Monday, June 2, 2014

The Everglades and Biscayne: Day 3 & 4

Day 3: Sunday, March 2, 2014

By the time Day 3 rolled around, we were practically professional waffle-makers. The hotel we stayed at had a pretty serious free breakfast, which included the ability to make your own Belgian waffles. Since we only had a 15 minute drive to our activity in Biscayne National Park, we took a leisurely pace with breakfast. Had we known just how long it would take to launch said activity, we could have stayed for lunch.

Biscayne National Park is actually a fairly new park. It was a National Monument for years before finally gaining park status in 1980. Something like 90% of the park is underwater, so it was pretty unfortunate that the only concessionaire allowed to rent boats and operate scuba tours within the confines of the park had an expired contract. Just another example of the government dropping the ball. The busiest season for the park is November - May... the contract expired in September. When we visited in March, 99% of the park was not accessible.

Not a bad spot for a ranger station

The ONE method for exploring a small portion of the park was a ranger-led canoe/kayak trip. In this instance, the canoes and kayaks are owned by the park, and are free for anyone participating in the trip. Because Biscayne National Park is practically in Miami, there are many efforts made to engage some of the city-dwellers to enjoy the park free of charge. You can host BBQs and other events at the Visitor's Center, you can take a free kayak trip with a ranger, and there is no fee to enter the park. The hope is that by engaging local residents, they will create park advocates who will love and support other parks. My opinion is that they are bleeding money, and should minimally charge a $5 entrance fee.

We had enjoyed our kayak trip so much on day 2 that I had high hopes for this trip. We were slated to begin at 10, so Dan and I made sure we arrived early this time. After "checking-in" with the ranger (who seriously must have had some sort of learning disability) we waited nearly two hours before putting our kayak in the water. Not kidding.

It was honestly the most inefficient thing I have ever seen. First, the ranger hemmed and hawed for an hour (literally, an hour) about how many people she could take out on the trip. I don't understand why this was such an issue... if you have the kayaks to take 20 people, then that is what you can accommodate, no more and certainly no less if you have 20 people interested.

When it was finally decided that we could in fact take all 20 people, we began the boating safety instruction. At this point, it was nearly 11:30, and I was starving. When we finally got on the water at noon, it had been so long since our arrival, that you couldn't even be mad. It was one of those things where the delay and snags are so insane, you become a little loopy and start laughing at everything.

Blue crab, the most exciting thing we saw on our trip

Once on the water, several of the 20 in our party worked hard to learn how to maneuver a kayak, as this was their first experience. We were able to spend our hour on the water moving a grand total of about 500 yards. Sadly, we did not get to explore any of the keys included in the park, we did not get to scuba and we spent a very frustrating three hours not doing much of anything, and certainly not learning anything we didn't already know.

As far as I could tell, the ranger (who later explained that she had been at Biscayne National Park for 3 years) was hired exclusively to cater to the local population by her ability to speak Spanish. I can only imagine how many rangers would kill to be in Biscayne, especially in the winter. Presumably, all of the other rangers would be far more knowledgeable and faster moving.

So after our huge disappointment of a morning, we returned to the hotel to sit by the pool. As I've mentioned several times, relaxing is not really my thing. I was able to sit out for about an hour and a half before deciding I would go out for a drive to some of the nurseries we had passed on our drive to the Gulf the previous day. Driving the mini-van around I had to stop for gas and was delighted to walk into the station and discover a frozen coffee machine akin to the Slurpee machines found in gas stations at home. I filled up a cup and paid the $1.17 or whatever it was, and reveled in my cheap frozen coffee. After giving it a little bit of thought, I decided it was probably for the best that we did not have such machines at home... frozen coffee is not light is calories.

I drove out quite a ways until I came across the nursery that I wanted to explore. Unfortunately, it was Sunday at 5:00 and everything was closed. So I returned to Homestead, did a little quick shopping at Kohls for flip flops (how does one forget to pack flip-flops when traveling to Miami?) and polarized sunglasses for Dan.

This super-exciting day featured a similarly super-exciting dinner: Dairy Queen for me and Domino's for Dan. We ate in our separate hotel beds and watched movies. Yeah, it was a little lame but hey, not every day can be exciting.

On Day 4, I got up before Dan and ate breakfast by myself. I spent the morning at Issac Farms, as discussed in detail here. We then spent a few hours by the pool before heading back to the airport and getting on a plane to return to a solid temperature of 0 degrees F. New England really knows how to welcome you home.

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