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USA Road Trip - exploring the Everglades
Alligators and birds in the swamps
The Everglades have been another revelation – the very name suggests mystical forests with alligators lurking, colorful snakes, silent clear pools of lily covered waters and this is what it proved to be during our first two days of exploration. The glossy brochure lists 20 entry points along the Everglades Trail that cover a huge area of southern Florida from Orlando in the north to Florida Bay in the south. As it correctly states, exploring such an area can take a few hours or a lifetime and as we don’t have a lifetime anymore a couple of days will have to do.
Starting at the Loxahatchee Reserve visitors centre I got an excellent historical overview and virtual tour by means of the multimedia presentation that the Americans are so good at that included a film show, interactive conversation, quiz and virtual Airboat tour. Shortly afterwards I got another introduction in the form of some close encounters of the dangerous kind. A relaxed walk along the walkway between the canals turned into a personal best standing backwards long jump effort when I found myself about a meter from a big alligator that suddenly appeared right next to me on the path. I don’t know what his intentions where but having just read a notice that warned against feeding alligators as they cannot distinguish between the hand that feeds them and the food I did not want to be a hand out in a country where many are worried about government policy encouraging that attitude! After composing myself and getting my blood pressure to somewhere near normal I photographed him/her from a safe distance.
A further close encounter with a long skinny black snake that was possibly quite harmless on a walkway in the Red Cypress Swamp and my casual stroll was turning into a walk in alert lookout mode – after all these swamps are home to Brown Bears, Panthers, Rattlesnakes and Cotton-heads that are all far from harmless.
Thursday saw Jessie, Audrey and me on a 15 hour tour into some serious everglade areas. We left at 6.00 and headed to the ‘Big Cypress Swamp” along Alligator Alley to meet Cheryl and Kayla for a trip into areas where the public cannot get without hiking permits and hunting licenses. These two tough women were going in by 4 wheel drive truck to do scientific research for the local University on the effect of fires on invasive plants and warned us to wear bright clothing as hunters in the area sometimes had difficulty in distinguishing between animals and people dressed in browns and greens – makes you wonder how much they drink on these hunting trips. The women soon disappeared into the swamp armed with machetes, big knives and some measuring equipment, leaving us with the unnecessary warning not to wander too far from the vehicle.
After 2 hours when they returned from their exploration into the swamp, we realized that these are two brave women, soaking wet and muddy, who are not afraid to wade through alligator infested rivers and chop their way through some thick vegetation. On the way back to return to our car, Kayla noticed a particularly big Alligator on the bank of the 4-5 meter creek/canal next to the road, so Cheryl and I were sent out to take photos with a muted warning to be careful. One or two photos later the ‘gator, with unbelievable speed, launched him/herself into the creek and towards us! Cheryl somehow got onto her side of the vehicle and into the driver’s seat with even more speed than the gator, while giving off a blood curling scream ( I still don’t know how she got to the other side- perhaps she jumped over the cab). Meanwhile I was stuck halfway into the backseat of the truck with my foot/leg hooked in the half open door on the creek side and in my imagination an angry/upset or hungry alligator lunging at me. After that event ever thing seemed pretty ordinary as we drove along the Tamiami Trail and walked along a couple of walkways in the ‘Wet Prairie’ in a desperate quest to find the rare Snail Kite.
We eventually arrived back at home at 21.00 to collapse into bed and dream of big swamps, beautiful birds and big teeth. Driving on the Florida Turnpike in Miami traffic and rain was undoubtedly more scary than the alligator, but Jessie got us safely back anyway!