Sunday, March 9, 2008
'Gator in the Swamps
Sunday was our day to explore and take in the distinct culture and sights of New Orleans. Six of us headed across the Mississippi to Jean Lafitte Park, an amazing circuit board of waterways cutting through Bayou. We had one goal: see some alligators up close from a non-motorized vehicle. We rented three canoes from Millie at the Bayou Barn - the only business left standing in the area after Katrina - and paddled into the park. Before even getting away from the roar of Highway 45 we spotted Herrings and a baby alligator sunning on a log. We continued down the waterway, through patches of river cabbage and hedged by mangroves and ferns on the shores. When the water became shallow and the cabbage thickened we drifted in the sunlight and took in the sounds and smells of the swamp. Just when we were going to turn around and head back, Ryan spotted two scaly eyes poking out of the green cabbage. It was a full size gator and it was tracking us carefully with its dark reptilian eyes. Still 40 feet away, we wanted to get closer to examine its full length. Reassured by Millie that gators don't bite people, we paddled quietly closer. The gator never flinched. It let us come within a few feet, eying us the the whole time. It was magnificent! It's leathery scaled tail poked out of the water at one end and it's sinister yellow mouth emerged six feet at the other end. The rest of its girth was submerged. After a few minutes of observation, the gator dived underwater. We held our breaths for a long ten seconds, searching for it frantically in the black water. It emerged ten feet away near the bank and we exhaled and back-paddled cautiously. We made our way back the the Bayou Barn, parking the canoe periodically to venture into the dense vegetation on the shores. It was a wonderful day on the water.