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 🙂 I am now on my way to becoming a gator-spotting, road-hogging beach bum. Starting to feel at home in Florida!