Florida Road Trip, Part 2: The Everglades

June 14, 2014 at 8:48 am 10 comments

Of all the destinations on our road trip, our scheduled stop in the Everglades was the one we were most excited about. All that wildlife, right? Bronzed airboat guides wrestling alligators, right?

Well, someone got to see this but not us (image from floridaadventure2012.wordpress.com)

Well, someone got to see this but not us (image from floridaadventure2012.wordpress.com)

Well, not exactly. For some reason, throughout our airboat tour, my jaw clenched from the herky-jerky ride and the roar of the airboat engine pounding in my head, I kept thinking of Tobias from Arrested Development. You know, Tobias, the nevernude.

Comic genius: Tobias, the nevernude from Arrested Development (image from dbystedt.wordpress.com

Comic genius: Tobias, the nevernude from Arrested Development (image from dbystedt.wordpress.com

Because for me, this experience would be remembered as the Neverglades. If you want to go someplace completely devoid of wildlife, I highly recommend our airboat tour: no birds, no alligators, no creatures of any kind except for a handful of tourists and our stocky airboat pilot with his vast array of tasteless jokes and a massive skull tattoo on his forearm. I really wanted to ask about that tattoo, but did not want to risk a breach of etiquette while stranded in the middle of a mangrove with a guy who looked like he has bar fights for breakfast.

Airboats are the ATV's of the mangrove set.

Airboats are the ATV’s of the mangrove set.

We saw plenty of mangroves on our airboat tour.

We saw plenty of mangroves on our airboat tour.

They gave us headsets, but I'm still pretty sure I have a permanent hearing deficit after our airboat ride.

They gave us headsets, but I’m still pretty sure I have a permanent hearing deficit after our airboat ride.

There were lots of twists and turns on the river; if you like roller coaster rides, you'll love being on an airboat.

There were lots of twists and turns on the river; if you like roller coaster rides, you’ll love being on an airboat.

There are a number of airboat concessions in the Everglades. Ours was recommended by the concierge at our hotel in Naples and gets excellent reviews. It just wasn’t what I was expecting. I hadn’t done my homework. Should you ever have the inclination to spend an hour with the sound of a thousand industrial fans scrambling your brain cells, here are a few things to know:

1. You can access Everglades concessions from the east (Miami), the West (Naples) or south (Homestead). The western entrance was recommended to us and seems to offer a greater variety of options closer to the entrance.

2. Take an airboat ride if you want to see mangroves and have your stomach flip over because your pilot wants to show off his navigational skills. Do not expect to see wildlife.

3. Time of year is apparently to be considered. Our Captain (and believe me, I use that term loosely) explained away the absence of wildlife by saying that late May, “before the rains start” is the worst time to be there because the salt content of the water is higher than normal and the animals go elsewhere.

Later in our trip, we learned that there may be another reason why you don’t see wildlife in the Everglades: PYTHONS! In the last dozen years, escaped or released pet Burmese Pythons have challenged alligators to be king of the Everglades food chain. Evidence is disputed, but some believe that the “python invasion” is responsible for the fact that 99 percent of Everglades raccoons have vanished and that Marsh rabbits and foxes have completely disappeared.

A python that died as a result of trying to ingest a too-large alligator in the Everglades (image from www.mnn.com)

A python that died as a result of trying to ingest a too-large alligator in the Everglades (image from http://www.mnn.com)

Our stomachs eventually settled down after the airboat ride and we realized it was time for lunch. Everglades City is not a hotbed for dining experiences, especially off-season when many establishments seemed to be closed. Luckily, we found great grouper sandwiches at The Seafood Depot, which doesn’t look like much from the outside, but has a charming “Old Florida” cabana terrace overlooking the river. It ain’t fancy but the service is excellent and you’ll be greeted by an enormous stuffed alligator in the lobby, so there’s that.

We had lunch on the "cabana" at the Seafood Depot.

We had lunch on the “cabana” at the Seafood Depot.

