Do Alligators Like Tabasco?

For a long time roads weren’t an option in South Louisiana. This was some wild country back in the day, not Bourbon Street wild, but wilderness wild. The incredibly wet, squishy ground made bayous the only reasonable routes for transportation and Bayou Teche was the Superhighway. Following The Teche, we set out to discover the real… CONTINUE READING >>

For a long time roads weren’t an option in South Louisiana. This was some wild country back in the day, not Bourbon Street wild, but wilderness wild.

The incredibly wet, squishy ground made boats the way to get around and bayous the only reasonable routes for transportation. Back then, Bayou Teche was the Superhighway.

Following The Teche, we set out to discover the real Acadiana.

Our odyssey began in Breaux Bridge, which gets its name from a footbridge across the bayou built by Firmin Breaux back in 1799.

The town, officially dubbed “The Crawfish Capital of the World” by the Louisiana legislature, is said to be the first place where mudbugs were ever offered on a menu, and the birthplace of Crawfish Étouffée. Well then, let’s eat!

We headed for Rocky and Lisa Sonnier’s Bayou Boudin & Cracklin, a real slice of Cajun culture on the banks of Bayou Teche.

The menu is flexible, depending on the time of day and day of the week, but there is always boudin, pronounced approximately boo-daah, and cracklins.

Traditional boudin is made with sausage casing and stuffed with a delicious mixture of pork, pork liver, onion, spices and rice.

This particular afternoon the Sonniers were serving up some seafood boudin alongside the standard variety. Crawfish, shrimp and crab are used in place of the pork products, and seeing as how we were in the capital and everything, well, what else could we order?

Good thing too, because there ain’t no better boudin, anywhere, anyhow, I guarantee. Big chunks of crawdad tail and shrimp stuffed into natural casing, a little hot sauce and a cold beer and ooooweee, it don’ git no better dan dat.

Since Rocky is known in these parts as the Cracklin King, we had to take a crack at a crackle too. Most people might call these pork rinds but that would be like calling The Queen Mary a boat. These are fresh fried and have a flavor no bagged pig skin could ever match.

Long live the king.

Rocky and Lisa also offer cabins overlooking Bayou Teche, for a real Cajun bed and breakfast experience.

I tell you what, nothing says good morning like a plate full of cracklins and a gator on your porch. As tempting as a stay in the “Fifties Cabin,” described in the brochure as the “Most modern with Elvis and decorations from the 50’s” sounded, we decided to move on.

Wait, what?

Did that say we actually get to stay with Elvis? So THAT’s where he’s been hiding.

Bellies filled, we headed south tracing The Teche through St. Martin Parish down into Iberia Parish. In the town of New Iberia, The Shadows-on-the-Teche is certainly worth a look.

This beautiful example of an antebellum mansion from the early 1830s is now a museum. Better yet, it’s right on the way to the promised land for pepper sauce lovers, Avery Island.

Every bottle of Tabasco sauce ever made came from this little island.

A massive salt dome, said to be the size of Mount Everest, lies just beneath the surface. The huge formation pushed this spot up above the surrounding swamp.

The deposits led to the island becoming the site of America’s first commercial salt mine. Turns out that this just so happens to be a perfect place to grow peppers too.

Prior to The Civil War, Edmund McIlhenny married into the Avery family, moved onto the island bearing their name, and started a life of salt and peppers.

After the war, he began experimenting with a sauce made from those peppers. It seems that he got the formula right, because untold millions of bottles have been sold in over 160 countries around the world.

The first thing we noticed upon arriving to the island was the smell. It simply reeks of Tabasco, which is not a bad thing as far as we’re concerned.

After a few minutes, we got used to it and didn’t even notice. Either that or our smell buds had been completely fried.

The tour through the factory was short and sweet. After a brief film, we all headed down a hallway with windows overlooking the shop floor. As we walked along, we observed every phase of Tabasco production.

We got to see the big barrels of mashed peppers being aged for the required three years.

Next we saw the liquid from that properly aged mixture being drained off and stirred into giant vats with vinegar and salt from the island’s own mines.

At the end of the hall, we watched while the final product was squirted into bottles, labeled and boxed up for shipping to the far corners of the globe.

A member of the McIlhenny family still personally oversees every aspect of the operation. The peppers are grown with seeds, chosen by a real live McIlhenny, from each season’s best plants.

