We have found the end of the road….and now it is time to turn around and head back to where we started. We are heading UP to Whidbey Island as opposed to DOWN to the Florida Keys – always interesting to me that north is up and south is down – I’m sure it has to do with maps although it would seem counter intuitive in the southern hemisphere and right now it makes me feel like a salmon swimming up-stream – Anyway….we are off.
Leaving the Keys was hard – I think that you could spend a lot of time and money getting to know this area – but several factors are not in our favor including the curse of old age knees and the fact that the weather really SUCKS here right now. Wind and rain and actually, a temperature of only about 62 degrees daytime which is virtually frigid here. Have you ever seen someone in flip-flops, carrying a fishing pole and covered up by a heavy parka – we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. So we are off…Bill is humoring me by using the old “We’ll go for an air boat ride in the Everglades” trick. And SURPRISE! It is working. I believe that on my bucket list this rates right up on the top of the list. The trip North (UP) the Keys is 110 miles to Homestead and fortunately we are going against the weekend traffic which gives us a chance to drive slow – you know, like the people that we used to shake our fist at – and bid one last farewell to the beaches and amazing turquoise water. Crossing the last bridge out of the Keys we are through Homestead Florida and up highway 997 which appears to be the fruit, vegetable, and nursery capital area of Florida – you can get any type of fruit and vegetable or a full size (like 60 feet tall) palm tree – Bill says no tree – wouldn’t fit in Moby – but would fit on top – he’s not gonna buy this idea. Soon we are making a Western turn (should I call this left – sure why not?) and driving down Florida Highway 41 – a narrower two lane road that skirts the northern (UP) side of the Everglades and winds through the southern (DOWN) side of Big Cyprus National Reserve. Now, sometimes when you are riding in a motor home you see things that you don’t want to because you sit up so much higher than the cars around you – don’t ask exactly what, just use your imagination. But this journey of 60 miles we are blessed to be in Moby – because we can see over the guard rail and view the……ALIGATORS! Yup, lots and lots and lots of them – and some of them are quite large – in the 10 to 12 foot range. They are hauled out of the swamp and laying on the banks or sides of the road – later I was to find out that this is somewhat unusual behavior for this time of year in the Everglades but the water is cold (couldn’t get a definition of cold – probably not the same as Puget Sound) so they haul out to collect warmth from the sunlight as they have no means to control their body temperature and if they are not warm enough they are unable to digest their food – all together now – Awwwwww, that’s so sad. I do believe that this is the first time I have seen an alligator of any size, let alone several hundred of them and it is quite an experience. They seem so docile and lazy, what with just laying there and sun bathing. I know that’s not the case – but allow me a short fantasy. So we continue on thes highway – still slowly, still with people shaking their fists at us – at least they are using all their fingers – until we get to the turn off South (DOWN) to Everglades City which is on the northeast (UP-LEFT) side of the Everglades.
Following the directions of the lady on the phone we proceed down a paved road and turn off onto a dirt road, follow this down (she promised me we could turn 60 feet around down here) to the air boat terminal (yes, they do have a terminal) and pull off to the side. If we are going to turn around down here it’s going to be by levitation. The only path to turn around takes you over a three foot drop during which time we will either high center Moby, the Jeep or all of the above. After a little conversation –
Me: “Hell, you told ME we could turn around”
She:” Well you can with a little work”
Me: Do you have a concept of how long 60 feet is?”
She: “I drive a Mini Cooper”
– Oh that explains it. Well so do I! Finally two of the air boat captains show up and actually come up with a plan to get us turned around which involves a vacant ship yard, a locked gate and one of them telling us “Don’t listen to her – she don’t know what the hell she’s talkin’ ‘bout”, we get turned (UP, LEFT, DOWN, RIGHT) around and parked totally blocking one complete side of their parking lot. OK – NOW can I get my ride? Wandering down to the terminal we find out that one of the boats is having a bit of mechanical difficulty which is fixed in about 30 minutes and we are finally boarded. This is a small boat tour with only six people and the captain – but they send two boats out together – safety in numbers I guess – We have headphones similar to those worn in small planes by pilots and passengers so we can clearly hear and communicate with the captain – no small feat over the road of a Chevy 454 engine attached firmly to a 13’ flat bottom boat with no rudder only air foils for direction control. And no life jackets, you fall off so sorry – no refund and you are probably stuck in the mud. OK, I get the rules. Kind of climb in, sit down, shut up and hold on.
This is the most fun I’ve had in a while – we are seeing land basically built from plants – all the islands in the Everglades are built by the onslaught of three types of Mangrove trees. These are the foundation of the islands and hammocks of the area. There are vines and trees and brackish water which is black, shiny and, I am informed, about six (6) inches deep in places. Due to the lack of rain in the area the marshes are almost entirely salt water at this time – usually they are a brackish mixture of salt and fresh water. This is not good for our viewing of critters but after several flying turns (UP, LEFT, DOWN) we find a large open area with…..Mr. Gator….big Mr. Gator…This fellow is about ten feet long from nose to tail and I am informed by the guide, he has 82 teeth – OK , gonna believe you – did you count them?
It is again unusual for him to be hanging in this area as the water is pretty cold for him – didn’t stick my hand in to find out – mama didn’t have no fools, nope. And it is a he as the she’s only grow to about 8 feet. He is able to hump up his back to take in the heat from the sun and this is a great opportunity for him to hit the Everglades “Fill Yer Belly Deli”. We sat and observed him for about fifteen minutes then off again like the wind. There really is no way to describe this experience, hope the pictures give you some perspective.
Even had music as we are flying through the trees – nothing too silly, just the theme song from Top Gun….OK, maybe a little hokey….real hokey….but fun. After about an hour we head back to the dock with the other air boat and stop in a small cove to visit these little fellows.
Apparently they are pretty tame having unfortunately been fed by some of the other guide services. We do give them a drink of fresh water,
take a few pictures, hope they don’t fall onto the boats and get mad, and then head off (RIGHT) back to the terminal. Check! That’s off the bucket list – but may have to do it again just ‘cause it was so much fun. Our goodbye send off came when this guy landed on our boat and rode in with us – lazy fellow for sure.
Climb off the boat, remove Moby and the Jeep from their parking lot thus allowing others to park and go out on their tour and head off north (UP) the road. No we saw no giant anaconda, pythons or any other slithery thing while in the swamp. Yeah for us!
We are taking I-75 North (UP) through Florida and turning East (LEFT) onto I-10. These are major roads, should have no trouble either driving or finding a place to park for the night. Best laid plans of the O’Brien’s. Ended up, late, at a Florida Rest Stop that had two signs “No Over Night Camping” and “Patrolled by Armed Security”.
Figuring we had a great safe place to flake out what with this “security” and with it fast approaching our bedtime, we pull in, close the curtains, climb into bed (Lucy’s not too sure about this as we can’t put the bedroom slide out and she’s not sure where the heck she should sleep) and go to sleep figuring if anyone really had a problem they would bang on the door and kick us out. Woke up at 7:30 this morning figuring that
A: They should read their signs more often and B: Glad we had armed security that didn’t notice a 60’ rig in their lot. The amazing powers of observation. We are now about 110 miles from the Western (LEFT) edge of Florida, firmly planted for the night in the Florida Springs RV Resort, and will continue our leftward journey tomorrow. Life is good….and full of surprises.