The Everglades, Southern Florida

Last weekend, casting around for something to do that would involve a “long drive,” we decided to explore the Everglades, southern Florida’s breathtakingly wide expanse of swamps, mangroves, and prairie land that stretches almost the entire span from its west to east coasts. Our first stop was Captain Doug’s airboat tour near Marcos island, which took us at a good speed through the watery mangrove swamps. Madhu posed with a baby gator before we got into the boat, and a short ride later, we encountered a friendly but lonely raccoon who came out of hiding to meet and greet us and be fed by our boat captain. Disappointingly, we didn’t see any other wildlife, except for some birds (cranes and pelicans).

We drove up to the Big Cypress National Preserve after that, further east on I-41, and caught fleeting glimpses of a Manatee. We also went on a long 2-hour hike through the woods on a hiking trail running the length of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park — again, not much wildlife to speak of, but we did see some interesting birds, and later that day, I caught a glimpse of a stately bright-red Cardinal.

The next morning, bright and early and shortly before dawn, we commenced a long drive to the Shark River Valley, the other end of the Everglades, near Miami. That was to be the highlight of our sojourn through the Everglades: we had planned to go on a 15-mile bike ride through this part of the forest. The trail was paved and easy to navigate, and it etched a circular path along which saw a lot of alligators sun-bathing with their eyes closed and mouths half open. Some of them were giant reptiles, and in places there were whole packs of them, partly submerged in the swampy water. From the observation deck we also managed to spot a couple of turtles. The ride back to our starting point was a bit more difficult than the ride in, because the wind was blowing against us, and our bikes didn’t have gears, so we just had to pedal doggedly until we covered the remaining 8 miles of the trail. But we did it, and were none the worse off for it.

Having made it this far east, we decided to plug on further along I-41 and hit Miami. The contrast between biking amidst alligators and negotiating Saturday afternoon city traffic on a Miami freeway was stark, to say the least! But we caught some spectacular views of the Miami skyline, and then headed out to Miami Beach, where we enjoyed a view of the Atlantic while sitting on the beach and reading our books for a couple of hours.

I drove most of the way back from Miami to Bradenton and have finally overcome my fear of the expressway ­čÖé I am now on my way to becoming a gator-spotting, road-hogging beach bum. Starting to feel at home in Florida!


A View from Florida

Marriage and a chance relocation have brought me 10,000 miles from my native India to the sunny climes of western Florida, in Bradenton-Sarasota. While the palm trees lend a familiar tropical flavor to my new surroundings,  the challenges of driving on the right-hand side of the road, the expansive shopping plazas, and the manicured and landscaped lawns confirm for me that I am indeed back in the United States of America, right at the time when election fever is mounting and the debate over health care is once again at center stage. The last time I was in the United States was right before Barack Obama was elected, in the summer of 2008; there will be another 9 months of suspense before we know whether Obama is going to make it back into the White House next year. Speculation is rife. But while  the election drama unfolds, my husband and I are enjoying our explorations of this coastal nook of Florida. One thing I like about this state is that there are large bodies of water everywhere; even outside our apartment, overlooking the balcony, there is a large pond that ripples gently in the breeze all day long, giving this area a resort-like quality. Living here is like being eternally on holiday.

We’ve been to two beaches so far: Siesta Keys and Lido Beach. Both have vast expanses of white sand and pure, clean waters. The sea gulls and pelicans are very tame here; they fly close to the shoreline and are seemingly unafraid of humans. The sunsets at the beach are spectacular; a few weeks ago we actually watched the sun dip below the horizon at Lido Beach against a reddish-orange backdrop. The beaches were not crowded went we visited them — in fact they were somewhat deserted. But I am sure that the sands will be teeming with vacationers when my first summer in Florida eventually rolls around.

So far, we have visited:

The Dali in St. Petersburg (; Orange Groves and Winery (; The Pier at St.Petersburg; International Plaza in Tampa; Sarasota beaches; Downtown Sarasota, where we hung out at the 5 O’Clock Club (┬áand listened to The Bonesha

kers after downing a shot (only one!) of tequila. We’ve eaten well at Main Street in Lakewood Ranch and have sampled some offerings from the Sarasota Film Society, most notably┬áThe Artist and A Separation. ┬áWe even managed to catch some classical piano music (Chopin’s works, played by Russian pianist Eleonora Lvov).

Next on the agenda: The Everglades.