With one week still to go in our New Orleans holiday, I was beginning to panic. I still wanted to see and experience as much as possible in this incredible city. With that in mind we made our way to Avery Island on New Year’s Day.
Avery Island is west of New Orleans and is home to the famous Tabasco Sauce that can be found all around the world. Avery Island is a saltdome and the salt mined on the island is also used in the making of the famous hot sauce. Being lovers of anything spicy, we felt this trip was a must-do.
We arrived in the afternoon and hurried over to the plant for our ‘tour’. Being a holiday the plant wasn’t working but we were given 4 small bottles of Tabasco sauce and ushered into a small amphitheater to watch a short film on the origins of Tabasco Sauce. It was an interesting film and I learned about the peppers and Avery Island as well from that film. From there we walked down a corridor that had one wall of windows that overlooked the manufacturing area. And that was it. In 10 minutes our ‘tour’ was over and we were free to browse the Tabasco Country Store.
We’ve taken many tours over our years of traveling and this had to be the most disappointing one we have ever had. Maybe there’s not much to making Tabasco sauce except for the long brewing period where nothing much happens – but we were very disappointed. Workday or not it would have been the same and I can almost recommend skipping this part and going directly to their country store. That was where all the good stuff is.
The old country store was stuffed from floor to rafters with everything Tabasco. From shirts to ties and every type of clothing you can imagine – to golf balls and toys and finally to food. Every single thing has the famous McIlhenny Tabasco label on it and some of it is quite appealing.
It’s the Tabasco flavored ice-cream that’s a real treat though and we tasted that and the pickles and sauces they had flavored. We spent a good hour shopping in their store and left weighed down with a couple of bags of goodies that we couldn’t go without.
Even though the Tabasco plant is what Avery Island is mostly about – it’s the bird sanctuary and surrounding acres of natural habitat and wildlife refuge that stood out for us. Ned McIlhenny started Bird City to save Egrets from extinction in the 1800’s when their beautiful white plumage was used for women’s hats.
The sun was just beginning to make its descent when we started our drive around this beautiful section of the island. We were astounded by the bayous that surrounded the island and by the traffic signs we could see nestled out in the waterways in the grasses. We wondered how anyone could find their way around these watery pathways in their boats without getting lost.
It took us over an hour to make the drive around the island. We stopped at the giant Buddha that sat overlooking a lake and swatted at the mosquitos as they found my bare legs and sandaled feet. Of course it wasn’t the time of the year for the Egrets but we still walked down to the nesting platforms and had a look around just before the light gave up for the night.
I have made no bones about the fact that I am terrified of snakes. Bless The Man for walking ahead of me and stomping the ground – without asking – to scare away the snakes. Does that man know me or what?
As we drove the 140 miles back to New Orleans, I was amazed by the oil refineries that lined the coast. You hear about them but you never imagine just how many platforms there are out in the Gulf of Mexico pumping their oil into the United States. Their lights glittered against the dark sky as billows of steam and smoke drifted across the water. I tried to imagine what this coast looked like before it was overtaken by progress and I couldn’t.
We still have many Tabasco products left to enjoy. When we finish them I guess we’ll have to make a return trip to Avery Island – just for the fun of it. If I’m lucky – the Egrets will be nesting and the snakes will have gone south instead.