EUNICE — Dylan Sittig writhed on the ground, inching his way toward the crowd gathered to watch the Courir de Mardi Gras.
Covered from head to toe in a medieval-style costume, Sittig embodied the traditional Mardi Gras — with a hard S — running through Cajun country on Fat Tuesday begging for donations for gumbo at the end of the day.
Lying at the feet of a bystander with his hand out, Sittig asked for a "cinq-sous pour le Mardi Gras:" a nickel, but soon found himself five dollars richer, quite a big donation for the day, he said.
Strips of fabric in reds, greens, blues and polka dots covered his tall cone hat, or capuchon, and a burlap mask entirely hid his face. The 24-year-old wore a homemade outfit adorned with strips of patterned fabric in fringe, spanning his arms and legs.
As the almost 1,000 runners passed by families and groups staked out to watch the revelers go by, he crept over to them in the grandiose gesture, shocking some children, while others used to the antics laughed at the Mardi Gras.
When he received a donation — traditionally what would have gone toward the day's collective pot of gumbo — he tucked it into his belt and went on his way, sometimes letting out a yelp, but keeping his identity hidden.
"That's true Mardi Gras," said Carol Duplechin, 71, who's been watching and participating in Eunice's Courir de Mardi since she was a child. "A true Mardi Gras never discloses who he is."
And traditionally, the Mardi Gras in Eunice were only men — there had been a separate run for women — but decades ago the city merged the run for everyone over 18 to participate together. This year, 10 women who graduated from Eunice High School in 1977 decided to partake for the first time, bringing along a rooster they called "Gum-Beaux" and plenty of tequila for the long day.
"It's unique that everyone gets to run, everyone gets a fair chance," said Shelby Olivier, 22, who has been running since she was 18. Eunice is surrounded by communities with similar Cajun Courir Mardi Gras traditions where only men are allowed, like in Mamou.
But some traditions aren't changing any time soon. Organizers this year asked people to dress up in the full Mardi Gras garb head to toe. And, the most well-known tradition of chasing and catching chicken for the gumbo remain the main attractions.
Can't see the video below? Click here.
"It's unique, it's one of its own, one that's been passed on for ages," said Andre Gaspard, 40. "This is home. … That's what we do."
The Capitaine of the Courir de Mardi Gras began the day by throwing a live chicken up in the air just before 9 a.m., with already-drunk Mardi Gras surrounding him, waiting to pounce. Upon the release, the Mardi Gras slipped, dove, skidded and jumped toward the fowl. A man with his mask still covering his face came up from the scrum clutching the chicken.
"We gonna be eating good tonight," said Ross Lafleur, 21, holding up the chicken, then moving it under his arm where it stayed for the rest of the day.
After eating his lunch of boudin while sitting on the banks of the flooded rice fields, a Mardi Gras went down in the mud to investigate a drain. He pulled out some grass, clearing the large metal pipes entrance. Then he untied his decorative hat from his head — and he dove through the drain.
Barry Soileau, 60, waited for the young man at the other end of the drain, at least 15 yards on the other side of the road. The Mardi Gras emerged, soaking wet and muddy.
"They climb trees, they go through drains … yeah, this is normal," Soileau said, then paused, reconsidering what he just said. "Well, not really normal."
"I live for this," said Soileau, who was driving a trailer in this year's courir but has run in many prior ones.
And while some Mardi Gras don't make it to the parade at the run's end because they're too drunk, too muddy or too tired — it's all good, explained Lazo Pavich.
"It almost feels like a pilgrimage really, to let loose before (Lent)," the 31-year-old said, wearing a mosquito-like mask, a beer in hand and another ready in a pocket. "Everybody's accepting … that's the beauty of Mardi Gras."