Just about to go on our magical mystery tour!
We arrived in the Everglades just after lunchtime and spent much of the afternoon realising once again that we could really do with a car, and getting lost on the way to Walmart. As soon as we returned, a woman called out to us, asking if we wanted to see the moon (it was a full moon that night). We were really tired, and politely refused before having our refusal ignored and told to grab some takeaway from next door as it was dinner time and meet them in the car.
Somewhat reluctantly we followed suit, thinking it would at least be a good opportunty to meet some other hostellers. As about 8 of us piled into her people carrier, I asked where we were actually going (good plan), and she said into the National Park! Our hostel was actually in Florida City, a very small town about 15 mins drive from the park entrance.
Spotting alligator eyes!
As we pulled into the car park she checked that we all had torches, of course we didn't as we were not expecting to do this! She had spares so it was fine, and as soon as we got out one of the guys who had been there for a while started scouring the edges of the nearby lake with his torch. I didn't hold out much hope for him stumbling across an alligator in the dark until a shout alerted us that one had been spotted, as their eyes shine a bright red in the torchlight! It was fantastic, it actually started swimming towards us, it's eyes flashing bright.
The moon reflected on the lake
Soon we were spotting alligators by their eyes left, right and centre, it was fantastic although a little nerve wracking as we were just a metre or so away from the water. We walked along the raised walkway to the end of one of the trails, watching the moon's relection in the water beside us, it was an unbelievable sight. I can't believe we almost didn't go!
We only had 3 full days here and we wanted to make the most of them, so the next morning we went to the nearby alligator farm, the oldest working farm in the everglades. The bus down close to it was only a couple of times a day, and even then we had to walk 2 miles from the stop to the entrance. We walked down a very long road with no pavements, small channels of water each side, excitedly spotting an alligator here and there although taking great care not to disturb them as we were almost certainly within striking distance.
Just keep walking....
Once we got there, we were told that our ticket included an airboat ride and tat ours would leave shortly, so we went straight down and were told grab some ear protectors. When the queue was told that everyone would get wet but some more than others, Lisa decided that we would sit at the front, the best seta for views of course, but right in the splash zone. The ride started very sedately, we could stand up and take photos, the driver pointed out alligators, soft headed turtles and explained about the flowers we were passing. Then we were told to sit down, turn hats backwards and put on our ear protectors, oh yes, and hold on! He revved up the engine (we realised why we need the protectors) and sped off down a purpose built channel at high speed.
Our airboat driver
It was all going 'swimmingly' until he decided a few 360 degree spins were in order, huge tidal waves engulfed the boat, smashing into the front row first, ie. US. It was very funny, especially as the woman behind us screamed the whole way through! Luckily it was a very warm day and before long we were dry, until of course he did it again!
The farm was quite small, but housed hundreds of alligators, rearing them from babies to adulthood. It was a bit dubious what they did with them at this point but they said they didn't cull them so we chose not to question further. Soon after the end of the airboat ride we went to our first show of the day, the alligator show. It was led by a tiny Mexican girl, early 20s and about 5 ft tall. It was hilarious watching her heave around this alligator by it's tail and sit on it's back showing us it's teeth.
Apparantly alligators are very stupid animals, so moving it around disorientated it enough to be able to do these things, and didn't harm it in any way. She said that she could do the demonstration with any alligator as they were unable to be trained in any way, very impressive! At the end she got out a couple of babies (2 years old) and passed them around so we could have our photos taken with them, she taped up their jaws in case they got nibbly! They were very very cute and felt all soft and squidgy!
A bit later, we went to the main adult section to watch the feeding. Alligators need very little food, and can actually survive for 2 years if they have had a big feed! The sound of their jaws clamping down on the fish thrown was loud and scary, but something worse was spotted by Lisa.
