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Ain’t Nothing But a Swamp Thing, Baby!

At the top of Navdeep’s list when he found out we were going to Louisiana? A traipse through the bayou, of course. He’s always had a bit of a thing for gators, so he couldn’t resist the chance to see them up close and personal. We just didn’t realize quite how up close we’d come!

We booked a Monday a.m. outing via the stellar Cajun Encounters, who had also arranged for our plantation visit the day before. We knew we’d be cutting it close — our flight was at 3 p.m. that afternoon — but the round-trip adventure, all told, clocked in at about five hours, including an 8 a.m. pick-up and a 1 p.m. drop-off.

Monday dawned hot but thankfully not uber-humid, as we’d expected. We’d stayed out late the night before, checking out the awesome Germaine Bazzle at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse before savoring a leisurely meal at Emeril’s Delmonico steakhouse in the Garden District, where we indulged in steak, Moroccan lamb and a decadent chocolate toffee tart that’s still sticking to my teeth a week later. So naturally, we both zonked out on the 45-minute ride out to Honey Island Swamp.

When we awoke, we saw swampy marshlands and green rolling hills passing us by. Eventually, the big white van rolled up to a long, old-school dock nestled on the river just off the swamp. We headed into the gift shop, where we checked in and were assigned a color to let us know what boat we’d be traveling on. We were on the blue boat, which I was naturally excited about — until I realized that there would be 24 of us on it, while some of the smaller boats would only be carrying 8 passengers.

I didn’t feel gypped for long, though. I couldn’t. We’d been assigned to one Captain Nolan — and by far and away, he seems to be the best of the bunch. As soon as we set sail, he found a few gators to introduce us to. He lured them to us with — of all things — marshmallows! He explained that the little white sponges reminded the gators of snake eggs. He also revealed that they enjoy hot dogs, and can’t be bothered with hunting people.

For more than two hours, he kept us rapt with stories about growing up in the bayou, hanging out with celebrities like Angelina Jolie (too cranky) and Kelly Ripa (super-fun — she featured the Cajan Encounters tour on her show, Live With Regis & Kelly), and preconceptions about life on the swamp.

Fact: Gators can’t be bothered with humans. It’s the animal they’re frequently mistaken for, crocodiles, who are maybe man-eaters.

Fact: There aren’t very many mosquitos in the swamp, despite what the movies may convey. Mosquitos tend toward still waters, and there’s nothing still about the Mississippi bayous.

Fact: I still managed to get eaten alive by something. Should I be concerned that it wasn’t mosquitos?

Fact: We got to hold a baby gator named Sauce Piquant — that’s Spicy Sauce in Cajun French — right there on the boat. That was probably the best part of it. The two-footer was Nolan’s personal pet, and he made his way across the boat. He was pretty friendly, for a gator, but Nolan warned us not to cuddle up too close, lest Sauce confuse your face for a wiggly catfish.

Fact: Sad but true, but Nolan told us that Cajun French, an old school language that the original settlers of the region brought with them, is all but extinct. Very few Americans speak it these days, and it’s not really taught in schools or in homes anymore. Within a decade or two, it will probably be a dead language.

We learned so much in our two-hour trip, it flew right by. And the Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour was definitely the highlight of a super-fun New Orleans adventure — which is saying a lot, given we did Cafe Du Monde, Plantation tours and plenty of jello shots on Bourbon Street.

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