Friday, May 10, 2013

Tabasco on Avery Island

We first noticed the humidity yesterday as we headed into Louisiana. The air was hot, still, and wet, so different from the desert we have become used to. We were only on the road a little over 200 miles, but we were both tired and badly in need of showers by the time we got settled into Betty's RV Park in Abbeville.

The heat was a precursor for a huge series of thunderstorms heading our way. During the night, the weather alarm sounded every hour or so, with severe storm watches and warnings. I will always choose being awakened by the weather radio over being awakened by a tornado! The really bad stuff passed to the north of us, but we did get some lightning, the first we've seen since last summer.

There is water everywhere here. The rivers are filled, the fields are striped with rows of alternating dirt mounds and water rows, and even the ditches have waves. Everywhere we look we see evidence that this is not new for southern Louisiana -- many houses have the lowest level of living space elevated to the second floor, while the first floor is constructed on stilts. The graves in the cemeteries sit above ground to avoid the high water table; semi-permanent "High Water" signs dot the back roads.

Today it rained, off and on, all day. We continued with our plan to go to the Tabasco plant on Avery Island.  Our tour included information about the Capsaicin peppers that go into Tabasco (originally grown on Avery Island by A.E. McIllhenny, the founder), and the unused seeds that are shipped to Kalamazoo, Michigan to make red-hots, Dentyne gum, and Listerine strips. We heard about the huge salt dome underneath Avery Island (larger than Mount Everest!). We saw a video, highlighting the Tabasco-making process which also showed "happy" pepper pickers who wouldn't look at the camera and an authentic Louisiana woman cooking her signature jambalaya (using huge amounts of Tabasco, her no-longer secret ingredient). We got our free samples:

And we saw the line:
Of course there is a gift shop, where you can taste the various Tabasco products using pretzel stick dippers.  They also had samplings of  Tabasco soda (tasted like Coke to me), Jalapeno Ice Cream (mild), and Raspberry Chipotle ice cream (the best part of the tour). The other thing you can do on Avery Island is drive through the Jungle Gardens. Despite the intermittent  rain, this was a lovely drive bordered by live oak trees covered with spanish moss, camilla bushes, and swampy lagoons where egrets hunted.
This was our first gator sighting of the trip:
We are still in that "Oh-look-a-gator!" phase. I know from prior trips to the South, that that feeling will disappear very soon and instead become, "nothing-to-see-here-only-gators." There was a beautiful Buddha on the grounds. A plaque said,
This Buddha was built for the Shonpa Temple located northest of Peking by the Order of Emperor Hui-Tsung 1101-1125. Its builder was Chon-Ha-Chin, most noted of ancient Buddha makers. The temple was looted by a rebel general who took the statue as part of his loot and sent it to New York to be sold. The statue came to the notice of two friends of E.A. McIlhenny who purchsed it and sent it to him as a gift in 1936.

There were two other people at the Buddha when we were there. Unbelievably, I heard the woman say to her husband, "I don't know how this could mean anything to anybody! It's just a guy with an earring sittin' there. Is that supposed to be this 'bud-hah' guy?" I later checked her car for political stickers and, unfortunately, came up empty!

We left Avery Island in the pouring rain, and drove back to Betty's where we signed up for two more nights in Abbeville. On the way home, we passed what has to be one of the best business mottos ever. On a big, industrial building was a sign that said, "A Great Place to Take a Leak!"

It was a radiator repair shop!

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