When you think of a swamp, “beautiful” may not be the first word that comes to mind. Swamps have gotten a negative connotation from folklore and fairytales as being these murky, mysterious bodies of water where dangerous creatures lurk beneath the surface ready to drag you down into oblivion if you’re not careful. My experience exploring a swamp was quite different.
About two years ago, the end of January 2015, my family and I traveled to New Orleans for an authentic NOLA experience, and there’s nothing more authentic than a slow boat ride through the gator-filled waters of Honey Island Swamp. I value the enriching learning and discovery opportunities that traveling presents, so I try to find out as much about the places I travel to as I can. Traveling, for me, is so much more than just a pleasurable escape (although it can be that too!); it’s an opportunity to broaden one’s awareness and understanding of the world around them.
One of the most memorable parts of our vacation was our boat tour with the Cajun Encounters Tour Company. This tour got us up close and personal with the ecosystems and history of the wetlands. The only way I can think to describe the atmosphere of the bayou we explored is that it was hauntingly beautiful. We passed trees that seemed to float on the water, their low-hanging, moss-covered branches like something out of a surrealist painting.
We didn’t get to see any alligators on our tour since we went in the winter and alligators brummate in the colder months. Brumation, as opposed to hibernation, is when an animal reacts to a cold environment by slowing their metabolic activity, but not to the extent of hibernation. In the winter, alligators are much less active, so they are not likely to make an appearance like they do in warmer months. They either stay submerged beneath the surface, only occasionally coming up for air, or burrowing in holes on the banks or the bottom of the swamp.
While we missed out on the gators, I certainly didn’t feel as though our experience was lacking in any way. We could smell the musty air, we could reach out and touch the vegetation growing in and around the swamp, we saw various birds swoop overhead, and we passed through an authentic Cajun village with small, dilapidated houses practically falling into the water. Best of all, nothing compares to seeing the joy on your children’s faces when they experience something for the first time. My daughter Mia, who was eight at the time, got to hold a small alligator at the end of the tour, which absolutely fascinated her.
It’s been two years, and while my memory of certain details has faded, I’ll always cherish the amazing memories I made with my family on this trip. I highly recommend taking a vacation to The Big Easy if you haven’t already, and booking a swamp tour to get the full cultural experience!