A one-on-one basin excursion with St. Martin guide Wendy Thibodeaux

For swamp tour guide Wendy Thibodeaux, it's sharing the natural beauty of her home state with visitors and converting them into believers that makes her job special.

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"I like to see them fall in love with Louisiana, if only for the food and the people," she says with a laugh.

The swamp isn't just Thibodeaux's backyard—it's her sanctuary. As she rattles off the basin's natural history or facts about the wildlife who call it home, it's clear that she has a deep respect for this land, this place. “This swamp touches people’s spirits.”

The Breaux Bridge native first started guiding tours at Lake Martin three years ago, where she grew up. When the public boat launch there closed in March, she adapted by moving her tours to the basin. But the Atchafalaya is a different, wilder beast—its sheer geographic mass is behemoth compared to the lake, and due to the basin's fluctuating water levels, the landscape is constantly changing. Right now, the water is at least six feet lower than it was last week, she says, pointing to the water line on an ancient cypress trunk.

“Where I take you today, I will not be able to go in two weeks,” she says. "It's always trial and error, and every day I have to see what's changed, where I can go." Thibodeaux has to continue navigating new routes through the basin's terrain, and one can easily get lost if you're not careful. "This place is beautiful, but it's nothing to play with," she says, following markers along the way to ensure she knows where she is.

The people here have always made a living on the water, Thibodeaux says. "I want to make my living on it, too. It's in our blood."

Thibodeaux's eyes are peeled for diverse swamp wildlife, spotting a Great Blue Heron under the canopy of cypress or an alligator egg nest. Thibodeaux's rule is for every inch of snout, put a foot of space between you and it. "They don't recognize my boat yet, but they will," she says assuredly. Her trained eye knows this swamp and all of its inhabitants.

To schedule a tour with Thibodeaux, head to louisianatours.org or call 337-380-5632.