L AFAYETTE — Visitors know they’re in for a unique boat ride when John Pastor arrives, accordion in hand and donning white shrimping boots.
Pastor offers Sunday afternoon boat tours of Bayou Vermilion, leaving from the docks of the Vermilionville folk life park in Lafayette and offering a rare opportunity for a tour of the river than runs through Lafayette.
The real estate salesman also offers a dose of Cajun history, culture and fun on his voyages, told beneath a hat trimmed with Spanish moss and other bayou remnants.
Pastor’s goal is to allow visitors and residents a chance to get on Bayou Vermilion, explain Cajun history and dispel myths about both, he said.
“We have the most underused water feature of this city, this size,” Pastor said. “We love our culture, we love our bayou, and we want people to enjoy it.”
Pastor said he got the idea for a boat tour of Bayou Vermilion after visiting Costa Rica, where he toured with a local boat captain who showed Pastor creatures and plants in the wild.
“It blew my mind,” Pastor said. “I kept thinking, ‘How can we do something like this in this area?’ ”
Pastor transports tourists up Bayou Vermilion on his boat he dubs the “Couyon Queen,” puttering behind the Lafayette airport and into the more tranquil waters of Bayou Tortue.
At the bayou’s end is Lake Charlo, a small but pristine body of water.
He points out birds, massive wasps’ nests, banana spiders, alligators — if present — and a few remaining ancient cypress trees.
“This is where I go to church,” Pastor said as he maneuvered through thick foliage hanging over Bayou Tortue. “I like it in the mornings. All the birds go bananas.”
Along the way, Pastor tells the history of the Cajuns, from their expulsion from the Canadian Maritime provinces beginning in 1755 to their settlement around Lafayette and south Louisiana.
He includes native Louisianans, such as the Attakapas Indians. Pastor peppers the tales with jokes and funny songs, accompanied by his accordion.
After the boat tour, Pastor takes visitors into Vermilionville’s Performance Center, where a Bal du Dimanche — or Sunday house dance — occurs every Sunday. If visitors haven’t danced to Cajun or zydeco music before, he gives them a lesson.
In addition to the Sunday Vermilionville cruises, Pastor offers sunset cruises, packages for families that include fishing and special events.
Pastor enlists TV personality Hart Fortenbury, last seen on the Syfy Channel’s “Deep South Paranormal,” to host party cruises upon request.
Above all, both captains insist they are flexible and can custom a tour to fit people’s needs, even dashing into bayouside bars if its starts raining.
“It’s whatever you want,” Pastor said.
Overall, both Pastor and Fortenbury hope to expand their business and see Bayou Vermilion take off as a tourist attraction.
Pastor credits people’s misconception about the bayou as a detriment to it being developed more and utilized.
“People see brown water as bad,” he said, adding that San Antonio turned their city’s waterway into the world-famous Riverwalk.
“This is our goal; our dream is to bring back the vision to Bayou Vermilion.”
Pastor’s day job is selling real estate, which dovetails with his “little project child,” what he calls his weekend boat tours. He shows the beauty of the area to visitors who may be moving to Lafayette, then offers to show them houses, he said with a laugh.
In the future, Pastor hopes to segue into full-time boat captain and Cajun steward.
“Eventually, when I retire, I want to be the crazy man on the bayou,” he said.