Down in the bayous of Louisiana, you can see a dinosaur in the wild. About twenty five minutes or so south of New Orleans, is a little town called Lafitte. Near here you can catch a ride on an air-boat that will take you out into the swamp. Formerly the lair of pirates, but always the lair of the gator, these swamps harken back to the primordial days before mankind was a glimmer in Mother Nature’s eye. They say everything you need to live and thrive can be found in these swamps, but all I know is there are gators…everywhere.
And the guides for these air-boat tours have been taking the same routes for so long, these gators are trained. As soon as they hear the sound of the air-boat approaching, they come from all directions as they know free food (raw chicken) will follow. Kind of crazy if you think about it. Load a bunch of people up on a boat, take them out in the swamp, essentially ring the gator dinner bell and let the entertainment begin. Oh, and these gators like dessert with their raw chicken. They will fight over marshmallows thrown in by the guide. I’m not gonna lie, seeing a gator in the wild is an awesome thing, but it is a little disheartening to see their dependence on these daily feedings. But this is an animal that has survived since dinosaurs walked the earth by adapting to their ever changing environment. These days, rather than asteroids or ice ages, its free chicken and marshmallows.
In some places, moving through the swamp on a boat is like going down a narrow green tunnel as the trees, with their draping arms of moss, hang over the winding water channels. Here and there are turtles sunning themselves on old logs and you can hear the sound of all types of birds in the canopy overhead. Huge cypress trees are everywhere, along with underbrush so thick you can’t move through it on foot, even if that was possible without sinking to your waist in muck.
It is hard to imagine humans living in this environment, but they do and have for thousands of years. It is possible to find two hundred year old cemeteries, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, sharing the high ground with a 2,000 year old Indian burial mound.
Then there is this swamp’s history as a lair for pirates. Smugglers like Jean Lafitte once used these swamps as a place to hide out from the US Navy. Lafitte and his brother originally operated a smuggling business out of their blacksmith shop in New Orleans, but their business outgrew that location so they moved out here, to the swamps. Some say the gators still guard treasures they left behind.
After a good two hours communing with modern dinosaurs in the lost land of Indians and pirates, you can’t help but think of Peter Pan. There is no better inspiration for Neverland than this place.
“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ”
Tick, tock….and with that sound, a gator somewhere is queuing up for the next tour…
All photos by the author.