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By Matt Robinson
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Cajun Encounters Tour - Swamp Tours in Louisiana - Alligator biting
Take a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters to get up close and personal to wild alligators.

Having been to Louisiana many times before, I thought I knew a good deal about the New Orleans area. Until I went into the swamp, however, I didn’t know nuthin’.

Getting up at 7 a.m. on a vacation day may seem a bit odd, but it was definitely worth it to take in one of the area's must-do attractions: a swamp tour. During the 40-minute van ride from our hotel, our affable driver Adam pointed out many historic and visit-worthy places, including a few of New Orleans’ famous hotels and eateries, Louis Armstrong Park and the beautiful Mahalia Jackson Theater, the city’s tourably beautiful cemeteries, and many sites of post-Katrina recovery such as the Lower Ninth Ward.

Soon after pulling off into the parking lot of Cajun Encounters, we met Captain Ted Gauthier, an authentic Cajun who knew every nook, cranny, tree and alligator in the area.

“Turn off your phones,” Gauthier advised amidst tales of his nonagenarian relatives who had never had electricity. “You’re on vacation. Un-lax a bit!”

Seated “fanny to fanny” on either side of Gauthier’s flat-bottomed boat, we were taken deep into the bayou (which literally means river outlet) and deeper into the infamous Louisiana heat. As soon as the boat cast off, we encountered the apparently reclusive “Big Al,” an alligator with whom Gauthier Doolittled as if they had grown up together.

Hungry for marshmallows, Al and his scaly mates appeared at semi-regular intervals, often coming close enough for Gauthier to touch them with his frankfurter-tipped wooden stick. All the while, Gauthier told tales and taught about everything from wetland preservation and species endangerment to Cajun first-aid tips and swamp-fed recipes that made our mouths water.

“This place can take your life,” Gauthier observed as one of the 27 species of snakes slithered by, “or it can save your life!”

By the time the boat pulled back into harbor, everyone had learned a good deal about swamp life and most had made a friend or two.

“What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas,” Gauthier mused, “but what happens in New Orleans stays in your heart.”

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