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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

The Trip: Swamp-Whacking

Pioneer a brand-new trail in Louisiana's Atchafalaya swamp, where the gators are friendly. Really.

by: Luke Dittrich


Like most people in solitary professions, Robicheaux is hard to get talking, then hard to stop. When we tell him about the string of lakes we're headed for, he tells us that the second of them, Round Lake, was once home to what he swears must have been the biggest alligator in Louisiana history. A 21-footer! He hasn't seen that gator in years, so he figures trappers probably hauled her off. We shouldn't worry about the other gators we're bound to encounter, he says. They're friendly. Not like the ones in Florida that are always eating people. Robicheaux's theory is that Florida gators are meaner than Louisiana gators because the Sunshine State also has crocodiles. Everybody knows crocs are mean by nature, so when the species mingle, the gators learn bad habits. Peer pressure. All we've got to worry about with Louisiana gators, Robicheaux says, is steering clear of the babies, cause the mamas can get overprotective.

And how will we spot the babies?

You don't spot them, you hear them, he says.

And what do they sound like? I ask.

Carlos Robicheaux cups his huge hands around his mouth and makes a small, birdlike sound that I will hear, or imagine I hear, every 5 minutes or so for the rest of our trip.

The swamp does those kinds of things. For example: According to the GPS, we have reached Round Lake. According to the map, the lake is at least 200 yards of open water wide.

According to the storm of vines and branches and spider webs that surrounds us, making each paddle stroke a trudge and progress a joke, either the map or the GPS is busted.

It's late afternoon, and we're miles past-and sorely missing-the airy cypress grove where we met Robicheaux. We have not stopped for lunch or even to relieve ourselves all day, not because we would not like to, but rather because we have not seen any dry land in the last 7 hours.




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Chad from John Chance
Feb 04, 2010

I'm in a hotel in Vicksburg tonite and just stumbled across this site by accident and just wanted to say you guys couldn't have come across a more genuine, true, fun to be around cajun than Robicheaux. I had the good fortune to work with him on several projects when I was surveying with John Chance Inc out of Lafayette. We would contract him as an airboat driver to get us to those places in the swamp that were'nt meant for humans to be in. In fact, he led us into the St. Bernard and Plaqumine Parish areas right after Katrina to do some work for Entergy. I have since moved to another company but will always remember the time we spent running through the swamps with Ro. He is really an awesome dude and made "work" fun with his constant humor and stories. I'm working in central Louisian now which is close to home for me but I really miss my time spent in the swamps and marshes. Kim, is you read this tell Ro hello from Chad.

kim
Aug 19, 2008

Hello, I am Carlos wife, Kim..... He is still at them dang mudbugs. His hands are still like some of the cypress knees you found in the swamp and he still jokes about cutting me with his hands. Now do you have the book from this trip? I would love to buy one and suprise Carlos.My email is woohooagame1@yahoo.com thanks,Kim

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