A friend of a friend recommended the Los Isleños Fiesta. After a breakfast bowl at Cafe Aquarius in Chalmette (which already felt like “getting out of the city” to me), we went in search of adventure. Minutes later, we were tracking the levee along Route 46 through some very charming scenery and kicking into Saturday mode.
Cars parked end-to-end along the side of the two-lane road marked the spot. It looked kind of rinky-dink from the road, but I have to tell you, we spent the entire afternoon chilling there, and might have stayed longer if we’d brought jackets. I’m all about learning new stuff, and this was a festival dedicated to a people group I’ve never even heard of. Spanish Canary Islanders settled the area in the late 1700’s, and the group has maintained its identity since. The festival took place on the grounds of the Los Isleños Museum and Village, a sweet little spot bordered by a woodland trail and Route 46.
For a $3 entrance fee, we saw Spanish dancers in beautiful costumes! Traditional quilting! Historic buildings relocated on site! Monique from the Houma Nation giving out free seeds and information! Handmade wooden pirogues! Interesting stuff at every turn, not to mention a gigantic go cup of sangria for only $6 that lasted all afternoon.
When we got hungry, we ate some of the freshest, most delicious oysters I’ve had in awhile (evidenced by the lack of a “before” photo), followed up by a sampler plate of a soup called caldo, ropa vieja, empanada, bacon-covered plantain and shrimp & grits. Meanwhile, as the sun sank lower in the sky, dancers followed the lead of the band.
Open to tourists like me, yes. But the small-town feel was palpable. Most of these folks, I’m sure, were related to each other in some kind of way. There are down sides, I know, but it was also beautiful to see. Coming from a small town, I miss it. New Orleans has this way of claiming all the sense of place for itself, as though only this city is uniquely special. But I’ve lived in several places with deep roots, and I was happy to be reminded that there are others very nearby.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, I ended up in a boat! A tiny boat, admittedly, but one with enough motor to take me, two other passengers and the skipper way up a bayou. I don’t even know where we were: I just enjoyed the ride. I’ve been on a swamp tour or two, but never in the early spring, and never in this location.
I don’t know why I thought these little fishing camps were a thing of the past. I’d seen an exhibit at the Audubon Zoo, and it seemed like a vanished history. Maybe because they look like something from another century, perched on the edge of the water with a precarious future. But there we were, and there they were. The water was high, lapping at the many ramshackle, floating docks.
I have no boating experience, coming from land-locked central PA, and my working theory is that down here, you need a boat to get to nature. This expedition did nothing to disprove that notion. It was glorious to get out into da parish.