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    Becoming a Cowboy at the Beaumont Ranch, Northern Texas

    Do you ever find yourself having a literal ‘pinch me’ moment? At the end of our fortnight we hit the tarmac, rolling out of the gleaming Dallas city centre – on our way back to Austin to sadly fly home – we headed for one last adventure to round out our Southern America roadtrip.

    We cruised along the long, smooth highways tucked in behind a semi-truck or two (how I preferred to drive whilst in the States that is slowly and smoothly) along dusty highway shoulders that definitely had a tumbleweed or two for decoration.

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The longer that I’ve been blogging, the better that I think our travelling choices are getting – and the more fun that the researching
    that we do becomes. However, this revelation flew quite out of the window when totally by chance I discovered that it’s actually possible to stay on a working Texan Ranch as a tourist and set about booking us into an accommodation experience, rather than just another beige hotel.

    But it wasn’t until we turned off Interstate 35 to a teeny tiny little town called Grandview, that the feeling we really were in Texas actually sunk in.

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Pulling our scarlet stallion into the Beaumont Ranch driveway I slowed the car, turned to Mr Kiwi, and made him pinch me to check that I wasn’t just dreaming.

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The Beaumont Ranch is a resort complete with spa, but first and foremost it’s a working cattle ranch of 800 beautiful North Texas acres, complete with a herd of Texas longhorns, horses, llamas, and other local wildlife. The ponds have otters and beavers playing in the waters and cheeky dogs gambol along the pond banks. We were even luckier than most because as it was an off-season Sunday we had the entire place to ourselves.

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Beaumont Ranch sits on the old Chisolm Trail, used in the post-Civil War era to drive cattle overland, from ranches in Texas to Kansas railheads. The 26 unique suites, rooms, guest cabins and homes are housed in a cute ‘Western Town’ reflecting Texas in the 1880’s when cowboys were driving their herds through the land.

    Unfortunately, I left my camera in the US and with it 98% of my photos of our cute-as-pie cabin, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Our cabin surprised us at the level of luxuriousness it contained – an enormous sleigh bed that we sank into with utter pleasure, plush fittings with an intentionally rustic charm and all of the mod-cons that a Wild West Saloon girl could possibly need.

    Where to stay in Texas Beaumont Ranch Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Checking in, we learned how in 1997 Ron and Linda Beaumont opened their dream, a Texas Guest Ranch, to reflect their love of the culture and the land of North Texas. Now the ranch is run by the children, grandchildren and the extended family of Ron and Linda, along with staff members from the local Grandview area ‘that feel like family’. We were treated so kindly by everyone we met along the way.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Both of us being animal lovers, we were keen to explore the ranch – after a much needed nap obviously – so we embarked on a pre-dinner bimble around the large pond and stables to meet a few of our neighbors.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    This, this is Max.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    This mischievous goat actually thinks he’s a dog, and when the ranch hands realized how miserable he was penned up vs. how happy he was meandering around the farm ‘helping’ [read: hindering] them carrying out chores, they decided to let him roam around freely during the day. 4 years later every night he gets tucked away at twilight with the horses and let out each morning to roam on the range.

    Too cute for words. Also, at this point I was told that Mr Kiwi doesn’t speak Standard Goat, just Pygmy Goat – the things you learn after 8 years of marriage huh? 

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    This bony little catten melted our hearts. Chatting with our ropin’ instruction, a proper grizzly cowboy, he cradled the cat in his arms whilst telling us how they kept kitties in the stables as the best method of keeping the rat and mouse population at bay (their urine makes the horse’s hay grow a toxic mould) and that one of their cats had given birth to an intrigue [genuine collective noun] of kittens.

