#PleaseAllowMeToIntroduce to you The Loupe Family of Thibodeaux, Louisiana. Looking back on 2014 I want to take the time to do my first introduction of the quirky, hospitable and lovable family that my family had the great pleasure to meet when we went to New Orleans, Louisiana to finally see the South that we have heard so much about.
Going to the south?! What a dream come true!! My whole life I have lived with the imaginings of so many things; a lot of those having to do with the southern way of life that I have read so much about. The history books I have cherished, the fast-running horses I always wanted to own, the bands that I wanted to join, the debutante southern belles I wished with all my might that I could have born as!
I couldn’t wait to hear charming accents, sweet hospitality, and eat fried food and keep a whopping 18″ waist. Isn’t that how it works in the south?!
Going with my good friend from high school and college, Alyssa, was a definite high point. I hadn’t seen her much for the last year and the fact that she was more than down for this “College-is-almost-over” adventure was more than exciting. Having my parents with us as well was a bonus because, honestly, they have more experience when it comes to traveling (plus they were the only ones old enough to get a rental car!).
After we were all settled in we headed over to this little corner restaurant that the kids working the front desk told us about. The name was Bubba II’s. When we pulled up to the place I was absolutely sketched out. There was this lady sitting on the bench out front petting this skinny black cat which I would have absolutely mistaken for a stray and still questioned it’s personal living space, with a 110% serious conversation. I am not a big cat fan and if that is how the people were going to be at that restaurant I was starting to doubt if I wanted anything to do with it. Nobody else in the group seemed to bat an eye though so in we headed… where we were hit with this overpowering awful smell. I honestly don’t know how to describe it; it was like a weird combination of swamp, food, and musty antique store? Barf.
Again, nobody faltered so we kind of wandered up to where we thought we were supposed to order. All of us were looking around, highly unsure. Then 2 tall athletic boys walked in wearing Nicholl’s state baseball gear, grabbed a to-go order, said hello to everyone working there and a small table of four people in the corner who looked like the kind of locals that could set up residency due to squatter’s rights. Once I saw that I felt totally fine. I don’t know why but the atmosphere and the way that the ball players acted reminded me of Local Boys or even Greenberry; two of the most local points in my college town and home town.
The older gentleman who was managing the joint at the time, and probably owned it to be quite honest, was a lively little firecracker and told us exactly which plate to order and then gave us options for sides. Still looking quite taken aback by the onslaught of information, he freely offered the two most common sides to help narrow our choices; spinach casserole and carrot souffle.
Carrot souffle had my attention right off that bat – how in the world do you even make that?! I have made chocolate souffle before and let me tell you what, now THAT was an experience! (Sidenote: don’t make a souffle when your construction company owning father decides to roll the gravel driveway, your souffle won’t rise!) My mom immediately said that the plate she and my dad were going to share would have those sides. The gentleman looked at me and Alyssa (who had big eyes). “Two sides of macaroni and cheese?” she ventured to say looking at me. “It ain’t mac’n’cheese like yo mama makes it gurl,” the getnleman chimed in. I started laughing… “One mac’n’cheese and the carrot suffle?” I must have said it with a little more commandment than Alyssa, that or the more likely reason, that the guy approved of my two choices over Alyssa’s because he wrote it down and went back into the kitchen. We looked at each other with comically large eyes, shrugged our shoulders and found a seat.
“Y’all from THE OSU?” The same quirky guy came over and asked us.
As everyone else in the group started to say “Uhhh.. noooo…” knowing full well that he was referring to Oklahoma State I double backed with, “Heck yeah! Go Beavers!”
The guy actually knew who Oregon State was – probably because of baseball, especially if they had the local university baseball players coming in their quite often. He was a firecracker and kept us entertained. He was so nice and hospitable that he actually got us a map and drew out our exact game plan for the next day which included a swamp tour and plantation tours.
No sooner did our heads hit the pillow but then we were out; traveling will do that to you you know?
The next morning we are up and at it bright and early again; it was one of those convenient times when the time change helps you with your travel. I woke up long before Alyssa though and did a small workout before heading down to breakfast. Unfortunately, when I got all the locks undone and got out our door I am pretty sure that I woke Alyssa up. I was so antsy to get out and get going that I literally couldn’t sit in the room any longer just twiddling my thumbs (albeit I felt fairly rude just leaving Alyssa in their alone, I had this feeling like she was my guest the entire trip).
The breakfast was complimentary, for that I was thankful. At the hotel that I work at nothing is remotely complimentary and that was a fear that I had in booking a room. I am a-okay with simple complimentary breakfasts, I don’t have the money nor the time for a full fledged breakfast. They even had biscuits and gravy as a part of the morning breakfast, something I knew Alyssa would be ecstatic about. Alyssa joined me downstairs not long after I had got my food and sat down, confirming my suspicions that she was awakened by the heavy door when I had left.
We left at 10:30 am for the adventures of the day, which started with the swamp tour. We were told that we needed to eat lunch at the swamp tour restaurant and then have dinner at the restaurant at one of the plantation tours that we were supposed to go on. The old man the night before had told us that tourist traps just make their food spicy, true Cajun food isn’t spicy, it’s just well seasoned! We got there without much hiccup except for right before we got to the location where there was police blocking off the road for what looked like a funeral at a church.
Dad was quickly proving to be a disaster when it came to driving around. My parents had brought their GPS to help navigate us around the bayou but my dad had this awful tendency to want to do his own thing and not listen to the GPS. The number of times that I heard that darn voice say “recalculating” will probably continue to haunt my nightmares for the next few months.
When we got to the place that we were supposed to be we were a little apprehensive. The whole place looked like a weird hoarders location with a gift shop overflowing with items. There didn’t seem to be a soul in sight but we decided to poke around and see if someone showed up. In the yard across the street from Zam’s Swamp Tours was a dog kennel with ducks and a Tom turkey in it. The yard had other pens which contained a dog, bunnies, raccoons, and goats. It was quite the little menagerie that they had going on!
I felt like a creeper as we walked around, checking out the bayou. I looked over and was mortified to see my dad doing the most ridiculous thing. He was over taking pictures, in the middle of a private yard and driveway, of somebodies hunting sled. <Facepalm> What do you do in that situation? I was like “Dad! Get over here!”
He shook his head at me and held his hand up to silence me; an action that absolutely annoyed me. He was trespassing and being disrespectful. Did he not realize that we were in the south, the land of “Everyone has a gun and if you overstep onto our territory we won’t be afraid to use it!”? He had his glasses on and was typing away on his phone. I could only assume that he was sending it to my cousins father-in-law whom he goes hunting with almost every day of the winter. I literally just had to walk away and get out of sight before I lost my cool which I didn’t think would be very becoming in front of Alyssa – considering I have a reputation as the “nice one”.
Mom, Alyssa and I stood out on the dock watching an older gentleman fishing around this small toll bridge. The bridge itself was a fascination because it made SO much noise whenever a car went over it. The first time a car went over while we were there Alyssa and I just about jumped out of our skin because it had a sound that I can only liken to a round of an automatic gun going off.
Standing on the floating dock I really got to take in the full “Country Taste” of the bayou. Every breath I was reached with had not the unpleasant smoggy scent that I figured I would get this close to the town of New Orleans but a swampy, musty, decomposing vegetation and fishy aroma. It wasn’t unpleasant but I had a good hunch that if I were to ever live here my allergy to mold would result in me not making it very long. The gift shop and out lying buildings were exactly the same as well, just the scent of dust and mold.
We found my dad inside the restaurant talking to a middle aged lady who not only looked but sounded like a southern Mrs. Carter (my 6th grade witch of a teacher) and Gretchen Wilson (yes, the country star). She was so sweet, you could immediately tell by the way that she talked and the twinkle in her eye. We had seen a crazy looking long blonde hair, black skinny jean, chain hanging motorcycle gangster looking guy wandering around earlier. It turns out that this much younger guy was her husband. She was very impressed with Alyssa and I’s height and was quick to ask us if we knew any strong, big girls to set up with her son ZZ. Alyssa and I looked at each other and then said, “Ruth?” (in reference to our giant basketball playing friend.