Meticulously tended in their patches around the island until harvest time, the peppers are hand picked at the perfect point of redness.

Each pepper picker carries a “petite baton rouge” (small red stick) to match the exact McIlhenny-decried shade of crimson. This attention to detail continues throughout entire production process.

There is of course the obligatory crap shop at the end of the tour. Anything and everything Tabasco is available here.

The usual souvenir items, plus countless varieties of Tabasco sauces, condiments, canned goods and prepared foods.

Now we both like hot stuff as much as the next guy, but the gift shop had a few items that tested our limits. Not everything needs Tabasco.

Let’s just say that ice cream and soda pop aren’t improved by the addition of the hot sauce.

Sharing Avery Island with the Tabasco plant is a botanical garden and bird sanctuary, Jungle Gardens and Bird City. In the 1890s, just before taking over as President of Tabasco from his father, E.A. “Mr. Ned” McIlhenny started this refuge in an effort to save the snowy egrets.

These beautiful birds had been hunted to near extinction for their decorative plumes. From Mr. Ned’s initial eight birds, the colony has thrived and now thousands migrate here every spring.

These Jungle Gardens are lovingly landscaped with azaleas, Japanese camellias, Egyptian papyrus, bamboo and of course live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

A shrine to an ancient Buddha, a gift to McIlhenny back in 1936, stands as the centerpiece of the “Jungle.” It really is a beautiful place and we had a fantastic afternoon.

Ah Southern springtime! Blue skies, colorful wild flowers, the kudzu coming in and the algae pond scum greening up so nicely.

Beautiful, and made even better by the fact that we didn’t get attacked by a single carnivorous swamp dweller.

For most visitors this should never be an issue, since they drive through the gardens in the safety of their cars, but we had the bright idea to ride our trusty bikes through the jungle.

The folks at the front gate gave us the green light, and it seemed like a great way to experience the landscape until we rounded a corner and found ourselves about ten feet away from a six foot alligator.

Yup, this is a nature preserve so there are no fences or cages. No motes or walls or any other barriers. The gators roam free to feed on any stray cyclists that might wander too close to the water.

No mention of this when purchasing a ticket. I guess they figured it doesn’t take too much brain power to understand that steering clear of large, sharp toothed swamp reptiles is a good idea.

Plus they did put up a few little signs around the watery spots that say: “Alligators Are Dangerous.”

Seems like plenty of precaution, if not for the fact that we had just come from the Tabasco tour and smelled like delicious sauce.

Do we know if anyone has ever been eaten?

In no mood to find out we gave the gators plenty of room, and enjoyed the rest of our ride without incident.

We even hung out with Buddha for a while. Very peaceful, Zen even.

Once the sun started getting low we headed back out to follow the bayou. Later we learned that alligators don’t really think of humans as a delicious dish.

No mention though, rather the smell of vinegar, peppers and salt might change their minds.

Do gators like Tabasco?

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

A Big Thank You to Dealspotr for this Fun Interview!

We are thrilled to be featured on the Dealspotr blog in this fun interview covering everything from how we got started on our adventures that led us to creating GypsyNester.com, to some of the craziest things we have ever done in our travels… CONTINUE READING >> 

Read the entire interview here.

We are thrilled to be featured on the Dealspotr blog in this fun interview covering everything from how we got started on our adventures that led us to creating GypsyNester.com, to some of the craziest things we have ever done in our travels.

We also talk about saving tons of dough by using Dealspotr. It works like a social media sight where people make friends and share great money saving deals they find, and earn rewards. To join, click here.

For bloggers like us, Dealspotr has a network of influencers with great benefits and the opportunity to put a little cash in your pocket. If you are an influencer and that sounds good (hint, it is) contact us for a special code that allows you to be a part of it.

Dealspotr’s network of influencers includes notable bloggers and social media personalities across a wide range of topics and interests, but all with a focus on frugal living and saving money. In their weekly Influencer Spotlight, they invite one influencer to share their experiences and success stories with the rest of the community. 

Read the entire interview here.

Do You Know the Way to San José, Costa Rica?

The capital city of Costa Rica is not typically a tourist destination, which made us like it all the more.

We were ready for a taste of the day to day life that the locals describe as Pura Vida…. CONTINUE READING >> 

See all of our adventures in Costa Rica.

The capital city of Costa Rica is not typically a tourist destination, which made us like it all the more.

