Welcome to the Jungle...

Trip Start Apr 04, 2011
Trip End Jun 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Yee all be careful out there in the jungle. Things happen in the jungle and you better beware. Have fun and be safe in the jungle..." Now imagine a middle aged black man with the voice of James Earl Jones giving you that warning. Yeah, a bit scary isn't it. This is the message we got from a nice guy we met on our way to the Everglades. He saw our mountain handouts which Derek had procured from yet another elderly women who wanted to take him in and give him a proper meal. She and her husband were manning the visitors center in Florida City as she had done for the last 21 years, coming this time every year from Michigan. Last year they renewed their vows in a local attraction spot on Valentine's Day after 65 years, Derek saw the picture. So yes we had received ample information about the must see and do of the area, in fact Derek had to kindly decline any more pamphlets or coupons (she was big on coupons) as we only have a few days here. But she had forgotten to warn us about the jungle in the same way this man saw fit, so I suppose after that we were truly prepared....

Our first activity for the day included a stop at the Everglades Alligator Farm, South Florida's oldest gator farm housing more than 2,000 of the intimidating beasts. Oh dear. We happened to get there right in time to view one of the two daily Gator feedings that take place and it's was certainly a sight to see! We watched the feed and listened to the owner's son talk about the giant lizards, some of which were 8ft, only being dwarfed by Grandpa at 14ft!!! Then we took a walk around the property looking into the swamp land spotting heads and tails and a few full size gators as they napped and lounged in the shade. The farm also held some additional characters, ranging from Crocodiles and panthers to giant pythons and boas. You were able to see where they hatched the little ones and raised them from mere inches to 5ft, growing almost a foot a year within their first four years before being introduced to the adult area. We crossed off all the scaly creatures and then it was time for our air boat ride.

Oh man, why someone didn't explain  the awesomeness of an air boat before I do not know! Perhaps I was informed but  I didn't fully take it in, but either way I was not totally prepared for the fun and excitement that ensued. The first part of the ride was a leisurely crawl through the natural swamp land where riders were able to stand up and take pictures of any creatures they spotted. The only rule that Mike, our captain, had was no hands in the water and as we passed by "Willy" in his natural sunning spot it was definitely apparent why. I'd rather not lose a limb to a mid-day snack. Then it was time to take her out and turn up the speed. Ear protection on and away we went. For me there was something thrilling about flying through the waterway only large enough for the boat, water spraying on both sides and reeds that at times were over head. It wasn't until we did a 270 in order to turn the other way that I realized just how loud the fan must be as the exclamation I made was no where to be heard. More of the same as we zoomed through more of the open terrain only slowing slightly when making one of the many 360 turns before heading resuming our creature-watching crawl and heading back in to dock. All and all we more than enjoyed ourselves at the Everglades Alligator Farm and I think it began to more fully prepare us for heading further into the jungle....it was on to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States known as Everglades National Park.

Our drive into the park was beautiful, through dense greenery to our first stop at the Anhinga Trail. This is a half-mile boardwalk trail that wound its way through a freshwater swamp, home to dozens of alligators that we saw and I'm sure many more that we didn't. Only minutes after starting our walk we came across a soft shell turtle on the banks who looked to be preparing herself to lay some eggs, though the crowd of onlookers might have made her a little self-conscious because she was gone when we came back and didn't leave any eggs behind. The vultures were out in full force and apparently in addition to their normal diet, they enjoy the rubber that holds windshields in place (signs everywhere warned of potential vehicle damage).  They say everything is bigger in Texas, but those people have never been dive bombed by bugs in the Everglades. As we walked through our last trail of the day, a few particularly territorial bugs made it clear to us that we were not welcome and we heeded their warnings! It was only there that we really had to fend for ourselves, and in the pine forest no less. Aren't the bugs supposed to like the wet areas of the forest?

On our way back into town, we opted for a detour at the Schnebly Redlands Winery (which we had a coupon for!) to have a few tastes. In the same way California wine uses grapes, the wine here is produced using tropical fruits like lychee, passion fruit, guava, mango, and even avocado with not a single grape to be found! We had a friendly young sommelier who was talking us through all the possible choices, he was very knowledgeable and made some great recommendations. We each had 5 tastes and then got a 6th of their coconut wine on the house. The wine plus getting to keep our glasses as souvenirs made it well worth it even without the coupon. The winery itself was quite impressive with everyone's palates being satisfied not just those who really enjoy the sweeter side of wine. I don't think that either of us expected something on such a grand scale but the decor and grounds were beautiful and included outdoor bar and seating areas along with more than one giant waterfall! We might swing by again on our way to Miami and bring our glasses (which now get us a discount) for some more! A night in a hotel was well deserved and we appreciated it even more as the rain started to unleash some time around the same time President Obama started to unleash on The Donald!
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Christine on

The scenery is beautiful and to boat and boardwalk trail look fun but the wildlife, not so much. Derek , are you boycotting the barber? Dad says hi to you both and he hopes you have a great trip. I showed him some pictures.

Derek on

We were glad to hear you shared our pictures with him, I know Della wasn't sure that he would be able to see them. Just so you know, I shaved later that night so I'm not looking so scruffy anymore!

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