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Meet Bigfoot’s Florida Cousin!

Skunk Apes are omnivores, with the ability to climb and make beds out of leafy branches, there are an estimated 7 – 9 of them in the Everglades, they like alligator caves, smell like rotten eggs, and they love lima beans. Skunk Apes lead a nomadic, hunter/gatherer existence, have a good memory and exceptional hearing. We had to find one for ourselves, so we headed deep into the Florida Everglades… CONTINUE READING >>

Skunk Ape Research Headquarters

Part of the beauty of being a GypsyNester is the opportunity to explore the unknown.

We took that up a notch when we drove deep into the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail (the section of U.S. Highway 41 named as a clever contraction of Tampa & Miami) and came upon the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters.

Skunk Ape

This was not the kind of place that we could possibly drive on by, we had to go inside and investigate.

What we discovered was the ultimate source for all things Skunk Ape, the Florida cousin in the Bigfoot/ Sasquatch/
Yeti family.

After viewing the photos, news articles and plaster casts of footprints we were hungry for more information so we asked to see the proprietor and renown Skunk Ape expert and author of The Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide, David Shealy.

Skunk Ape Footprint

Mr. Shealy was happy to fill us in on the history and habits of the elusive hominids, both through his personal experiences and documentation he has received through others.

He really captured our interest when he relayed his tips for spotting one. We had to try!

The best news was that the headquarters also serves as the office for a campground, so we forked over the fee to stay a few days. We were determined to get an up close and personal, real live Skunk Ape encounter for ourselves.

Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide

The first step was to purchase an Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide (all proceeds benefit Skunk Ape research) which contains a cornucopia of information on these rare creatures.

We poured over the guide, taking extensive notes. We didn’t want to head out deep into the Everglades unprepared.

In the guide we learned that Skunk Apes are omnivores, with the ability to climb and make beds out of leafy branches, there are an estimated 7 – 9 of them in the Everglades, they like alligator caves, smell like rotten eggs, and they love lima beans. Skunk Apes lead a nomadic, hunter/gatherer existence, have a good memory and exceptional hearing.

But the main purpose of the field guide is to assist in, and facilitate the sighting of Skunk Apes. It recommends that preparations should be made before heading out into the glades on a search.

SKUNK APE EXPEDITION CHECKLIST:
Map of area
Ladder Stand
Lima Beans (1 lb. dry)
Leaf Rake
Rope (30′)
Plaster (5 lb. bag)
Bucket (5 gal. w/handle)
Binoculars
Pocket Knife

Florida Everglades, Skunk Ape Territory

We were not particularly interested in making any plaster casts of footprints, so we omitted the bucket and bag and chose to bring a camera instead.

We were pretty amped up on the prospect of getting the world’s first clear, in focus photographs of a bigfoot type creature. With our zoom lens.

Mr. Shealy had explained to us how Skunk Apes can be spotted by leaving out bait to attract them, even telling us where he had left some recently, but the guide book went into further detail.

Hunting Skunk Ape on bikes!

Baits include: whole kernel corn, rice, dog food, deer liver (which “Should be kept frozen until your site is chosen.” and “Should only be used immediately following an actual sighting.”) but “Unmistakably the best baits available are dry beans.

Black eyed peas, pinto and kidney beans all work well, however large lima beans are the recommended bait and should be considered your first choice.”

Hunting for Skunk Ape in the Everglades

Wet beans are “proven to be more effective” because “the beans sour, giving off an odor which is appealing to Skunk Apes,” but go bad after a few days. Never use bacon or pork as that will attract buzzards.

The manual goes on to advise that in order to protect the apes: “If your attempts at baiting are successful, wait at least five days before telling anyone.

This will allow enough time for the Skunk Ape to leave the area.” Because, “Unfortunately, there are people who would like nothing better than to shoot one of these magnificent creatures.”

The Field Guide also advises that “The use of tranquilizer guns is not recommended and is subject to regulations.” and “Leg traps are strictly forbidden.” Also, “Any evidence collected should be considered valuable and reported to the local authorities, immediately.”

Sunset in the Everglades

Armed with this information, and one last extremely valuable piece of advice, “Never enter an alligator cave in search of Skunk Apes,” we felt like we were ready to embark on our quest.

It was dry season so we headed into the tall grass that is usually swamp. At this time of year it was soggy, but definitely passable.

Our first stop was the bait that Shealy had left out for the apes.

Panther Crossing

When we came upon the pile of beans we didn’t see any signs of Skunk Ape activity.

We did find paw prints, large paw prints, and followed them to the bones of a fairly large animal that looked to have been devoured.

We could only guess that a Florida Panther had been around. We were in no mood to fend off any hungry predators so our survival instinct told us to move on.

David scouting for Skunk Apes

Next we set out across several hundred yards of mushy grassland to one of the ladder stands that the headquarters has erected.