After our stint visiting the beaches, jungles, and volcanoes that attract so many visitors to this Central American country, we were ready for a taste of the day to day life that the locals describe as “Pura Vida.”

This catch-all phrase that the native citizens, known as Ticos and Ticas, use liberally literally means pure life, but has taken on the universal character of hello, goodbye, take it easy, hang loose, it’s all good, or just about any other positive response, outlook, or greeting.

It has come to embody the Costa Rican attitude that life is good, so be happy and thankful for it. Not a bad viewpoint.

Aiding our emersion into the local life was the fact that we stayed at an AirB&B in a neighborhood instead of a hotel. Our house was right in the center of town, so everything was within an easy walk.

Pura Vida.

Just a couple of blocks away, we started with a walk in the park, the Parque Nacional. This beautiful urban green space centers around what is considered the most important monument in the country, the Monumento Nacional.

The statue depicts Costa Ricans expelling private military expeditions into Latin America led by William Walker in 1857. His plan, known back then as filibustering, was to establish English-speaking colonies under his personal control by organizing mercenary armies.

The idea of controlling the region because of its strategic position as a location for a canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific made it irresistible to businessmen, including Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The private militias from the US and Europe intervened in several Central American countries, especially Nicaragua, but a coalition formed against the usurpers from the north, with the normally peaceful Costa Ricans playing a vital role.

Venturing outside of the park, we encountered the first of what would be many street vendors selling fresh mango.

Cut like French fries and served with a squeeze of lime, a dash of salt, or even a splash of hot sauce for the daring, it was a delicious and refreshing snack.

Teatro Nacional

Now that’s Pura Vida.

Moving on through the center of town, we came to the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica. The national theatre is one of the premier landmarks in the city, and a symbol of the time in the late 1800s, when coffee was king and the economy was booming.

Héroes de la Miseria by Juan Ramon Bonilla

Built to house the National Symphonic Orchestra, the outside of the building is beautiful, but the interior is even more ornate.

The lobby serves as a defacto art museum, displaying works from some of the country’s most celebrated artists.

Edificio de Correos y Telégrafos de Costa Rica

Veering off of the main drag, we turned right from the theater for a look at another of the city’s most famous buildings, the main post office, the Edificio de Correos y Telégrafos de Costa Rica.

For one hundred years this stunning structure has served as the headquarters of the country’s postal service.

It seemed like we were never more than a few steps away from a park as we returned to the center of the city and Parque Central. Scattered among the citizens enjoying the beautiful day, we noticed that one guy wasn’t moving.

The Street Sweeper was stuck in mid-sweep so David tried to give him a hand, but Edgar Zúñiga’s bronze tribute to the workers who clean the city’s parks and streets wasn’t having any of it. He has stayed stoically standing still since 2003 and wasn’t about to change that for us.

Could be he is too deep in his own private Pura Vida.

Church of Our Lady of La Merced

By this time we had walked enough to work up quite an appetite, so we ducked into an open air café on the busy corner across from the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de La Merced, the Church of Our Lady of La Merced.

Perhaps the most famous church in San José, it dates back to 1894, when it was built and dedicated to the Virgin of Mercedes, patroness of Barcelona.

The other corner is home to yet another park, Braulio Carrillo, usually just called La Merced Park.

We definitely got lucky when we picked La Casona Tipica because, as the name implies (tipica = typical), it turns out to be acclaimed as one of the best spots for authentic Costa Rican cuisine in San José.

casado

When it comes to food, we take the When in Rome… adage as words to live by. We can’t get enough of local delicacies so, with that in mind, it was a must for us to try a casado.

The name means married man, ostensibly originating from customers entering restaurants and proclaiming that they wanted to eat like a married man.

The ingredients can vary, but they will always be hearty, usually including salad, rice, plantains, black beans, picadillo (a dish made of diced chayote), and a serving of meat such as beef, chicken, pork, or fish.

olla de carne

Another typical Tico dish is olla de carne, a stew of meat, potatoes, carrots, cassava, sweet potato, and corn.

It is often served deconstructed, as ours was, with the components removed from the broth and placed on a plate. The broth accompanies them in a bowl on the side.

We were more than happy to linger over our abundant meals while we took in the flavors, not only of the food, but also the quirky décor of memorabilia and odd-ball mannequins scattered about the dining room.

Definitely Pura Vida.

