We had to wake up really early on Day Two to be able to drive out to the Gulf Coast in time for our 10:00 a.m. kayak tour. I think we left the hotel by 8:00 a.m. I still ended up flying down the Tamiami Trail, cursing the local area industry (farming) for its slow-moving Saturday workforce. I did enjoy passing all of the nurseries though, as was evidenced by my return to Isaac Gardens not once, but twice. The road that connects the eastern and western portions of the park also runs through Big Cypress Natural Preserve, which is about as stereotypical FL swamp as it gets! I do wish we had a little more time to explore that particular area, but the schedule for Day Two was pretty tight.
Finally arriving at the Gulf Coast part of the Everglades, we rushed around to get our tandem kayak rented, apply bug spray and sunscreen and check-in to our ranger-led kayak trip. Did I mention that my boss, Lucinda, was also there? As it turned out, we both planned to be in Florida at the same time... they stayed in Marco Island and we were in Homestead. I suggested that she and her husband Tom join us for the kayak tour of the Ten Thousand Islands. They greeted us as we hustled around (late - as usual).
Within 10 minutes of our arrival we were out on the water, trying to figure out how to paddle together. You can surely imagine the challenge involved in that escapade! As we worked our way against the breeze we were able to get across the bay to our first little stop. The tide had gone out on the "3 sisters" or "3 witches" little tiny cluster of mangrove trees that was called an "island". Our ranger - Andrew - told us a little bit about the wildlife that he asked us to turn up. Mostly crabs, starfish and other microscopic sealife. The area that we were in was all saltwater coming from the Gulf, unlike most of the Everglades which consists of freshwater coming down (slowly) from Lake Ocochobee. The ranger's assistant - I think his name was John - appeared to be aggravated by our very existence, which became a great joke as the day wore on.
|Dan preparing to walk on the 3 Sisters|
|Andrew offers instructions|
|I forget what this is, but its alive.|
|3 sisters, tide out. When the tide is it, you can't see the orange branches of the Mangroves|
|many different sized hermit crabs|
|our "shady" spot|
As we waited, Andrew told us about some of the wildlife in the park, including one particular type of bird. Apparently, this bird spends an insane amount of time picking out a stick. This stick needs to be the Mary Poppins of sticks (practically perfect in every way) because he is going to present it to his lady bird. If she accepts his offering, they will use the stick to build their nest together and will remain monogamous for life. If however, the stick is found wanting, she rejects him by hitting him over the head with said stick. Seems a little harsh, but if you're going to make it the corner stone of your nest, it needs to be a good stick, right? So as it turned out, our "Uncle Fred" bird from Day 1 was actually just a man in love. Adorable.
|Lucinda and Tom|
|Can you see the creepy tree crabs?|
|us, having fun!|
|Flock o' Birds|
|Sand Fly Island|
|sandfly island on google maps|
Our next stop was Shark Valley and the lookout tour which is as close to the true middle of the park as you can get. We arrived just in time to hop on the 3:00 tram tour which brings you the 7 miles to the tower. Alternatively, you could rent a bike and ride out - but there is NO shade, and very little breeze. Plus, alligators EVERYWHERE. I'm just not cool with being that close to a wild animal with the jaw strength of 2000 PSI. Plus, under the roof of the tram we enjoyed a little shade and the breeze created by riding around at 10 MPH. Our guides pointed out all kinds of wildlife and gave us some of the fun facts that I already shared with you. It was another nice experience, and certainly recommended. I believe our tickets were about $15 each, so it was fairly inexpensive and we got some great pictures - Including the one below of the alligators laying across the walkway to the tower. Trying to get around them was NOT an experience I enjoyed. Although I guess now I can brag that I escaped being eaten from an alligator... right?
|waiting to eat me...|
|view from the Tower|
|look at all of the fish!|
|Full size alligators = super scary|
|BABY ALLIGATORS = CUTEST!|
|This guy looks like he is smiling, right?|
|The pink spoonbill actually gets the distinct pink color from the amount of shrimp it eats. No kidding! Looks like this one was a real shrimp glutton|
|seeing these gators walk is seriously the creepiest thing|
|Momma and babies|
After it was over we piled back in the minivan and drove the rest of the way to Homestead. Dinner was had at a nearby Olive Garden, and our experience resembled the first night. We were both shocked to discover that service could be so poor in such an obviously busy and developed area. Was this their first night as a restaurant... ever? This turned into a 2 hour affair in which we both left disappointed and dissatisfied with our meals. We vowed to get takeout on Day 3.