Everyone else was standing right up against the fence, so we stood high up on a small set of bleachers to get a better view. Lisa suddenly shouted something out and poked me, pointing to the side behind the crowd. I looked over and saw an alligator which had just climbed over the 5 foot fence from the outside, and was starting to make it's way over! Lisa was having no luck making herself heard so we both shouted together, trying not to make 'it's behind you' sound too panto! As soon as they realised what was happening, the crowd started to panic, parents picking up children etc and the keeper radioed for help. We were very grateful for our position out of the danger zone but unfortunatly were too engrossed in the action to think of getting any photos! All it took were 2 keepers and a couple of walking sticks to encourage the alligator back home, but it was very exciting!
Our last show of the day was the snake talk which was again very well done.
The albino constrictor
At one point she passed round a small snake (I can't remember it's name) amost as it you would pass a football round the crowd or something. The relaxed way it was done encouraged people to touch and even hold it, even those who had shivered at the thought of one being at the front! It was a really cute one, and reminded me of the snakes I used to play with when I worked at Eltham. Then we got the opportunity to hold the big albino constrictor. It was pretty heavy and kept freaking me out by licking me, but really cool!
As our day came to an end, we realised that the next bus wasn't until 7.45pm and we really couldn't wait that long, so we decided to walk back up the road all the way to the big junction where we knew we could get a different bus.
Robert is here!
This was going to be about 4 miles, but we figured we could take it slowly. About a mile down the road (bear in mind we had already walked 2 miles down here earlier) a range rover stopped by us and asked if we were from the hostel, we confirmed that we were. She followed it with 'do you know how dangerous this road is, get in I'll give you a lift!' She lived next to the farm, and happened to be going our way. She told us that alligators quite often just wander across the road, never mind the snakes and other nasties we could come across. We felt a little foolish, very niaive, and extremely grateful as she dropped us on our doorstep!
That evening we went to a local pub with another guy from the hostel. It was a small place which had a pool table, $2 beers and played country music.
The lake on the Anhinga trail
I think all the other people there were locals, they certainly seemed to know each other, and consisted largely of older guys wearing cowboys hats, it was just like the films! The next day we went to the Everglades outpost, a small rescue centre which housed many unwanted pets from all over the region, including monkeys, black bears and a few tigers! The stories behind the animals were crazy, families wanting unusual pets, circus performers etc. On the way back, we stopped off at local landmark 'Robert is here', a huge exotic fruit stall started by 'Robert' as a small boy selling cucumbers on the side of the road!! We had one of their famed fruit milkshakes before finding making our way back to the hostel.
On our last day, we had decided we wanted to go back into the National Park, and not having cars we had no choice but to rent bikes from the hostel and get round that way.
The swamp, spot the gators!
They dropped us off at the park entrance with a map and we headed off from there! We aimed to go to the same trail as we had been to on the first night as it was really pretty and there seemed to be lots of wildlife. It was about 4 miles cycle there, and was getting really warm so we stopped for a bit of a rest before walking along the Anhinga Trail. This trail is one of the more recognisable of the Everglades and consists of a number of wooden bridges across the river and a lake full of alligators. We also saw turtles, and some heron fishing for the huge fish we could also see. At first look, the whole area just looks like a huge meadow, like you could walk across if if you wanted. It isn't until you look down and see the water that you realise that it really is a sea of grass. It is the only eco system of it's type in the world, and a fantastic sight.
We tried to cycle to another part shown on our map as the 'hidden lake', but were not allowed access and ended up on a very hot isolated dirt track for another 2 miles! Once we had got back to where we wanted to be it was unbearably hot, Lisa's sunburn had come up in blisters AND she had ripped one of her contacts, so we got on our bikes for the 4 miles ride back to our drop off point where we phoned for a lift back. We passed many more animals on the way to and from the trail, mostly weird bugs, but also a flock of vultures! We arrived back at the hostel tired, hot, covered in mozzie bites and probably quite smelly, but once again quite pleased with ourselves!