    One lady decided that the kittens wouldn’t have a good life (even though they are working cats, the soft-hearted, big burly stable guys feed them as well) and made off with the whole litter in her car one afternoon. Two weeks later, this emaciated kitten, identical to the litter came striding back over to the barn and ran straight up to her Momma. They think she used her cat GPS [not a genuine technical term] to make her own way home.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Being rather lazy, for dinner we popped into town to get a few beers and a pizza – and this was the genuine Grandview High Street. Can’t get more Billy the Kid than that.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Hauling our dinner back to the cabins, we spotted two seats at the end of the pond pier simply calling our names. Watching the sun break over the horizon as we toasted our trip (me with spiked Iced Tea) we had one of those travel ‘moments’ that we will never forget.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Waking the next morning, we raced out of bed and over to the barns for breakfast, as we had a roping lesson in the calendar, taught by the ranch lifestock manager. Essentially, the cowboys would individually hook a longhorn beast by twirling a loop of good roper over their heads and snaring the cow’s longhorns. I was terrible at it, Mr Kiwi was a heck of a lot better, but it’s mostly because I got the giggles when we gathered an audience in the barn – the horses in their stable boxes, a couple of the cats and Max (the goat) who kept wanting in on the fun.

    Texas Road Trip Where to stay Beaumont Ranch Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Leaving our little home on the range was tough. Really tough, but us cowpoke have to learn to adjust our Stetsons and ride off into the sunset, right?

    Starry night, campfire light, and the coyote calls where the howlin’ winds will. 

    So I ride out to the ol’ sundown. I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail.

    Too right, Thin Lizzy.

     

    Where is the most unique place you’ve stayed on holiday?

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    US Roadtrip Diary: A serving of Dallas glamour and cowboys

    It really is true. Everything is bigger in Texas, from people’s hair to their pickup trucks.

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    If we’re being totally honest we made our way across the northern
    section of the Louisiana/Texas border intent on uncovering a slice of JR
    Ewing’s family home city – for you younguns, Dallas was an 80’s TV
    show that even I was too young to watch, charting the wheelings and
    dirty dealings of a mega rich oil family in the world’s first uber soap.

    So, it was totally surreal to somehow find ourselves in our little car
    nimbly dodging school buses and the aforementioned pickup trucks, and
    scooting along the late afternoon traffic that cruised ALONG INTERSTATE-20 INTO THE GLEAMING TOWERS OF DALLAS CITY PROPER. Sorry for the caps, but we just got so darn excited. It’s just a shame we weren’t in the Ewing family chopper…



     
    Ridiculous, no? I still adore JR’s quote “Once you get rid of integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.”

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sue Ellen would have approved of our first stop – after dropping the car and our luggage off at our motel (a proper film-style roadside one with parking outside the room window and a surprisingly comfortable set of two Queen-sized beds) I calculated the best side of the city for a sunset cocktail, and we taxied our way over for a proper sun downer.

    Infinity pool + NZ wine + Dallas skyline at sunset. #swoon (and well deserved after navigating our way here from Louisiana and through Downtown traffic!) . . . #Dallas #Texas #nofilter #sunset #luxury #delicious #pastel #luxuryhotel #travelblogger #wineoclock #infinitypool #fun #texasmade #mytravelgram #DallasTX #mytinyatlas #thehappynow #flashesofdelight #TravelwithFathom #fathominstatrip #flashesofdelight #abmtravelbug #cntraveler #reflections #wine #reward #happyplace

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    Following our cab driver’s advice, we followed the music towards an enormous restaurant called The Rustic where we sampled an array of craft beers whilst waiting for their live country music band and discovered the gigantic portions of true Texas hospitality. Ordering a snack, we were incredulous to discover a vat of onion dip and a giganto-family bag sized bowl of crisps which ruined our plans to try their burger.

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Chatting with our waitress, she absolutely made our day by then bringing over a slice of the worlds biggest Texas-sized peanut butter and chocolate chiffon pie as a ‘Welcome To Dallas’ gift which stole our ever lovin’ honky-tonk hearts.

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sadly we only had one full day to explore the city, so early the next morning we arose with brunch plans on our minds.

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Well, actually, unbelievably it was Mr Kiwi who suggested
    that we brunch, and he fancied Cindi’s, a New York style Deli full of locals all catching up with their mates of a Saturday morning. Even the menu was enormous (modeled so beautifully by my un-manicured hands…)

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    It. Was. Good. 

