Naked Ed and Chinese Poachers

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I never would have known that only thirty minutes from Gainesville a nature paradise exists along the Santa Fe River.  Yeah, I know...Santa Fe River?  I hadn't heard of it either, much less High Springs, FL where we set out from with Santa Fe River Canoe Outpost.  The middle part of Florida is totally overlooked by people, especially the northern half of the state.  I may as well be in another country completely removed from the state where Miami, Tampa and Orlando sprawl in their nondescript concrete splendor.

While hopping around the world, I like to arrive somewhere I have never heard of and see what interesting things I can learn about the place.  I don't have much to report from here other than Naked Ed.  Our kayak rental came complete with a warning about a loincloth clad recluse and we were even shown laminated 8.5"x11" pictorial proof of the dude in near naked repose.  I am thinking this has got to be some joke they play on the stupid tourists.  Lo and behold this is no joke, and Naked Ed is really a nudist who has been squatting on the tiny bit of land around Lily Spring since 1985.  OK...I could have worded that differently  Not a pretty mental image, huh?  But anyway, supposedly this loincloth is a compromise with country officials who were alarmed that he was streaking through the forest in front of impressionable nature enthusiasts.  

At some point a land discpute caused an arsonist to burn down Naked Ed's homemade hut, and I am not too sure what he lives in now.  Sometimes you just don't want to ask too many questions and go places better left unexplored.  Naked Ed doesn't own the land or have any claim to it other than he showed up in the 80s and cleaned up the spring.  Thank God cold weather causes him to wear the loin cloth is all I have to say.  He is friendly enough and enjoys talking to canoeists and kayakers who paddle the thirty or so feet off the river to reach his spring fed cove.

Naked Ed aside, this river's ecosystem is pretty healthy judging by the huge amount of wildlife all around.  Actually I have never come across so many different animals and in such high volume as today.  By far my favorite resident of the river was a playful otter who out of the blue (or in this case out of the black) surfaced to watch us paddle on by.   He ducked under the water and popped up about twenty feet downstream and watched us again.  We played hide and seek a few more times before he disappeared for good into the tea colored water.

And speaking of springs such as Naked Ed's, the Santa Fe is loaded with them  These crystal clear coves have water that just bubbles up out of the earth and then mixes into the dark river.  Unfortunately the river was running very high today so the normally clear springs were kind of a cranberry juice red where the Santa Fe has overflowed into the coves.  I would hate for Naked Ed's loincloth to get stained but then again he does take pleasure in a good skinny dip.  The spring water is a skinny dip perfect 72 degrees year round just like the Three Sisters Springs from a few days ago and manatees can be found in parts of the river from time to time.

No manatees were out and about today butof course the water is just too dark to see much of anything.  One group out in full force though was the turtles.  Big turtles.  The biggest ones I have seen in the US actually.  No, these weren't your garden variety pet store crap that are an inch across.  These were over a foot wide and all along the banks I spotted so many of them clustered on trees that had fallen into the water along the banks.  They love to luxuriate in the sun single file on top of these logs.  We were maneuvering our kayaks to take some pictures of one cluster and my friend wasn't paying attention to the river currents.  Before I could say anything his kayak whacked one of these logs and sent 5 turtles right into the drink with five giant splashes.  It was like a rapidfire "plop, plop, plop, plop, plop,"  Here they had spent all that time drying off in the sun only to have to repeat the whole process.  Then again what do they have to do all day anyhow?

And get this...The North Florida Herald is reporting today that turtle poachers set traps that collect the unlucky turtles that slip off logs into the murky water.  Why poach a turtle?  It seems that Asian folks have a taste for the critters and the ones that can't survive Darwin's Law end up in Chinese markets here or more likely back in Asia for dinner.  I had to remind my friend that the turtles he sent flying off that log with his kayak are probably on some freighter bound for Hong Kong where they will become some sort of sweet and sour concoction.  Luckily limits have recently been placed on how many turtles can be legally harvested a day, but of course that doesn't stop the poachers from carting off truckloads.  So why Florida you ask.  Besides southeast Asia only Florida and the Southeast US have such huge turtle populations.  First cats and dogs.  Now turtles.  Is nothing sacred anymore at House of Wong Szechuan style cuisine?

A lack of visible alligators (they are there though) really surprised me and I guess judging by the amount of turtles that just lounge around, gators aren't as big a threat as Chinese restaurants back in the mother land.  And speaking of alligators I read an older newspaper article hanging on the bulletin board at the kayak place that tried to dispel a bunch of gator myths.  Supposedly over a million of the things call Florida home but since 1948 "only" about 140 people have been eaten by one.  This article claims alligators can only run about 5mph and swim about 8mph and they prefer to eat whatever is in front of them like birds or otters rather than have to expend energy to attack a human that may be off to the side.  I know I just read they are lazy but I somehow don't believe it.  You've seen those idiots on tv wrestling with them.  They look pretty damn quick and agressive to me.  I wonder if there is a market for moo shu gator back there in Asia as well.

So all this excitement is found along the meandering Santa Fe, a 75 miles long waterway that dumps into the Suwannee River after beginning in central Florida.  Like the Steinhatchee this river goes underground for a few miles and I really do need to visit one of the sites where these rivers disappear into the ground.  So many places to discover yet so little time.  Kayaking around south Georgia and north Florida has been an adventure that scenerywise rivals anything I have seen overseas.  The only difference is places are easily accessible, English is spoken, prices are wallet bustingly higher and my debit card works.  There is no challenge in getting here other than a lot of muscle power and sweat to navigate those kayaks into places remote and still untouched by the masses.  The effort is worth every drop of sweat and sore muscle, and I am now inspired to see a little more of the US from the seat of a kayak.  Though this past week has been pretty amazing, deep down my sense of adventure still yearns more for a plate of mee goreng in the middle of some humid market in tropical Borneo than the predictability of touring here at home.  But then again, does Borneo have a Naked Ed?

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