Then I saw an ad for airboat tours of The Everglades. Oh, how my adrenaline started surging throughout my body and mind. Feeling clearer than I had in years, and unable to think about anything but skittering across the waters of that huge swamp, I started my research. My fingers danced across my computer keys. I saved site after site, thinking this was just going to be another fantasy. After all, we are hardly wealthy. But excerpts from those sites wouldn’t leave my mind.
Wrong again. A few of these companies offer tours where their guests could wander around at their leisure. There’s just one itty, bitty catch. Their tours don’t just include airboat rides. Ever hear of a swamp buggy?
This was becoming too hard to resist. A twelve-foot high platform that rolls through mangrove forests and shallow waterways. The real Everglades was forming in my mind. Then a few tour companies advertised animal sanctuaries and I was hooked. The alligator shows were just an added bonus. It took about five minutes to draw my husband into my “fantasy” trip. One way or the other, we were going.
But this is where things get complicated. I have mobility issues and we take our grandson with us everywhere we go. I started making phone calls. A few told me that kids of all ages were welcome. But what about my issues? One company said their boats and buggies were wheelchair accessible. I’m not that far gone, but it was nice to know. I continued calling my now two company list and settled on the one closest to the West coast of Florida. After all, we didn’t want to cross the state unless absolutely necessary. The Glades covers the whole Southern tip of Florida. Thirty minutes of looking for discounted hotel rooms, during Florida’s tourist season, and our vacation was set.
I worried about the rain clouds that were rolling in from a storm closing in on Galveston, Texas. Texas isn’t that far from Florida if you’re crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Once that airboat started, there was no turning back. Had we made a mistake by bringing our grandson with us? Luck was still on our side and the clouds just shaded us from the sun.
Luck struck again. Our group turned out to be small; only about nine people, including the guide.
Once we were away from the alligator nesting grounds, the real fun started. Jake said that sometimes dolphins and manatees would play around the grassy water ways, but the wind was keeping them from the area. So we played with the airboat. The brackish water churned to brown foam as we cut donuts in the clearings. The boat skittered across the water, giving us a bumpy ride on the straightaways. A little girl, riding in the front seat, giggled as water sprayed on her. My grandson, Bradley, clung to his papa, as the boat sped up then came to a sudden stop. I found myself snapping random pictures, hoping some of them would be usable later on. No time to focus when you’re busy hanging on.
The next leg of the tour was the swamp buggy ride. For us, it was time to walk around and get our land legs back. No worries, another ride comes along every thirty minutes.
The buggy tour wasn’t as high-speed as the airboat, but it wasn’t without its attributes. An old Seminole hut was still standing from the eighteen hundreds sent my daydreaming mind back to a more dangerous time in the swamp. How did these people learn to survive under such harsh conditions? They weren’t indigenous to the area. They fled there after the white man ran them out of Georgia and North Florida. The nineteen fifties were marked by an alligator hunter’s camp that was still standing, including sun bleached alligator skulls and rusty tools. During that time, alligators were prized for their hides and meat, and feared for their hazards to livestock and people. A ban was placed on alligator hunting in the 1970’s because it nearly drove them to the point of extinction. By the nineteen-nineties the alligator made a comeback. It’s now legal to hunt them again, but alligator hunters must enter a kind of lottery in order to get permits. Only a lucky few are selected and the unfortunate ones don’t get their money back.
Captain Jim Bo isn’t just an entertaining guide, he’s the one who is charged with removing Florida’s most unwanted illegal alien, the Burmese python. This snake was brought to the United States as pets and for research. After realizing the snakes were deadly, some pet owners turned them loose in the wild. Other snakes were freed from an animal research facility in Homestead, Florida by hurricane Andrew in 1992. According to Captain Jim Bo, Florida once paid people who brought in dead pythons, but a group of people actually started raising their own, then killing them for profit. Florida has now hired certain people to kill the snakes.
After the swamp buggy tour, we wondered around the zoo for a while. Unfortunately, it was getting hot by that time, so most of the animals were resting.
We were a few minutes late for the alligator wrestling demonstration, but managed to get a good spot. The alligator handler, Devin, demonstrated centuries’ old capturing techniques used by Seminole hunters. These days, these actions are performed mainly for the amusement of tourists. Back then, they were essential. Alligator meat only lasts a few hours once the animal is dead. The Seminoles learned to subdue the animal and kill it once they were close to home.
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