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