Many travelers might venture off the main roads to Avery Island near New Iberia, Louisiana following the Tabasco factory tour signs as I did. Once there, I learned the true gem of Avery Island is the Jungle Gardens.
The intended purpose of my trip to Avery Island with my son was indeed to tour the Tabasco Factory. As soon as we got out of the car, I could smell the pungent odor a Tabasco sauce in the air. I was a little shocked at the size of the group – at least two dozen people – during our free mid-week tour. The guide was a joy as she explained the pepper picking process, including “le petit baton rouge”, or “the little red stick” that is used to determine if the peppers are the right color for picking.
We followed the process through the factory, watching the pepper mash being blended with vinegar and then bottled. We also learned that many common products such as Red-Hot Candies and Big Red Gum are made with the by-products of the Tabasco-making process.
For Trey and I, the real joy of the Tabasco part of the tour came when we entered the Country Store. Never in any stretch of the imagination could I have known how many products are made with Tabasco. Samples were plentiful and my son ate several samples of the Tabasco Ice Cream. It didn’t work in my mind but the sweet-hot taste was good. The country store was also filled with every non-food item that could possibly be printed with the Tabasco logo – clothing, bar accessories, golf balls and toys.
After shopping, we drove to the entrance of the Jungle Gardens and paid the $8 per adult admisssion fee and were told the 5-mile driving tour usually takes approximately 2 hours. True to form, we had to leave the park rather quickly at the 5:00 PM closing time because we dallied too much along the way.
In addition to the various varieties of trees and flowers, the Jungle Gardens at Avery Island are a habitat for the Egret, once feared close to extinction. The marshlands provided a safe home and every year, thousands of egrets can be found nesting on Avery Island.
We drove slowly through the Jungle Gardens and as we were making our way around the lagoon, we noticed a couple on the opposing shore. As we got closer, we could see the alligator they were watching. During a chat, the lady explained the the female alligator was sick and they had been watching her for several days. This is the closest I’ve ever been to an alligator that wasn’t behind a fence.
One of the showpieces of the Jungle Gardens is the Buddha. The short walk from the parking area is along a well-shaded path, opening into a bright garden featuring the Buddha as the centerpiece. The small pond surrounding the Buddha was moss-covered and we watched as two very tiny – less than one foot long – alligators swam through the moss. The Buddha is protected from the elements and would-be cretins by plexi-glass panels which made it difficult to get good pictures on the sunny day. However, the gardens surrounding the Buddha were peaceful and provided a nice spot for reflection.
The last “slow drive” during our tour of the Jungle Gardens was the Wisteria Arch. I’ve seen wisteria all my life and never imagined how large it could grow. The wisteria was in bloom and the fragrant smell I remembered from visits to Gramma’s overwhelmed me. I stopped the car and walked around, in awe of these beautiful gifts from Earth Mother.
As I was leaving the Wisteria Arch, an employee approached from behind. It was 5:00 and closing time.
All vehicles that enter Avery Island must pay a $1 toll that goes to a conversation fund to be used for coastline restoration, wildlife management, cypress restoration and other land stewardship causes.
The Tabasco Factory tour is available every day from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM except major holidays. The Jungle Gardens are open 365 days a year from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM. Admission for children 12 and under is $5.
Sources: Jungle Gardens ; Tabasco Tour Info ; East Jefferson Parish info