Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Everglades Day 2

Day Two: Saturday, March 1, 2014

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

3 Sisters

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

Dan explored

many different sized hermit crabs
Pushing away from the 3 sisters, we began to navigate many small channels of "islands" consisting of mangrove trees and the silt and shells they collect under their unique tentacle-like roots.  We had to stop for a few minutes to wait for one of the couples who joined us in a canoe. As it turned out, they had no clue how to operate it! Meanwhile the husband, also named Dan, had lost his glasses at our first stop and had tried to return and find them with the assistance of reluctant Ranger John. Andrew and the rest of our group of pale northerners waited in a cluster of mangroves, trying to find some sort of shade to hide us from the hot tropical sun.

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!
Ranger John and his compadres finally showed up, with Dan in a single kayak and John in the canoe with Dan's wife. This was all very hilarious to me because Dan, a Vietnam Vet wearing a Harley Davidson tank top, didn't strike me as the kind of guy who liked to admit that he needed help with his canoe. Our group continued the tour learning more about the area and ecosystems as we paddled along. Just when my Dan and I finally seemed to figure out the whole tandem kayak thing, we stopped on another island for lunch. This island - Sand Fly Island - was actually once inhabited by Seminole Indians. We explored on a short trail for a little bit before finishing lunch. As we all got back in the kayaks I had another laugh at Veteran Dan's expense. He was slowly lowering himself into his single kayak and slowly just tipped over. It was honestly in slow motion, I don't know how he wasn't able to stop it from happening.

Flock o' Birds

Sand Fly Island

sandfly island on google maps
Within a half hour, we were back on shore returning our kayak. We bid goodbye to my boss Lucinda and her husband Tom and got back in the car to head east. The guided tour was really informative, it moved at a quick pace and it was a bit of a workout. Dan and I both ended up with blisters on our thumbs and slightly sore arms the next day, but overall, it was a great experience that was well worth the $45 it cost us to rent a kayak for the 4 hours.

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...


pink spoonbill 

view from the Tower

look at all of the fish!

Full size alligators = super scary

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

baby Anhingas

Snowy Egret - the bird that first brought the Everglades into the limelight. In the early 1900's poachers would kill the Egrets for their feathers (they were worth more per ounce than gold because fashionable ladies like to wear them in their hats). The plumes only develop on female egrets who just laid eggs. John Lacey (a congressman) brought the issue of protecting the area and the birds before the Senate.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Good Story - I finally had time to read it all!