We awoke sad to be leaving New Orleans but excited to explore somewhere new. We had our final breakfast at the Courtyard Hotel North Rampart Street. I would definitely recommend it for anyone visiting the city, its close enough to everything to be easy but far enough away to be out of the craziness. Our room was also great 137 – it had its own little private courtyard! After breakfast Wendy, our favourite taxi driver in the city, came to take us to the airport so we could collect our rental car. We rented through Dollar and they gave us 2 cars to choose from, so we opted for the silver Nissan (mostly because of the colour…..) and headed out to our first stop – the mall.
We had tried to stop by the Riverwalk Outlet in New Orleans yesterday but it was closed for Mardi Gras so we did a stop off at Lakeside Shopping Centre which was a bit out of town and en-route to where we were going anyway for an American Shopping hit. It worked out really well as they also had a Café du Monde where the beignets are really famous so we had one of these and some frozen coffee before hitting the shops. After spending all our money, we then headed back to the car and up to Slidell, a small town in Louisiana close to the swamp tour we were taking. When I flew into New Orleans the one thing I was most shocked about was all the people eating Popeye’s fried chicken at 6a.m. Because of this phenomena I was desperate to try it (and since it was a Louisiana specialty it would have been rude not to) so I had fried chicken with red beans and rice for lunch with a strawberry fanta. It was pretty nice although I would bet there was less than 50% chicken in the ‘fried chicken’ I was eating. Since Carolyn is gluten free she went to Chick Fil A and snuck it into Popeye’s so we could eat together, we are such rebels!
Feeling very full (and very greasy) we headed the few miles down the road to Honey Island Swamp Tours. There are lots of different options for swamp tours around New Orleans, we had picked this one based half on reviews and half on location (it was in the direction we wanted to go). We checked in and then waited on the sunny, if somewhat windy, porch for our group to be called. We got chatting to Nick from LA who was also in town for Mardi Gras and so will definitely need to head out there to visit at some point. We got into the boat and started out at Gum Bayou, a section of the swamp that was very deep but very pretty with the sun shining through the trees. Our guide, local of the swamp, explained a lot about the different gum trees, as well as the other trees in the area, as well as the surrounding landscape. It was extremely informative and after a little tour here we headed downriver to a narrow residential backwater. Here we spotted a snake sleeping on a tree as well as 2 baby alligators sleeping in the grassy reeds. They were very well camouflaged and got spooked after we had been watching for a few minutes so swam away.
Our guide explained that during the winter season it is very difficult to spot gators (as he called them). They are cold blooded animals and can only digest food by basking in the sun to produce a chemical called D3 which is a sort of acid that breaks down their food. However, in winter, it’s not warm or sunny enough to produce this, especially in the larger animals and so they go into a sort of hibernation by shutting down their bodily functions and digging down into the mud for insulation for winter. When the sun shines, as it had been doing for a few days before our tour, it rouses the gators back out and allows them to warm enough over a week or 2 to start catching food, hence why the ones we saw were so small. It takes much less for them to warm enough than it does a huge one. After the excitement of the gators we headed back out of the narrow section and downriver even further to see the wild boar. These animals were brought to the area and now live wild. As with most invasive species they are damaging the eco-system for the animals who originate here and so they are hunted for management purposes. They were very cute and it was fun to see them swimming, it’s not something you imagine a pig doing really. We spent quite a bit of time with these guys before heading back to the dock. The trip was great and I learned a lot about the wildlife and environment of the area – definitely a must do if you are around the area.
(after Katrina, the devastation is still evident 11 years on)
This was all we had planned up until and so when we got back to the car we had some planning to do. Originally when planning the trip we had wanted to incorporate a diving trip and so Pensacola had been suggested. There is a really famous wreck here – The USS Oriskany – however, the dive charter we had spoken to had said the dive would be weather dependent and due to the winds this was a no-go. So back to the drawing board we went. I had once read an article in National Geographic about the possibility to swim with manatees in Florida and another dive blog about this exact experience, so we googled and called the most northerly company – Crystal River Watersports, we could find who luckily had diving and manatee snorkelling available for the next day perfect! We booked it there and then and they also had a cheap room on site. What we didn’t check when booking was the distance from where we were in Slidell – big mistake. We came off the phone super excited at managing to work out diving the next day to realise the place was an 8 and a half hour drive. The drive was long, and other than a couple of nice areas along the coast and during sunset, it was interstate the whole way which was pretty unexciting. We did a quick stop at a Beef O’Brady’s for some dinner and had the wings and ribs, which weren’t very good, I have had a lot better fast food. When we finally pulled into the Day’s Inn we crashed at 2.30a.m. – thank god the diving wasn’t until 9.
(driving through Mobile and the longest tunnel….)