NEW ORLEANS, La. - If you spend any time in South Louisiana, you've been near a bayou. But you get an entirely different experience if you can paddle a bayou in a canoe or kayak. Tonight, FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to St. Martin Parish for a trip down the state's longest bayou in the "Heart of Louisiana".
"The same meaning that the Mississippi has to the New Orleans area or Baton Rouge, Bayou Teche has to the Acadians," said tour guide Cory Werk.
A funny thing happened to Werk, who is originally from California. The political science major was planning on law school. But he changed course, moved to South Louisiana, bought some kayaks and started offering tours through his "Bayou Teche experience."
"My mother's from Baton Rouge, she's an LSU grad, and my grandmother's from Breaux Bridge," Werk said. "So I have deep and long-standing ties in this area."
Werk's future is now linked to Bayou Teche, a 135-mile-long scenic bayou that starts at Port Barre and snakes its way through Cajun country on the way to the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City. If you drive through Southwest Louisiana, you've likely crossed it. But the bayou is hardly noticeable as you speed along Interstate 10. The beauty is on the water.
"Whether it's giant live oaks that are towering above on the bayou or the large cypress trees that you can weave in and out of with your kayak in the swamp, there's no place in the world that has these opportunities that Acadiana offers," Werk said.
"Bayou Teche gets its name from the Chitimacha Indians who fished, hunted and lived along the waterway centuries ago. And they have a story about how the bayou got came to be.
"Teche" is the Chitamacha word for "snake." A bayou-side monument in Breaux Bridge tells the legend of how the Chitimacha fought a huge snake
"They came together and they fought by hand to kill this snake," said Nicole Patin, one of the organizers of Tour du Teche, a three-day race down the full length of the bayou. "And where the snake lay and decomposed is actually where the bayou lies today."
Patin said she's expecting about 180 paddlers participate in the Tour du Teche.
Werk calls this "active tourism" - paddling through Cajun country, and then taking the time to stop at a Cajun dance hall or a restaurant, like Poche's Meat Market.
"The specialty here is probably the boudin cracklins and the plate lunches," said owner Floyd Poche. "Probably backbone stew and smothered rabbit and a few items like that really put us on the map."
The steady 1 mph current of the upper Teche gives paddlers a gentle push through canopies of trees, behind the backyards of homes, past farms and cattle, and close to wildlife that live near the water - like the egret that plays leap frog with Werk's kayak.
"They see you, they fly down a hundred feet," Werk said. "They forget about you, you reappear and they fly down again."
It's a pattern that repeats itself for miles.
The light changes; the shadows grow longer as afternoon turns into evening.
"And what better and scenic way to experience it than in a boat that's quiet, that's peaceful," Werk said. And when you're paddling at this pace, you take in things that you normally wouldn't see if you were traveling at a faster rate."
Even after the sun sets, the twilight linger. It's the perfect ending for a journey along Bayou Teche.
For more information, visit the following links:
Tour du Teche - http://www.tourduteche.com
Bayou Teche Experience - http://www.bayoutecheexperience.com