    No muss, no fuss and an everlasting pot of hot coffee that kept topping up our generous mugs.

     Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Now, there is much controversy (or kohn-tro-ver-say however you want to say it) about “suffering” Instagram husbands who have to go on fabulous, exotic holidays with their partners, try delicious cuisines and learn to action flatlay in return for the long hours that their wives spend in front of a computer leaving them in peace, so for the sake of a happy husband (ok, and my own curiosity) we made our way to Dealey Plaza, the infamous site where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.

     Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    To say that the morning we spent around the grassy knoll was surreal is an understatement.

      Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    An understatement. Elected in 1960 as the 35th president of the United States, 43-year-old
    John F. Kennedy became the youngest man to
    hold that office. Born into one of America’s wealthiest families
    and parlayed an elite education and a reputation as a military hero into
    a successful run for Congress in 1946 and for the Senate in 1952. As
    president, Kennedy confronted mounting Cold War tensions in Cuba,
    Vietnam and elsewhere. His tenure wasn’t trouble-free but his assassination during a tour of the Southern States elevated him to a larger-than-life heroic figure.

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    (Side thought: I’m not the average travel blogger am I?)

    The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza was absolutely fascinating. Documenting the social history. personal relationships and a second by second play of Lee Harvey Oswald’s actions as he lined his gun up from the Texas School Book Depository sixth floor window, just as the President’s well advertised cavalcade swept around the corner. The rest as they say is history (shrouded in conspiracy) centered on a grassy knoll, with ‘x’ marking the spot in the middle of the busy road, annoying the locals who have to dodge excited tourists walking into the street.

    Dallas Glamour Texas Road Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    To somewhat lighten the mood up, we also had an afternoon coffee date lined up to meet the gorgeous Olya (The Siberian American) and her lovely boyfriend. Three hours later and a brilliant amount of advice later, we ran a few errands before moseying back to The Rustic to finally try their amazing burgers (and the delighted smile of our waitress the night before!)

    Oh, and we answered the question of whether Texan men really do wear their Stetsons with pride. They do. And they wear them on dates. Oh, America.

    (For more installments of our Louisiana road trip adventures click here.)

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    US Roadtrip Diary: Our Louisiana Plantation Stay

    Leaving behind the zooming traffic of the motorway, we turned from the busy I-110 to a gently curving US Highway 61 shouldered by dark trees and the occasional Mom and Pop business. The late afternoon sun broke over the horizon and our SatNav announced that were almost at our destination, the Butler and Greenwood Plantation.

    Having followed the Mississippi River upstate from New Orleans slightly past the historic town of St. Francisville, we steered Bonnie along the curving driveway arcaded with Spanish Moss draped Live Oak trees, parting to reveal the kind of house that only seems to appear on movies. A deep wraparound porch hugged the timber frame and the late afternoon sunshine dappled the lawn.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Disclaimer: We were excited guests of the Butler and Greenwood Plantation but all of my enthusiasms are very much my own…

    We were greeted by two of the real owners (a tabby and a grey cat respectively) before the porch screen opened and our friendly host for the evening peeped out. Welcoming our grateful selves to sink into her verandah sofa, Anne Butler gave us a map of the St. Francisville area alongside a few recommendations before telling us a short history of her beautiful family home passed through the generations, before arriving at the current iteration of B&B cabins in the grounds.

    Behind the main historic antebellum plantation home, arranged around the pond and pool, the old kitchen (separate from the
    main house due to the dangers of cooking over a real fireplace) and several cabins (some 1 bedroom, a few 2 bedroom) have been transformed into unique cottages complete with private double Jacuzzi, perfect for the hikers who summer in the Louisana and road-tripping tourists.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Visiting on the shoulder season, we could have had our pick of unique accommodation – the two bedroom 1796 Old Kitchen, complete with fireplace and porch swing…

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    …or the the Treehouse with a touch of hunting lodge luxe…

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    …but in the end we chose the simple beauty of the six-sided gazebo.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Overlooking the pond, our cabin featured nine-foot-tall antique stained glass church windows which set my heart a-flutter, a four-poster bed which was ridiculously comfortable and the double Jacuzzi which we sank into with relief. (In fact, I almost fell asleep in the tub, that’s how relaxed we became.)