Climbing up to the platform allowed us a much better view of the surrounding area. We scanned the horizon with our binoculars, but once again we saw no sign of a Skunk Ape.

We were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets we’d ever seen, so we felt our first evening’s efforts were not in vain.

The next day we discussed other possible sighting sites and strategies with Mr. Shealy and he pointed us to an area across the highway a mile or two into the glades.

Since the trip would cover several miles total we decided to head out on our bicycles, at least as far as we could. After a few miles the trail became too muddy for our bikes and we continued on foot.

Hunting for Skunk Ape in the Florida Everglades

We wandered deep into the Everglades, miles from any signs of civilization, and found some matted grass amongst the underbrush in a few places.

But not being experts, we were unable to ascertain whether these were Skunk Ape bedding sites or the resting place of some other animal.

After a full day of investigation our water supply was running low and we had many miles to go to get back to The Skunk Ape Research Headquarters and our base camp.

Tails tucked between our legs, we hiked and biked our way back through the mushy and magnificent scenery. A beautiful walk in the wilderness.

We had been skunked in our efforts to sight a Skunk Ape… this time.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

How Did a Buffalo Grow Wings?: The Origins of Some of America’s Favorite Foods


Many places across America have a certain food item that is emblematic to their city or region, and luckily we have found ourselves at the source of several.

Share a meal or two (okay many, many meals!) with us and learn about the origins of some of the USA’s most icon foods… CONTINUE READING >>

Buffalo wings: Teressa Bellissimo and the Anchor Bar

Have you ever wondered about the history of Buffalo Wings? These tasty little morsels of American food lore were invented (by accident, or perhaps neccessity!) by Teressa Bellissimo in the Anchor Bar. The restaurant, still open, in Buffalo, NY is awash in fanciful decor celebrating Teressa's achievement! Pictured is the Statue of Liberty giving her salute! See the full story here!

We have passed by Buffalo, New York many times on our way to Niagara Falls or into Canada, but never pulled off the highway.

It’s not that we had anything against the Nickel City (hint: think buffalo on the back), we just had other things on our minds.

The last time we crossed the Rainbow Bridge back into the good old U. S. of A. we decided to fix our omission. We pulled off the highway and waded right into the heart of town on a quest to find the Anchor Bar.

Have you ever wondered about the history of Buffalo Wings? These tasty little morsels of American food lore were invented (by accident, or perhaps neccessity!) by Teressa Bellissimo in the Anchor Bar. The restaurant, still open, in Buffalo, NY is awash in fanciful decor celebrating Teressa's achievement! Pictured is how they are served at the Anchor Bar. See the full story here!

Even though there is some dispute as to the exact story behind the original hot wing appetizer, there is no doubt that they were invented in Buffalo.

Hence, the name, Buffalo wings… and all of this time we were thinking bison must have sprouted some new appendages.

Our reason for seeking the Anchor Bar was that it holds claim to the creation of the delicacy. Owner Teressa Bellissimo first fried up some wings, bathed them in butter and hot sauce, and served them with celery and blue cheese dressing back in 1964.

Have you ever wondered about the history of Buffalo Wings? These tasty little morsels of American food lore were invented (by accident, or perhaps neccessity!) by Teressa Bellissimo in the Anchor Bar. The restaurant, still open, in Buffalo, NY is awash in fanciful decor celebrating Teressa's achievement! Pictured is the waitress that greets you at the door! See the full story here!

There does seem to be some confusion as to why she did this and exactly who she served them to, but no doubt about where the historic event happened.

One story is that Teressa’s son and some friends came in for a late snack, another says that the mostly Catholic clientele wanted a treat for Friday midnight when they were allowed to eat meat again.

Still another claims the invention stemmed from a messed up delivery that included too many wings. To us the accounts don’t seem mutually exclusive, perhaps a little bit of each combined to make appetizer history.

Have you ever wondered about the history of Buffalo Wings? These tasty little morsels of American food lore were invented (by accident, or perhaps neccessity!) by Teressa Bellissimo in the Anchor Bar. The restaurant, still open, in Buffalo, NY is awash in fanciful decor celebrating Teressa's achievement! Pictured is the waitress that greets you at the door! See the full story here!

One thing we know with complete certainty, we love them and will never pass by Buffalo again without stopping in for a plate… or two.

Our experience with the wings got us thinking about other signature dishes we had happened upon in our travels.

Many places across America have a certain food item that is emblematic to their city or region, and luckily we have found ourselves at the source of several.

New Orleans: A stomach can only hold so much

Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, being the food-crazed city that it is, has at least two items that fit the bill, beignets from Café du Monde, and a muffuletta from Central Grocery.

Even better, we could try them both without walking more than two blocks.

Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana

Almost every culture has a version of sweetened deep fried dough — donuts, sopaipillas, elephant ears, johnny cakes, spritzkuchen, zeppole, youtiao, oliebollen, chrusciki, fat balls, and beaver tails, to name a few.

