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Published: September 20th 2013
The longest driving day of the trip started with four people packing up and detaching the umbilical support in the pouring rain...why is it always me that is holding live power in the rain and lightning? After a quick brekkie of whatever was in the cupboards (cookies) we made a quick detour back into Key West to pick up Justin's hire car which had been abandoned at Benihannas on the previous night.
After a quick transfer of luggage and an 8 point turn for the RV in a brief respite from the rain, we all said our goodbyes and headed North back up the Keys. Thankfully the rain kept off and in about 2.5 hours we were clear of the Keys and making our first decision of the day...follow sat nav and 'the fast route' out through the Everglades to Naples, our next stop on the I75 or take the slightly more adventurous route 41 along a route known as alligator alley.
Of course we chose the 41, the 'tamiami trail' and settled into about 85 miles of single carriageway roads through the Everglades swamps. The road in sections is dead straight for miles and was originally built by
early pioneers in the 1900's from dredging a channel and piling the dredgings onto one side which formed the base of the road. These days that channel is filled with water so for 80 miles you are driving next to a canal, teaming with alligators and whilst this is the wet season which means they are all in the water, you could see them from time to time swimming alongside the road. The road was very quiet, and scattered along it were various National Parks campsites and reststops all warning of the dangers of alligators, bears, snakes and Florida panthers. Strangely none of them were inhabited but we were later told this was due to the end of the season rather than the threat of animals snuggling up in your tent or RV and generally at weekends they are packed! Also along the trail are a number of Indian villages as much of this land this is a native American Indian preserve. The villages are largely thatched and walled in, and are not open to the public although there is the odd souvenir shop and information centre along the way.
Having searched in vain for some sort of restaurant,
of food rest stop for quite a few miles we settled eventually on the H.P. Williams wayside park, a sort of picnic space by the side of the road with a small loo block and car park. We parked up, and made some sandwiches for lunch and read the little tourist sign about all the animals around us (that we couldn't see but should be wary of) and then took a little walk onto a small wooden platform by the side of the carpark. Two feet off that platform separated by a little wooden fence was a ten foot alligator, just sitting under the water.
We were to learn a lot more about these alligators the following day when we returned to the same spot on an official Everglades tour (unbeknown to us) , but if I'd known then what I knew the following day, I would have been a little more careful wandering around that car park. Although it's illegal to feed or interfere with an alligator in Florida (how you interfere with a ten foot biting machine I do not know) many people do and the alligators at that particular spot tend to wait for people to
feed them sandwiches, pizza and anything else idiotic tourists want to throw at them. Sadly this teaches the alligators that food comes from human hands and makes them more likely to go for a human hand if one is dangled in front of them!
After a quick couple of piccys, it was back in the beast and off for the final run into the KOA Naples, although safe to say the KOA Naples isn't very close to Naples (about a 20minute drive). On arriving at the camp we found the place deserted and very flooded from previous days of rain. Lacking a little bit of facilities and interest that we have found in other KOA sites it wasn't the best, perhaps because of the rain and the lack of any other campers. It did have a raised hard stand which was welcome but with both ends flooded, navigating our way via big puddles or over the boggy grass to get to loos, showers, pool or shops was a bit of an ordeal.
It was here we discovered that we hadn't actually been attacked by Mosquitos as we had thought on previous days but by a much more vicious
Florida biting insect they call a 'nosseum' no-see-um....because you never see the little ba5£££rds! They are a small fly, almost like a UK black fly that can get through normal mesh on the windows and doors of an RV (never leave your windows open at night) and they are twice as evil. At this point the nice lady in the shop recommended some local anti 'noseeum' juice which we have tried, it seems to work to a point but rather than smelling of Deet wherever we go now, we smell like a lemon salad! Sadly they are most prevalent in wet conditions so living in a flooded campsite for 2 days was always going to be tricky.
As it had been a long drive (left Key West at 10 am and arrived Naples at 16-45) and taking into account the excesses of Key West we decided a night out on the town and alcohol was out of the question so we settled in for a night of CSI on cable TV and emergency pasta and Parmesan cheese sauce from Publix.
Great driving day and tomorrow we are up early (6-30 am) for a days excursion deep into the
Everglades. Should be fun!
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