Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Day 17- Lunchmeat and Alligators

In Which Daisy And Mom Take In The Wildlife Not Found On Bourbon Street

After our evening of riotous living, we overslept a bit and didn't get up until after nine. Breakfast in the hotel was nice, with good fruit and adequate pastries. The paper which had been left outside our door was predicting rain for Tuesday and Wednesday (so far unrealized), so we decided that this would be the day we went on a swamp tour. We didn't have to be there until two, though, so we spent the morning exploring a bit more of the French Quarter. We went down to Jackson Square and poked around in the shops a bit (I found some shoes, but they didn't have my size). I've been looking for old glass Mardi Gras beads, the kind they had back in the twenties and thirties, and they are surprisingly hard to find. It just seems like this would be the place for them, and they shouldn't be that rare, but there you go.
Before we headed out to the swamp, we stopped at a place called 'Central Grocery' (like Zarri's, but older) to get a mufalletta for lunch. A mufalletta is a sandwich indigenous to New Orleans, made with salami, ham and cheese topped with a mix of olives and pickled things, all on a round loaf of bread with lots of olive oil. I had heard they were good. We bought some Cokes and potato chips and headed out to the place for the tour, figuring that we would get there early enough to have a little picnic lunch. As it turned out, the tour didn't leave at any particular time; it left when everyone was there. So, since we were the last to arrive, our lunch was somewhat delayed.
Lunch or no lunch, the swamp tour was great. The boat was about as basic as they come- flat-bottomed, with a two-sided wooded bench down the middle and a motor on the back- and the guide came across more as a local who needed the work than a trained naturalist, but it really didn't matter. We started out in the upper swamp, where the water was dark brown and acidic from the tannins that had seeped out of the bark of the trees that were growing in it. The water was too deep for anything but trees and water lilies, but there was plenty of wildlife there. We saw lots of turtles- some pretty huge- and several diamondback water snakes (not poisonous), all sunning themselves out on branches. Alligators, our guide told us, were harder to spot this time of year because the water wasn't warm enough for them to be really active. But we did come across a Great Blue Heron and a woodpecker, hard at work on a tree. We decided that, since several people thought the woodpecker had a white beak, it must be the famous (and presumed extinct) ivory-billed woodpecker, and I see no reason to dispute that (although I will say it bore a striking resemblance to the picture of a pilliated woodpecker on the Audubon print in the hall outside our room). Then we went down the river, at high speed, because that seemed to be the way our guide liked to travel when he wasn't looking for nature and saw some of the lower swamp. Since the water was shallower here, the foliage was a lot denser, with sawgrass and lovely wild irises that are very hard to photograph. Not that we didn't try. We also saw two alligators, one which was doing a very good impression of a submerged log and one which was sunning itself on someone's dock. Neither seemed very interested in us, which was probably for the best. Later, we came across a raccoon and watched our guide feed it marshmallows, which it ate in a completely adorable and non-ecologically sound way. That was when we were going through a cypress swamp, with tall trees covered in Spanish moss all around. I'll try and post a picture here in a minute. We also came across a nutria, an aquatic rodent from Asia which has been causing ecological havoc in the area. I will say, though, for a terrible and destructive invasive exotic, it was kind of cute.
After we raced back to dock the boat, Mom and I settled down for our belated lunch. And I don't know if it was because we were pretty hungry by that point, but that sandwich was really, really good.

1 comment:

Dad said...

That sounds like a great tour; I wish I'd been there. And you had a muffaletta too! ... Maybe Mom can bring one back on the plane.