, swap stories and share memorabilia. Today it has grown into a rather large facility that includes some pretty important artifacts like a plane which once was in the service of President Dwight Eisenhower.

Once you have taken in downtown Houma you’ll want to head out to the wetlands. Following the motorcycle tour map I picked up earlier I headed south on Louisiana Highway 57…

Leaving the city behind the landscape quickly changed as I drew closer to the coast … soon rural pastures and housing turned into beautiful grasslands and marsh…

If wasn’t long before I noticed that there didn’t seem to be anything just beyond the horizon and the highway had become a narrow strip of asphalt with bayous, and canals on one side and marsh grass and lakes on the other…

After an hour or so you will come to the intersection of Highway 57 and Little Calliou Road. Here you will find one of those incredible south Louisiana treasures; Cecil Lapeyrouse Grocery. This is one of those “must stops” on any wetlands excursion. You’ll find everything you could possible need right here, from household goods and groceries to penny candy and even hardware. How they stuff it all into such a small place will amaze you.

A little further up the highway I crossed over the bayou onto Bayou Side road — and in a few minutes arrived at the Chauvin Sculpture Gardens.

For more than ten years, brick layer and self-taught concrete artist Kenny Hill lived on this lush bayou property creating more than a hundred concrete sculptures. Then one day, following an argument with the landowner, Hill just walked away and never returned… Nichols State University, with help from a grant from the Kohler Foundation bought the property and saved the statues from destruction… But the story behind their meaning is left for us to determine, since the reclusive Hill has never returned or talked much about them … except to say “It is about living, and life and what I have learned.”

A walk through Hill’s sculpture garden is a deep emotional and spiritual experience. It is a little eerie too, as you begin to feel as if you have somehow climbed inside the artist’s head and are experiencing his emotions first hand. We may not know exactly what Hill was thinking when he created his concrete garden… but we certainly are glad he did it and that it has been preserved for all of us to experience…

Now if you like to fish, bring your gear. After all this is the wetlands and there are plenty of bayous, lakes and marshlands and an abundant variety of fresh and saltwater species in the Houma area.

There are plenty of places where you can just pull over and throw out a line or if you prefer open water you can book a charter. I spent half a day with Charter Captain Wendy Billiot, also known as Bayou Woman.

I met Captain Wendy at the Bayou Dularge docks and we fished for Redfish and Speckled Trout. But the real bonus of the excursion took place when the fishing was over and Wendy guided her boat down a peaceful bayou into an incredible Cypress Swamp. According to Wendy it was the last remaining Cypress swamp in lower Terrebonne parish. Over the years coastal erosion and salt water intrusion have wiped out thousands of acres of natural swamp and Wendy and many others like her are doing everything they can to preserve what is left.

Wendy says restoring the wetlands, like coastal erosion itself, is a slow process. But it is one that must be done because the alternative is just too costly

“It seems as though as the wetlands disappear so also does the culture and way of life disappear. There are livelihoods here and it’s a working wetlands and not just to be preserved for the beauty it presents but the way of life it supports,” Billiot told me as we drifted along the bayou.

No wetlands ride would be complete without sampling some of the incredible seafood and other great Cajun delicacies you’ll find in Terrebonne Parish… and no better place to do that than at Schmoopys on Grand Calliou road in Dulac… The seafood has got to be fresh at Schmoopy’s, after all the shrimp boat is tied up at the back door.

There are tons of great places to eat in Terrebonne Parish and I sampled a lot of them… But if you want good food and a slice of real Cajun culture you will want to spend a Friday evening at the Jolly Inn in Houma.

Owner/Musician Werlein Prospiere has created an authentic Cajun Experience here… the food is great and home cooked, but what takes place when the dishes are cleared is what makes the Jolly Inn so special.

Every Friday night Prospiere and his musician friends put on a real live Cajun Fais Do Do. Roughly translated, the phrase means something like “nighty-night”. It is what Cajun mothers whispered to their children to get them to go to sleep.

At a Fais Do Do Cajuns dance until they are all so tired they want to go to sleep. It is incredible fun and a family affair, too. You’ll see little children and grandmas and grandpas all dancing together.

I even got a Cajun dancing lesson and a certificate naming me an authentic Cajun. Not bad for an Irish girl from Florida.