Heart of Louisiana: Bayou Teche

"The same meaning that the Mississippi has to the New Orleans area or Baton Rouge, Bayou Teche has to the Acadians," Cory Werk tells us.

A funny thing happened to Californian Cory Werk. 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".

Werk says, "My mother's from Baton Rouge, she's an LSU grad, and my grandmother's from Breaux Bridge. 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.

Werk says, "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."

Bayou Teche gets its name from the Chitimacha Indians, who fished, hunted, and lived along this waterway centuries ago.  And they have a story about how the bayou got here.

Teche is the Chitimacha word for "snake".  A bayou-side monument in Breaux Bridge tells the legend of how the Chitimacha fought a huge snake.

Nicole Patin says, "They came together and they fought by hand to kill this snake. And where the snake lay and decomposed is actually where the bayou lies today".

Patin is one of the organizers of Tour du Teche, a three-day race down the full length of the bayou.

Patin says, "We're expecting about 180 paddlers to come in."

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.

Floyd Poche says, "The specialty here is probably the boudin cracklings and the plate lunches, probably backbone stew and smothered rabbit and a few items like that really put us on the map."

The steady one-mile-per hour 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, such as the egret that plays leap frog with our kayak.

Werk says, "They see you, they fly down a hundred feet. 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.

Werk says, "And what better and scenic way to experience it than in a boat that's quiet, that's peaceful? And when you're paddling at this pace, you take in things that you normally wouldn't see if you were travelling at a faster rate."

Even after the sun sets, the twilight lingers.  It's the perfect ending for a journey along Bayou Teche.

The Tour du Teche, the annual race down Bayou Teche, is set for the weekend of October 6.  It's too late to register to paddle, but there are bayouside parties along the race route each day.

For more information, go online to http://www.tourduteche.com or http://www.bayoutecheexperience.com.