Natalie wanted to go to Disney world. She wanted to spend a week sipping tea with princesses, problem is that I am cheap, and would prefer the company of swamp yokels then princesses. I had a couple of days that I had to use up before the end of the year, so I decided to drop her off after a long weekend adventure in Florida. |
Booked a flight on swoop air, a discount airline that will get you from the frozen blahs of Canada to the lizard infested swamps of florida for the price of a tank of gas, so long as you have no luggage, which was a little tricky to do as Natalie was staying for 10 days, but we managed.
Flew into Orlando, rented a cheap beater car, and stayed at a inexpensive Airbnb we had found, a castle outside of town that the owner had made for himself, custom designed with stone and woodworking akin to Austrian castles. Had some fun discussions about building inspections and code, Natalie and I were both interested in how it got done. Don’t get me wrong, the place was gorgeous!
The next day was mostly spent driving from Orlando to Homestead Florida. Along the way we stopped at a drainage canal outside of Miami, where we had our first experience with wild Iguanas (which are apparently non-native species but doing VERY well). You could barely take a few steps without causing them to leap from the bushes and make a bipedal sprint for the watercourse. We also stopped at a Cuban café for lunch, two separate tables (behind and in front) were discussing two separate shooting incidents, Natalie kicked me for mentioning it. The food was distinctly Cuban, we had spent some time there a few years ago on another trip.
After lunch we made our first attempt at seeing an alligator, a park outside of Miami where a cache had been noted lately as being the scene of a dogwalker getting eaten while visiting the park (GC59YHZ). Perfect! That’s the experience I would like to have while visiting! Not only could I not find the cache, but no alligators were spotted. I did have my last experience with wild iguanas while here though, while finding some nearby puzzle caches, which took me along a watercourse, I noticed that there were probably 50 or so dead iguanas floating in the watercourse. No explanation, not sure if the water was poison, or someone dumped some pest species here, but it was sad and surreal.
Eventually I made it to my first chance of finding a Crocodile. At this point I had still not seen an Alligator, so given what I had expected, I was not very hopeful. We started by doing an earthcache (GC7P6E9), where a manatee (our first!) was swimming in the canal for us. We watched him for a while, and as the sun was setting I headed off down the trail (towards GC5Y3NJ) to see if I could spot anything else. Just as I was approaching, something began swimming towards me – There it was, my Crocodile! It was massive, probably around 15 feet long, and casually swimming towards me like I was a lost deer in the swamp. As she got close she must have lost interest, her horizontal motion turned to vertical, and she dipped below the water line. I continued on towards the cache, and reached GZ. A bush, with a micro hanging over the same water where I had just seen the monster. I gave it a pensive look, but as it was dark, and I was now shaken after seeing such a beast, I couldn’t find that one either, and gave it a pass before returning to the car.
That night we stayed in a rented mobile trailer just outside the everglades.
The next morning we headed into the everglades, did a drive right down to Flamingo (GC5694) – The virtual was fenced off for construction, but was able to get the answers from a park ranger. Who also gave us the must-see locations while in the park. We spotted a second, much smaller crocodile, swimming in the harbor, again, with a manatee. At this point we had only seen 2 roadside alligators, so we were tied for our reptile count of alligators vs crocodiles. The Park Ranger had told us if we want to see guaranteed alligators, head to Anhinga (GC43CZV) – And boy did we ever. Alligators all over that trail, lots of wildlife. Glad I had asked the ranger, otherwise I might not have seen this place!
Next stop, Florida Keys. We set off for our goal cache on the lower matecumbe key (GCMQJX). Natalie opted to pass on my “boat” idea given her tendency to burn. There was lots going on around the area so she was not short on things to do while I rented a kayak and set off for some of the uninhabited keys.
I rented a kayak and headed for Indian Key (GC70AWT / GC71T5J) which had a ghost town with an interesting history of succession from the USA, before being bombarded by the Navy. Interesting plaques, neat place! Found a questionable rain barrel on the island and took a drink before heading out again – Fully expect I probably got worms from this action, but no ill effects yet after a month, so I might be okay. Ready for my Kayak back!
Well it was perfectly fine up until the last 200 meters. I got to the correct island and headed down the mangrove channel towards the kayak drop off. A shark came out of the mangroves and bumped into my boat. The bump itself I could have survived, but the surprise of being bumped by a shark freaked my right out, and into the sea I went. First thing that came to mind was “crap my phone” – flipped the kayak, and put the phone in, and then my gps. Swam the kayak back to the boat launch. I wasn’t overly concerned about the shark, as it was only about 2 feet long, It was a baby shark (doo doo do do do do) as far as I could tell and didn’t pose any threat. The Kayak dealer laughed as I returned the boat, as I wasn’t in it as I approached the shore.
Did a few more caches throughout the keys on the way back to the everglades trailer.
The next day was mostly a driving day. We travelled US-41 along the top of the everglades, and every 10 seconds Natalie would say “Crocogator”, every time she spotted alligators from the passenger window. There were a lot! All just hanging out by the water at the side of the road. It was also clear at this point that neither my phone nor my GPS survived the baby shark incident, had to utilize Natalies phone for the rest of the tour.
The goal cache for this day was the Christmas cache (GCFA) – the oldest in Florida, and a 6km walk in the everglades. Natalie opted to sit this one out for a few reasons (very hot, snakes, long hike, swamp, etc). I set off. I followed the trail until it narrowed between two bodies of open water, and right in the middle stopping my progress was an alligator who showed no interest in moving. I pondered for a minute or two, and then a man on a bike approached. We got to talking and he was from Canada as well, 2 hours from where I live. We were both out of our element with the alligator. I got a long stick and began petting the gator from a safe distance, which didn’t seem to phase him. Few gentle pokes didn’t work either. Dropped the stick on top of him, nothing. Got a bigger stick and repeated. Eventually the gator gave a huff and slid into the water, freeing up the trail. Found the cache without further issue!
The other stop of note that day was manatee park (GCYG4H) – I had planned to come here in hopes of seeing manatees, but since I had seen so many others during the trip it wasn’t as important. This was the only spot where I saw LOTS of manatees though, they was all congregated here along the orange river, so that was neat!
Dropped my Natalie off at Disney World, and then flew back from Orlando. Upon arrival back in Canada I got flagged, once again, for suspicious behavior (leaving my Natalie there, not purchasing anything, having various electronic devices on me that wouldn’t turn on, etc). Because I wasn’t able to take any luggage, I came home with a children’s backpack, that was full of dirty laundry from our trip, so when It was open, sure enough, ladies underwear was right on the top. A few laughs were had, but they let me go. A week later I picked up my Natalie at 2am at Niagara airport, on the American side. I had attempted to pick her up from the wrong airport in Buffalo before hand, so she wasn’t too impressed with that.
So for those wanting to see a Crocodile, you should know: Crocodiles hang out in salty water, Alligators in Fresher water. Crocodiles are light grey in colour, Alligators are black. Crocodiles have pointy muzzles, and Alligators are much wider (apparently so they can crush turtle shells). Manatees are much more boring then I guess I expected, they silently stick their nose above water take a breath and then disappear.