Swamp Tour & Alligator Wrangling

March 8, 2016 § 7 Comments

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Outside of eating and drinking, New Orleans generally has two main attractions for tourists: swamps and plantations. For our trip, we opted not to do the latter, instead planning our first day around an afternoon spent at the swamp.

We went with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, which cost $44 per person including a very comfy bus pickup from our hotel. The ride was about half an hour, and our bus driver kept us entertained with random facts about the city.

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Our bus dropped us off in a gravel parking lot at the privately owned Manchac Swamp. To get visitors in the mood for reptiles, there was some strange gator paraphernalia inside the small shop where we picked up our tickets. We were 20 minutes early for our tour, so we hung out near the dock and tried to make friends with the handful of cats roving the property. There seems to be lots of cats roaming around New Orleans in general? We couldn’t tell if they were strays or pets.

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The shop had a cafe window on its patio, but apparently the cafe is only open during the summer. In a separate building by the restrooms was a small room with a metal pool full of tiny baby alligators. They were SO CUTE!!! But I don’t know why they were indoors instead of in the swamp.

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Not a real gator obviously

Not a real gator obviously

Once we finally got on the boat, we were treated to serene waters and the gravelly voice of Captain Allen as he steered us slowly around the bayou while sharing factoids about the environment. It was a lovely ride in perfect, sunny-but-not-too-hot weather.

The scenery was idyllic but didn’t seem particularly inhabitable. Capt. Allen said he lived way out in some other swamp elsewhere and would never want to live anywhere else. We saw lots of trees with pretty Spanish moss (named after Spaniards’ beards by the hairless native Americans, according to our captain).

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And of course, we glimpsed a good deal of wildlife, including a heron and eagle and plenty of turtles and young gators. (We didn’t see any alligators large enough to be scary.) The reptiles would commonly be found sunning together on the same log.

At one point, a raccoon appeared along the bank, and people were practically falling over themselves trying to get a look at it. Kaiti, Lucy and I were incredulous. Sure, raccoons are pretty cute, but these people have never seen one before or something?! They’re not exactly exotic??

Someone threw a marshmallow to the raccoon, who went and retrieved it. I thought that the treat had come from another passenger — and wondered why the hell someone would bring marshmallows on a swamp tour — but according to Yelp reviews, the boat captains are doing the feeding. Huh. He also chucked one in the water to entice a little gator to swim by the boat.

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Around one bend was a tiny, dilapidated shack that Capt. Allen joked about renting out to honeymooning couples for $7.50 a night. Or maybe he wasn’t joking? I’m sure it’s super romantic, Shrek-esque outhouse and all. The most interesting tidbit he told us was that Ella Henderson filmed her music video for “Ghost” at the shack. It’s true! Here’s a screenshot (click for the full video), with my photo below:

ella henderson ghost

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Capt. Allen told us that alligators can live to more than 100 years old and don’t get to full size until middle age, though they grow faster in captivity. He also said they very rarely attack humans — locals go swimming in the swamp all the time. But if you were to need to escape from one, run and keep running (in a straight line). Gators can run pretty fast but not for a long time. And climbing a tree won’t help because apparently they can do that too?! And considering they only need to eat every few months, it’s doubtful you’d be able to wait it out, haha.

He introduced the last part of the tour with an anecdote about raising his own alligator, and how after he released her into the swamp, she would still respond to the sound of his voice. I couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth or just spinning a yarn for the sake of us ignorant tourists, but I promptly forgot these qualms when he reached into a crate and pulled out a live gator!
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The gator, whom he introduced as Allie, was small but no baby. I think he said she was about five years old? And such an exquisite creature! He gently taped her mouth shut and showed us how to hold her before passing her around the boat. This guy’s doing it wrong; you’re supposed to hold her neck, not chest:

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gator

I was delighted to hold her. She was like a snake, soft and smooth, and heavier than she looked. Although she seemed calm, I wondered if it was stressful for her to be handled by a bunch of random people? This plus the baby gators kept indoors and the marshmallow feeding makes me question if these are indeed wild animals or if they’re just being exploited??

Not that I should be complaining. I went to see alligators and got much more than I expected. The tour was definitely worth my time and money!

11-ktl

New Orleans: First Impressions
New Orleans: Food pt. I

New Orleans: Nightlife

New Orleans: Bywater
New Orleans: Food pt. II
New Orleans: Cemetery & NOMA

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