Thursday, 24 October 2013

Blimey mate! It's a 'Gator

It was Monday afternoon by the time all of our kit was washed and repacked and we still needed to put up a blog about our weeks activities. It took a while but by about 4 it was written and by 6 it was all uploaded and we were headed out. Krystyne met us in the lobby and a short, slightly emotional, goodbye was had and we hit the road trying to make the Everglades by nightfall. I say try, anyone who knows the distance or Miami traffic at that time of the evening knows it would be impossible. We carved our way through the never ending urban sprawl for about an hour and a half until we were nearly out. We hit up yet another fast food joint, had our fill, and our refill, updated the back doors of the car and carried on. Once we made our final turn onto the 9336 almost instantaneously the city disappeared along with the tungsten glow of the street lights. It felt a little unnerving, more so as we passed a large prison and psychiatric unit.

From there on out it was mostly farmland right up until we hit the swamps. The road was long and straight, with no oncoming traffic or junctions to slow for, the road became hypnotic a never ending flow of yellow dashes and the constant rumble of rubber on tarmac, and with the sun gone, both of us found ourselves slipping off. So the music was cranked up and a quick shake of the head more speed was added to get there a little sooner. It was only about 30 minutes later when we passed through the park gates and were now only 8miles from our campsite, on the way we were able to watch 2 or 3 thunder storms roll around us due to the large open flat terrain. Fortunately they stayed far enough away and we never got caught up in any rain storms. At about mile 6 we finally passed some traffic, well a pickup to be exact. I said to Chris “Looks like a ranger’s pickup”. Once we passed I looked in the rear view to see the pickup turning around. Shortly after and for the next 2 or 3 miles all I could see was lights, I’m not sure if that was his intention or if Americans really don’t know how to use low beam. Still I carried on till we reached the campsite turn and began to indicate. Then as I had now come to expect the red and blue lights flashed, great, here we go now for the pain in the ass questions on how I own a vehicle without being a citizen. The wait was agonizing as he wandered around the vehicle, only adding to my apprehension and churning the butterflies in my stomach. “I don’t want to go home yet” I thought to myself. Finally he reached the window. “Evening fellas, where you headed tonight” was the first thing he said, no introduction, nothing.  We explained we were looking for the campsite to which he immediately responded “well it’s closed”, he then asked the dreaded ‘who’s car is this?’ I explained how it was mine and used the couch surfing tale that Mike had told us to use along with the “we’re British, we’re stupid.” He seemed to be ok with that. He then checked if we had any weapons and finally told us that he’d pulled us over as there is a similar vehicle in the area that has been up to no good. He also pointed out the campsite at the other side of the park 38miles away was open. And with that he was gone. I let out a sigh of relief and put my foot to the floor and within 35 minutes we were at camp flamingo. The heat was unbearable and the humidity was off the charts so it was time to finally pull out the free tent we had picked up from Mike’s. We had no idea if it was complete or what state it was in but we had to sleep somewhere that wasn’t inside the Suburban which was already becoming a sweat box. We quickly assembled the tent thanks to a rather simple design, after that we threw in a few pillows and some sleeping bags to use as mattresses and settled in. It was still sweltering inside the tent but with the vents opened and the temperature slowly dropping both of us nodded off only to awake in the morning absolutely plastered in mosquito bites. After a little tent inspection it turns out Mr Norton had failed to fully zip the main door. I was actually too itchy to be angry so I scrambled out and ran to the showers to get clean. We had no food supplies as yet so once we had sorted out the car and downed the tent we rolled out a few hundred yards to walk around Eco pond trail. It was essentially just a lake with a central island and all manners of birds. We wandered slowly hoping to finally see an alligator or two but with no such luck. 30 minutes passed by the time we returned to the white tank, and as we got there we were greeted by yet another park ranger. This time it was friendlier, if not more worrying, as he went on to tell us that one of his colleagues had been walking in long grass and had been bitten by a pigmy rattlesnake and that 28 vials of anti-venom were required to save his life. With the message still ringing in our ears, we hit the road before we got eaten, bitten or killed to death by the weather. We aimed west hoping to make the west coast of Florida in a few hours and pick up food there.

