Plugging in the address of Cajun Encounters into our GPS, we had no problems getting from our New Orleans hotel to their rather remote location in Slidell. Driving down increasingly more rural roadways, from interstate to a 4-lane to a 2-lane blacktop to a gravel road, we arrived in due time and parked in their gravel lot next to a river. Tickets are $25 per person, but we had $3 off coupons for each of us so we used the savings on cold drinks from their on-site store. It was tough, but we managed to resist buying any dried alligators, alligator heads, alligator teeth, t-shirts with alligator pictures on them, baseball caps with alligators on them, alligator key-chains, or any of the dozens of other alligator-themed souvenirs. We were a few minutes early so we sat outside in the shade of a covered table located next to a large concrete alligator enjoying our cold drinks and the refreshing slight breeze that smelled surprisingly clean rather than "swampy" like I expected.
|Honey Island swamp|
Our guide came aboard and told us his name was John. A pretty good sized man around 30 years old I would guess, and right personable. He smiled a lot and was very engaging. He seemed to actually be interested in his passengers rather than just doing a spiel and took a few seconds with each to find out where we were from. He informed us he was an actual Cajun, born and raised next to the Honey Island Swamp we would be seeing, but he was a true rarity, a college educated Cajun! He claimed to have played in this swamp from the time he could row a piroque (a small, flat-bottomed boat) and made money on the side hunting alligators. I didn't really believe him then, but before the tour was over I did!
|Gator up close!|
For example, we came to a small stand of Tupelo trees and he told us about the honey bees that make their hives in these trees each spring and how as a boy he would bring a smoker and take some of the honey back home for spreading on biscuits. The pollen the bees use is from the tree's flowers that bloom for 2 - 3 weeks starting in late April and that's how it got its name - Tupelo Honey. It is also known as "Swamp Honey" and is so fine that it is considered the honey that all other types of honey are measured against. He then segued to discussing the song Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison, pausing every now and then to point out another plant or animal. The man was a veritable swamp encyclopedia!
At one point we were slowly gliding under some low-hanging tree limbs, low hanging enough that we had to duck our heads. I was sitting in the front of the boat and this one particularly low-hanging limb had been on my side so I had ducked under it just as John quickly pushed the boat away from it. I figured he was just being nice to the rest of the folks, guiding the boat so they wouldn't have to duck down so far, but that wasn't what he was doing. I got concerned when he asked if anybody was really afraid of snakes. I didn't say anything, but I should have been raising both arms and jumping up and down shouting "Me! Me! I'm irrationally scared of them and I admit it!" He pointed to the limb which had just gone over my head and I about pooped my pants I kid you not! A bad snake was right there and it must have passed less than a foot over my head! He laughed and said it wasn't poisonous, but it wasn't dead and I consider any non-dead snake to be a bad snake.
|Look close and you can see that devil snake!|
|I liked the orange bath tub in the side yard. Nice touch!|
We made our way back down the wooden sidewalk to the store where the kids dropped off their life jackets. With a few handshakes and mumbled "Nice to meet ya" departure overtures between the folks of our group, people with a fleeting bond, people who would most likely never see each other again and probably wouldn't recognize each other if we did, we made our separate ways to our respective vehicles and back to our separate lives.
Our tour had been fun, interesting, and informative; our guide knowledgeable and engaging. It was well worth the cost and I didn't feel ripped off at all, something that seems to be ever more rare. I tell you what though, it would have been a much different thing if that dang snake had dropped in my lap!
|One of the many Herons in the swamp. I believe this to |
be a Great Blue.
|A Great White Egret. Beautiful bird|
|Deep in the Honey Island Swamp. Spanish moss and |
Cypress trees abound.
|I particularly liked the handicapped parking sign in front of |