Meet some pre­his­toric lo­cals with a sharp-toothed taste for marsh­mal­lows on an ex­hil­a­rat­ing air­boat ride through the swamps of New Or­leans

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - MOVIE REVIEWS -

IT WAS my white sneak­ers that first caught Rod­ney’s at­ten­tion. “Ga­tors like marsh­mal­lows, y’know,” he warned in his south­ern drawl as we headed out to the boats. “You be care­ful. They might just come up onto the boat ’n’ gob­ble them shoes.” It seemed an odd state­ment, un­til we boarded the small air­boat and there, at the front, was a packet of white fluffy marsh­mal­lows.

Rod­ney, our Louisiana born-and-bred guide, was tak­ing six of us on a ride through an area of swamp­land about half an hour out of New Or­leans.

He was armed with the bag of marsh­mal­lows and a big bucket of chicken drum­sticks (also popular with the hu­man lo­cals) to at­tract al­li­ga­tors from along the wa­ter­line.

When I asked why the an­cient rep­tiles par­tic­u­larly like the sug­ary sweet, Rod­ney replied: “Same rea­son as us – they taste good.”

Whether it was the marsh­mal­lows or Rod­ney’s charm that drew them out, our group en­coun­tered five ga­tors dur­ing the 90-minute trip.

From a land­ing at the side of a high­way, Rod­ney started up the mas­sive fan be­hind the flat-bot­tomed boat.

We took off down at speeds of up to 65km/h, gen­tly sway­ing side to side as we rushed down the water­way, which cut through thick green­ery and be­tween tow­er­ing trees.

It was a warm, sunny day, but the boat cre­ated a nice breeze as it whisked us across the glassy wa­ter.

While other air­boats de­parted at the same time as ours, we had the wa­ters to our­selves for our tour.

First stop was a visit to the nest of ga­tors Ben and Ju­lia.

Tak­ing one look at the pair, Rod­ney in­formed us that their bloated bel­lies meant they had been hunt­ing – and scoff­ing – wild pigs.

There was still room marsh­mal­lows though.

Fur­ther into the swamp­land we came across Mary, who slith­ered down from the bank to meet us for a snack.

We also en­coun­tered Clau­dia and the much smaller Michaela, who seemed rather dis­in­ter­ested in meet­ing us, de­spite the marsh­mal­lows.

Rod­ney made a sound like a quack­ing duck to at­tract them.

All the al­li­ga­tors we came across seemed docile, but the odd snap at a chicken bone dan­gling from Rod­ney’s feed­ing stick gave away their preda­tory na­ture.

Re­mind­ing us of the kind of bloke you’d see on the TV show Swamp Peo­ple, Rod­ney was ex­pert at spot­ting a gator from a mile away.

for a few

He slowed the boat at just the right mo­ment to see a pair of eyes sink be­neath the sur­face or a spiny tale skedad­dle away.

Within min­utes of tak­ing off, I had no idea which di­rec­tion we’d come from, but it was clear that Rod­ney could nav­i­gate the back­wa­ters with his eyes closed.

Down a smaller in­let, we star­tled a young gator, about two-years-old, which scam­pered into the muddy grasses.

Rod­ney was able to fish it out with a net and show us up close.

He used a rub­ber band to muz­zle the rep­tile, which was about 80cm long.

He ex­plained that, un­like duct tape, a rub­ber band be­comes brit­tle and breaks off quite soon if a gator man­ages to wrig­gle free and swim away.

Rod­ney seems to en­joy work­ing with th­ese dan­ger­ous swamp dwellers and shows af­fec­tion and care for each of them.

There was no mak­ing them jump or per­form tricks for food, and if they weren’t in the mood he wouldn’t force it.

As well as the ga­tors, the swamp teems with birdlife in­clud­ing a fam­ily of ea­gles with a nest (“as big as a Volvo”, ac­cord­ing to Rod­ney) high in the trees.

The tour, in­clud­ing trans­port from your ho­tel, will set you back about $90.

This ap­pears to be the go­ing rate for most com­pa­nies and turned out to be well worth it.

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