Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Unexpected Tour

I don't know if the critical factor is carrying cameras, talking with a different accent, or having plenty of time to walk around, but it has been easy to strike up conversations with complete strangers.

Take, for example, our recent visit to New Iberia, LA. As we rounded a corner, cameras in hand, we were greeted with: "Have you taken any good pictures today?" (Later we learned that the questioner's name was Maureen and that she was on her way back to work after an early lunch.)

We explained that we were deciding where to begin. Then followed questions about our hometown and our duration and philosophy of travel. When we mentioned that we plan to stay in an area for 3-7 weeks to learn about the culture of the region's people, we seemed to have met a kindred spirit of traveling. For the next 75 minutes, Maureen became our tour guide.

She talked enthusiastically about the Bayou Teche, highlighting the Bayou's riverwalk that we were strolling on as we learned about the various festivals and re-enactments that occur with the Teche as the focal point.

We learned about the restoration work involving several of the downtown buildings. It was gratifying to see the exteriors of these buildings being retained as the cores are renovated.

Along with accounts relating to the physical structures of the town, Maureen talked about growing up in New Iberia. She talked about living on the surrounding rivers and swamps and strongly recommended that we rent a houseboat a spend a few nights living on the water.

She told of her own experience of renting a houseboat with some friends. One night the group left the houseboat and rowed a small boat into town for dinner and partying. Much later, they returned to their small boat and began rowing back to the houseboat. Soon they noticed that the boat was taking on water. They made it back to shore safely where they learned that the owner of the houseboats and rowboats would pull plugs out of the rowboats at night so that anyone stealing one would not get very far. He had forgotten they had rented the rowboat.

Maureen talked about several of the state parks surrounding New Ibeia. Some of these were near swamp areas which we have wanted to photograph.

She reluctantly mentioned the period of slavery and talked about how recreations of historical events gloss over the impact of slavery.

Lastly, Maureen talked about places to hear good music and enjoy good food.

She mentioned that a good number of people travel to New Iberia after having read James Lee Burke's works. In particular, fans of Burke's literary detective Dave Robicheaux want to eat at Victor's, which was Robicheaux's favorite diner.

Simple introductory comments can sometimes lead to interesting tours.

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