Friday, September 6, 2013
Airboat Tours – A trip to the Bayou.
With Danny here and with a couple of days to spare before Jeanne’s inauguration as President of ACOG, we really want to get out and explore not just New Orleans but the surrounding area. As beautiful, funky and thrilling that New Orleans can feel, guaranteed you'll want to get out of town for a bit once you are done with Bourbon Street and all the action. When you do, go and try a swamp or plantation tour. I'll start by saying that a swamp tour is a very touristy thing to do, but we are tourists and wanted to check it out. Also we want to ride an airboat through the swamps at high speed. Lots of tour companies in NOLA do these tours but at the hotel they recommended “Airboat Adventures” and we were not disappointed. We were picked up from our hotel promptly and the shuttle was clean and air conditioned. Our bus driver was full of stories and jokes as we went and picked up other passengers along the way, giving us hints on where to eat, where to shop, what other sights to see and kept up a running commentary all the way to the docks which is in the Jean Lafitte Preserve. The thirty minutes or so shuttle ride went quickly. Once at the dock there was a small shack for check-in with snacks, t shirts and beverages, as well as restrooms and a small alligator in a pen. A swamp tour sounds like a rural, bug-infested adventure where you meet toothless hillbillies who make you strip and scream like a pig. OK, Tom loves the movie "Deliverance" and I’ve had to watch it many times, and yes, I know it was filmed in Georgia, but, it could happen. Tom, Danny and I sat with just a few other tourists and our tour guide and because we were on the small airboat we will be able to go deeper into the swamps and get really close to the wildlife. Also because of the noise on the airboat when it is going fast, the boat can be very loud; they provide high quality headsets as well. These headsets turned out to be a godsend because as soon as the boat cleared the dock area, we were off and running. My first tip to anyone wanting to do this trip is wear sunglasses. You move fast in these boats. Really fast. Fast enough that your eyes will definitely be watering if you are trying to look forward while you're speeding down the bayou. It is a rush and fun but soon we were entering the swamp area and slowed way down. The first thing I realized is that the swamps are not as wild or bug-infested as you think they would be and the scenery was arrestingly beautiful with the magnolia trees and Spanish moss swaying in what little breeze we were feeling. Louisiana's swamps are breathtaking with their trees dripping with Spanish moss, still waters covered in hyacinth and other vegetation and the stars of the show: the gators. When we were out there among the mossy cypress and with the resident white egrets wading in the shallow water and taking to slow flight, the only thought I had was that an alligator would be a rude interruption. But gators there were and lots of them. Our guide took us to quite a few different areas where alligators like to hang out and we saw at least two dozen of them on the 2 hour tour! He was really good at getting us very close to them and was able to get some of the alligators to come right up to the boat using marshmallows as a lure. Yes, I can tell you, alligators love marshmallows. I didn't think we'd see so many alligators so close up! Most of them are about 6 ft long and are not frightening, though I'd not put my hand near them! Born and raised in the swamps, the guide was funny, educational, entertaining, insightful- especially on socio/economic impacts of Katrina for the area, and above all, clearly respectful of the nature and wildlife in the bayou. He talked about Katrina, the type of people out here, how people make a living, the hunting, the alligators and anything else that came to his mind about the area. I love it when guides give you their personal stories as a balance to the informative parts. He turned some facts into a personal story and even if some of it seemed the stuff of story- telling and we weren't sure that everything he said was true, guessing at the real facts was fun. In addition, he was full of energy and passionate about his work and the Louisiana wildlife. He patiently answered every question we had, and there were a lot! He made the tour extremely interesting, hand feeding the gators and I learned far more about the ecology of the swampland than I ever imagined. Just before heading out of the cypress swamp he pulled out his pet, an 18 inch baby alligator and we all got to pass it around and hold it, its mouth temporarily held closed by a rubber band for safety. We all got a thrill out of this and took plenty of photos. Then came the trip back to the dock and the best part was when he opened up the throttle and we went fish-tailing around curves in the larger bayous. The airboat got up to 35mph. It was awesome! Loud, but awesome! Although there was the ear protection. Back on dry land, the three of us agree that the tour was an outstanding success. There were plenty of times where the boat was moving so fast that I had to look to the side to see anything other than water coming out of my eyes, but there were many, many more opportunities where the guide pulled over and killed the engines and just let us soak up the tranquility of the bayou, take pictures and ask questions about the swamp. It was amazing... who would have thought swamps are so incredibly beautiful! Travel at high speeds and sit low enough to get up close and personal with the baby gators. I guess we are gator addicts now.