A Travellerspoint blog

June 2010

Gator Huntin' In the Bayou

LOUISIANA - PART II

sunny 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We saw a couple of baby gators swimming eagerly out to the boat, so we pulled one aboard.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Arriving at the airport, our trip to Louisiana was over, but it had been a great time.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:54 Archived in USA Tagged animals boats marshes tour Comments (0)

N'awlins and Bourbon Street - DO YOU!

STATE 4 - LOUISIANA

sunny 96 °F

If I were to ask you to name the biggest party cities in the US, you would most likely include the location of the largest party in the country, New Orleans. The birthplace of jazz offers plenty of ways to have a good time, and its great food, soulful music, and colorful people offer a very unique experience. For these reasons (and the infamous Bourbon Street), New Orleans was our destination for Kortney's bachelor party.

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A quick background on New Orleans. Originally founded by the French (and temporally occupied by the Spanish), Louisiana was purchased by the US in 1803 in preparation for Napolean's war with the English. It was at one point the 5th largest city in the United States (up until the civil war) and is one of the largest ports in the world. The city sits below sea level and has retaining walls to hold back the waters of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. However as I mentioned before, these facts were not the drawing points for us to come to New Orleans. New Orleans is home to one of the largest Fat Tuesday parties in the world, Mardi Gras. Although we missed Fat Tuesday, we certainly came to party.

After arriving at the airport, we made our way down to the taxi stand to catch a ride into the city. After discussing various options with the dispatcher, we figured out that the cheapest (and most stylish) way to enter New Orleans was via limo.

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After a quick beer run, the limo driver started the 30 minute ride into the city. When asked if we could see the Superdome (home of the New Orleans Saints) and about the possibility of doing a shotgun in front of the stadium, the limo driver responded "do you". Slightly confused by her response, we repeated the request, and she replied "do you" a little more forcefully. She then explained that it was slang for "I do me, you do you" or "do your own thing". So with her approval and a quick scan for police, we jumped out of the limo to shotgun a beer in front of the Superdome.

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The limo wound through New Orleans to pull up in front our hotel. We had made it to Bourbon Street!

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After dropping our stuff off in our rooms, we began making our way down Bourbon Street. The street had some pedestrians walking down the sidewalk and the occasional car, not quite the swarm of boozed-up miscreants I had envisioned (although it was only 10am). Balconies overhung the street, some overly ornate with decorated railings, others seemingly secured with century old rusted trusses and rotten wood. A saxophonist was playing some jazz for spare change. Walking the length of Bourbon Street didn't take too long as it was only about six blocks until you reached the gay district. The repeating theme on Bourbon Street was bar, restaurant, tacky tourist shop, and strip club (see the picture of Ryan taking a break in front of one).

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After spending more than 30 seconds on Bourbon Street, something hits you pretty hard—a putrid stench. At first you think it may be a draft from a trash can or overfilled sewer pipe, but when the smell doesn't ever quite go away, you realize it is just Bourbon Street. Some areas are definitely worse than others, but don't ever expect "fresh air" when walking down this street. Sections of the street stay permanently wet, despite the upper 90s temperature, and who knows what diseases and bacteria are brewing in the puddles. A grime covers the sidewalk and street. It is bad enough that I wouldn't pick up dropped change that landed in the street.

We continued walking down to the waterfront of the Mississippi. The water was moving very fast as large barges and paddle boats zipped along with the current. The sun was beating down and the humidity was suffocating, but we took a stroll down the waterfront to take in the sights. We passed by some more musicians and saw a sign for a local brewery. The thought of sipping a cold beer in air conditioning was heavenly, so we left the mighty Mississippi and went back into the French Quarter.

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We never actually found the brewery, but we did find something else—the casino! The casino was almost as nice as a brewery, it was air conditioned and waitresses brought you free drinks. Kortney, Willie, and I pretended to play a slot machine to continue being served. We eventually moved to a blackjack table when the rest of the group came over, and actually made a couple dollars.

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Leaving richer than when we arrived, we headed back to the hotel to get showered up and ready to hit Bourbon Street at night.

Bourbon street transforms at night. The smell is still present, but the street is jam packed full of people. Cops ride up and down the street on horses that put Clydesdales to shame. Every balcony has people tossing beads, and nearly everyone has a drink in their hand. The occasional scantily girl walks by handing out free passes to one of the various strip clubs. Bars compete with each other to see who can play their music the loudest, and potential patrons are treated to a variety of musical genres while walking down the street. The bars get so packed that dancers often overflow into the street.

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After taking a loop down Bourbon Street and checking out a few bars, we elbowed our way up onto one of the balconies. From above we could get a great view of the crowd below.

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We sipped a couple beers and then abandoned our lofty post (we happened to be on one of the balconies supported by rust and duct tape) and continued roaming Bourbon Street. My memory starts getting a little fuzzy, and coincidentally I don't have any more pictures from our nights on Bourbon Street. Here are some remaining highlights: Kortney on a whale, Willard river dancing, a dance off in the middle of the street, shot girls forcefully dumping shots down your throat (despite you saying no repeatedly), and a late night run to Krystal Burger (which was definitely regretted later).

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New Orleans was a lot of fun, but 3 days was enough of an experience for me. We ate some awesome seafood and partied in a nightlife that never seemed to stop. It was cool hearing jazz being played on the street and seeing the boats chug up the Mississippi. However, I'll leave the smell, grime, and overabundant strip clubs behind. We did spend one more day in Louisiana, driving out of the city limits and heading out to the bayou. That story, however, is another blog post.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 14:09 Archived in USA Tagged beer bachelor_party Comments (0)

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