Paddling Through the Mangroves
Trip Start Feb 15, 2010
77Trip End Feb 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
Samuel Walton's Market
On the advice of the girl at the hotel's desk, I made my way to Chokoloskee Island to have lunch at the Havana Cafe before driving over to the Big Bend Cypress Boardwalk.
The boardwalk is a 1/2 mile long reaching into a cypress swamp and it terminates at an active alligator hole. The vegetation along the boardwalk is stunning to look at. The multitude of plants all climbing over each other to live. Almost every large cypress or oak tree was covered with vines, strangler figs, spanish moss, and dozens of other air plants that land on the upper branches and live on the branches of the trees without stealing any nutrients from it
There were a couple of two or three year old little alligators sunning themselves on a log in the alligator hole, but their mother was elsewhere for the day. There were also a variety of birds: herons, anhingas, hawks, wood storks, and cormorants.
After I finished wandering the boardwalk, I headed back to the Ivey House Inn to meet with the guide for the kayak trip. Our group ended up being nine people (including the guide). Thankfully, we were provided with "touring" kayaks. These are flat-bottomed and much more stable than kayaks I'd been in before. After a short drive we put into the water and headed off down the river. We made our way through a number of wide areas connected in between by tunnels through the mangrove forests that were usually only six feet wide and varied in height. I only had to duck a couple of times. We only saw one alligator on the trip out, but the birds and leaping fish were constant companions. Even without wildlife, it feels like such an exotic and alien place when rowing between the thick groves of trees that I never got bored. The branches meeting overhead and their multiple roots reaching out into the path, threatening to catch the tip of my kayak or steal my paddle made for a challenge. It did take a little quick learning, but once we got used to it the maneuvering was really quite fun, and if all else failed we could always just grab ahold of the roots to redirect ourselves
Once we got a ways out we came into a saw-grass prairie and pulled in our kayaks into some shallows to face the setting sun. Behind us about a quarter of a mile was a large nesting tree where hundreds of various birds will go every night due to the slightly warmer temperatures in that particular area. We sat and chatted while a beautiful Florida sunset painted the sky over the grass and water, while a few dozen flocks of cormorants and herons flew over our heads on their way to the tree behind us. It was a very peaceful and beautiful experience.
After the sun had set, our guide shoved us back into deeper waters and we made our way back along the path we'd come in the dark. We were each provided with a headlamp, but we only used them inside of the mangrove tunnels because out in the open rivers the water was literally carpeted with bugs who, as it turns out, really like headlamps! Luckily, the moon was bright enough that we could see the trees alongside the river quite well and headlamps weren't necessary. Inside of the tunnels the bottoms of the roots looked like they were sparkling with hundreds of diamonds. Our guide informed us that those were the eyes of little spiders reflecting the light from our lamps, so it went from kind of pretty...to gross
On the way back we did encounter four alligators who were out searching for food. One passed directly in front of the lead kayak in one of the mangrove tunnels and we had to stop and wait for him to move along. For the most part all we could see of them was the red-orange reflection of their eyes from our head-lamps. Alligators are generally very scared of humans and will not attack a human unless they feel threatened, so it is recommended to give them at least ten feet of space at all times.
Once we made it back to our landing point we loaded all of the kayaks back onto the trailer and the guide drove us back to the hotel where we said our thank-yous and good-byes. I then drove for about an hour or so to a Wal-Mart in Miami for the night. If you ever find yourself in southern Florida, and want to really see the beauty of the Everglades, I recommend one of these paddling trips. Go on the airboats if you feel you must, but if you do at least consider trying both.
Lastly, for some reason this poem came to mind when I was in the Everglades:
"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."
-Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
I guess it just felt like a lot of nonsense words had their place in this world, or sounded familiar to words I would use to describe it.