Unfortunately mile after mile of roadwork’s slowed us to a crawl and progress slowed so much that 4 hours soon passed and we were still 50 miles from civilization. As we cleared the roadwork, my eyes became heavier and with both of us feeling drained I pulled into a picnic area to grab 40 winks. I awoke to find the car had become a sauna and dived out of the door. Chris was sat at a bench not too far away feeling a little sketchy, mostly because he was dehydrated and hungry. I grabbed dew and a bag of crisps then we hit the road again. Now I was determined to get there as fast as possible and with an inherent disregard for the speed limit of 60, I did 65. Soon enough we pulled into Wal-Mart’s car park and did the shopping in record time, as nearly all Wal-Mart’s follow the same layout so we no longer actually need to browse.  We finally got to stuff our faces, reorganized the food box and picked a state park campground to reach before nightfall. It was pretty painless as we hit the I-75 within a few miles and from there it was plain sailing and the 80 or so miles quickly disappeared into the rear view and we arrived just before sunset. We paid the ranger and headed into the campground, set up camp and made our dinner. Not long after it was cooked I finally decided it was time to bring out the Jim beam that Kevin gave us on our way to Denver. So once we had dished up we toasted to Kevin and chowed down. Not long after we’d finished eating the heavens opened and all of the rain happened at once. So we dove into our tent and attempted to wait it out as the lightning flashed around us. While we waited we read up on activities in the park, there was bike rental, dirt trails, hiking trails, boat tours, bird walks, kayaking and canoeing. So we knew weather depending we had a lot of choices to choose from the next day. Eventually the rain let up and we got our sleeping gear into the tent and settled in for the night. We slept soundly now that the temperature was reasonable and the mosquitos were trapped outside. Only problem now was we had a small puddle in the corner of the tent. Turns out it’s only 95% waterproof. I got up and packed away my stuff and hit the showers while Chris slept in. I was onto the washing up by the time he surfaced and began to take down the tent. So it was around 1130 when we were all packed up and ready to leave. We decided to head to the lake first as due to Chris’s lye in he had missed the opportunity to use the loos in the campground. Once Chris was relieved we headed into the store to browse for a license plate and with no luck we headed outside to look at the rental costs. It wasn’t too bad at $20 for an hour and $5 for any additional time, so we went back to the shop to sort it all out. When we enquired we were met with a hesitant and slightly unsettling response of “It’s very windy out there”, to us it was just a gentle breeze and the temperature was perfect so we weren’t sure what they were on about and with a little persuasion they handed me the forms and the canoe was ours. We were directed to skirt the left of the main lake till we reached a weir then climb over the weir and proceed down the river as it would be the calmest place. Still unsure what they meant by “windy” we grabbed our cheaper more waterproof digital cameras and headed onto the water.  Immediately the wind caught the vessel and pushed us sideways in completely the wrong direction and a lot of paddling was required to get us going the right way. But sure enough we were headed the right way and quickly hopped over the weir and onto the river. Almost immediately after crossing the weir we were greeted by our first Alligator and both of us failed to get a picture which was generally the story all the way down as stopping in one location was not exactly possible. So we paddled down for 30 minutes and then back, taking in the beautiful wildlife, scenery and putting on our best Steve Irwin impressions every time we saw a ‘gator. Soon enough we made it back and settled up our bill.

Once we’d returned the equipment we headed for the nature trail towards the park entrance. It was a loop that took us through the jungle and over the swamp before reaching an observation bridge and tower that raises you above the canopy of the park. It was a really nice walk, and one we could enjoy thanks to the temperature returning to reasonable. We spent 2 hours slowly meandering through the trees and crossing over the swamps.

I could have spent another day in the park doing all of the other activities but we need to get out of Florida at some point so we hit the road north once more until we hit a motel again.
Running out of time, must check out.

See you all soon.