    The best aspect of our whole stay though? Being prodded awake at sunrise by Mr Kiwi who (thanks to jet-lag) had discovered the golden sun glowing through our windows. Breathtaking.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    As the light gradually filled our room, we threw back the covers, popped our croissants into the oven, flipped the switch on a pot of coffee and poured a glass of orange juice for breakfast on our porch overlooking the still pond.

    Sadly packing up our belongings, we took one last stroll around the gardens and grounds, simply content to absorb the moment.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oh how I wish we would have had more time to explore. In the fifty acres of landscaped ground Anne told us how the plantings are timed to almost always have something scented draping the air, Cast-iron urns and benches date from the 1850s plus there is a large wildlife and bird population – herons on the pond, white-tailed deer, fox, bobcats, and chipmunks.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Sadly we didn’t have the time for any hiking (bar the urban kind in a maroon Nissan) but we did manage to potter down to the charming Main Street of St. Francisville, unmarred by kitschy tourist “improvements” that run right down onto the banks of the
    Mississippi.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Our evening at the Butler Greenwood Plantation was definitely one of our Louisiana road trip highlights.

    Where to stay Louisiana Roadtrip Plantation B&B Adventures of a London Kiwi

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    US Roadtrip Diary: Louisiana Plantation Exploring

    With heavy hearts we watched New Orleans disappear from the
    rear view mirror (well, ok, I kept an eye on the road with glances every so
    often Dad) and we began our roadtrip in earnest. With a car full of snacks, a few
    tunes on the radio and the satnav set to ‘wander’ we headed north along the ‘Ole Miss’ River.

    After a few hedonistic (and rain-soaked) days in New Orleans soaking up the Jazz (not to mention beignet accompanied Hickory coffee) and gator spotting, we were ready to explore a little more history.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Whenever you decide on a a new destination to visit, there are always preconceived notions that float through your mind. Power suited business people striding through Manhattan, the striking, scretive  peak of Mount Fuji, bowler hatted civil servants drinking pints in London, the cream hued stone of Paris and the golden minarets of the Middle East.

    Just a short drive from New Orleans city we leave the Bayou waters behind and began to wind through the fertile plains of smaller towns like Valerie. Before too long road signs appeared for the wealth of Plantation homes that dotted the lush banks, built by families rich from indigo, corn, cotton and sugarcane. This was the romantic idea I had of Louisiana in my mind.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    In 1682, Robert de La Salle claimed the area between the Great Lakes and
    the Gulf Coast for France, hoping to stop the British from colonizing
    land west of the Appalachian Mountains. In 1718, the city of New Orleans
    was founded at the mouth of the Mississippi, giving the French control
    of traffic on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    In
    time and through a change of land ownerships (French, Spanish and back
    to French) the state came under American rule, the unique mixture of
    cultures (plus that of the Indian natives pushed further and further
    from their ancestral homes) began to thrive on the back of West-African slave
    labour. From simple farms to trading plantations fed with overseas
    investment, previously simple Creole houses were given massive Greek
    Revival
    columns, curved stairs, semi-detached wings, and other architectural
    elements popular at the time, reflecting the owner’s wealth.

    Oak Alley Plantation, our first tourist stop, is named for the 800 feet (240 meters) long
    canopied path created by a double row of southern live oak trees planted
    in the early 18th century, long before the present house was built. 

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    One of a chain of riverside manors, these Antebellum homes were the summertime abodes of
    families who wintered in New Orleans (then often a day’s journey away by
    horse and cart) though their indentured workers lived in huts year
    round on the site.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    In the 21st Century, we parked my little car and joined one of the guided tours around the beautifully kept interior rooms. The mansion has a square floor plan, organized around a
    central hall that runs from the front to the rear on both floors and high ceilings that allow for plenty of cross-breezes on sticky summer evenings.