While beignets belong to the French, the Louisiana version at Café du Monde stands alone… and beneath heaping piles of powdered sugar.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, Louisiana

We never leave New Orleans without one, but have learned to shake off a good bit of the pulverized crystals before biting.

Otherwise an innocent breath could lead to massive, sticky, sugary sneezing fits.

See more of our perfect New Orleans food day!

Central Grocery in New Orleans, home of the muffuletta

Just down Decatur Street, the sandwich that we think embodies the Big Easy was invented.

Legend has it that Lupo Salvadore started making muffulettas for the dock workers on the mighty Mississippi soon after he opened Central Grocery back in 1906.

When God wants a sandwich, he goes to Central Grocery in New Orleans for a muffuletta

Lupo stumbled upon two secrets that make the original Central Grocery sandwich almost impossible to duplicate.

The bread, a round loaf of Italian, that somehow seems impossible to bake outside the city limits of New Orleans, and the olive salad spread, which no one has ever managed to match.

Without these a muffuletta is merely a salami, Italian ham and provolone cheese sandwich.

With them – and we’re not exaggerating — this truly is the best sandwich ever in the entire history of the known universe… and the unknown as well. When God wants a sandwich, this is where he comes to get it.

See more of our perfect New Orleans food day!

Chicago’s famous Italian beef – watch your shoes!

Chicago is known for their own style of hot dogs, and deep dish pizza, but for us the real Windy City delicacy is Italian Beef.

Created by immigrants in the early 1900s, we suppose no one knows exactly who made the initial sandwich, but Al Ferreri was definitely one of the first.

His new taste sensation caught on quickly after he opened Al’s Beef in 1938, and soon stands were popping up all over town, but only Al can claim the original Italian beef sandwich.

The Italian Stance: The rules for eating Italian Beef Sandwiches at Al's Beef in Chicago

We try to make a dash for the Adams Street location any time we have a few minutes to kill between trains at the nearby Amtrak station.

Even though it’s not the original shop, which is still open about a mile away on Taylor Street, they make one fantastic, meaty, mouth-watering sandwich.

David attempts the Italian Stance: the proper way to eat a Chicago Italian Beef sandwich at Al's Beef
David gives the Italian Stance a go! How’s he doin’?

To really do it up right, we like to get it dipped, where the entire sandwich is submerged into the au jus gravy before serving.

This creates a juicy masterpiece that requires caution while consuming. Good thing there are instructions on the proper “Italian Stance” right on the wall:

Note: Elbows on the counter

Feet exactly 2 ½ feet from the counter

Mouth wide open.

Following the recommendation may not be attractive, but it definitely does reduce damage to clothing and shoes.

Pasties. The kind you eat

Lehto's Pasty's in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Not all of the characteristic foods come from cities; sometimes they permeate an entire region, such as pasties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pronounced pass-tee, they are a sort of meat, potato, and rutabaga turnover.

A pasty in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Brought to the iron and copper mines of the U. P. by Cornish miners back in the 1800s, pasties were made so that miners could carry a portable meal that would stay warm while they worked underground.

The crust is made tough, it is said that a proper pasty should survive a drop down a mineshaft without breaking open, and the filling is dense to hold the heat.

Pasty with gravy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

We sampled several pasties across the U. P. and found some small, subtle differences in the seasoning or ratio of rutabaga to potato, but the recipes don’t vary much.

Generally a pasty is a pasty is a pasty, and most of the establishments that sell them sell only one kind: meat, potato and rutabaga. A typical menu is: hot, cooled, or frozen. The only questions are, “How many ya want, eh?” and “What kinda paap you want with?” Check out our entire adventure on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See why we think food is such an important part of travel!

But wait. There’s more!

There’s SO much more iconic food to learn about in the US! Check out the roots of these:

Hamburgers in Akron, Ohio Pizza in New York City Gullah Cuisine in the Sea Islands Clams in the Florida Keys
Authentic Colonial in Philadelphia Spam in Austin, Minnesota Cajun in Rural Louisiana Nut Rolls in Quincy, Illinois
Quahog in Rhode Island Throwed Rolls in Missouri Tamales in Mississippi Tamales in California
Fatballs in Holland, Michigan Vidalia Onions in Georgia Donut Tower at the Blue & White Dutch oven cooking in Amish Country
Messes of beans in Arkansas Oysters in Texas Whitefish from the Great Lakes Gizzards in Potterville, Michigan
Tabasco Sauce in Louisiana Seafood in the Pacific Northwest Rocky Mountain “Oysters” in Montana Pea soup in Solvang (ish), California
Lowcountry boil in Georgia Italian Beef in Chicago Buffalo Wings in Buffalo Everything in New Orleans!
Pasties in the UP of Michigan

YOUR turn: We are always on the lookout for other examples of hometown favorites that every visitor should experience, so we’d love to hear about ones we should check out as we roam about the country.

