There is something indescribably magical about pristine Southern wild wetlands, marshes, cypress swamps, and bayous. Such areas are notably found in the Mississippi River region in Louisiana, although a variety of low lands exists across the world. These incredible low lying wetlands have a life and culture of their own. Rich in wildlife, including alligators, deadly snakes, raccoons, owls, fish (crawfish, catfish) and other creatures, the areas are truly a unique feature of Louisiana and indeed of all America. The swamps of New Orleans, just half an hour away from the vibrant city life of the French Quarter, are considered some of the most beautiful and extraordinary ones. This is where I fell in love with NOLA’s swamps while torpedoing through the land on an airboat.
My experience navigating through the wetlands of NOLA left me in the state of “awe.” The two-hour airboat tour was amazing. As soon as I boarded the small vessel with a Corvette engine(!), I knew this would be a wild and magical experience that would leave a deep footprint in my mind. The roar of the engine was invigorating. Just imagine speeding through the swamp at 50mph squeezing into most narrow waterways and then slowing down between the giant trees and easing the rush and the adrenaline levels. All throughout the tour, it appeared that I was in a dark but not frightening wonderland. At times the sky became dark and tight and the water passage narrowed into the oblivion; then the sky opened up and an infinite land of green appeared. Forget the movies depicting the swamps as dangerous and unforgiving places, the wetlands and marshes are a fairytale.
The plant life is vast. Adorned with moss covered trees and marsh plants, the lowland resembles a velvet carpet. The native iconic bald cypress trees, the size of Gulliver, reaching all the way down to the muggy waters made most stunning impression. Not only beautiful but also useful, these trees help in removing pollutants from the wetlands and sustain the overall ecology of the lands.
The wildlife is fascinating. Coming from the North East, seeing reptiles is uncommon, especially up close and in natural habitat. I did not see many gaters as the true season is best witnessed in the unbearably hot months of summer and in September. No tourist is gonna go there then; so I opted out for fewer alligators but wonderful weather. The small to medium size alligators I did encounter were slowly floating through the calm waters and then submerging to the bottom, as if a submarine; some were hiding in the marshes, others just sunbathing on thick tree trunks. Alligators do not like the cold that is why the summer is best if you want to see the real deal.
To many, the culture of bayous and its inhabitants is unknown and to those who know, it may be poorly understood. But to folks who actually live there, the beautiful wetlands are a home and a source of income (gater hunting, selling catch, swamp tours). Traditionally, the natives are shrimpers/fishermen, lumberjacks, or gater hunters and it is unbelievable that this natural life is so close to city life. It is often forgotten that the area has a diverse cultural history, including initial and present settlers from France (“Cajun”), Germany, Italy, Spain, East Asia and other regions, many of whom have assimilated into the Southern culture.
Louisiana’s history and culture may not be obvious drivers for tourism but LA is deep into its roots and worthy Southern traditions. You must visit this wondrous place and its lowlands and allow your eyes to rest on this marvelous land and your nose to inhale the breathtaking life of the truly natural world.
Thanks so much for reading!