Two things came to mind when we pictured the Everglades: alligators and airboats. We hoped to experience both.
On the way there we drove a through the edge of Little Havana in Miami, passing houses with barred windows, flower stands, chickens in the street, countless mercados; all the signs were in Spanish. It was so cool. Take a right off I-95 and you’re in Latin America.
We tried to get an oil change at a Jiffy Lube but the van wouldn’t fit in the garage. So we continued on to our next parking spot, the Miccosukee Casino. It was our first time staying at a casino, and Edd had already researched the promotional deals: 30 dollars credit on slot machines in exchange for signing up for a loyalty card. Bingo! Well we played it and lost it all. But the parking lot was fine. Not too busy, not too bright.
There are several visitors centers in Everglades National Park. In the morning we went to the center at Shark Valley. There is a 15 mile round trip road that you can bike or take a tram to a concrete observation tower.
At the entrance, we bought a National Park Service annual pass. $80.00 buys unlimited entrance fees to national parks, forests, monuments and other places for two people and a vehicle. We’re pretty stoked.
But for no reason, Edd and I had our first argument in the parking lot. About if we were going to put the van on blocks to level it or not. We were tired. Guess you don’t really get a sound sleep in front of a casino, so maybe nerves were frayed. Finally we packed lunches and started cycling without speaking much.
Immediately, the canal with flanks the path to one side exposed alligators every dozen meters or so. And also birds.
We had a fabulous time. Edd commented how incredible it was to see these animals in their habitats as opposed to in a zoo. They remain there despite all the human development that has encroached upon and altered their environment.
Later we drove a designated “scenic path” through Big Cypress National Preserve, adjacent to the Everglades. It was definitely a place to see more gators.
The next day, we were hoping to see manatees, and some people said that we could at the southernmost point of the Glades, in Flamingo.
Also, after seeing the commercial airboats, which tote around 30 people and last about twenty minutes, we decided against it. I guess we had expected a small, less intrusive little boat with just the two of us. But that cost a few hundred dollars. It was much more economically and ecologically sound to kayak! There were a few accesdible trails on the way down to Flamingo.
But first we took our car in for an oil change at a Jiffy Lube with a slightly taller garage. The guys there were really fascinated with the van.
. Here are the trails:
We drove to the Nine Mile Pond kayak trailhead. I left my phone on the van, so you just have to believe what happened next!
We paddled across the little pond that you see in the picture, where the trail then leads you into dark tunnels of mangrove trees. It was beautiful and buggy.
The trail opened up and the water got shallowand. We saw a big Roseate Spoonbill standing in the water. It’s a chubby pink bird that we hadn’t seen yet! It was so cool!
The water narrowed again continued around a bend in the mangroves. We were still staring at the bird when plop! An alligator flopped right in the trail in front of us.
We waited there, thinking that she’d bugger off. The day before in Shark Valley, the gators were really shy and swam away from you. But this one didn’t budge. Edd got impatient and started smacking his paddle to try and scare it off. But instead the long lizard turned and started walking towards us!
Being in shallow water and having nowhere else to go, we quickly turned the kayak around which was a difficult task in about a foot of water. By the time we turned around we were so close we could have reached out and touched it.
But then ANOTHER alligator appeared in our path going back! Surrounded by the two of them, we had no choice but to go past as far as we could. We didn’t stop until we were out of the mangroves and back in the pond. Later Edd told me the first gator opened its mouth under the water.
US parks everywhere tell you the specific steps to take when you see a bear. But they never tell you what to do with an alligator! Just this: don’t approach it. But what about when they approach you?
We stuffed the kayak in the van and schlepped it down to Flamingo. We wanted to give the kayak a second chance.
The Flamingo Visitor Center was shut, but look at this notice on the board!
Also, it became obvious that we were in Florida during the buggiest time of the year. The visitor center had a sign which ranked the current mosquito level from “clear” to “hilarious” and it was marked the latter. So we gave up on kayaking into the bay.
But I recommend going there wholeheartedly. The National Park Service is a really great way to get a glimpse of a special ecosystem. There are currently many conservation projects in progress to bring water back into the Glades and I hope they continue. Wildlife for wild times!