When we were visiting New Orleans, Louisiana earlier this year we took a tour on the Honey Island Swamp, one of the least altered swamps in the country. My knowledge of swamps and bayous was mainly restricted to The Carpenters’ song Jambalaya*, in which they sang about eating jambalaya, crawfish pie and having ‘fun on the bayou’. So, with the song running through my head, we travelled by coach to the place where the tour boats were waiting for us.
Hopes were high that we might see some wildlife, so to get us started, at the tour office, they had a sculpture of an alligator (big enough for a person’s head to fit into its mouth) – maybe to let us see what might be waiting for us out on the water!
After admiring that it was soon time to go down to the Pearl River and board our small boat. There were only 8 of us on the boat plus our captain/tour guide which was excellent as it gave us plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and the small boat meant we could get into some of the narrower bayous and closer to the wildlife (if there was any!).
From the set off point there was a short journey of a mile or so along the river which took us to what was referred to by our captain as a camp. I imagined that would be tents, or roughly made temporary shacks, complete with a campfire, but it was houses which people have mainly as summer, or fishing, homes.
Turning off the main river we went into the maze of bayous, which are very slow moving sections of water.
Along the bayous there were houses which are not permanent. Some of them are kept afloat on large plastic drums, and look quite precarious, but are lived in all year round. This little dog had a lot to say for itself as we passed by!
Moving along slowly, we eventually came to the swamp areas. I always thought a swamp was marshy, muddy ground, but it is a flooded forest. In this swamp the trees are mainly Bald Cypress with Spanish moss hanging from many of them. One of the trees is classed as a monumental tree because of its age and size. The boat engine was switched off now and we drifted peacefully through the most amazing landscapes.
We were always on the lookout for wildlife and our guide explained that it was still really a bit on the chilly side to see turtles or alligators, as the temperature needed to be a bit higher before they would come out and warm themselves on the fallen tree trunks. Up to this point we had seen nothing more than two small turtles, but soon something much more entertaining was about to appear!
Our boat came to a halt and we became aware of some movement in the trees and a racoon appeared. It had heard us coming, and knew that some food might be in store for it. Our guide had a large bag of marshmallows in the boat, and a long stick, which he normally uses to tempt alligators out of the water. This racoon loves marshmallows!
In another part of the swamp we saw a family of wild boar. They didn’t seem perturbed by the boat and people, but didn’t approach it in the way the racoon had.
After drifting round in the swamp for a little longer, we came back out onto the main river and began to make our way back to our starting point. By this time the sun had been out for a little longer, so things had warmed up enough for a couple of alligators to come out. Apparently this one was just a small one, at about 5 feet long, but it was big enough for me! Can you see it?
We were told that the length of an alligator in feet is approximately equal to the length of its snout in inches – from its eyes to the tip of its nose. I wasn’t about to get close with my measuring tape to find out how true this is!
Of all the interesting things we saw and did in New Orleans, this was possibly my favourite. We didn’t see as much wildlife as we had hoped but it was fascinating, and so relaxing just drifting along on the water.
I’m linking this with Jo’s Monday Walk which I hope she will allow – it’s not technically a walk, but it’s the nearest thing you can get to a walk on the bayou.
* If you are not sure which song I mean, here it is.