    Led by guides dressed in period costumes, we learnt an astonishing range of facts, from the enormous ceiling mounted dining room Punkah or Shoe Fly Fan that a child slave used to fan the family and how silverware was laid tine downwards to display hallmarks. We also learned how the use of quarter candles (often just reeds dipped in tallow and
    burned instead) that were intentionally short so visitors would have to
    make their exit by the time the lights went out – was the (disputed) origin of the phrase the “short end of a stick”, said candles which were especially handy for Fathers to restrict beaus visiting their daughters.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The exterior features a
    gorgeous free-standing colonnade of 28 Doric columns on all four sides that correspond to the 28 oak trees in the alley and a wrapround porch both at ground and first floor level that caught my breath with the majestic simplicity.

    The interior rooms are painstakingly restored to a quintessentially 18th Century style. Our favourite tale? Because of the distances between cities visitors would often stay for weeks at a time, and a polite Southern way to tell them to get lost was to leave a whole pineapple on their breakfast tray the morning they should depart.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Exquisitely ridiculous. 

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oak Alley Plantation was properly #swoonworthy (as an aside, I feel as though I should trademark that hashtagged phrase.) Now kept by a trust, the property was designated a National Historic Landmark for its
    architecture and landscaping, and for the agricultural innovation of
    grafting pecan
    trees, performed here in 1846–47 by an enslaved gardener who had
    particular skill creating a pecan that could be peeled by hand.

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oak Alley Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Once we had taken our fill of unbelievable photos, we headed along the road to the Creole inspired architecture of the Laura Plantation. Formerly known as Duparc Plantation, it is significant for its early 19th-century Créole-style raised
    big house and several surviving outbuildings, including six slave
    cabins. It is one of only 15 plantation complexes in Louisiana with this
    many complete structures, and has been painstakingly restored after a fire gutted 80% of the building.

    Laura Locoul Gore’s, the fourth mistress of the plantation, wrote a memoir Memories of the Old Plantation Home, providing much of the history and stories about life on Laura Plantatio, whilst Alcée Fortier was said to have collected Louisiana Creole versions of the West African Br’er Rabbit stories here in the 1870s.

    Laura Creole Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Unfortunately most of my photos were on the other memory card that I lost in Texas, but I can’t ever forget the shock of hearing that direct descendants of the slave families were living here until 1977 or some of the abuse that indentured servants who effectively raised the children of the families were treated with.

    Currently reliving a ‘lil history on the Laura Plantation where descendants of the original slave families lived until 1977. 1977!? It was a sugar plantation of a French/Creole family. . . . #NewOrleans #NOLA #travelgram #history #aroundtheworld #photomafia #passionpassport #nature #Plantation #nature #bananas #LauraPlantation #travelblogger #travelforeign #mischief #travelingourplanet #wanderlust #myunicornlife #daytripping #Louisiana #travel #offthebeatentrack #liveauthentic #quirky #iamatravelette #mytinyatlas #thehappynow

    A photo posted by Emma (@londonkiwiemma) on



    If nothing else, the visit opened our eyes to the very real history of the Deep South.
      
    A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. 

    Marcus Garvey

    Laura Creole Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi


    Would I recommend visiting Oak Alley sand the Laura Plantation as a ‘must do’ when visiting New Orleans and Louisiana? Absolutely. It’s an experience we won’t forget.

    New Orleans Day Tip Plantation Louisiana Roadtrip US History Adventures of a London Kiwi

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    A Louisiana bayou swamp tour – our incredible experience.

    “C’Mon Gators! COME AND EAT US” screams our captain as he lobs chunks of meat over the side of the boat.

    Mr Kiwi and I swap uneasy looks with each other, both wondering if going on a swamp tour was such a brilliant idea after all. Miles from New Orleans we were floating on a glorified tin can, surrounded by rusting steel structures wrapped in mangroves and very little else as far as the eye could see.

