A World You probably haven’t seen– Louisiana’s swamp
By Cara Harpole
If more Americans knew about the natural wonders of the Atchafalaya Basin, I believe the shear numbers of tourist would put Henderson Swamp on the map. This place is a gold mine. Many have passed this magnificent natural wonder while traveling East (from Texas) on the I-10 freeway.
The short glimpse on the over-pass does not come close to the awesome spectacular hidden beautiful and mystery of the swamp.
The majestic natural raw beauty of Louisiana’s swamp wetlands is often like a buried treasure in the abyss. Many, (including natives) have not ventured off into the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin. After living in Louisiana for so many years, even I, a person who has traveled all around the world, had no idea of the affect the swamp would have on me.
The decision came while taking a road trip from Texas to New Orleans, then to Memphis, Nashville and then back to Austin, Texas in June of 2010. I was determined to settle the matter and finally do what my heart desired for so many years. I booked a room at what I thought was a 3+ star property that turned out to be the hotel from hell in Baton Rouge. I called a local Cajun tour guide, Ernest Couret and made arrangements to take a private tour in the Henderson Swamp.
I must say I was a little reluctant to enter depths of the swamps. Curious ruled the day and I was on my way. Mr Couret turned out to be the nicest tour guide I could have possible hoped for. This proud cajun was professional and knowledgeable as they come.
His father, Mr. Couret Sr., ran tours through these parts for many years. In fact Mr. Couret’s grandfather, started the swamp tour business over 100 years. These are the best type of guides–natives who really know the land and have lived in the swamp lands for generations. These are hard core Cajuns who don’t run from the site of an alligator. They eat alligators!
The tour consisted of a boat ride through the nooks and crannies of the swamp. We rode on a 16 foot, customized all welded aluminum boat with a 25 h.p Johnson motor. Mr. Couret knew how to get us in and out of tough places. It was amazing that any human being could find his way through a swamp in the middle of nowhere without a GPS system for guidance. He did so without a map, while accounting historical events and local folklore. Alligators hang-out spots were pointed out. One appeared beneath the surface. I should have been petrified, but for some reason I wasn’t. Perhaps it was adrenaline and excitement that kept my natural fears at bay.
As we rode deeper and deeper into the swamp, it was as if we were moving further and further away from modern civilization. The noises we often take for granted began to fade into the distance as the blessed sounds of nature became the only sounds we could hear in this abyss. It was eerie indeed.
I can not count the variety of birds and bugs I heard: a Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Woodpeckers, fish splashing…and how about the huge Cypress trees standing proudly erect in the water as if they had been there for eternity.
I just imagined what Jean Baptisete Le Moyne, Iberville or La Salle’s reactions would have been after beholding a site so unique, so different than anything coming from France. How about the Native Chitimacha tribal members? My imagination took over as I pictured the Chitimacha traveling through the river on traditional boats as the sounds of crickets, frogs, birds loomed in the background.
(See: Roger Stouff, the last traditional Chitimacha Chief)
Oh, I did not want this tour to end. I felt a sense of natural peace, so hard to achieve in the hustle and bustle of city life. We were in another world, a world I am sure many have not seen with their own eyes in or out of Louisiana. We could have been on the moon. That is how unique and raw the environment appeared. I could have taken a thousand pictures and still not be able to freeze the true essence of that moment in time. Like Alaska and other natural wonders, this is a place to visit before you die.