Food for Thought: How Food Enhances Travel

An old adage says that you don’t really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. We believe it is just as true that you don’t really know a place until you eat a plate of its food.

There is so much more to visiting a destination than seeing the sights. We try to immerse… CONTINUE READING >> 

Click here to listen to the radio interview we did discussing this subject!

The folks in Sardinia consider donkey a national meatAn old adage says that you don’t really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. We believe it is just as true that you don’t really know a place until you eat a plate of its food.

There is so much more to visiting a destination than seeing the sights. We try to immerse ourselves.

The folks in Sardinia consider donkey a national meat.

Staying away from the tourist centers, riding public transportation, seeing day-to-day life, meeting and talking to people, and sampling local delicacies, all provide a better understanding of local life when exploring a new neck of the woods.

WATCH: We found the dumplings (in all their forms) to be delicious in the Czech Republic – and the street food, ohhhh the street food.

Food may be the best way to experience the idiosyncrasies of an area and its culture. The culinary peculiarities of a place usually have roots dating back centuries, and stem from rituals and mores that help to define a people.

WATCH: Sometimes we’re lucky enough to go directly the place of invention, as we did with bouillabaisse in France.

Recipes and dishes get passed down for generations, and reflect traditions that have become an integral part of the society. Often their stories have been woven into the fabric of family celebrations, religious observances and holiday gatherings, and can make a region stand out from the surrounding areas.

WATCH: Veronica orders blindly off of a menu in Austria and ends up with heart and lung stew!

Poutine in Canada
Poutine in Canada–>

The ingredients usually have a tale to tell too, providing insight into the history of a population, whether from long-held practice or new-found availability.

What may strike a visitor as odd is perfectly normal to the locals, like donkey in Sardinia, massive amounts of meat in Argentina featuring parts of a cow you’d never think of eating, or Poutine in Canada.

WATCH: Eating “weird” meat at a parrilla in Buenos Aires

Even though fast food has not permeated Europe down to the village level, in Italy, the epicurean center of the universe, golden arches have popped up alongside some of the ancient ones in urban centers. But traveling a little off the beaten path has the power to overcome that.

WATCH: In Casale Monferrato, Italy, food is considered art

Sadly, in the United States, as our world grows smaller a great deal of the diversity is being homogenized out of our modern lives. We live in a world where we are never very far from the nearest mass produced, packaged value meal. Certainly every exit off of our superhighways is starting to look the same.

Though they are becoming less and less common, real regional restaurants can still be found across America. These authentic eateries serve up specialties outsiders have often never heard of. But just because something seems strange to us, doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious.

WATCH: We were initially introduced to the Gullah People of the Sea Islands of South Carolina via food.

Fiery Hot Quahog, beachside in Newport Rhode Island
Fiery Hot Quahog, beachside in Newport Rhode Island

We certainly found that to be true of the Fiery Hot Quahog beachside in Rhode Island, the boudin in Louisiana, the Rocky Mountain Oysters in Montana, or Fat Balls in Holland… Michigan that is.

We can’t say that all of these have become new favorites for us, but we certainly can say we are glad we tried them, and felt closer to the places where we did.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Click here to listen to the radio interview we did discussing this subject!

Do you love cooking classes like we do? Click here to see our classes from around the world!

YOUR TURN: Is food an important part of your travel experience? Do you have a story to share?

How to Do Mardi Gras Without Being Asked to Lift Your Shirt!

Don’t get us wrong – we LOVE New Orleans. But the thought of wading into a Big Easy Mardi Gras is something better left to young whippersnappers.

We took the rural route and learned about the wonderful goings-on in Cajun Country – what they call the REAL Mardi Gras!

Courir de Mardi Gras involves costumed men dancing on horseback, begging, and chicken chasing!

La Grande Boucherie des Cajuns A tradition older than Mardi Gras, is a communal hog butcher and meat fest.

Fais do-do See what Cajuns do once the kids go to bed… CONTINUE READING >>

With Fat Tuesday fast approaching, we dug back in our archives for this tale of festivities, revelry, and merriment. We offer it as inspiration for anyone who might be planning an adventure of their own.

Jeanerette Mardi GrasDon’t get us wrong – we LOVE New Orleans. But the thought of wading into a Big Easy Mardi Gras is something better left to young whippersnappers.

We took the rural route and learned about the wonderful goings-on in Cajun Country – what they call the REAL Mardi Gras!

Let the good times roll!

THE CRAZIEST THING WE’VE SEEN YET…
AND WE’VE SEEN A LOT OF CRAZY THINGS

Courir de Mardi Gras

We discovered a long-held rural tradition of Cajun Country, Courir de Mardi Gras, in Church Point. It translates to Fat Tuesday Run and traces its origins back to medieval France and the fête de la quémande or feast of begging.

