LOUISIANA - PART II
05/24/2010 95 °F
After 3 days and 2 nights on Bourbon Street, it was time to get out of the Big Easy and head south to the bayou.
We boarded a bus outside our hotel and drove 45 minutes south of New Orleans. We passed the levies and drove to the end of the highway. The gulf was still another 20 miles away, but I got the feeling that not too many people lived in that direction. The heat was overbearing, and the humidity felt like a lead weight on your chest. Spanish moss hung from trees and marshy water was visible in every direction. We had arrived in gator country.
Finding our fanboat at the dock, we boarded and plopped on the protective headphones (when the fan blades get turning, it is pretty loud). We pushed off and slowly made our way out to one of the main channels. Once we hit larger water, the guide punched the engine, and we buzzed across the water.
We used the channel lines made by the oil companies to access deeper into the bayou. The first area we arrived in looked like a giant, grassy field. The water was only 1 or 2 feet deep here and large mounds of dirt floated everywhere. The grass was light enough that it could grow on the floating dirt, but no trees could be supported here. The guide said that it felt like walking on a water bed, and it was pretty likely you would fall through. It was a little eerie seeing the grass constantly shift and move out of the way for the boat. Since the boat didn't have any parts that went into the water, we could move pretty easily through the super shallow water. Just as we were turning around to leave the first area, we spotted our first gator.
Surprisingly, we used very different bait than the last time I went gator hunting. When attracting crocodiles in Australia, we used chicken and red meat. In Louisiana, the gators like a sweeter treat, marshmallows. Here's a video of the gator viciously attacking the bait.
Alright, so the attack is a little anticlimactic. Marshmallows don't require much stealth or viciousness. Raw meat bait would cause the gators to attack the food much more aggressively (as we saw in Australia). An aggressive gator could spell trouble, as I was only separated from them by a little chain (instead of the steel enclosed box we used in Australia). Apparently the sound of the marshmallow hitting the water gets the gator's attention, and the contrast in color between the green of the water and the white of the marshmallow make it easy to spot. The gators aren't the only things that enjoy marshmallows, a bird came in and snatched one away too.
We moved on to some smaller channels, slowly scooting up and down looking for the bigger gators. It was amazing how well our boat was able to navigate the twisted and narrow channels, our guide was obviously an expert fanboat operator (fanboats can not go in reverse and have to be moving to turn). Here's how it looked in the channels.
We saw a couple of baby gators swimming eagerly out to the boat, so we pulled one aboard.
This little guy got more than he bargained for when he got too close. Everyone aboard held the gator (except Freddie) and posed for a couple pictures. Our guide talked a little bit about the gators and how they live in the channels before releasing the little guy back into the water (in the previous video, you can hear his N'awlins accent).
We moved deeper into the channels towards an old oil connector. The guide knew several gators frequented this area because it was more open than the narrow channels. Sure enough, as soon as we made it into the area, two big gators came right up to the boat.
I thought the boat was about to tip over as we all crowded to the side to see the big guys. The larger gators like marshmallows just as much as the smaller ones.
As guys tend to do, we have to keep pushing the envelope. No longer just satisfied with being a foot away from a 12 foot gator, our guide decided to start messing with him by trying to grab the gator.
He eventually grabbed hold of the biggest gator.
We headed back towards the dock, but took a detour through the lake. The lake was enormous. Balls of dirt floated in the water, but much less frequently than in the area we first stopped. The fanboat skimmed over the water as we drove around at full throttle. After doing a large loop, we went back into the narrower channels.
Just before we got back to the dock, we passed a raised cemetery. The cemeteries are often raised due to the high water table, which would push the air filled coffins out of the soggy ground (eventually the coffins would flood and sink back into the ground). It was still a cool thing to see. This cemetery was only accessible by boat as the original pathway was washed out in one of the passing hurricanes.
We exited the boat, said thanks to our guide, and then boarded the bus to head back into New Orleans. Leaving in the same manner as we arrived (in style), we called the limo to shuttle us to the airport. It was rush hour traffic, so we took a detour through some of the neighborhoods that had been affected by hurricane Katrina several years ago. 4 out of 5 houses were boarded up and in total disrepair, but then you passed a house that looked in great shape. The driver explained that a lot of people took the money from the government and moved away, while some actually used the money to rebuild their destroyed houses. Our driver proudly boasted that he had used his money to buy a new truck and moved in with his sister. It left me with mixed feelings about donating to the Katrina relief fund.
Arriving at the airport, our trip to Louisiana was over, but it had been a great time.