On our first full day on the Mississippi River, we stopped at Vacherie, Louisiana, for one of several morning tours. About 50 of us signed up for a boat tour of a bayou. It’s a good thing I didn’t know how early it started – we had to be on the levee by the boat by 7:45 a.m. – or I might not have chosen this tour. Hey, this is vacation, folks! But this is an early-to-bed group on the American Queen, and what’s an early start for me doesn’t seem to faze the others.
The main attraction turned out to be alligators. Since I went to Shark Valley in the Everglades the week before I left on this trip, just seeing gators isn’t that big a thrill. But this was a private tour on private property, which apparently carries no restrictions on feeding wildlife.
So out we went on our boat, our Cajun guide calling out to critters and throwing bits of food to attract them, and before we knew it, half a dozen alligators were swimming toward us. The guide squatted on a platform on the side of the boat, dangling chicken necks. The gators raised up and snapped at the chicken necks like dolphins snap up fish from their trainers at a SeaWorld show.
Somehow our guide got through the feeding with all his fingers intact, and our boat started moving again when the gators were sated with chicken necks. He told stories about the history of Cajuns, hurricanes, alligator eggs, pirogues, tupelo honey, cypress trees, public schools, the difference between rivers and bayous, a cat that outsmarts alligators and just about anything else you could think of. And all the while he watched out for more critters, including a raccoon named Roxy who came out into the open to greet him and beg for food.
He must have thought our attention was lagging because our guide pulled out a baby alligator he had stashed in a small aquarium that we hadn’t noticed. The baby was maybe three feet long – the tail is longer than you think – and its mouth was gently taped shut so it wouldn’t eat us.
“I don’t know of any gator who has eaten a person, but people eat gators, so I’m not sure the right party has its mouth taped shut,” the guide said.