I’ve been wanting to go to the Everglades for a long time. It just looked like such an amazing wilderness and a pretty big departure from the woodlands and mountainous outdoors that I’m used to. I loved exploring the Everglades, whether it was by boat, car, bike, or just on foot. Each offered its own unique experiences.
If you’ve just got a car and your own two pair of feet, the Anhinga Trail’s a good place to start. This was my first real glimpse of the Glades, and I saw my first alligator there too! It was super exciting the first time (although for most Florida locals, I doubt it would’ve been much of an occasion. I imagine it’d be like me when I see deer, although I’m an oddball and still get pretty excited when I see a deer). I saw plenty more gators before I left the Everglades behind (more on that later), so the excitement died down a little as time wore on. It was kind of the same with bison when I went to Yellowstone. The first time I saw one, a little after I passed the front entrance, it was like ‘OMG BISON’. Then they kept showing up, and a few days later I saw fields with bison herds a hundred strong, and the novelty of it was kind of wearing off. Still hella cool though, and I still got excited each time. Just not the kind of major freak out event that the first few times were.
For boat tours, I went on three over the two days I was there. One was an air boat, which took us through the wide, shallow waters pictured above (the two on the right). It was a fun time and a new experience, and it allowed us to travel over water that would be too shallow for a motor boat to go through.
As for motor boat tours, I took two different ones. The first was out of the Flamingo visitor center and went into the backcountry swamps. It was a nice tour, and there were some great bird and crocodile sightings along the tour. Plus, the captain was super nice and friendly.
My favorite one though was the Ten Thousand Islands Tour, which left from the Gulf Coast visitor center and went out into open waters and around the islands dotting the Gulf Coast. It was AWESOME, and I got to see a manatee, dolphins, and a lot of different birds (like the cormorant! – I got this word in the Salad Bowl game (it’s kind of like taboo) and I had no idea what it was).
Seeing the dolphins on this tour really renewed my love for them. Dolphins used to be my favorite animal back in third grade or so, around the time when I wanted to be a marine biologist. Part of me still does, and that multipronged conflict is back in full force now. Regardless, though, seeing the playfulness of the dolphins as they played in the froth from the motors made me fall for them all over again.
Another highlight of that trip was Pelican Island. It’s this island with a stretch of beach that reaches straight out into the ocean where hundreds of pelicans and other smaller birds gather for some rest and relaxation. According to the captain, that little stretch of land is also the stinkiest piece of land in the Glades because of all the poop that’s accumulated on it from its avian visitors. He was quite bemused that they would all choose to gather there in some giant stinkfest.
If you look at the top right photo above, you’ll notice a single little black colored bird – I call him the ugly duckling (not because I think he’s ugly at all, I’m not that mean T_T nah, he’s more like a cute baby brother hanging out with his protective older pelican brothers).
The boat’s captain was again really great. He really made an effort to make sure we got to see the manatee instead of half-assing it and moving on before it came out, and he took the time to stop to let us watch the dolphins and take pictures of the pelicans. I attribute a lot of the great experience I had to him and his first mate, who also did an amazing job pointing things out to us along the way and making sure we all had a good time. Moral of the story: tip yo’ captains, guys, especially if they’re well deserved.
Shark Valley was just freaking awesome. If you’ve got a craving for gators, Shark Valley is probably the place to be. There were a bunch of them just napping in the sun on the side of the trail.
Because of that, I’m actually really glad that the trolley tours were all sold out. Talk about serendipity – it was only that ‘misfortune’ that led to the discovery of the bike rentals, and biking allowed me the freedom to go at my own pace and stop for sightseeing whenever I wanted. It was also just fun and nice to be back on a bike, and watching the open landscape pass by as you ride is a really great feeling. According to my brother, the fields reminded him of the Pride Lands. I’m inclined to agree. Hakuna Matata, guys.
And with that, I’ll just leave you with this: