By Bob Schulman
“Cajun country” runs through 22 parishes (much like counties) stretching across the southern part of Louisiana from New Orleans to the Texas border. Over a million people live in the region including some 250,000 Cajuns, mostly descendants of early French settlers. Many came to Louisiana in the mid-1700s after they were evicted from their homes in eastern Canada when the British seized the area, then called Acadia (now known as the Maritimes).
Over time, the name Acadian morphed into the name Cajun.
The tragic story of the Acadians’ expulsion from Canada and their struggles to find new homes is told in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic 1842 poem, Evangeline. Today, visitors can can drive just about anywhere in the Cajun heartland and chances are within a few minutes they’ll spot something – everything from bars to barber shops – named after Longfellow’s heroine.
You can enjoy all this during a new, four-day tour of the region offered by New Orleans-based Gondwana Ecotours. Called the “Ultimate Cajun Country Adventure” (http://gondwanaecotours.com/tour/ultimate-cajun-country-adventures), the tour includes kayaking in a bayou, Cajun cooking and dancing lessons and stops at the Tabasco factory on Avery Island, the Lake Martin Wildlife Refuge, the Whitney Plantation (America’s first slavery museum), an organic pecan farm and a zydeco music studio. And of course you’ll sample a hefty array of Louisiana food and drinks.
The all-inclusive tour starts at $1,499 per person. Guests will stay at a hotel in Lafayette (about a two-hour drive from New Orleans) considered the heart of the state’s French-speaking Cajun community. Surrounding the city are eight parishes heavily soaked in Cajun culture including the historically rich (and restaurant-packed) Vermilion Parish.
Among popular dishes served in Cajun-area restaurants are crawfish pie, file gumbo and jambalaya. The latter is made from just about everything in and around the bayous that blossoms, sprouts, slithers, swims, crawls, wiggles, grunts, quacks and cackles.
“The mission of our Louisiana tours is to promote education and conservation, not only of the local ecosystems but of the culture and traditions that make southern Louisiana so unique,” said Gondwana EcoTours founder Jared Sternberg.
“We accomplish this through day-to-day ethical practices, small group learning sessions and our partnerships with independent local operators, naturalists, and cultural guardians whose values match our aim to help preserve and protect.”
In addition to the four-day tour, guests can take Gondwana day trips to New Orleans and the surrounding area. The shorter trips include paddling through swamps with naturalist guides, touring a historic sugar plantation, exploring New Orleans’ famous Treme neighborhood and learning about the history of Creole culture and jazz music.
A Gondwana Ecotours (http://gondwanaecotours.com) spokesman said the company “is committed to providing sustainable travel, maintaining an environmental and cultural focus and providing the vacation of a lifetime.” Gondwana’s many worldwide tours range from adventures in the Amazon rainforest, visiting the Maasai people of Tanzania, exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru and hiking in Alaska.