While we New Orleanians like to complain about the touristy parts of the city, such as Bourbon Street and the line at Café Du Monde, having a friend in town is the perfect excuse to do all those touristy things you've always wanted to do. That’s exactly what led me to my first swamp tour.
Like I said last week, Hilary, one of my best friends from college, came to visit for the weekend and she really wanted to go on a swamp tour. I had read something about Cajun Encounters so we signed up for Saturday's 2:45 p.m. tour.
After a quick drive to Slidell, we followed the signs to Cajun Encounters' location, which seemed like we were heading to the middle of nowhere. Once we got to the Cajun Encounters compound, we paid the $25 ticket price, got a red wristband and waited for our tour guide to lead us to our swamp adventure.
Our tour guide looked just like I thought he would. As Hilary and I climbed on to the boat, he was smoking a cigarette and sipping a Red Bull. He was wearing jean shorts – or jorts as I like to call them – and I later noticed he had a camo cell phone case. He said words like “ain’t” and other phrases that would make my college journalism professors cringe. But despite his rough exterior, I quickly learned our tour guide was exactly the guy you'd want to have guiding you through the Louisiana swamps.
While I'm sure all of the tour guides at Cajun Encounters are good, it didn't take long for our guide to find our first alligator. He pulled the boat up close to the gator and lured Brutus – all of the alligators have names – closer to the boat with marshmallows. Our guide also pointed out a wild boar on the riverbank.
As the tour went on we saw many gators and most of them came up close to the boat when they were bribed with more marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick. We learned about the nature of the swamp and the animals and people who live around it. Our tour guide also told some funny stories, like the alligator that ate a wild boar on a tour and slipped into somewhat of a food coma. While I probably could live my life without knowing alligators like to eat wild boars, it was interesting to hear.
At one point the tour got a little long and I was getting annoyed that the tourist sitting behind me kept referring to the St. Charles Avenue streetcar as the St. Charles Avenue trolley. But things quickly got more exciting when we were taking photos of an alligator and our tour guide suddenly reached over the boat to grab the mouth of the gator. Then he kissed it! He reached out and grabbed an alligator! With his bare hands!!!!
When we got back to the dock, we thanked our tour guide, took a few more photos then drove back to New Orleans for some more touristy fun in the Quarter. Hilary and I were both happy with the tour, as we both learned a lot more about the Louisiana swamps than we ever thought we would. I'm glad moving here has given me a chance to act like a tourist in my own city and to visit places I probably would have never seen before. Part of the fun of moving to a new place is getting the chance to explore the areas around it. If I still lived in Missouri, I probably wouldn’t have put a swamp tour at the top of my “things to do before I die” list, but I really enjoyed exploring the swamps and seeing another part of Louisiana.
I definitely recommend a swamp tour if you've just moved to New Orleans or if you're looking for something to do with visitors. One quick note: If you plan to go on a swamp tour, make sure you bring cash. There’s a chance at the end of the tour to tip your tour guide, but I had no cash on me that day and I felt bad I couldn’t leave a tip. I mean the guy deserved it; he kissed a freakin’ alligator.