Runners, known as Mardi Gras, ride horses or wagons through the countryside stopping to beg at farms for ingredients for a communal gumbo to be made after the run. The most common offering from the farmers is a chicken which then must be chased and captured by the Mardi Gras.

At 5 AM we were awoken by the beginnings of the revelry. Horses started making their presence known and whoops and hollers filled the early morning air. The staging area was already a sea of mud.

We watched curiously while the participants – who by tradition must be male, over 14 and in costume – registered, drank, saddled up, drank, greeted each other, drank, got geared up, drank, played music, drank, danced, and oh yeah, drank some more. Costumes are imperative to the tradition in that the identity…CONTINUE READING

You’ve gotta watch the video to believe it…it’s, well, just watch.

Chicken Chasing
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(and more history, crazy goings on and what happened when Veronica became part of the proceedings!)

MARDI GRAS DAY – A TALE OF TWO TOWNS

Chicken Kissing

Asking around, we got conflicting answers to the question, “Where do we spend the actual day of Mardi Gras?”

We had spent almost three weeks in Acadiana, celebrating all things Mardi Gras, but still hadn’t landed on where to spend the big day.

Narrowing our many choices down to two, we focused on Eunice and Mamou, because each boasted chicken chasing, a big street festival and authenticity.

We were told Eunice was both “the best – by far” and “too commercial.” Mamou, on the other hand receive reviews like “the most authentic” and “just a bunch of drunks sitting on ice chests.”

Like the idiots we are, we decided to visit both. And both… CONTINUE READING

Mardi Gras Day!
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(and more!)

A CAJUN BOUCHERIE – LET’S PIG OUT!

Backbone Stew

The Boucherie is not necessarily a part of the Mardi Gras celebration, in fact it most likely predates Mardi Gras activities here in South Louisiana, but in recent years many communities have included the old fashioned hog slaughter in their weekend of Mardi Gras events.

Back in the days before refrigeration families would get together to share a butchered hog because the meat would go bad before one family could eat it all. Before long this became a pretty good excuse to throw a little party.

Interesting and entertaining, not to mention tasty. After watching every part of the pig get cut for a specific purpose, we had the chance to sample… CONTINUE READING

Boucherie!
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(and more!)

GO TO SLEEP LITTLE ONE, MAMA WANTS TO DANCE

Straight Whiskey at Church Point Louisiana Fais do-do

“Fais do-do” is Cajun baby talk for “go to sleep” and once the kiddies are all tucked sweetly in bed, Mamma and Daddy (and Maw Maw and Paw Paw) have the chance to “pass a good time.”

We kicked off the Friday before Mardi Gras at a Fais do-do in Church Point.

We were told by a woman earlier in the day that the Fais do-do was essential for us to attend, as it was when the town “come together like family” and that we would be treated as such. And we were.

In a little town like Church Point, we normally stick out like sore thumbs, not because we’re so different as much as that everyone literally knows everyone, and we – well – we don’t know anyone. That changed at the Fais do-do.

The people of Church Point have never met a stranger, we were welcomed with open arms as everyone — from the Queen of The Courir de Mardi Gras, to the ladies handing out beer, to the mayor himself — took the extra time to make sure we had le bon temps!

Big shout out to the band “Straight Whiskey” – the real deal.

Fais do-do in Church Point Louisiana

HOW MUCH KING CAKE CAN ONE PERSON EAT?

Mardi Gras King Cake

As soon as we crossed over the Louisiana border we began seeing King Cakes.

This tradition started in France in the 1100s to commemorate the Three Kings’ visit to the Christ Child.

In Acadiana the King Cake is in the shape of a ring to symbolize a crown and decorated in Mardi Gras purple, gold and green.

A little plastic baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake and the person who’s slice contains the baby is designated as the host of the next Mardi Gras or King Cake Party.

After asking around, we found out that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the flavor of the cake. Bakeries generally fill their King Cakes with cream cheese and fruit, and some fancier versions include marzipan or Bavarian cream. The only guiding principle seems to be the colors – purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.

Mardi Gras King Cake

The King Cake can be found in this area from January 6th until Mardi Gras Day.

THE BEST BETWEEN-THE-WEEKENDS DIVERSION

Taster's Choice in Eunice

THE place to be on the Wednesday night before Mardi Gras is “Taster’s Choice” in Eunice. We headed down to the Acadian Center at LSU/Eunice to eat some of the best Cajun food we’ve ever had.

Over twenty chefs sponsored by local businesses bring their best dishes for the benefit of the Community Clinic – and a big time is had by all!

For 20 bucks each, we ate ourselves silly and were mesmerized by Marc Savoy on the French accordion playing traditional Cajun music with his family and friends – AND it was all for a great cause.

Once each guest made the rounds and sampled the food, we were encouraged to vote for our favorite dish. Here were ours:

Best sponsor name – Guidry’s Dirt Service’s Crawfish Chowder
Most clever name – Bayou Alfredeaux
All around favorite – Fruge Lumber Company’s Crawfish Étouffée Taster's Choice, Eunice Louisiana

YOU CAN GET BOOZE AT THE DRIVE-THRU WINDOW?

You Can Get Booze at the Drive Thru Window?

As a matter of fact, you can.

And not just during Mardi Gras season. All over Cajun Country all you have to do is drive up and order.

Being the curious types, we tried it on bikes.

It was about one in the afternoon in Marksville when we rolled up to the window at Daiquiri Island and didn’t even get a reaction from our server.

The drink menu was nailed to the wall by the window with concoctions called “Stanky Leg,” “Purple Haze,” and “Whoop Ass,” (among others we’re too embarrassed to type BUT there’s a pic here)!

There was no explanation as to what they might be made of, so we went with something we had heard of – a Mudslide. When asked what size, we opted to split a small – which was 20oz! Delicious and VERY potant. An adult chocolate milkshake, if you will.

You Can Get Booze at the Drive Thru Window?

Later in the day, we found another interesting establishment, The Watering Hole.

Instead of a drive-up window, we actually drove through the building. The walls were lined with refrigerator cases filled with cold beer, wine and the like. And there were daiquiris, as well. Our favorite name was “Hillbilly Suicide.”

The drink we had split earlier was MORE than enough, so we opted for a pound of crawfish scooped up out of a cooler – the biggest little mudbugs we’d ever seen. Delicious!
Daquiri Drive Thru
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(and more!)

MARDI GRAS IS GOING TO THE DOGS!

Canine King of Mardi Gras Dog Parade

Lafayette’s Krewe des Chiens Annual Dog Parade is a must-do.

This parade is geared toward children, but brings out the dog lover in all of us.

Vibrantly costumed fur babies proudly trot down Lafayette’s downtown streets as both participants and spectators.

Everyone has a grin on their snout as beads are thrown, puppies are rescued and donations are accepted for Acadiana’s less fortunate furry friends!


Mardi Gras Dog Parade, Lafayette Louisiana
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(and to see many more cute guys!)

JEANERETTE’S KREWE OF EZANA MARDI GRAS PARADE

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Some parades are focused on floats and bead throws.

Not in Jeanerette. This little town of 6,000 throws a real show. Marching bands, twirlers and dancers of all ages fill out the spaces between the floats.

They don’t call Jeanerette “Sugar City” for nothing – this town doesn’t mess around with the treats they throw – candy, beads, stuffed animals, candy, trickets, oh, and candy. And gum.

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KREWE OF CARNIVALE EN RIO – all about the beads!

Krewe Of Carnivale en Rio

This parade IS all about the beads.

Seriously. It was insane. We had discussed ahead of time our rules of personal bead gathering, as we wanted to get a realisic idea about how many one could expect to gather.

-No picking them off the street.
-No grabbing them away from eager youngsters (think foul balls at a baseball game).
-Unless they are thrown directly to us or hit us when we weren’t paying attention, they did not go around our necks.

Even so, we could barely walk back to our vehicle – madness, sheer madness.

We should have realized something was up when we saw all of the “Throw Me Something Mister” signs and fishing nets. The winner was a kid who was holding a laundry basket affixed to a broomstick, creating a target that no float rider could resist trying to make.

By the halfway point there were nearly as many plastic bags that had held the beads floating on the wind in Lafayette as beads themselves.


CLICK TO ENLARGE THESE PICTURES (and more!)

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Delve deeper:
Visit the crazy Courir de Mardi Gras, in Church Point – chicken chasing!
Check out the authentic celebrations in Eunice and Mamou
Go hog wild at an old-fashioned Boucherie meat fest!
Watch dogs celebrate Mardi Gras at the Krewe des Chiens Dog Parade
Find out how to get booze at a drive-thru window
Join us at the parades in Jeanerette and Lafayette
Learn more about the Acadian, Canadian, and Cajun connection
See our thank you to the mysterious person at the Dog Parade who commited a wonderful act of kindness!

YOUR TURN: Have we convinced you to give rural Mardi Gras a shot? What would be your first stop? Did we miss anything?

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 Colorful Collection of Beaches on Hawaii

Those of us from the mainland might be thinking that all sand is basically the same, but out here in the center of the tropical Pacific that is far from the case. These islands are volcanic, and that has made for several varieties of sand… CONTINUE READING >> 

The name Hawaii not only applies to the state and the entire island chain, but also to the largest of those islands.

The Big Island, as it is often called by Hawaiians, is probably best known for its nearly constant volcanic activity, but there are a number of distinctive beaches along the shoreline that are equally intriguing. The main feature that sets these unique sun spots apart from each other is the color of the sand.

