Monday, November 24, 2014

Ziplining over gators, are we crazy?

            When I told people I would be ziplining across alligators, they felt my forehead for fever.
            The truth was I was going to zipline over 100 alligators not to mention camels and other exotic creatures at Gators and Friends Alligator Park and Exotic Zoo in Greenwood, Louisiana, about 10 miles outside Shreveport!
             The first thing you consider is how this has to be a novelty and that there can’t possibly be 100 gators lying beneath you waiting for a snack to fall. But the first thing one sees upon entering the park is several five- to six-foot alligators basking in the sun. Definitely cause for pause. One of my partners in insanity doubted they were real. They were real all right. So were the dozens of gators in the pond stretching beneath the zip lines.
            Our guides went to great length to assure us that the cables and all related contraptions attached to our bodies, the poles at the top of the stairs we would climb and the double cables on which we would swing were all completely safe. Once I spotted what was involved, I have to admit I couldn’t imagine anything going wrong.
            The real scare, it turned out, was climbing up a spiral staircase that rattled as you ascended and stepping off the first platform and letting yourself fly through the air. We did this several times, through woods and pastures, each one a little more advanced than the previous flight but never less scary in my eyes. Flying across a stretch of land on one of Louisiana’s finest autumn days was a thrill but I found myself gearing up so much to step off those platforms that I was exhausted by the last run.
            And what a run that was. The longest stretch and one in which you fly the fastest is also the run over a large pond filled with gators. By this time you’d think you wouldn’t even consider the ancient reptiles below but still I did a double take. Now I would be stepping off that frightful platform and flying over creatures that might not kill me, but would definitely take off a limb or two.
I did it. I ziplined over gators!
            “Don’t worry,” our guide informed us. “They are hibernating and don’t eat this time of year.”
            Well, that was a relief.
            Gators and Friends is great fun and now that I conquered my ziplining trek over unhungry gators I would confidently encourage anyone else to try the experience. The park’s also a great spot for walking among exotic animals and letting the kids pet tamer beasts such as miniature horses and deer. And when the gators are actual hungry, they even let the tourists feed them.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sweep this! Southern broom superstitions

            I had a friend who freaked out when she spotted me sweeping my living room one night and attempted to sweep the dust out the door. She grabbed my hand and instantly informed me that sweeping out dust after dark invited bad luck and should be avoided at all costs.
            That’s just one of the many superstitions revolving around brooms, many of which are predominant in the South.
            For instance, I’ve heard that if a person sweeps a broom across your feet, you must spit upon the broom or risk either going to jail or having bad luck. Variations on this theme include being hit with the broom while someone is sweeping; again, you must spit on the broom in question or risk bad fortune.
            Sweeping around people or in front of them has also been known to cause that person bad luck. I think the idea here is that you are sweeping away their good energy or sweeping them away.
            Other sweeping superstitions include:
            Don’t sweep out a house on Fridays.
            Don’t sweep out a house on New Year’s Day.
            If you sweep under a sick person’s bed, you will get bad luck.
            If you sweep under someone's feet, they will never marry. 
            If you move, don’t bring the old broom with you or it will bring bad luck.            
            Never step over a broom, even if you have to cross over it to pick it up. Some people place a broom across the door, especially on Halloween, to keep witches from entering the house, assuming that they, too, know that stepping over a broom brings back luck.
            Do you have a broom superstition? Let us know.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chimp Haven a wild and rare opportunity outside Shreveport; Fall Festival will be Nov. 8

            This falls under wild and unusual rather than weird, and when they open their doors to visitors it’s a rare opportunity not to be missed.
            Just outside of Shreveport in Keithville, Louisiana, is Chimp Haven, an oasis where chimpanzees used in biomedical research go to retire. This National Chimpanzee Sanctuary is part of the federal plan to move chimps from the laboratory back to nature.
            Many of the chimps are elderly, many enjoy large habitats and some remain  in cages due to not being able to acclimate from a window-less concrete environment in which they had lived.
            Naturally, since these are wild animals, Chimp Haven is not open to the public. But several times a year they open their doors for a peek inside. The Chimp Haven’s Fall Festival will be Saturday, Nov. 8, the second of two yearly festivals held at the facility in the Eddie D. Jones Park off Highway 789. Events will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission prices are $6 adults, $3 children  ages 6-12 and free for children ages 5 and under. Activity tickets are 50 cents each.
            Activities include games and food, a local band, Cajun-Dixon Line, cake walks, a string maze, face painting, chimpanzee story time and behind-the-scenes tours. 
            Sanctuary visitors are encouraged to bring jars of peanut butter for the chimpanzees. The individual who brings in the most peanut butter will win a prize package that includes a behind-the-scenes tour.
            Check Chimp Haven before coming if weather starts to turn; they cancel for bad weather. The fall festival was rescheduled from October due to lightning and rain. To check on the fall festival status, call (318) 925-9575 and press 1 when prompted or visit Chimp Haven’s Facebook, Twitter page or website.
             Want to know more about Chimp Haven? I wrote a story on the facility for Country Roads magazine.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.