Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Local Character in Louisiana

I’m not sure you have to be a character to live in Louisiana, but it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt to be a travel journalist there, either. In Louisiana, the locals almost write the story for you.

I met a host of colorful characters when I toured the state with a small group of other travel writers last spring. The first of these was our tour director. He stepped onto the motorcoach looking like every guy with whom I went to high school in 1973. He wore his hair long, his jeans faded and started talking as soon as he hit the top step. I liked him immediately.

“My name is Jeff Richard,” he said. “That’s pronounced ‘rih-SHARD.’ Down here, we use the French pronunciation.”

Swamp Things

Our first stop was the swamp in LaPlace, about 30 miles west of New Orleans. We boarded our bayou boat, and Captain Tom Billiot of Cajun Pride Swamp Tours started talking about harsh realities.

“There ain’t no let-go out here,” he said. “When a gator gets a rabbit, the rabbit’s done. Once he’s got five or six fish in there, he’s going to sit on that log in the sun to let them settle. A fish or bird or snake — it won’t take long. A turtle or a raccoon might take awhile.”

We saw plenty of those gators sunning on logs. We also noticed a few nervous raccoons.

“It’s too late to change the channel,” said Billiot. “That’s what we tell people out here when they see a gator grab a raccoon or a whitetail deer. It’s funny,” he said. “People come to the swamp, and all of a sudden, they want to get mosquitoes.”

Capital Collection

We headed for the Rural Life Museum outside Baton Rouge. This 450-acre demonstration area is managed by Louisiana State University. It so happened they were prepping for their annual Zapp’s International Beerfest.

The Beerfest draws a sell-out crowd each year, and local brewers were already on-site setting up tasting booths. They treated us to shrimp, fried catfish and liquid refreshments, then turned us loose to tour authentic structures like living quarters, a blacksmith shop and a commissary.

We drove past sugarcane being planted in fields. “That sugarcane will be 12 to 16 feet tall by October,” said Richard.

We toured Nottaway Plantation, a Baton Rouge architectural landmark. Built by sugarcane planter John Hampden Randolph in 1859, Nottoway today is the focal point for a AAA Four Diamond resort that includes 40 suites, two restaurants, an outdoor pool and meeting facilities.

The first thing I noticed driving into downtown was the art. The city began its Walls Project in 2012 to meld its business and arts communities, and buildings downtown are receiving art-based facelifts. The city has a robust blues heritage, and native Buddy Guy is one recipient of a Walls Project commemoration thus far.

Our stay in Baton Rouge ended with an evening food tour. We were treated to some great eats, compliments of Poor Boy Lloyds took the prize for me; the roast beef po’boy and cold beer in this unadorned local favorite made me feel right at home.

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.