Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Orleans Adventure: Gator Bait

Our luck, in terms of the weather anyway, ran out on day four.  We walked to the Camellia Grill for our second excellent breakfast there and it started to rain while we were there.  The rain would be on and off for the rest of the day and this on a day when our main activity would be outside.  Today was swamp tour day.

We paid extra for a pickup at the hotel and for a ride in a smaller airboat.  The tour van picked us up on time and, after a couple more stops to pick up more people, headed just outside of New Orleans to the town of Jean Lafitte.

Now, I have to talk about my expectation for this swamp tour.  I expected to ride an airboat and to see a swamp - no brainer there.  I thought that if we were lucky, we might see alligators at a significant distance from the boat.  I was going to take my DSLR camera because it has a better zoom and I expected it would be needed to get any salvageable pictures of alligators.  When the rain started coming down, bringing the DSLR became impossible.  The DSLR camera is not waterproof.  So I carried my smaller waterproof camera with the mediocre zoom and hoped for the best.

We arrived at the tour office and we examined the live alligators in the pen including an albino alligator.  Right before the airboat tour was about to start the skies opened up and it began to really pour.  The crowd swarmed the gift shop as we all bought ponchos.  One side note: the gift shop didn't have any magnets.  What's up with that?!?
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An airboat on the way to the swamp.
We put on our ponchos, followed the guide out to the boats, and the Wife and I got in the front seat of our airboat.  Our small airboat carried six passengers but we only had five when we cast off.  The captain of the boat explained what we were going to do.  He explained that noise restriction stopped them from going top speed until we were farther out.  After a short run we would leave the lake and enter the swamp.

We puttered across the lake for a while as the rain poured.  We reached the noise restriction limit, the captain asked us to put on hearing protection (we used to call them mickey mouse ears when I worked on ships), and the captain revved it up and off we went.  The boats go about 50 to 55 mph (80 to 88 kph).  This is when I learned my lesson of the day: raindrops, hitting your face at 50-55 mph, sting ... a lot.  It was hard to keep from looking down to protect your face but I managed to do it.


This is where my waterproof camera came in handy.  I had the camera in my hands taking video and pictures in the pouring rain without a worry.  The guys behind us only had cell phones which, most of the time, were under their ponchos doing no good.
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Entering the swamp.
We slowed back down and turned into a channel.  We'd been on the channel maybe a minute before we saw the first alligator.  It wasn't far away or on shore as I'd feared it would be.  It was in the water and it swam right up to the boat.  It didn't take long to find out why.  When the gator was close the captain tossed something in the water.  They sometimes refer to it as alligator crack.  We call them marshmallows (MARSHmallows ... we're in a swamp ... that's a marsh ... there's a joke in there somewhere or at least a bad pun).  Turns out the alligators are hooked on sugar.  The guides feed them sugar so when the alligators see a boat they head straight to the boat for a treat.


We ended up seeing quite a few alligators while we were in the channel.  It was much better than I expected.  I got a lot of pictures and we learned a lot about alligators and swamp flora and fauna.  The captain pulled out a baby alligator and passed it around.  The things was just over a foot long and was very used to being handled.  One of the guys behind us let it bite his finger.  The little guy seemed more irritated than mean.
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Me holding a baby alligator.
We returned to the dock and got back on the bus.  The whole bus load of us were sopping wet and the driver was nice enough to not have the air conditioning on.  We got off the van a few blocks from our hotel when it hit some traffic.  We got back to our room and, like all of our afternoons, after putting on some dry clothes, passed out on the bed.

That evening we went out for another awesome dinner - we didn't have a bad meal while in New Orleans - where the Wife continued the theme of the day and ate alligator.  I shied away from it when I heard it tasted like sausage.  I'm not a fan of sausage.  We topped off our eating for the day with a stop at Café du Monde to try another mandatory New Orleans activity: eating beignets.  Beignets are fried dough, kind of like doughnuts, buried under mounds of powdered sugar.  We each ordered the standard order of three beignets.  I have to admit we were both a little underwhelmed and about one and a half beignets were left uneaten.   I'm not much of a fan of doughnuts either.  Having said this, I'm glad I tried them.
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Beignets: pretty but not that awesome in my opinion.
We hadn't watched much television this vacation until game six and seven of the NBA finals.  After our beignets, we retreated back to the room and watched game seven.  Tomorrow we would finish all the little things and complete our stay in New Orleans.

Pictures of the fourth full day in New Orleans can be found in my New Orleans 2013 Flickr Set.

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