Those of us from the mainland might be thinking that all sand is basically the same, but out here in the center of the tropical Pacific that is far from the case. These islands are volcanic, and that has made for several varieties of sand.

On Hawaii, when the Big Island’s two active volcanoes erupt they make black sand. Any place where the lava flows into the sea brand new land is formed, and when that molten magma hits the water the instantaneous cooling shatters the newly formed rocks into tiny grains. Voilà! Black sand.

There are many good examples of this around the island, but perhaps the best, and best known, is Punaluʻu Beach. It is such a fine specimen that it is generally just called Black Sand Beach.

Another feature of the black sand is its ability to soak up heat. It’s like blacktop on a summer day, and our feet felt like we were walking on a frying pan as soon as the flip flops came off. However, being reptiles, the hawksbill and green turtles love it and can often be found basking on the warm black beach.

Another beach has sand even more unusual than the black, it’s green. In fact, this phenomenon is so rare that there are only four examples in the entire world.

Papakōlea Beach is named for the kōlea bird that is often seen nearby and gets its curious coloring from the mineral olivine, a magnesium iron silicate. The crystals eroded out of the volcanic cone that forms the steep sides to the beach.

But we didn’t care that much about all that, we just wanted to see the famous “Green Beach.”

Turns out that is not the simplest task. Papakōlea is located on the far southern tip of the island, which also happens to be the southernmost spot in the United States, and there is next to nothing around it but open land.

That got us wondering how to get there and when we asked about this unique seashore some of the locals gave us a tip. Word was we could probably snag a ride across the fields in a four wheel drive… for a price.

So we drove our rental car to the parking lot at the end of South Point Road and sure enough, twenty bucks bought us a spot standing up in the back of a 4-Wheel Drive pickup truck. Hiking the two and a half miles to the beach is also an option, but this looked like fun.

Is hanging on for dear life fun?

It can be, like on a roller coaster. So yes, in that sense, the bounding, bucking, bouncing, and bumping all over the bed of that truck was fun. It must have been, because we were laughing our butts off the whole time.

Reaching the beach after the ride still required climbing over and down the steep sides of the volcanic crater, so we were more than ready to just lay out and relax on the sand for a while.

We are also happy to report that our driver was kind enough to take it a little easier on us on the way back. Before you visit be sure to check out this dry bag guide so you know the best way to keep your gear dry.

Afterwards we learned that what we had done is not allowed. The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has restricted vehicular traffic through the grassland, so we are not sure if the off-road entrepreneurs are always operating, but our guess would be that they usually are.

Lastly, there is the multi-colored sand of Ho‘okena Beach Park. This more traditional sand formed mainly from coral, but with a smattering of lava in it too so it is sometimes referred to as salt & pepper.

Yet even this so-called normal sand has an interesting back story; it is mostly fish poop.

It’s true. The vast majority of sand on any tropical beach has been run through the digestive tract of a parrot fish. They grind up tiny bits of coral as they scrape algae off to eat.

When we heard this tidbit of trivia we wanted to verify it with our own ears and yes, we have heard it on many occasions while snorkeling. Just be very still under the water near a parrot fish and the unmistakable scraping noise is quite conspicuous.

Now that we are familiar with the sound, it is almost impossible to go snorkeling without hearing the menacing munching.

But we would never let that stop us.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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Valentine’s Day Customs from Around the World

Valentine’s Day customs from around the world may vary, but no matter where you go, the theme is the same: love. This is the day when you express your love, but you just might need to learn different ways of doing so… CONTINUE READING >> 

We live in a world where everyone is constantly on the move. With millions living and working abroad, some in countries with very different customs, you might want a Valentines Day guide on how to celebrate expat love.

Valentine’s Day customs from around the world may vary, but no matter where you go, the theme is the same: love. This is the day when you express your love, but you just might need to learn some different ways of doing so.

A Rather Unique Custom in Denmark

While much of the world celebrates Valentine’s Day by sending a bouquet of flowers to the one they love, Denmark has a unique twist on this custom. As a relatively new holiday celebration in Denmark, only being celebrated there since the 1990s, the Danes send pressed white flowers as a token of love.

That custom is sort of appealing in that pressed flowers can be kept forever, just like your love should be – forever. Expat ladies, beware. You might even receive a joke letter, so don’t be dismayed if your love sends you a hilarious poem in lieu of a card!

South Korea’s 60-Day Valentine’s Day Celebration

Some expats live and work in Asia and even with all the advice offered them, the one thing they may not be prepared for is a 60-day celebration of this romantic holiday that is typically celebrated on 14 February elsewhere around the world. The celebration begins in February like everywhere else, but once monthly again in March and April, young lovers will celebrate a ‘follow-up’ Valentine’s Day.

