Water World

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I drank two cups of splendid Cajun coffee, dark and rich enough to use as potting soil. Not far from the old Evangeline Theater, I came upon a black man named Louis Dorsey selling pepper sauce from the back of his pickup truck. He had hopes of sharing in some of the millions that Tabasco brands earn their owners, whose plant is just down the road. He ladled up a taste of his Brother-in-Law hot sauce made of only three ingredients, two of them right fnrn the parish: peppers and salt. His vinegar came from elsewhere. The stuff sparkled with piquance.

That afternoon the Delta Queen headed back to the ICW, and I lost the waterscapes in the darkness. In the middle of the night we crossed the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City, a town, according to some geologists, destined to end up on the banks of, or under, the Mississippi when the big river at last breaks through more than a hundred miles north to capture the Atchafalaya and take a shorter course to the Gulf. It’s virtually impossible to speak of anything of consequence in coastal Louisiana without understanding that under every prediction, perception, and piece of history is water.

Dawn caught us near antebellum Houma, a seafood-canning town that also supplies gear to offshore oil platforms. As we proceeded through the morning, ever approaching New Orleans, the waterway still seemed too remote to lie at the edge of such a large city. Two hours before sundown, we reached the Harvey Lock and passed by a raised bridge where rush-hour drivers waited to cross. They watched in surprise at seeing an old stern-wheeler chug before them and stepped out to wave as the boat blew her sweet steam whistle, whether to them or to the lock tender I didn’t know, but it made all of us happy, that sound from an era before five o’clock traffic.

On the other side of the lock and across the Mississippi were the French Quarter and, a bit farther, the home wharf of the Delta Queen . We had steamed 350 miles through a realm only a boat can reach to reveal a land that even today, in spite of all the engineering, still wears a face of an almost lost world. If few travelers except the determinedly curious choose to see it, the coastal country will be better for missing the others.

TO PLAN A TRIP