It’s a scorching hot day in Florida as our car slices through air thick with humidity. Every second sign is for an airboat tour or an alligator feeding – we’re deep in the tourist portion of the Everglades National Park.
The fast pace and expensive restaurants of Miami are behind us. The buzzing of neon has been replaced by the buzzing of mosquitos. Gone are the Botoxed buxom beauties of South Beach, replaced by the toothy grins of ‘Gators.
Eating the Locals
Our car noses into the car park of a sleepy roadside cafe only minutes ahead of the arbitrary Florida thunderstorm. We’ve barely slid into our booth seats when the heavens open and rain comes down in drenching sheets. We can’t even see the car park through the shifting torrent.
We order up an Everglades sampler including fried plantains, gator bites, fry bread, and fried frogs legs. A pair of sweet teas are on hand to wash it all down and we’re soon ready to tuck in before we head out to the Everglades proper to do a little exploration.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say our meal was delicious, but it was certainly a memorable buffet of too oily delicacies and a welcome change from store bought bagels and Taco Bell.
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve filmed a special Test Drive on the road. You can see my reaction to eating frogs legs below:
Biking the Everglades
The misleadingly named ‘Shark Valley’ is quite busy despite it being the middle off the week, and I’m not just talking about fellow tourists. The air is thick with mosquitos lured out by the recent thunderstorm and it necessitates an expensive purchase of insect repellent before we can get underway.
Bike rentals are $8 an hour and I’ve got to admit it felt great to be back in the saddle. I can’t even recall the last time I’ve been on a bike, but the big kid in me is out in force before we’ve made it very far. It’s all I can do not to race away and leave poor Heather behind, so eager are my legs to peddle away.
Shark Valley also offers tour hour tram tours that cover the entire track and include a ranger’s narration to better explain things, but it’s late in the day and we don’t much fancy waiting until twilight to catch the last tour of the day.
It’s not humidity or heat that makes speeding up difficult, but the clouds of insects that hover over the path. Mosquitos, dragonflies, and other nameless swamp denizens leap into view like enemies in a fast paced video game. I’m surprised I didn’t finish the ride picking pieces of them out of my teeth.
I’m not quite Burt Reynolds in White Lightning, but damned if I’m not screaming through the park at a decent clip when I catch sight of my first alligator.
I come screeching to a halt so suddenly that Heather careens into the back of my bike, but her protests are ignored as I snatch up my camera and race back to where I’d spotted our reptilian friend.
He’s not the threatening giant I’d hoped to spot. Hell, he’s not even as big as my arm. But he’s scaly and toothy and that basically qualifies him to be my first wild alligator sighting. A few minutes snapping photos and it’s time to go off in search of bigger game.
Alas, our little friend is as big as our wildlife sightings get. We had to content ourselves with more dragonflies than we cared to count and a pair of grasshoppers doing it on the side of the road. Enjoy your insect porn, perverts.
Our experience biking the Everglades wasn’t quite as exhaustive as I’d have hoped. We spent barely ninety minutes exploring due to our tight schedule and late arrival, but I enjoyed it immensely. Shark Valley also boasts numerous walking trails and a lengthy tram tour for those not eager to test the old ‘easy as riding a bike’ adage.
Someday I’d like to go back and do the place justice, Gator Mcklusky style. Air boats, twelve footers, and high adventure? Yes, please!
Have you ever been to the Everglades? Did you live out my dream and ride an air-boat? Or do it in a more conventional way?
What about close encounters with wildlife? Had any thrilling moments on the road?