During our visit to New Orleans we only had one day when we could take a trip up a bayou, and as luck would have it, the weather was cold and damp. Quite rightly, Danila felt it wasn’t a good idea for her to go, while she was still not fully recovered from bronchitis, so I went on my own.
90 minutes south of NOLA, and you are in a completely different world, dominated by swamps and bayous. Brian, our AirBnB host in NOLA recommended Zam’s, and when I called them the day before, they told me to just come on down, they’d be going out whether it was a full boat, or just me. Zam’s Restaurant & Swamp Tours is located right on the bayou, in a village with its own lift bridge, at the end of a long, narrow, winding road.
I got there early, so walked around a bit, noticing concrete crocodilians, stuffed foxes, snapping turtle shells, old boats & other treasures outside Zam’s, plus a sign advising visitors not to go up to his house without a guide, as the alligators might take a shine to you.
As it was a cold, damp day I thought I would be the only one going out, but a Canadian family arrived just as the captain for the tour, Diego, came down to the restaurant to pick us up, and took us up to their house, where for a start we were all handed a young alligator! These critters were about a foot long and were quite docile, though Diego did warn us not to put our fingers near their mouths as they have sharp little teeth and a strong bite. Their dry skin made them easy to handle, until they became warmer from being in our hands and became quite lively.
Those were put away, and we were taken past a couple of young raccoons and some miniature goats,
to see a large python Diego had acquired from Florida and keeps in a heated aquarium. He explained that there was no problem with these snakes in Louisiana, as it gets cold enough in the winter to kill them off. Then on to see the snapping turtles, which were a lot bigger than I expected. Diego explained they are good to eat, but you have to be careful when catching them, as their beaks are razor sharp and their bite will easily take off fingers and maybe even a whole hand. Scary looking beasts, I’m not sure I’d want to swim in the same water they are in!
We then moved on to a large, enclosed pond, where we could see one very large alligator and one smaller one, just under the water, at opposite ends of the pond. Diego jumped into the enclosure and explained that had it been warmer, the male would have come roaring to the side of the pond, to defend his territory. As it was cold, and the bull alligator was having a doze at the bottom of the pond, Diego prodded it with a long pole, which caused it to immediately rise up to let everyone know who was boss.
Diego tried to bring the female up by hand, but it wasn’t interested, and he quickly left it alone. He explained that it wasn’t fair on the animals to keep poking at them to try to get reactions, which I thought showed reasonable consideration for them. These, and all the other animals in his yard, seemed to be well cared for and in good condition, and while it was a display, and not a research facility, Diego seemed to know a lot about the animals and treated them with respect. And on the way out of the yard Diego pointed out a juvenile bald eagle at the top of a tree across the bayou, apparently one of around 10 eagles that hang out in the area throughout the year.
Due to the cold weather, there was minimal wildlife in evidence on the boat trip up and back down the bayou, but Diego regaled us with information and stories. He’s a smart and interesting character, with a strong Cajun accent and a long tradition of living off the land by hunting, fishing and trapping, and he was saddened that the old ways were disappearing. He also gave me a CD of a TV show he was in, so I could see how the bayou looks when it’s all greened up, which was very kind.
All in all it was a very interesting day, I only wish I could have been there in the spring to see the forest greening up and the alligators more active – apparently they will come out if you toss them marsh mallows, of all things! I’d have thought they’d be more interested in unruly small children, but unlike Nile and salt water crocodiles, alligators apparently aren’t all that interested in humans, which is why the locals are quite happy to keep swimming in the bayous.
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