Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ziplining a life experience. Who knew?

Our brave group of travel writers.
There’s something terrifying about climbing high above treetops and jumping off. It’s not the worry about falling to my death. Because I understand that two levels of ziplining cables, the trolleys and the double carabiners will protect me. What I feared most was having to brake myself at the other end.

My first ziplining experience was in North Carolina where a group of us zipped through several lines as snow softly fell. It was both exhilarating and horrifying, because as much as I enjoyed flying through the winter air and viewing the gorgeous mountain scenery I kept spinning and forgetting how to brake at the other end. The guides assured me they would catch me if I failed, but the first time I screwed up my brake and rammed into the guy. Which was enough to scare anyone off the sport.
Bill and Erin, our trusted guides

Later, I would zipline without the need to self-brake and loved that so much better. I started gaining confidence and would gladly raise my hand when the offer to zipline emerged.

Until last month. 

A group of travel writers — me included — were invited to zip through the canopy of Adventures Unlimited near Milton, Florida, in Santa Rosa County, an attraction that also offers cabin accommodations and paddling down Coldwater Creek, one of the most pristine waterways in the state — and one that I highly recommend enjoying. As we walked to our first run, I was told that self-braking was in store, but no worries, they would explain and all would be fine. Guess what? After listening intently to the instructions, I stuck my hand in front of the trolley to brake — it goes behind — and screwed up my brake on the first run. I ended up stumbling horribly, then stopping before the platform, having to turn and pull myself in.

Are you kidding me?
“I don’t worry about you,” our guide Bill told me. “I can tell you have no fear so you’ll be fine.”

Was he blind?

Our next run was a LONG climb up, so my second attempt was frighteningly high, as in seeing magnolia blooms at the TOP of trees. I couldn’t imagine stepping off that platform. I asked to go last — as if that would help. And then I stood there like a zombie, staring off into the trees hiding the next platform where Bill waited, a man who believed I had no fear.

“You can do it,” said Erin, the other guide who waited patiently behind me.

“No, I can’t,” I thought, but I walked off anyway, flying through the air like a fool but not spinning and remembering to brake the cable above my head, but this time behind me. I actually slowed the dang thing down and slipped into my guide’s arms without a problem. I don’t know who was more excited, that man or me.

Me finally learning to zip.
It took a few more attempts before I felt confident, but by the seventh run, a long, delicious stretch that veers over Coldwater Creek, I actually enjoyed the run, stopped thinking too much about my braking and started relishing the scenery. As we walked back to the outpost with our gear beating against our legs and our bandanas glued to our humid foreheads, I was a new woman.

I came. I ziplined. I braked!

Want to see Bill easily flying over Coldwater Creek? Click here for my Facebook post.

For more information on Adventures Unlimited, visit Be sure and stay the night, enjoy the cabins and paddle the that gorgeous creek.

Coldwater Creek at Adventures Unlimited

We're actually happy at the end. We did it!
Cheré Dastugue Coen is a travel and food writer from South Louisiana who appreciates the weird and wild side of life. She actually ziplined over alligators near Shreveport (read about it here), but the braking there was easier. Write to her at

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Take a bite out of this crocodile

Visitors to Louisiana are often scared of our reptilian creatures. And no, our alligators are not crocodiles. Those ferocious beasts native to Australia and a few sections of South Florida are really scary! Our gators get fairly freaked out when humans get close and that's a good thing.

What visitors should do is take a bite out of our crocodiles. I know I said we don't have any but in Shreveport, we do have a few, those of the chocolate variety. The Chocolate Crocodile at The Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier City (just over the bridge from Shreveport), serves up a host of chocolate goodies and other sweets, but don't miss the Monster Crocodile Pecan Apple, a Granny Smith apple that's dipped in homemade caramel, rolled in pecans and topped with hmilk chocolate. It's even drizzled with white chocolate as the finale. Talk about scrumptious good.

If you mention you are a fan of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, you'll receive 35 percent off your purchase. Read more about that discount here

This weekend is the perfect time to visit Shreveport and Bossier City for the Mudbug Madness Festival happens today (May 25) through Sunday. There's live entertainment on three stages, fun for all ages and lots and lots of crawfish and other Cajun specialties. Active duty and retired military with ID will get in free all four days.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is a travel and food writer from South Louisiana who appreciates the weird and wacky side of life, including those delicious, decadent chocolate crocodiles in Bossier City. Write to her at

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Northwest Georgia restrooms hold secret to life

The secret to life can be found in the ladies’ rooms of two northwestern Georgia attractions.

First, Paradise Garden in Summerville, the home of the Rev. Howard Finster who, when repairing a bicycle in 1976, received a sacred image on the tip of his finger that told him to “paint sacred art.” He answered that he wasn’t an artist and the vision replied, “How do you know?” Finster took this message to heart and began painting everything he could find, beginning with George Washington on a dollar bill, said Janet Byington, director of the Howard Finster Foundation that operates his home and gardens.