It was here that we remembered our hotel concierge in Naples had slipped us a piece of paper with directions to an area she called Turner River Road. “In case you want to see more alligators,” she had said. (“More”, in this case, being a euphemism for “any”.) We dutifully set off in the hazy mid-day heat and after about a half-hour drive saw several cars parked by the side of the road and groups of tourists standing on the bank of a river that parallels the road. We were in the Big Cypress National Preserve and this is where you want to go to see alligators! We counted at least a dozen of them cruising in the water and basking on the riverbank.

Lots of gators on Turner River Road

Lots of gators on Turner River Road

This double-crested cormorant kept a wary watch on the alligators.

This double-crested cormorant kept a wary watch on the alligators.

In addition to the alligators, we saw egrets, osprey, double-crested cormorants and plenty of turtles and fish. Oh, and fire ants. I thought I had walked through a patch of nettles only to look down and see my feet covered with biting ants. Ouch! Don’t wear open-toed shoes!

Encounter fire ants at your own peril. They left some nasty bites on my feet! (image from carnivoraforum.com)

Encounter fire ants at your own peril. They left some nasty bites on my feet! (image from carnivoraforum.com)

I was tired, hot, sweaty and bitten up by fire ants, but I had finally “bagged” my alligators. It was a good day! Well, except for that persistent ringing in my ears from the airboat ride. Our work here was done: we’d put the check in the box for The Everglades and could head to our next destination: the Florida Keys.

Wish I could have brought this lubber grasshopper home for my hens!

Wish I could have brought this lubber grasshopper home for my hens!

Entry filed under: Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Travel. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Florida Road Trip, Part I: Naples Florida Road Trip, Part 3: Islamorada

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Phyllis  |  June 14, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Sounds like so much fun, glad I missed it.

    Reply
  • 2. Angela Gutsche DiGaetano  |  June 14, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I second that, Granny. That photo of the dead python trying to ingest a “too large” alligator has scarred me for life!

    Reply
  • 3. pollo amigo  |  June 14, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Just removed “take airboat ride” from my bucket list.

    Reply
  • 4. inyctophobic  |  June 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Sorry that you did not get to experience it in a good way. I grew up living really close to the Everglades National Park. Had you gone to the park and walked along the Anhinga Trail, you would have seen a lot of wildlife. The Everglades National Park will always remain my favorite. Oddly enough, I am a FL native and have never been on an airboat. Don’t care to be on one either.

    Reply
    • 5. polloplayer  |  June 14, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Thank you for this feedback – wish I had done more homework and known about the Anhinga Trail going in – a reason to return!

      Reply
      • 6. inyctophobic  |  June 14, 2014 at 7:09 pm

        No problem. Hopefully one day you can return and visit the park. Shark Valley is also another part of the everglades you can visit and get your fair share of wildlife. Good luck.

  • 7. Karma Gunther (@karmagunther)  |  June 14, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Well, at least you weren’t bitten by a scorpion as I was there as a young one. (And so young that when queried as to why I was in a wheelchair I responded: “I was bitten by a Scorpio.” Cue me learning about astrology after the laughter died.)

    Reply
    • 8. polloplayer  |  June 14, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      I can’t think of anything more terrifying than a scorpion. With an “n”. The CE is a Scorpio, so I’ve learned that they are not so fearsome…

      Reply
  • 9. dizzyguy  |  June 15, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Upon further reflection, here is my question: You climb into a small boat with an airplane motor cobbled to it. Turn on the motor and fly at top speed throughout a wildlife preserve; the motor being so loud you must wear ear protection. You are looking to see wildlife. What could go wrong with this plan?

    Reply
  • 10. Mrs. G  |  June 16, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Can’t believe in addition to not seeing any wildlife you stepped in a fire ant pile. Those things are the worst. I think I have become allergic. The last time I got ONE BITE in the middle of two toes the whole bottom of my foot went numb. I guess that is an example of some Florida wildlife.

    Reply

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