One of the main reasons Mary and I work so well together as both romantic and business partners is that we had a lot of things in common long before we met.
Both of us have a deep-seated passion for immersing ourselves in other cultures, and did so through art, music and food long before we had the means to travel the world. Both of us have Acadian (or French-Canadian) blood on our maternal side– her mother’s maiden name was Coté, while mine was Beaudet. And though serendipity never led to our meeting at the time, both of us used to frequent a killer Cajun restaurant across the street from Emory University, which Mary attended.
Given our mutual love of cuisine and culture, I suppose it’s odd that we’d never done a food tour until we got to Lafayette, in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country. Lafayette was recently deemed “the tastiest town in the South” by Southern Living magazine. And our day with Marie Ducote Comeaux– the veteran Louisiana history teacher who founded Cajun Food Tours in 2012– offered an incredible overview of the rich culinary traditions of Acadian culture.
With its historic art deco buildings, hip indie sensibilities and thriving restaurant scene, Asheville, North Carolina is a burgeoning progressive Mecca in the traditionally conservative Southeast. With a tiny population of just 84,000, the city has earned comparisons to hipster hotbeds such as Portland (another mountain town famous for its gorgeous natural surroundings, thriving cultural scene, and forward-thinking environmental consciousness). Nicknamed “the Land of the Sky,” this eclectic, colorful community is surrounded by some of America’s most unspoiled natural beauty, which turns truly spectacular as the autumn colors change. Here are five of our favorite Asheville ecotourism attractions, all located within an hour’s drive of the city:
If you’re fascinated by Zombie lore, but your primary source of information about them is The Walking Dead, the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is a must-see. This is perhaps the only place outside of Haiti where you’ll find an expert on the subject of Voodoo– owner Jerry Gandolfo– willing to tell you how to make your own human zombie.
His explanation is full of fascinating details, involving poison extracted from a blowfish and put into someone’s shoe, where it’s absorbed into the sweat glands and induces a catatonic state similar to death. Later, the victim is given an antidote and powerful hallucinogens, making them appear to rise from the dead.
(This story was sponsored by Panama City Beach, but our opinions remain our own.)
Growing up in Atlanta, spending most of our family vacations hiking or backpacking in the north Georgia mountains, the idea of a trip to Panama City Beach seemed almost impossibly exotic. It was only a 5-hour drive away, but to a little kid who had never seen a beach it might as well have been Tahiti.
The first time my parents took me there, on a retreat for our Episcopal Church’s Youth Group, Panama City Beach seemed like some incredible tropical wonderland. I vividly remember the feeling of digging my toes into the sugary white sand, giggling madly while leaping into the waves of the Gulf of Mexico, and having my mind blown by the lights and sounds of my first arcade.
These days, the “Emerald Coast” along Florida’s Panhandle has changed a lot. The population in PCB has grown from around 2,000 back in the ‘80s to over 12,000. CNN/Money named Panama City Beach the No. 1 Real Estate Market in America back in 2006, with new high-rise condos largely replacing the older motels.
Overall, the area has become more upscale and family-friendly, while at the same time preserving much of the old school Florida charm that attracted my family to the area nearly 40 years ago. Our PCB Bucket List includes a surprising array of Ecotourism attractions that are perfect for nature lovers:
As an insatiably curious world traveler who rarely visits the same place twice, it’s odd to have the sort of connection that keeps drawing me back to Sanibel Island, Florida over and over again.
I’ve been there at least 15 times since my first visit in the early ’90s. I know the island so well that I can recall its changes over the last two decades– the massive Australian pines that were felled by Hurricane Charley in 2004, the old drawbridge that used to cause long waits when crossing the Causeway from the mainland, and old school businesses (R.I.P. McT’s) that have gradually been replaced with newer, flashier establishments.
When I first started going to Sanibel, I was shocked and amazed to discover that you could usually count on seeing Alligators in the tiny swamp right next to the historic Bailey’s shopping center, which was opened in the late 1800s. You’d most often spot them lurking in the middle of the water, still as statues, their foreboding eyes watching for prey. But occasionally you’d see them right along the bank, less than 20 yards from the movie theater parking lot.
I’ve heard stories of people being caught feeding them, of small dogs snatched from their owners as they walked along the shore, and of gators being moved deeper into the swamp to avoid human contact. I haven’t seen gators in the swamp for years. But I still visit the area every time I’m in Sanibel Island, because you never know where wildlife may turn up.
And so it was that I found myself walking along the fringe of the swamp on a recent evening. I was looking for gators right around sunset when I saw this Turtle surface in the water about 15 yards away. As he stared at me, this big orange Flame Skimmer Dragonfly landed right on his head. I snapped the photo with my 500mm lens, and before I could click the shutter a second time he was gone.
It was a perfect moment of serendipity: Not the Alligator I’d hoped for, but a reminder that Nature adapts to change and brings with it sweet surprises if you keep eyes and mind open. –Bret Love
Our trip to Sanibel Island was hosted by the Lee County Visitors Bureau. But we will never compromise our obligation to our readers. Our opinions remain our own.
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