The whole conversation of match making got absolutely 110% disrupted when the next thing I saw, out of my amazing peripheral vision from sports, was Diego (the husband) walking into the restaurant through the outside door with a 6′ python around his shoulders. I quickly took a few steps back and wished that I could be fast and discreet and get my phone out in time to videotape my mom’s reaction since she is absolutely terrified of snakes. My mom has this absolute fear of snakes, a result of a run in with a nest of baby rattlers when she was out hiking once upon a time. I probably would have been able to get it on video if it wasn’t for the fact that I got myself moved away first. My mom, who is like me and tries to remain attentive, saw me move and quickly surveyed the scenery. When she saw the snake she was quick to get to the other side of the building putting a pillar and my dad between her and the snake. My dad was still hell-bent on trying to tell whatever random story he was telling and I don’t think he even saw the snake at first. It wasn’t until his eyes got big and his nostrils flared in fear that I knew he had seen it… well that wasn’t the first sign, the first sign was that he finally quit talking.
“Do y’all want to hold him?” Diego asked us.
“uh-uh, nope! No way!” Alyssa said quietly as if just for me to hear.
“Awh, he ain’t gonna hurt nobody,” Diego replied. He went on to explain that the snake was a python, not like the rattlers that we were used to seeing in the Pacific North West, and that it wouldn’t strike us to kill us. It was the squeezing that we had to be worried about. I wanted to interrupt and be like “I Know.” I mean I grew up watching the Crocodile Hunter! I kept my mouth shut so as to not seem rude, plus I figured somebody else in that room probably didn’t know all of that. The entire time that he was talking, I couldn’t help but think of the quote from Sweet Home Alabama, “Just because I talk slow don’t mean that I’m dumb.”
It was so true! I knew that Diego and Mrs. Loupe were intelligent people, maybe not necessarily book smart but in the sense of street-smart (or should I say swamp-smart). It’s just that we had very different backgrounds but they had the same comfort moving around the dangerous creatures of the swamp that I have moving around my horses. You know exactly where to go, what signs to watch for, and what information you should share.
Diego beckoned for us to go with him and I looked around almost in disgust at the rest of my party who was making it clear that no, they did not want to follow him to wherever he was going with the snake. I am used to being the kind of fake-scared one when I am with my friends. They are the brave ones who are like, “yeah, let’s go!” I realized that I was going to have to be the bold one and lead the way. I wasn’t going to be allowed the luxury to sit back and be the funny one with mock fear. I was curious to see what Diego wanted to show us though so I followed him out the door and around to this small shed that was set with an adjoining wall to the gift shop. I could immediately see a red glow and could feel heat coming out of the room so I knew that it was the living quarters of the… SNAKE!!!
I jumped back and exclaimed, “Holy smokes! Check that out!” It was more in surprise than of fear although I will admit there was some fear in my first moment of panic of seeing the massive python. I hadn’t seen that it was caged as of yet and that irrational analysis of it being loose and going to eat me was completely wrong but it still didn’t stop me from quickly tracking an escape route if the giant python came after me. In this cage, situated in the bottom left hand corner, just inside the door, was a large tank (thank heavens) with a GIANT boa constrictor. It had a girth of about 14″ in diameter. I had the sickening thought that could be a snake that could eat me; kind of like the snake that ate the drunkard who passed out next to the bar in South America. That could be my fate if I decided to take a snooze with that bad boy hanging around. I finally ventured into the shed (once I was convinced that the snake was properly contained) but felt so unnerved by the giant python which had picked its head up and had it resting on the glass staring directly at me that I never could quite relax in the snake room. I was pretty convinced that it was sizing me up for its next meal and didn’t like the feeling that I was being stalked. Alyssa, who I am assuming got sent out with me by my parents, was a good 10 feet behind me and was not wanting anything to do with the snakes but she was laughing in disbelief so at least I could convince myself that she was having a good time.
