A swamp tour wasn’t exactly top of my activities list on my trip around the States, but it ended up being one of the best mini adventures we had.
We were booked onto the Honey Island Swamp Tour, a chance to see one of the ‘least-altered river swamps’ in the States. It is a chance to learn more about the swamp and the way of life in the area, and to perhaps spot some of the wildlife. Someone who did the tour before told me they never managed to see any alligators, which is probably quite a big draw for most people. We were warned that we probably wouldn’t see any because it was too cold, and alligators keep below the surface to stay warm, but we decided to go ahead with the tour.
Our trek leader seemed to have a soft spot for this place. Often leaders develop close bonds with those who work at attractions or activity centres along the trek routes. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some leaders voluntarily travelled to this swamp, which had been completely overwhelmed, to help with the clear-up operation. On the day we visited, the only hint of its turbulent past was some still-ruined shacks at the side of the swamp. It was quite emotional, and learning about how the area coped with the destruction is something I will always remember about our stay in Louisiana.
Our swamp tour guide first dispelled a couple of common misconceptions about the swap: firstly, that it would be dirty; secondly, that there would be lots of mosquitoes. Admittedly, I had worried about both. However, I realise that when I was imagining a swamp, I was thinking of somewhere really muddy, when actually it just means flooded. As for the mosquitoes, these are eaten in the daytime by dragonflies, which were very pretty but also gave me a fright if they flew a little too close.
Our guide was fantastic – very knowledgeable and obviously very familiar with the swamp. We were roaring through the water at around 60mph when he stopped, reversed the boat a little and pointed out this creature he had spotted in the trees:
We also saw crawfish, which Louisiana is famous for, and sliders, which were just adorable:
The moss hanging from the trees is known as Spanish moss. Apparently it got its name from French explorers, who thought it looked like the beards of their rival Spaniards.
The highlight, though, despite the cool temperatures, was this:
And it turned out he wouldn’t be the only one. After another ten minutes, we found an alligator fond of hot dogs:
For our guide, however, these were little alligators. The only one that was declared ‘a decent-sized alligator’ kept his distance, even when our guide made alligator calls and tempted him with marshmallows.
Finally, we saw a group of them sunning themselves on the banks.
It was an absolutely fantastic day, both educational and exciting, offering the opportunity to get within feet of the alligators. Even if we hadn’t seen them, the landscape was fascinating, not to mention unexpectedly beautiful.
Nevertheless, one of my favourite photos I captured that day was of this alligator with one of the dragonflies perched on his nose: