Guest Column

A day on the Louisiana Bayou

By Danielle Bauter

Internationally recognized for both its creative cuisine and distinct music, New Orleans has been on my bucket list of places to visit for as long as I can remember. So when I decided to cash in on some frequent flyer miles and take that long-desired trip, I invited my parents along for the ride. Accustomed to traveling solo, if given my choice of traveling partners it would easily be my parents. Which is most likely because from a very young age I was exposed to their wanderlust. 

Every two years we would embark on vacations around the world, venturing across the continents of Europe and Australia. Together we sweated through heat waves in Greece and guffawed at each other’s faux pas in France. And through it all we were able to maintain a sense of camaraderie, fueled by the excitement of new experiences. Longing for those carefree days, I was hoping that this trip to New Orleans would be like the trips we’d taken in the past. 

A day river

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View of the river

Before we even boarded the plane, I tapped into my Facebook network of friends and family for their suggestions of things we absolutely shouldn’t miss. There was no shortage of replies as people raced to recommend classic New Orleans delicacies such as beignets at Cafe du Monde, jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, a multi-course dinner at Antoine’s, a Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel or bananas foster at Brennan’s. One person even warned me that the quality of their food was a matter of civic pride. Could we fit at least a month’s worth of meals into a few short days? We vowed to try them all, or as much as our clothes would accommodate. 

Perhaps one of the best decisions we made was to hire a private guide to take us around the city. We were fortunate to find Marc of NOLA de Tours, a long-term resident of the Big Easy. For 24 years Marc and his parents owned Broussard’s, a restaurant in the French Quarter. He appears to know everyone and has been referred to as the Anthony Bourdain of New Orleans. We spent a couple of days with him, first getting a feel for the city, and then venturing out to other areas. One of my favorite days was spent along the bayou, where we visited the Destrehan Plantation, and then took a swamp tour. 

A day boat

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Swamp Tour

Destrehan Plantation is located about 25 miles outside of New Orleans, and it is the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley. According to Marc, it is also less commercialized than Oak Alley or Laura, which are the plantations where larger tour companies usually deliver their guests. I wasn’t sure what to expect but our guide made the tour so interesting that I found myself lingering afterwards to ask more questions, so intrigued I was by the people who had inhabited this plantation. He covered the French and Spanish colonial periods through the Civil War and into Reconstruction era, and it was a valuable history lesson. 

After our tour of Destrehan, Marc told us that it was absolutely necessary to try a po’ boy while we were there. We willingly obliged, and he took us to Bec’s at the Lake, a restaurant near where our tour would take place. We were utterly charmed by our server, a sweet woman who drawled out our orders while also addressing us with “babe” and “darlin’.” She entertained us with stories of the rougarou, a creature of Cajun folklore that sort of resembles a werewolf. When our po’ boys arrived we focused all of our attention on our food, savoring the way the roast beef practically melted onto the roll and admiring how they went so well with the crispy onion rings. You’d think it was our last meal, the way we devoured those sandwiches. 

A day alligator in swamp

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Swamp inhabitant

The swamp tour was presented by the aptly-titled Cajun Pride Swamp Tours in La Place, and we boarded the 40-person boat while Marc steered us to the choice seats to spot the alligators. As the guide started the boat, he announced that we had his guarantee that we’d see alligators along with other creatures or he’d refund everyone’s ticket. 

It didn’t take long before we did – many of them had burrowed lazily into the mud along the banks, while turtles clung together next to the alligators. Clusters of egrets sunbathed on branches, and we even spotted a bobcat beating a hasty retreat into the trees. But I was almost more distracted by the beauty of the sun shining onto the bayou waters, reflecting the trees and the clouds streaking the bluebird skies. I felt like I had left Louisiana and sailed off into another land. 

As our guide steered the boat slowly, he began to tell the legend of Julie Brown, the voodoo priestess who had been both feared and respected by everyone in the town. People would come to her to heal their ailments but otherwise stayed away out of fear. She would help them but also warned that when she died she was going to take the whole town with her. And she kept her word. 

That fateful day in 1915, a Category 4 hurricane swept through the town and killed almost everyone. All of the townspeople were buried in a mass grave, with Julia Brown’s grave a cautionary distance of a hundred yards away. As the guide concluded his story, we floated by the site of these graves, and I don’t think I imagined the chill that went down my spine as we passed it, especially when I learned that the swampland is believed to be haunted. 

A day swamp tour

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Holding an alligator

To my surprise our guide saved the best part for last. During the tour he had regaled us with stories of his life in the bayou, and how he kept alligators as pets. He then pulled a baby alligator out of what felt like thin air, presented him to us and offered the opportunity to hold him. That decision was a no-brainer. When was I going to be able to do something like this again? 

The guide demonstrated how to hold him and put a band around his jaws before passing him around. The alligator weighed less, and its skin was softer than I imagined, and also it was calmer than you would suspect one would be with dozens of hands touching it. The swamp tour was definitely an experience that I recommend, as we learned so much about Cajun history and culture. 

Our time in New Orleans was over too soon, and I am anxious to return and spend more time in all of the different neighborhoods as well as on the bayou. I had high expectations before visiting the Crescent City, and our experiences more than surpassed them. Especially with my parents by my side. Or as I like to say, “have parents, will travel.”

Danielle Bauter is a freelance writer, world traveler, nature lover, and book ambassador. To read more of her writing, go to https://linktr.ee/missbauterfly. To follow her on Instagram, go to www.instagram.com/missbauterfly.