After the snake escapade we went back into the restaurant where we learned that the reason it was so slow was because a well-loved special needs gentleman of the area had passed away. This was the funeral procession that we got held up in on our way there. Apparently, the whole neighborhood was coming to the restaurant after the funeral to have a celebration of life – I felt a little bad for being there for such a commercialized business touristy thing at this point. Diego, who I think had taken a liking to us, didn’t seem to mind and said that he was still willing to give us a tour. He took us up to the house where we got a better look at all of his creatures. We were laughing when he was talking about his raccoons. In the south they don’t seem to be such a nemesis like they are in the north; they seem to think more of them as cute and cuddly. Trust me, I have had enough experiences with raccoons – like when one killed our first family dog.
He took us over by his garage/car port where he had buckets like the kind we use to water our horses. In the big bucket was four little 2-year old ‘gators… they were only like 16 inches long. He promptly handed one to me, obviously assuming that I was the brave one I guess. The little critter was moving around and I was a little apprehensive. After a little bit of movement it calmed down and it must have realized that my body temperature was a lot warmer than it and it literally closed its eyes and cuddled up, not unlike a puppy or kitten. I was touched! It was so cute, I kind of wanted to take it home! 🙂 Alyssa tentatively reached out to touch the baby gator and I gestured handing it over to her, thinking that she would want to hold it. She immediately jumped back a few feet and was like, “Nope, no way!” My mom was the only other person who ventured to hold one. It was pretty funny though, she must have been watching me and trying to gain the courage to do it because all of a sudden she just snatched the ‘gator from me. I looked at her in surprise. “What, I wanted to hold it..” she nervously replied. She must have just decided to treat it with the band-aid approach – go quick and it’ll be better in the long run. I don’t think my mom liked being the timid one of the group, it wasn’t that she was the most timid, that would have gone to Alyssa if there was an award for that. The thing was, I was the only one who really seemed to be getting a lot out of the whole adventure. It was a little frustrating, I just wanted to be like, “why the hell did you guys even come?!”
Diego led us past a collection of 4 Corvettes which was absolutely awesome! I knew we had found a kindred spirit when it came to cars with Diego – which shouldn’t have surprised me since he did have that biker-man look. Once we commented on the cars he beckoned us into his house, yes his home! Where inside what must have been a sitting parlor were 3 of the nicest motorcycles I have ever seen! One of them was directly off the show Orange County Choppers! We asked him if he ever rode them and he promptly replied, “Nope!” He said that there was a huge bike rally in the summer time so he just parks them out front and everyone drives by on their bikes for the cruise and then everyone gets to see and appreciate them at that point.
He opened up a gate to his back yard where a couple pygmy goats were roaming around. This horned black billy goat was eye-balling me pretty good and I was leary about leading the group into the backyard. “Is this a tourist trap?” I asked Diego.
He looked at me really confused.
“Is your billy goat going to attack me?’ I explained further.
He laughed at me like I was crazy, “Nah, he won’t hurt you much.” Uhhh, much?!
I apprehensively walked through the backyard, keeping myself on the defensive for if the billy goat decided to attack. Up ahead were two sheds with concrete tub like basins. Figuring that there were ‘gators in there I wasn’t surprised when my mom pointed and said, “There are ‘gators in there!” I had figured that she had got that information from Diego – nope that was just her making assumptions (just like I did).
The loud splash on our right (the side we weren’t looking) and the blood-chilling hiss that we heard quickly told us that the ‘gators were over to our right. We all jumped about a foot and a half in the air. All of us except Diego who laughed at us and then jumped over the cage-link fence and got right down into the swampy edges of the alligator habitat that was about a quarter of an acre big in his back yard. The ‘gator was a male, which Diego pointed out by the fact that it was defensive about it’s territory. He explained that typically he wouldn’t be able to be that close to the gator or be able to handle it as much as he was because they are too fast and aggressive. The reason that he could with our visit was because it was winter and all the reptile like creatures were in a hibernation like state where they were trying to move as little as possible.
