Crocodile Hunting in City Park

**** TL;DR: There are pictures all the way at the bottom 🙂 ****

It is crazy how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that I was in Italy for work, but here I am, four weeks later, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Again for work. I arrived here in the middle of the night two days ago, after my flight from Washington to New Orleans got delayed by five hours. I think it was because of bad weather, although I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. Some rain? I’m not a weather man, and no pilot either, so I guess there were good reasons for it… The long travel made it very easy to fall asleep and have a good night’s rest. Thus far, the jetlag has been pretty mild, although I am feeling a bit out of tune today. Perhaps because I found out that my phone found Washington time good enough to display, so I was basically living one hour ahead until this morning at 7 (so not 8AM, dear alarm clock!).

I hate jetlags. I am just very bad with them and lately even feel like I get a jet lag when clocks move from summer to winter time. Terrible. Yesterday I tried my best to fill up my schedule as much as possible, as they say that having a regular schedule helps to prevent jetlags.

First, I walked around in the French Quarter a bit and this was quite deserted (perhaps because I started my walk not at 8AM, but actually at 7AM). Next, I had a nice unhealthy breakfast at the Ruby Slipper, which really seems as American as it gets. Then I took a bus through Magazine St (where I will return probably for dinner tonight, as this street looked super nice) on my way to the Audobon Zoo. I like to go to zoos in other countries, it gives you a great sense of what the people are like in that country. Americans are surprisingly American and I can already say that most of the stereotypes that I knew existed about Americans are true.

The zoo was small, but quite neat. A young kid told me that last week a jaguar chewed its way out of its cage and escaped and killed a few alpacas and a maned wolf? I’m not sure how much of the killing stories is true, but indeed, the alpacas and maned wolves seemed to be off display (as were the jaguars 😦 ). I liked the Louisiana Swamp part. Where I am from, we have a lot of swampy stuff, but aside from the occasional frog and invasive red-eared slider turtles, there’s very little excitement to be found. Indulging in the American style deep-fried lunch accompanied by a huge disgusting rootbeer on a porch overlooking some alligators swimming around outside, to me, feels like a little adventure.

I know that alligators are pretty common here, but the idea of it just feels unreal to me (seeing black and dwarf caymans last year in the Peruvian Amazon also was an unreal experience 🙂 ). To make it all a bit more real, I wanted to see them for real. You know, the ‘not in an enclosure’ type of real. I had seen some swamp tour adventures advertised all over the place yesterday, but after looking into that a bit more, the whole idea of going out on hoverboats with 20 other tourists in order to look at gators that are being fed on a daily basis also did not feel so real or cool to me.

Disappointed by the tour options, I ended up reading about City Park, where management was making efforts to get rid of the gators above 1,5m long. Being the enthousiastic field ecologist that I am, I decided I could just make my own swamp tour. I hopped onto a streetcar in Canal St, which dropped me off at City Park Ave. Although it was dry when I got on, it had started to drizzle somewhere halfway and by the time I was out, it was just a fucking downpour. Two other tourists must have had the same idea, but they came prepared and brought rain jackets. My rain jacket was still hanging on a chair in the hotel room. Of course. Having packed the damn thing for this trip made me feel even more stupid for not bringing it out.

As a Dutch guy, I am used to a bit of rain (although it has been bone dry for weeks on end this summer) and the temperatures were still a solid 25 degrees. Good enough for me. So brave (and just plain stupid), I just walk into the park. The downpour continues. Now, the City Park in NOLA is not your average park. Apparently people here don’t go to the park for a stroll or a picknick. This park has a big lake where you can rent a pedal boat, some bike paths and roads through it. It is also home to the NOLA art museum. Most of that stuff is south of the highway (where the park management removes gators as much as possible, probably because this is where still a few people visit the park?). So I take the tunnel under the highway to the North side of the park. Not a person in sight. The place is huge. I figured that this is where I should look for alligators, if I wanted to increase my odds of finding one.

At this point, I am already walking for at least an hour and the rain is so strong that I have taken my rain cover to protect the backpack holding my camera gear. I can barely see something as the rain is constantly wetting my glasses, blurring my vision. I walk past a dog park (wtf is that people? a playground for dogs? it’s a park for christ’s sake, it already is a playground for dogs…). The dog park clearly is the most popular thing in the whole park, as there are many cars parked outside of it. However, not any form of shelter in sight… I continue my journey. By now, my underwear is starting to get soaked as well. It was that bad. I pass a family of three that are fishing along the banks of one of the lakes. These dudes are hard core! Louisiana fishermen don’t give a fuck. I admire that sort of mentality. I see no sign of life in the lakes, so I walk on. A roundabout. I follow the road to the left. There’s supposed to be a botanical garden or forest thing here. It looks okay, but at this point I am fucking frustrated that I cannot use my camera and I just want to find a gator.

I cross a bridge.

Wait. Bridges cross water! I go back and carefully scan the water surface (which is mainly water hyacinth here). A lonely turtle. Fuck you turtle! The developing hate for turtles – which usually have a special place among the other reptiles in my heart – shows that the weather was taking its toll on me. I cross the road, the only water I had seen on this side of the park was coming from the sky, so I had to take this opportunity. I peak over the concrete wall. More water hyacinths. Some trash. Glass bottles, plastic bags on the right side. A young gator on the left side. Wait, what?!?! There it was, its tiny head breaking the water surface, gazing at the concrete base of the bridge. A beautiful little alligator. Probably about 90cm long. A small one, but nevertheless a wild one that is not kept behind a fence. I’m feeling all Steve Irwin here.

Luckily, I found the mighty river monster just before I exited the park. I looked like a drowned fucking cat. People were seriously laughing at me from their cars. Morons. I just found a gator motherfucker. I probably looked ridiculous…

Then, I made the first mistake of the day. Starbucks. Not that coffee was a bad idea. Coffee is always a good idea. That fucking airconditioning… Goddammit. Waiting for three minutes already gave me hypothermia. I use the free WiFi to google maps my way back to the hotel and I find out that I have to take bus 60 and 55, which I do. The bus seriously is a worse place than Starbucks. What is up with all these shabby-looking but insanely well-functioning air-con buses? Two bus rides turn me into a popsicle and I decide to get something to eat at Willie’s Chicken Place (this place is wrong in so many ways; they sell slush drinks in a dick-shaped bottle disguised as a chicken – the Willie’s COCK tail – and people actually buy them, a lot). The lady behind the counter asks me if I need hot sauce. Sure, I like hot sauce, thanks. Her colleague interrupts me to inform me she can give me a *Louisiana accent on* taste of the real hot juice if I know what she’s talking about *Louisiana accent off*…. I decide I really don’t have  a clue what she’s talking about. I want my hotel room and a hot shower.

It was a horrible day, but at least I saw a gator. I’m happy.

And guess what? I think it was dry about 30 mins after I got back to the hotel and it is sunny now…

Maybe I’ll walk to Magazine St for dinner. But this time I’ll pack a rain jacket


Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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