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Published: December 28th 2012
We spent two superb days exploring the Everglades national park area. Our hostel, Everglades International Hostel, provides free breakfast in form of ingredients to make your own pancakes on an outdoors stove, so that's how we started our mornings: Leo making the best pancakes of the hostel (a comment he received from a co-resident, and I cannot disagree either ;-).
On day one we drove our car to Shark Valley visitor center planning to rent bikes to take the 24 kilometer bike ride around the wetlands. We arrived at the entrance to find out that firstly, the parking lot was full, and second, there was a waiting list to rent bikes. Neither issue proved too serious, though, we managed to park the car a bit outside of the park, and landed bikes after some 30 minutes wait.
Immediately after entering the park area we started spotting alligators here and there. I was a bit nervous beforehand about those beasts, but pretty soon it became apparent that there was no reason for fear. The gators were mostly laying totally still and didn't react at all to all the humans walking past and taking photos (except we did
saw one opening its mouth wide open, not sure if it was yawning or showing its teeth for the photographers). In addition to alligators, we saw lots of different kinds of birds.
The biking route was an asphalted road making a tour in the middle of the wetlands. We thought beforehand we would be biking on a tiny dirt road in the middle of the bushes, but actually this was easy riding in totally open landscapes. Very nice and relaxing. Sun was partially shining, and with occasional clouds and some wind the weather was perfect for biking. We completed the 24km tour in about 2,5 hours with one stop at a viewing tower and a quick lunch consisting of chips and water. After the bike ride we still did a short walking route next to the Shark Valley visitor center, it was (maybe) called Bob Cat Trail, or something similar.
On our way back to the hostel we stopped by at Wal-Mart to buy some avocados, yoghurt and beer. We also had our first drive-thru café experience, as we got our usuals at Starbucks via drive-thru window. Back at the hostel we wanted to take showers and to
take it easy for a while, because we had still booked a trip for the evening: a night time walking tour in the national park.
The night walk took off at 8PM and the idea was to walk in the dark wetland area to see how it comes alive at night, animals getting active etc. i was actually a bit nervous about this trip, and the fact that our guide was warning about four types of deadly snakes living in Everglades in the car on our way there, didn't make the situation better. (even though he said deadly, we found out later that actually if you are bitten by one of those deadly snakes, generally what happens is that you must go to a hospitel where they put you on morphine and normally release you the next day -> the ones getting killed by the snakes are somewhere very far from civilization or don't really know how to react to the bites). Again, there was in reality no reason to feel uneasy about walking in the dark park, we didn't even see any snakes. Afterwards it even seemed like a slight disappointment that the trip wasn't more exciting, or
more "creepy". We didn't really see anything we hadn't seen already during the day. Ok, it was a bit different to spot alligators only by their eyes blinking orange when caught by the flashlight, and sure, there was probably more sounds from birds etc. And we did see lots of frogs, one green and poisonous one. The highlight of the trip was when we stopped by a pond where an alligator mom and its babies were living. The guide caught one of the tiny babies by hand, and we got to look at it closely, and even touch it. We didn't see the mother alligator, but the tour guide said she is laying somewhere in the pond but doesnt mind him, as she has learned to recognize him and knows he wont hurt them.
The next day we had an awesome day of outing with a great tour guide, Caren. She is a biologist from Germany who has lived in Miami for four years. Her tour was much more informative than the first one, and we were really enjoying our day. First we took a daytime walk in the same spot where we were the night before, this time
we spotted turtles, otherwise again same birds and alligators as before. The next activity was the most memorable; wet walking in a Cypress forest. The Everglades has different vegetation types, from wetlands covered in water and hay, to Cypress forest and pine forest. Bottom of the Cypress forest had water up to knee level, and Cypress trees in their winter look, meaning that they were without leaves and looking very grey and dead. We put on wet walking shoes (old running shoes provided by the hostel) and got in the water. The water was totally clear and it was so cool to walk around it in the magical looking forest. Hard to describe it in words. If you are ever at Everglades, the wet walking a an activity to definitely look for.
We had lunch at Flamingo marina area, it was sandwich picnic, but good. During our car rides, Caren was making small stops to give information about this and that, which was nice. Third and last activity of the day was kayaking. We started out at a lake and proceeded to narrow mangrove channels. It was (I guess) my first time kayaking, and it went fine, even though
it was impossible not to keep hitting the mangroves in those narrow passways. I would say that the wet walking perhaps was more exciting than kayaking, but kayaking was also highly enjoyable, and interesting especially in the mangrove covered areas. You cannot see that kind of vegetation anywhere near home. After touring midst mangroves for a while, we returned to the lake to sunset. At this point it looked a lot like Finnish lake or sea view at sunset. Except that there was an alligator laying on the shore. Good thing we didn't hit it with our kayaks. After kayaking it was time to head back to the hostel. Rest of the evening we spent doing some shopping, and eating at Rosita..a Mexican restaurant next to our hostel, which serves Mexican "home cooked" food - very good and reasonable price. Rosita had become our regular here, it was our third time there and third time I had the same portion: vegetarian plate. When you find something that tastes good, why change 😉
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