After we learned some more about the ‘gators and saw the female that was located on the far end of the pen (I wondered if these were the parents to the baby gators that we had held. It seemed so unreal that they could be related, they were just little baby things at two years old when compared to the full fledged gators in the backyard swamp!), Diego took us over to the concrete-tub sheds that we had originally thought that the ‘gators were in. It turned out that that was where their snapping turtles were. I had only seen these creatures on TV shows so it was totally awesome to actually get to see them in real life and learn about them!
On to the actual swam tour we went! I guess the point of the ‘gators in the back yard was so that, during the winter months like when we were there, they allowed us to see ‘gators and learn about them when the chance of us seeing them in the wild was slim to none. It was a little colder in Louisiana than I thought that it would be, especially once we got out and rolling on our party boat tour boat. I think the scariest part of the whole trip happened at that point which was when we went under the toll bridge. It wasn’t anything like any toll bridges that I had ever seen. I thought that it would lift on one end or break in the middle and lift that way; heck I even thought it would just pivot and rotate so we could go by on one side. Nope. The whole thing lifted straight up in the air. It gave me chills when we went under it; what if it just broke its holds and crashed down on us? If you weren’t under the outside perimeter of the bridge you wouldn’t be guaranteed to be crushed but crushed sounded a heck of a lot better than being trapped and drowning. I decided to do my best and to try not to think of all the horrible ways that I could die in the swamp and just enjoy myself.
The actual tour of the swamp was pretty melodramatic. The calmness and serenity of the scenery really made it a truly amazing trip. I think that the reason it was so great in my eyes was because of the way Diego explained everything to us. It wasn’t about the commercial aspect of it, it wasn’t about this or that; it was about the importance of the swamp to the people of New Orleans, especially those of the early periods. He talked about how the swamp allowed people to provide for their family and that hunting alligators as a sport really ruined it for everyone that lived there. The government didn’t realize that the people who lived and breathed the swamp for survival weren’t necessarily educated enough to understand all of the rules and regulations that they would have to complete in order to keep hunting the alligators for their resources. The result was that they ended up getting in trouble for their hunting without permits or tags and eventually kept from the lifestyle that they had always lived by. It truly broke my heart to hear that.
I was very impressed with their living style and the ability of the swamp to provide so much food for them. I tried to compare it to the woods of the Northwest but I couldn’t come close. They had shrimp, crab, alligator, oysters, crawdads (aka crawfish up here), bass, trout, sockeye, ducks, geese, frogs, turtle, catfish, and probably a lot of other things that I have never heard of. I guess up here, on our coast, we have all of those things. The thought of being able to go crabbing or fishing or anything like that truly makes me happy. I did determine that I am a huge catfish fan though, I couldn’t seem to get enough of it throughout our entire time in New Orleans!
When we drove past the restaurant, going back through the swamp tour, Diego decided that we needed to see the lake. When we asked him if it was a big lake he said, “Well I think it’s a big lake but I told a customer that once and he stated that I was wrong.” Before we got around the corner to the lake though we heard the sound of a motor boat rushing up on us. We turned around to see a sight so movie-picture perfect that I had to turn around and try my darndest to stifle my laughter. Standing in the back of a speedy swamp sled was this large, stocky, big guy with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail wearing black pants and a black wife beater. He had dark eyebrows which were a stark contrast in comparison to his fair hair so I couldn’t help but feel that maybe it was dyed that way. He zoomed up to Diego and exchanged some quick words with him. I realized that this must be ZZ, the son of Zam’s Swamp Tours. The thing that made it so ridiculously funny was that this was the kid that the Mrs. Carter look alike wanted to set up with Ruth. The thought of Ruth and ZZ being a couple literally made me die of laughter. The Olympian and the Swamp Boy = a match made in heaven? Dying of laughter right now!