Finster created more than 46,991 pieces of art before his death at age 84 in 2001, from popular culture icons such as Elvis Presley and Coca-Cola to angels and biblical verses. His art is in every major museum in the Unites States and some throughout the world. He has graced album covers for rock bands R.E.M. and Talking Heads, appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and has been called “the grandfather of Southern Folk Art” and “the Andy Warhol of the South.”

Visiting his home and gardens is a spiritual experience. Saying Finster painted on everything feels like an understatement. He transformed items people would have otherwise thrown away, built small houses out of mirrors and stone accented by mosaics, created a tower out of used bicycles and one from hubcaps, and so much more. Even the sidewalks and fences contain art. In addition, much of his more developed artwork is on display in the visitor’s center.

“From this poor plot of land he created an empire,” Byington said. “It’s absolutely amazing what this man created from nothing, painted on everything, what people donated. He didn’t throw anything away.”

Paradise Garden attracts thousands worldwide to Finster’s small hometown and May 27-28 celebrates his life with Finster Fest.

So, what does this have to do with a woman’s room? Inside the center’s restroom is one of Finster’s quotes:

“My work is scrubby. It’s bad, nasty art. But it’s telling something. You don’t have to be a perfect artist to work in art.”

I’ve never been religious in the classical sense of the word but his happy angels, whimsical creations and lifting Bible verses (not the depressing, scary kind) lifted my soul on a chilly, rainy day. For instance, a wall of fluffy clouds offered this quote: “When troubles come from every side, and you don’t know what to do. Turn your self off and trust in God. He will take you through.”

Or maybe this quote above a cow cutout for these political times: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Bob Watts
There’s also an Air B&B across the street, so you can eat and sleep Howard Finster as well. The house has been decorated by designer Summer Loftin, includes two cats named Calvin and Hobbes and allows unlimited access to Paradise Garden.

Bob Watts and his incredible pizza.
Not far away is Bob’s Brick Oven, serving up some of the finest pizza and homemade ice cream you’ll ever taste in Rock Spring.

Bob Watts changed careers later in life as well, leaving behind the finance world to “follow his dream.” Ask him about life and he’ll tell you he loves what he does, loves coming to work and creating pizza perfection with fresh ingredients and house-smoked meats toasted in his on-site brick oven. He even makes his own root beer!

What’s in Bob’s ladies room?

“Live in the moment and make life beautiful.”

Amen brothers.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is a travel and food writer from South Louisiana who appreciates the weird and wacky side of life. Her finest selfie was taken at Paradise Garden, in Howard Finster's "Mirror House." Write to her at

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hail Fredonia: Marx Brothers began in Nacogdoches

Anyone who has ever watched a Marx Brothers movie knows that the family of comedians were also classical musicians. Harpo (far right), who got his name from the instrument he mastered, could also play several other instruments. Chico (middle) performed on the piano, Groucho (left) sang and performed on the guitar and Zeppo was a vocalist. Like most acts of their time, the brothers got their start in vaudeville, sometimes performing with their mother Minnie, Uncle Albert Schönberg (stage name Al Shean), Aunt Hannah and brother Gummo.
How they got into comedy dates back to an evening in 1912 at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Old Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas
The troupe was performing when a runaway mule caused a ruckus on the street outside the opera house. The audience, distracted by the noise like modern drivers viewing an accident, ran outside to see. Groucho didn’t appreciate losing his audience to a mule so he began making jokes about the town, saying things like “Nacogdoches is full of roaches” and “the jack-ass is the finest flower of Tex-ass.”  To his surprise, the audience thought the snide remarks were funny. And that’s how the brothers added ridiculous comedy to their routines.

“They got their comedy act started here,” said Mike Bay, Visitor Services Coordinator at the Nacogdoches Visitor Center across the street.

You might also remember the fictional government of Freedonia in the Marx Brothers film, “Duck Soup.” Nacogdoches was the site of the Fredonia uprising in 1826, when residents rebelled against Mexico and briefly created the Republic of Fredonia.  
"Duck Soup"
According to “Film Guide to Duck Soup (1933)” by Erin Glossl of the State University of New York-Fredonia, the film was a box office disaster when it was released in 1933. Glossl gives two reasons for its failure:

“One was that it was the beginning of the depression and not many people had money to spend on the movies,” he writes. “The other was that film was a satire and sometimes went over the heads of the audience. When the movie was revived in the 1970s, it became a classic because of its spoof on war and the government. Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy took the film as a personal insult and banned it from the country. The Brothers greeted this news happily. But, foreign countries weren't the only ones that were upset by the film. In Fredonia, New York, Mayor Harry B. Hickey protested the movie. He claimed that the movie was giving the real Fredonia a bad name. The Marx Brothers said to the mayor that he should change the town's name.”

Today, the Nacogdoches Opera House is the Cole Art Center, part of the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Art.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is a food and travel writer living in South Louisiana who is the author of several Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire and the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at