Along south Louisiana bayous and in Cajun communities far from the Big Easy, Mardi Gras is celebrated a little differently from the big parades of New Orleans. There, boats are gaily decorated, revelers two-step to Cajun and zydeco bands, and many partake in communal gumbos in a more family oriented atmosphere.
“It’s Mardi Gras in the country, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Celeste Gomez, a Cajun country native who also serves as director of the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission.
In rural communities, revelers take to the water, parading decorated boats that on other days might hunt alligators in swamps or ply the Gulf of Mexico for seafood.
“Some boats are decorated in pirate themes, some with Mardi Gras colors and purple, green and gold balloons,” said Leah Mullins, manager at Tin Lizzy’s restaurant and bar in Springfield, La., a popular spot for watching the Tickfaw boat parade, which is held every Saturday before Mardi Gras about 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. Tin Lizzy’s has a large dock and patio area fronting the Tickfaw River.
Cajun customs in Acadiana
Just a few hours by car on Interstate 10 from the raunchiness of New Orleans, visitors will find the Cajun customs of the Acadiana region.
In Lafayette,about 150 miles west of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a days-long festival of music and revelry that culminates with a street parade through downtown.
Just beyond Lafayette in the town of Eunice, Mardi Gras includes days of live music, costume-making and an old-fashioned boucherie — a celebration in which Cajuns butcher a pig to make pork dishes like backbone stew, hog head cheese, barbecue pork sandwiches, boudin and cracklin, fried pork rind.
The Eunice boucherie is held the Sunday before Mardi Gras.
The Fat Tuesday run
Courir de Mardi Gras is a run that starts at sunrise on Fat Tuesday. It originated as a way to collect ingredients for a communal gumbo. Today, the courir is mostly ceremonial fun, with 1,000 participants on foot, horseback and in trailers traveling from farm to farm over 10 miles of countryside. The communal gumbo gets cooking long before riders return to town.
“You’re overindulging and having a good time before Lent,” said Gomez, a native of Eunice who promotes Courir de Mardi Gras through her work with the tourist commission. “It’s my favorite time of year. Visitors always come in thinking they’ll just be spectators but end up being a part of it.”