During our swamp tour Diego had let it slip (when he was discussing his disgust for the commercialization of their lifestyle) that they were asked to be on Swamp People (the reality TV show) but they were never going to do that again. “Again”? We asked him. He explained that his family, ten years prior, had been on Trading Spouses (aka Wife Swap). They had traded with a family from California that were Vegan and Animal Rights Activists. At the thought of someone like that coming into their lifestyle, I couldn’t help but laugh! I wondered who was made to look like the idiot in that episode.
ZZ quickly informed us upon arriving back at the restaurant/gift shop area that we would not be welcomed to get food. He was a little rude/insolent about it but I could understand that it probably was because they were hosting the big funeral/celebration of life and, technically, there restaurant wouldn’t normally be open on a weekday. We decided to head out towards Oak Alley, the plantation that the gentleman at Bubba II’s had told us about the night before. Diego and the look alike Mrs. Carter were quick to agree that that was the place to go. It was pretty funny though because, with their accents, whenever they said “Oak Alley” it sounded like they were saying, “O’Cally”. O’Cally became the affectionate term that we started calling the place after that.
As we went to leave Zam’s Swamp Tours our day was almost made when Diego informed my parents that they had lovely daughters and loved having us out there. My friend Alyssa is black. My family is all white. Obviously someone was adopted if Alyssa was actually my sister! It was quite a good chortle all the way out to the rental car.
By the time that we got back to the hotel after a day of exploring plantations I was exhausted, but a cheerful conversation with a taller African American woman at Domino’s changed my mood for me. She had a tough exterior and when she came up to us while we were both waiting for our respective pizza’s she asked us if we had issues finding jeans. Then we found that we had a common lifeline in that we both shopped at Alloy. Alyssa hadn’t really heard of it before, which was preposterous because I had been quick to tell all of my tall friends since I know that they were all struggling to find jeans in the right length like me. The fact that Alyssa didn’t know was just her own bad luck.
I had claimed that I wasn’t that hungry since I made my stomach fill to bursting with the delicious food from the plantation (it was so ridiculously good that I couldn’t let any of it go to waste!) but, true to form, as soon as I had a pizza in front of me I ended up eating almost a whole pizza by myself. For the second night in a row, we were all piled into Alyssa and I’s room where we watched the DVD of wife swap that Diego and Mrs. Loupe had given us of their episode. We got as much of a kick out of the commercials of the show as we did the actual show. We were having an old person, “Oh I remember back then!” moments as commercial after commercial was for movies and tv series that came out up to a decade ago. Man I feel old.
In the Trading Spouses episode we got fully into the series, probably more so than anyone at the time was. It kind of felt like we were in on this inside joke because we knew the Lupe family now. We had been welcomed into their home (literally) and had really gotten to know their character. I was nervous to watch it for a fear that they would be portrayed poorly but I was gleeful to find out that they were depicted just as we had seen their hospitable nature and quintessential lifestyle. The other mom in the swap was an absolute witch though who was an absolute terd bucket about everything to do with their lifestyle. Our joke for the rest of the trip was “Don’t be a Barbara” or, when we got crazy traditional Louisiana food, “Suck it up Barbara, eat the ‘gator sausage!” It really just added a whole new element to our trip that we never would have had if we hadn’t been blessed with the amazing opportunity to meet the Loupes. Curious to see what Barbara was really like (was she really that terrible of a person?) I looked up online where I found an irate editorial about the way that she was depicted on Trading Spouses. I completely believed until the red flag in her last paragraph where she stated that Mrs. Loupe was really the enemy, not her. I don’t see why either one of them had to be an enemy. Just like with any reality TV show they obviously had to say and do those things on camera, regardless of if they were taken out of context.
Any questions about my Louisiana trip, don’t hesitate to ask! It was a blast and I can’t wait for my next travel adventure and to meet more wonderful and interesting people!