No meal in Costa Rica can be considered complete without coffee brewed right at the table.  Costa Rican coffee is considered some of the best in the world, and even though bananas have surpassed it as the main cash crop, it is still an integral part of the economy.

If you look closely behind the chorreador you can see a few of the weird mannequins.

Our server brought us a chorreador, which is an ingeniously simple coffee maker that drip filters the brew through what looks more or less like a sock.

Luckily, the results tasted nothing like it had been filtered through any footwear.

This was high on the list of the best java we had ever encountered.

Which was without a doubt perfectly Pura Vida.

See all of our adventures in Costa Rica.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

GypsyNesting in Your Own Backyard

As much as we love our GypsyNester lifestyle, we understand that chucking it all and hitting the highway is not something everybody can do. Many of us have ties that can make it difficult — if not impossible — to pull that off. With that in mind, we like to periodically point out that there are plenty of great GypsyNesting opportunities right in your own backyard.

A plethora of possibilities are playing out nearby no matter where you call home. You just have to know where to look… CONTINUE READING >>

With the weather turning warm, everybody’s hearts start turning to thoughts of lust.  No, no, wanderlust, so we thought we would replay this post about how to getaway without going too far away.

As much as we love our GypsyNester lifestyle, we understand that chucking it all and hitting the highway is not something everybody can do.

Many of us have ties that can make it difficult — if not impossible — to pull that off.

With that in mind, we like to periodically point out that there are plenty of great GypsyNesting opportunities right in your own backyard.

A plethora of possibilities are playing out nearby no matter where you call home.

You just have to know where to look.

Watch for signs, look for fliers or peruse the local press. Check the newspaper’s Living or Entertainment sections or pick up the area’s free weekly “What’s Happening” type magazine.

Read the ads, not just the articles. That’s how we found the Combine Demolition Derby at The Hillsdale County Fair and that was more fun than any humans should ever be allowed to have.

Sports fans can find diversions in any season, right in the area. Local high schools have “Big Games” almost every weekend. The unbridled excitement of youth is contagious. Just don’t get caught making out under the bleachers. Embarrassing at any age.

Got a college nearby? If so, great competition is happening almost everyday if you look beyond the “big” sports. Check out a track meet, softball game, tennis or golf match, gymnastics or swimming meet, soccer, rugby… who knows, you could even become a fencing fanatic.

The price is usually right too… free. For a fee, the bigger games are a blast too.

Labatt Park in London, CanadaWe have had a ball at NCAA football in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter and what better way to spend a beautiful spring afternoon than to sit in the sun at a baseball game?

Speaking of baseball, is there a minor league squad nearby? If so, check them out. Quality play at a discount price with the added bonus of close proximity to the umps for ease of sharing “ideas” on the job he is doing.

Live in or near a college town? Universities provide any number of diversions that otherwise may not be available in smaller cities.

The theater and music departments are performing, independent movies are showing and guest lecturers are lecturing right now at schools all over the country.Go to a concert!

College towns also attract concert tours that might normally only hit the bigger cities. In our travels we caught both Bob Dylan and The Eagles in mid-sized, midwestern college towns.

While on campus, pick up a class schedule — something may tickle your fancy.

The Mustard Museum in Mt. Horab, WI

Almost every burg has a museum of some kind, a community theater, historic district and certainly restaurants.

There must be a restaurant around that you’ve never tried — try it or better yet, try several in an “Appy Crawl.”

This is a GypsyNester favorite in any city. Pick two or three interesting establishments and order appetizers and crawl from place to place. We find this a great way to sample several menus in one evening without destroying our credit rating.

Additionally, it forces us to walk between eateries, burning off calories as we go.

How about State or National Parks and Monuments in your vicinity?

They were set aside for a reason — there is something scenic, unique or historic protected there. We have never been disappointed on any visit to any park. Pack up a tent and get back to nature, find a romantic lodge or rent an RV.

Who says camping can’t include soft beds, a full kitchen and a big screen TV? Now that’s roughing it!

If none of these ideas strike your fancy — fear not — we saved the best for last. For a guaranteed good time, just look for an event that has the word “fest” tacked onto the end of it. Nothing says wingding like the suffix “fest.”Crab Fest in Port Angeles, Washington

Close off the streets, set up the booths, bring on the bands and the deep-fried grub on-a- stick, it’s party time!

