Day 12 - Exploring the Florida Everglades (Mileage - loads but all by someone else!)

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September 18th 2013
Published: September 21st 2013
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Up at 6-30am on holiday should not be allowed but when you need to meet up with a tour guide about 15 miles away, it has to be done. Having booked a cab with a very confused controller the night before it was touch and go whether they'd actually turn up, and when they rang from in front of the RV to say they had arrived and then reversed out of the RV park when I said we'd be right out, it looked like it was a tough day. Apparently my accent sounded like I said they were in the wrong place???

Based on a lot of research and particular recommendations from Tripadvisor we had booked a day out with Everglades Excursions in Naples which started at 8-15 in their office in the centre of Naples so we needed a 30 minute cab ride to get there. We met with our guide Kenny for the day and boarded his small bus along with 4 others and then drove out of town for half an hour to the Walmart carpark, right next to the KOA campsite we had left an hour earlier to pick up four more guests!! We could have had a whole extra hour in bed!!

After that the day was excellent. Kenny had been in the business for 17 years and knew his stuff, and on the drive out to the Everglades he had all sorts of stories about the wildlife, history and geography of the area but in an amusing set of anecdotes and stories supplemented with pictures and not like a travel lectureAT&T all! After about half an hour we reached our first stop on a bridge over the river at the Port of the Islands resort (originally built by the mafia according to Kenny) on the route 41 we had travelled on the day before. We searched the river for manatees from the bridge but apart from the couple a few hundred yards up the river we were searching in vain.

After that it was on to the next stop for an airboat ride. Split into groups of four we boarded an upturned tray with a couple of benches and a big fan strapped on the back and the airboat captain proceeded to frighten the life out of us driving over logs, upturned boat hulls and various debris to proove just how durable these boats were. We then set off through narrow channels in the mangroves at quite a speed, hanging on for dear life...very enjoyable and these guys have such skill steering through the narrow passages at speed. Every now and again we would come into a clearing and meet an alligator who would swim around the boat a few times, it was only after we got off that Kenny told us that an alligator can jump out of the water up to half it's own length so a tray with a fan on was no obstacle...thankfully they stayed in the water. In one of the clearings we also met a family of raccoons who came through the branches onto the front of the boat, clearly expecting treats from the captain but it was great way to see them close up. After an hour of hacking through the swamps, we returned back to the dock and got back on board with Kenny.

Next was a stop for an early lunch at The Oyster House restaurant and bar in Everglades City. This was your typical American small town bar, hunting trophies on the wall, stuffed alligator in the back bar with a pool table and pictures of all sorts of famous people and locals all over the wall ( a number of films have been shot down here) After a lunch of alligator nuggets (quite chewy and tastes like chicken) and a more normal main course, we were on our way to our next stop via a National Parks information centre.

Next up was a larger pontoon boat ride out into the estuary of 10000 islands towards the Gulf of Mexico. The islands are more mangroves but further apart and spread throughout the estuary housing a phenomenal amount of wildlife. As well as eagles, pelicans hundreds of other birds we were lucky enough to come across several different groups of dolphins, one group in particular were in the mood to play and after a couple of short high speed circles in the boat, they jumped into the wake of the motors and followed us for miles jumping in and out of the wake.

Despite looking hard in and out the mangroves, we were unable to spot the illusive manatee but we had covered most of the rest of the animal and bird population. After a couple of hours cruising at high speed through the islands it was back on board with Kenny and onto an original 70+ year old Indian trading post, an old wooden hut on stilts by the shore maintained just as it was all that time ago with skins, tools, lamps, books etc. and a history of the old guy that lived there and traded with the local Indians.

Next up was the smallest post office in the USA, a hut on the side of the highway for 5 minutes, quick picture then back on the bus for one last stop, at the HP Williams picnic stop that we had visited the previous day. This was where Kenny told us about the local alligators in that part of the river that have the taste for tourist food, he then took us along a track alongside the picnic spot where it was clear the one fat alligator we had met the previous day was not alone, in fact there were loads just hanging about every 20-30 foot along the river and true to form there were plenty of people out of their cars on the side of the river trying to get a closer look. Having been told how high they can jump, and how quick they can run, all those on board were a little more cautious when he opened the door of the bus and invited us outside. Despite his best efforts to tempt one up the river bank, thankfully none of the local residents wanted to leave the security of the water and we breathed a collective sigh of relief as we reboarded the bus...6-8 feet was plenty close for all of us.

The drive back was a lot quieter with Kenny having finished his full coverage of the area but being the afternoon there was still time for some thunder, lightning and heavy rain.

There was still one last Florida native animal to meet as we entered Marco Island, a quiet, exclusive, built up area of big hotels and big houses by the sea where we were dropping off some of our fellow travellers at their hotels. Interspersed between the beach houses and on grass verges were large areas of taped off areas indicating burrows of the 'burrowing owl'. 80 to 100 pairs of these little owls live in burrows under the ground on sides of roads, or in between houses and are completely protected to the extent that some streets have large gaps between houses where builders have never been able to build because of owl burrows. One owl sits above ground guarding the chambers while the other one is off foraging or underground raising the young. Quite a bizarre sight in the middle of a built up town.

Kenny got us back to Naples about 5pm and with little in the fridge back at the RV and the thunder and lightning looking like it was set for the night, we stayed in town and headed straight for the ideal place to shelter from a lightning storm...a bar in the area of Naples called 'Tin City' which was basically a huge area of corrugated tin restaurants and bars surrounding the Naples dock area. As has become the norm on most afternoons on this trip, we were inside the bar happily eating and drinking whilst the weather outside resembled a tropical monsoon, worse still it was Happy Hour and all drinks we're 2 for 1!

After about 4 hours, the rain had stopped and we poured Shas into a cab and headed back to the now very flooded KOA 'not-very-close-to Naples' camp which was about a 40 dollar cab ride. A great day out and cannot recommend Kenny and Everglades excursions highly enough.

Tomorrow it's off to our last stop on the RV part of the trip, up the coast to St Petersburg

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