So often when people travel for short trips to a specific city, it is the city they tend to explore and nothing more. They pull out their city maps, with all the hot spots highlighted and listed alphabetically, and plan walking or bus routes to see what they can see. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I do it all the time. But you have to remember this important fact: there is a world beyond this thriving metropolis. Do what you can to leave the city limits far behind you, and find adventure off the beaten path.
Case in point: New Orleans. This city is so vibrant, so captivating, so FUN, that you might be tempted just to wander its streets during the day (who doesn’t love the French Quarter?) and then party-down in Bourbon Street all night. Sleep. Repeat.
I almost got sucked into that trap when I visited New Orleans with some colleagues for a teaching conference. Sessions, wander, eat, Bourbon Street, sleep. Repeat. It wasn’t until one of my street-wandering moments that I stumbled across a bookstore with some fascinating information on the bayou life of Louisiana, and got to chatting with the bookstore owner. She informed me that there were some great swamp tours available, and the concierge back at my hotel confirmed this when he handed me an army green brochure with a sly-looking alligator on the front. Since our conference was over, I booked a tour for the next morning for my colleagues and myself immediately. The cost was $25.00 per adult, but we figured it would be worth it.
We woke the next morning and dressed in long pants and closed-toe shoes, as recommended by the tour company. I guess you don’t want an alligator to chow down on any of your lower appendages whilst out exploring the swamp. The tour company, Cajun Encounters, provided a shuttle bus for my little entourage, and it picked us up outside our hotel. Off we went, past the city limits, onto adventure.
We crossed the Maestri Bridge, better known as the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge or Five Mile Bridge, which went on and on seemingly forever. We watched the shrimp trawlers crawl slowly across the lake, until finally we were across to the other side, into a world much different than New Orleans and its curlicued balconies. Evidence still remained of Hurricane Katrina, with derelict boats tossed into ditches, or flattened houses mouldering into piles of rotten plywood. It was eye-opening to say the least.
Our bus stopped at a wooden shack, where we disembarked, bought waters, and were assembled into our boat groups. My group was under the confident guidance of Captain Gerry, a retired army officer now enjoying the thrill of driving high-speed boats through wood and root infested swamps littered with hungry gators. I loved him. Every time he accelerated the boat, he’d yell, “Cajun air conditioning!” with a red-neck howl. Soon everyone was mimicking him.
During the tour, we saw five gators reclining in various poses on tree stumps or branches. A poisonous snake brushed by the right-hand side of the boat, terrifying a man who thought very little of snakes in general, let alone ones with venom. We watched a heron snare a fish, and Captain Gerry informed us that some birds also liked to dine on young alligators, using their sharp, hard beaks to crack open the alligators’ skulls.
The flora was also a sight to behold. Several of us excitedly pointed to an alligator peeking out from a pile of floating vegetation, only to be informed that the vegetation was lily pads, and the lily pad flowers looked like alligator eyes. So no gator there. One tree was a scientific mystery, dying from the inside out, from the bottom up. The top looked healthy and full, while the bottom was hollow, dead, and missing all of its branches. It looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie.
The tour was a full day. It took us through dense swamp land, looking for gators. It took us to an open area outside a fishing village, to show us how the locals lived from day to day. It took us under old bridges and past ruined debris from the hurricane. The tour price was definitely worth the experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
About the Author: Marti is a junior high teacher in a small rural school in Alberta, Canada, and a total travel nut! When she can, she combines the two, and has taken students to London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. Marti writes the blog “Down the Wrabbit Hole – A Travel Bucket List” where she documents her adventures for her family and friends. She travels when possible, checking off one destination from her bucket list at a time. Exploring the country of Peru is her ultimate dream trip.