We prefer food-fests (like Mikey, we’ll try anything) but every “fest” proposes the potential for fun and frivolity. We’ve partaken in flower fests, oyster festspumpkin festsalmon fests, hamburger festbean fests, manatee fests, broom corn fests, magic fests, a gizzard fest and even a testicle festival, or Testy Festy (Rocky Mountain Oysters – ba-by!).

Montreal Jazz FestOn those occasions when organizers may have missed the golden opportunity to slap “fest” onto their name, don’t hold it against them. Fairs, carnivals and bazaars have possibilities too. A street fair can be nearly as funas a fest.

We like to think that these smaller celebrations are just learning to walk before they run. Someday they may well proudly proclaim the title of “fest.”

Our idea is that GypsyNesting is all about experiencing new things and embracing the differences that abound in our world, so here’s one last idea:

Why not hit the big city if you live in the country or kick back with some time in the country if you’re breathing that big city air? Look around, meet the citizenry, try the local fare.

With an open mind and strong stomach, you might just like it.

Your turn:
Did we miss anything? Please leave a comment and share your ideas!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Fearless Bucket List Adventures

Whether we display it in a prominent place or keep it stuffed in a drawer, save it on a hard drive or only in the back of our minds, we all have a list of places we want to go before we make our way into the great beyond.
One thing we’ve found in our discussions with fellow travelers is that… CONTINUE READING >> 

Whether we display it in a prominent place or keep it stuffed in a drawer, save it on a hard drive or only in the back of our minds, we all have a list of places we want to go before we make our way into the great beyond. For many people, this is better known as a bucket list.

One thing we’ve found in our discussions with fellow travelers is that the adventures on those checklists tend to take place in some pretty exotic locations. Fulfilling our lifelong aspirations often requires trekking to far-flung outposts in remote corners of the globe.

Planning a visit to some of those isolated regions can lead to a level of anxiety that often prevents people from pursuing the dream. All too often we find ourselves asking, “What if something happens?” 

Turning a once-in-a-lifetime experience into a reality doesn’t have to be a daunting proposition if we take the proper precautions. One surefire way to relieve the apprehension and forge ahead with confidence is to address those pesky “What if?” doubts ahead of time.

What If I Face a Medical Emergency That Is Beyond the Local Hospital’s Ability to Handle?

Accidents and sickness know no boundaries. Mishaps happen, and no matter how cautious we are, some dreaded tropical bug or unfamiliar virus can attack. Usually the local health care system is adequate, but sometimes the only solution is to get to first-rate facilities as soon as possible.

That’s when state-of-the-art medical transport becomes a necessity. It’s a situation that typical travel insurance won’t address, but a MedjetHorizon membership will.

Members have worldwide access to medical aircraft that are staffed with professionals and ready to transport them to the hospital of their choice back in their home country. MedjetHorizon can even arrange special intensive-care aircraft should the need arise, and in most cases a family member can fly along with the patient.

What If Political Conditions in the Country Deteriorate While I’m on My Trip?


Image via Flickr by Meghan Rutherford

These days, political unrest can be a real concern. Many of the world’s wonders are located in regions that are somewhat less than stable. Many times conditions can drastically change between the time we book a trip and when we travel.

We found ourselves in Istanbul during the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Even though our hotel was only a couple of blocks from the action, everything worked out fine. But can we count on always being that lucky? Maybe not, so MedjetHorizon has an international crisis response network designed to perform in those types of circumstances should we not be so fortunate next time.

The Crisis Response Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with experienced travel security experts dedicated to solving problems big or small. They can assist anywhere in the world with everything from finding legal representation and helping sort out passport and visa issues to an evacuation during a coup or terrorist attack.

What If I Can’t Find a Doctor?

Forget the phonebook. MedjetHorizon’s experts can recommend doctors and hospitals almost anywhere and furnish accurate contact information. Not only that, but they can also make sure that the folks back home are fully informed with emergency communication to the family.

What If I Can’t Explain My Problem?

Another thing we’ve learned firsthand is that the language barrier can pose problems, especially when seeking health care. On several occasions, we’ve found ourselves in the midst of elaborate pantomime performances while trying to obtain a remedy whose name did not appear in our handy travel dictionary.

MedjetAssist representatives can provide members with translation and interpretation over the phone in these sorts of situations. This ensures that you get the right medicine and save a lot of time and potential embarrassment.

With this peace of mind, the only “What if?” left to check off of the list will be what if we can travel where ever we want without a care in the world?