On 14 March, the day is called White Day, when men not only send a card, but they send flowers and a gift on this special day. The celebration culminates on 14 April when single young lovers mourn their still-single status by sharing a bowl of black bean noodles. Dark day, indeed!

Valentine’s Day Mass Weddings in the Philippines

Expats living in the Philippines might expect a marriage proposal in the months leading up to Valentine’s Day, with the wedding to be held on the 14th of February.

According to this International Valentine’s Day Guide About Expat Love, the Philippines is one of the top 3 countries for expats to find romance, and, non-surprisingly, Valentines Day is celebrated in much the same way as it is in the Western World.

However, there is one new tradition which is quickly sweeping the nation. This day of love is now being celebrated with mass weddings around the country, as couples gather en masse to make their vows. Typically, a mass celebration follows.

Valentine’s Day Australian Style (for us)

Jumping out of an airplane may not be for everyone, but it seems like it is in Australia. Most of the people we talked to either had already done it or were planning to soon.

Crazy as that sounds, it was a great way to celebrate… and the TV news even came out for a post jump interview!

So, as you can see, celebrating Valentine’s Day around the world has the same theme. It’s a day of love and expressing your love, it’s just that the way you express that love varies from country to country.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? We’d love to hear.

Video Gaming Escapism: How Exotic Destinations Boost the Experience

If there’s one thing video games are good at, it’s escapism. Let’s discuss the role of exotic destinations in crafting a visual masterpiece capable of delivering top-notch immersive escapism… CONTINUE READING >>

If there’s one thing video games are good at, it’s escapism. Sure, they’re fun, but entertainment is the product of a string of factors carefully implemented to elevate the player’s experience. One factor that rarely fails to add to the experience is the game setting, which becomes an even bigger element as the games relocate to more exotic destinations.

In this article, we’ll discuss the role of exotic destinations in crafting a visual masterpiece capable of delivering top-notch immersive escapism.

Better Immersion, Higher Expectations

Video games are getting more and more creative. With newer technologies and more sophisticated software, game creators can generate virtual worlds where everything is possible – and players are getting used to the rapid expansion of possibilities. The influx of options and features is something every player likes, and it’s easy to get used to nice things. Hence, modern gamers have higher expectations – and the expectations are only going to expand.

As gamers’ expectations continue to grow, gaming companies must generate better ideas and concepts. One of the inexhaustible sources of improvement is certainly the graphics department. Visuals, design, and the execution of said ideas is critical point for any respectable game-making company that wishes to acquire a bigger audience. And this is true for all software companies working in the game-making industry. According to Casinos Online, an internet portal for online casino players, game providers in the gambling industry must keep upping their ante in the graphics department if they want to attract customers. They do that mainly in online slots, the most popular game category in the industry right now. They invent new mechanics, use cutting-edge software, and use exotic game settings in games to earn mass appeal.

With better graphics, the locations become more pronounced – and loitering around basic places and cities we are used to is not going to cut it anymore. That’s why exotic destinations that relate not only to our planet’s unchartered territories, but completely fictional places are far better than mundane environments we’re all already used to.

Far Places We Might Never Visit in Real Life

While space exploration is becoming a standard topic for Sunday family reunions, not many of us will manage to reach outer space in our lifetime. But that does not stop us from imagining how it would be and what would we see there, does it? Thankfully, the cosmos is closer to us than ever. We can blast off to distant galaxies, travel between thousands of planets, and go on adventures with alien-ish creatures anytime we want – with just a few simple clicks!

Humanity does not lack imagination, which is why we are so successful at designing places we will never get to see with our own eyes. That’s why video games that are set in exotic places – even those non-existent in real-life – are precious for us.

Such games give us a chance to experience something we will never have a chance to do in reality, so by letting us explore such places, we create parallel worlds – ones in which we get to learn, explore, enjoy, and most importantly, test ourselves and see how we would respond in different situations. In a way, exotic destinations in video games affect our experience not only because they make us feel good, but because they can be a powerful tool through which we can learn more about our reality, and ultimately, about ourselves.

Exotic Places Point to Mystical Storylines

Games are great for skill-building, and we are a species that thrives on learning. However, not all skills can be taught at school, and even if they could be, we would not be able to improve at them as fast as we could outside schools. Why? Mostly because school is often associated with work, pressure, stress, and a no-fun attitude. However, learning that eliminates fun from the equation often yields poorer results than a fun-filled learning activity.

That is why video games are so important. Gamers are easier to adapt to new situations and adopt practical tips from such situations than those who do not partake in such activities. However, a special trait of video games set in exotic places is that they are often related to a mystery that is harder to crack. By connecting a logical puzzle with adventure and action in a remote location or even a fictional exotic place, gamers get entertainment that teaches you about yourself, your world, and still provides enough fun that you can enjoy for hours on end. And that’s the whole point.

We are happy to present this collaborative post to offer valuable information to our readers.