Everglades…

Tee-Hee: There are two ways to disable an croc, you know.
James Bond: I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me what they are.
Tee-Hee: One way is to take a pencil and stick it in the pressure area above its eye.
James Bond: And the other way?
Tee-Hee: Oh, the other way is twice as simple. You just stick your hand in its mouth and pull its teeth out. Heh, heh.

The tour bus picked me up from my hotel at 9am. By the time the chaotic pick ups were completed and we got to the Everglades Gator Park it must have been about noon. The chaotic pick ups were partly down to the maze of streets and one way systems that make up Miami and partly down to tour guide incompetence. Actually, that’s not strictly true, the tour bus driver/tour guide, Tony, was handicapped by, what sounded like the tour company’s incompetence. At least two people were left behind because there was no room on the bus.

During the drive to the Everglades, which took about 30 minutes, Tony made a half-arsed attempt to fulfill the tour guide part of his title by providing us with a few bits of information. These nuggets of info were scattered amongst his grumbling about the tour company and grumbling about other drivers.

He pointed out:

Some trees: Initially grown as the bright idea of settlers in an effort to soak up the considerable amount of water in odrer to claim some land for farming. The idea backfired spectacularly, as the trees planted then have taken over large areas of the everglades. So, even now, the tress are the subjects of mass poisonings and bulldozings, yet they still keep growing back.

Some houses: The one in Scarface, Sylvester Stallone’s, Shaquil O’Neal’s and Vanilla Ice’s. That’s providing they still live there. Tony does not care for such things.

Miami is a young city: It was not afforded city status until 1915, having only had it’s first settlers a few years before.

There is not much else to tell you until we get to the park.

So we were left listening to him muttering about the tour company and the other road users.

Gator Country:

We spotted our first alligator. We drove past it as it swam up the edge of the everglades. Tony missed it, as did several other passengers, although he did point out several road kills amongst his mutterings.

We reached the gator park soon after, which was conspicuous by it’s close proximity to a few other gator parks. I wondered if there were enough alligatorsin the everglades to go round or if they had some sort of squad rotation system. Turns out there are more than enough alligators.

Once in the park we were assigned colour coordinated stickers and Tony handed us over to the park guides. Our sticker colour was brown and I wondered if this was an omen. We immediately piled onto a couple of airboats. Those airboats are great! They hold about 20 plus the driver in an elevated position in front of the huge fan. We were also given earplugs because, as the guide informed us, “when this goes fast, and it will go fast, you’re gonna need them!”…cool!

As soon as we were in the boat there was an alligator alongside. I was fortunate to be in a seat at the same side of the boat, so I got a decent photo. I was also fortunate to be at the sde of the boat because alligators are abble to leap out of the water and, if they do, the usually bypass the person at the side and land in the middle. So, apparently my only danger was if I stuck my hand in the water. I was at no point planning to stick my hand in the water.

But it wasn’t as simple as that. If the boat shook violently, let’s say because an alligator had just leapt into the boat and caused everyone to panic, the people sat on the sides would be the most likely to fall in the water. I scanned the boat and I was by far the most succullent looking of the people sat around the sides.

But it wasn’t as simple as that. Let’s assume that I do end up in the water, these airboats do not have a reverse gear. So, I would have to wait calmly (splashing attracts gators) until the next boat comes round, as there isn’t room to do a U-turn. I could be in the water for 10 minutes or so. Me and the alligators, the venemous snakes & the snapping turtles. A snapping turtle would have to snap through a major artery for me to die from it, but if a snapping turtle bit me anywhere, the blood would attract all of the gators. It’s not a place to get lost in. Although, you could surely walk in any direction and reach another gator farm in next to no time.

The boat guide, who obviously knows his stuff, or has at least learnt his lines, did give us some good Ray Mears style survival tips though:

The everglades is all fresh water, so no need to go thirsty.

There is also plenty of food, e.g. the water lillies are eadible, the lilly pad tastes like spinach, the stem like celery and the root like sweet potato.

All fresh fish are eadible, as are turtles…and they come with their own bowl (chortle!).

Beware sawgrass! Not the golf course, the grass. It covers a lot of the area and has a cerated edge that easily slices through skin.

Things may nibble at you, because you’re going to be neck deep in water the whole time.

So, apart from being neck deep in water, covered in deep, bleeding cuts and various poisonous or flesh eating creatures in there with you, you will have plenty of food and water until you reach somewhere safe. Easy.

All of this information came rapidly within the first 2 minutes on the boat, as we navigated our way through a narrow avenue away from the dock and towards the open everglades.

“Ladies and Gentleman, time to put in your earplugs”.

I wasn’t really expecting a full on Live and Let Die style ride across the everglades, which is just as well. We went fast. We skimmed over the grass and sprayed water on some sharp turns. But, to be honest, when you’re sat in the boat, it’s all a bit of a muffled blur. The everglades are flat, so ther are no real points in the distance to enable you to gauge how fast you are going. I’m certain that the driver’s elevated vantage point is the place to be.

And that was it. We wouldn’t need our earplugs again. The fast ride lasted all of a minute. And with that, we went back the way we came. We did see some alligators, about 4 in total, some of which have stories:

Scarface (about 12 feet): the dominant male. Mating season started eight weeks ago and Scarface had chased off the othe males. Although one male, much larger was shot by native americans in a nearby village, due to him wandering a bit too close too many times. I guess none of them wanted to wake up in a Lacoste sleeping bag (guffaw!).

Jumper (about 6 feet), a female. Back in the day, tour guides would throw food to the alligators to get them to surface near the boats. One day a guide threw a slice of bread, it caught a gust of win and blew back into the boat, where it was soon joined by Jumper. And that’s how throwing food into the water became a serious no, no.

I also managed to see a few turtles (I don’t think they were the snapping kind) and plenty of fish. The water is surprisingly clear.

Back safely on dry land, I wandered around the farm, killing time till the next “wildlife show” began. They had a load of alligators in a pen (about 10 of them), all about 3-4 feet. No explanation was given as to why they were there. There were also a load of snakes in dsplay cases and quite a few vultures hanging about that were obviously gatecrashers.

The “Wildlife Show”:

First things first, god pless the guy, he was an excellent presenter, but his voice was hilarious. It would not have been out of place in one of those shit Adam Sandler films. He started with a scorpion and moved onto a skunk and then grappled with an alligator. I say grappled, he really just showed how they deal with them and a little of what they are capable of. Alligator wrestling comes from the native american tactic of instead of killing a large gator and having to drag it home, they would capture smaller gators, by wrestling them and keep them until they were needed. If you’ve read my comments regarding Central Park Zoo, you’ll be aware that I’m uncomfortable with performing animals, but these weren’t really performing. The presenter made a good point that in having the animals so close, they are no longer an abstract image only provided by television or movies. So they become real to a lot of people and that heightened awareness leads to fund raising and conservation.

At the end of the show you could have your photo taken with an alligator and I declined. Although, it did remind me of a trip to Vietnam with my mate Gaz. We were in the Mekong Delta and were looking around a little village or something. Anyway, there was a guy there having his photo taken with a boa constrictor (I htink it was about 10 feet), so we piled in and took turns having our photos taken. After that, more tourists followed our lead and it was only later that we realised there was no official handler, so maybe it was just a snake that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Back in the everglades, the shw was over and so was out tour. We were back on the bus and shuttled back, with a whole new soundtrack of mutterings from Tony, to our hotels. I was back in the hotel by 3pm.

It’s not that the tour was bad. OK, getting there and back was no fun, but the actual alligator park was a good tour, there just wasn’t enough of it.

 

…In a while, Crocodile…

 

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