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    We wait a just a little bit longer in apprehensive silence*. The
    smooth surface ripples, two prehistoric eyes appear before an elongated
    snout rises out of the murky waters. His** jagged back sways through
    the water as he gets closer and closer to eating us, sorry, start
    nibbling on the scraps of treats our captain threw in the water.

    We all crowd over to the side of the boat, captivated by this primeval
    creature who haunts the Louisiana Bayou. We learn (thanks to our
    cackling captain) that the American alligator can grow up to 11.2 feet
    (3.4 meters) long and
    weigh nearly half a ton (1,000 lbs. or 454 kgs) but, due to the
    time of year, we’ll only probably spot juvenile gators as the adults
    retire with cooler weather to hibernate (or brummate to be technical) in
    their riverbank burrows for the winter.

     Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi


    Much relieved, we try to forget the fact that they can swim up to 20 mph (32.18 km/h) – I looked it up – and simply marvel over the surprising grace he has, cutting through the calm swamp surface.

    A congregation of smaller alligators live along the privately owned
    Manchac swamp we are visiting, a wildlife refuge around 25 miles out of
    New Orleans, where native flora and fauna live in an uneasy ecosystem
    that dates back to the dinosaurs. And tourists gasp.

     Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    After taking up a little while of his busy gator schedule, we begin to drift along a different stretch of the bayou hoping to spot one of his mates or perhaps even catch a look at a larger, more territorial male that breaches the surface to take a much needed breath.

    We float along peacefully through a few stretches, before the captain opens the full throttle to cane through long empty swathes of swamp. The adrenaline rush was incredible as the sheer speed of the vessel
    knocks any kind of London-induced cobwebs from our brains and the
    strength of the wind takes the breath from our lips. Mr Kiwi likened the rush to the experience of being on a motorbike, making smooth turns and decelerating rapidly.

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Trying a few different areas where the vegetation beds are regular haunts for sunning lizards, we cut the speed and are guided through a small village. Sadly the effects of Hurricane Katrina can still be seen with broken houses folded in on themselves. Families are rebuilding their homes & lives on stilts, hoping that they can escape the next bout of extreme weather.

    As we cruise further through, we spot native birds, the occasional turtle and a couple of family dogs that taunt the gators before the speed is cut further, and we glide into altogether more close area of bayou.

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The interlacing tree branches create paths for gators to lay their eggs and nurture their hatchlings. We manage to peep at a few more baby alligators slipping around, but mostly enjoy the strange stillness of what feels like a very remote pocket of Louisiana. Switching off the motor, we just marvel at the tranquillity of the moment we’re in.

    It also creates the ideal environment for cheeky raccoons to scamper along tree roots and wild pigs to rampage along the undergrowth. Our guide has lived in the areas since he was small and tells us of the amazing seasonal fresh food that the swamp and surrounding areas provides – catfish, shrimp, crabs, crawfish, alligator and all other kinds of deliciousness.

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Laughing his butt off, our driver guffaws that “uhoh, we’ve run out of gas and won’t be returning to civilisation anytime soon.” We all chuckle and continue to snap our photos, quite safe in the knowledge that he’s stuck with us all for company and probably has scavenging skills that will keep us fed if we really had run out of gas – or that there’s another tour tomorrow morning that would rescue the townies.

    Sadly all good things come to an end, and we begin to make our way back to civilisation and an evening of blues bars and oyster Po-boys. Our swamp tour was definitely one of the unique highlights of our short time in Louisiana, even though it’s a tourist classic.

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    I’m goin’ back some day, come what may, to blue bayou
    Where you sleep all day and the catfish play on blue bayou
    All those fishin’ boats with their sails afloat, if I could only see
    That familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes how happy I’d be

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Cajun Swamp Tours New Orleans Bayou Louisiana Adventures of a London Kiwi

    * OK, that’s a total use of writer’s license – actually the captain was telling us all about the ecological history of the bayou.
    ** We say he, but the boat captain says the only way to tell if a gator is a boy or a girl is to take them in your arms, flip them over and have a good gander. He’s only had one person in his career take him up his offer, and she was a fully trained vet. And crazy.

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