Wednesday morning in Miami dawned on overcast and threatening heavy rains, but my new friend and I had already purchased tickets from the Island Queen Cruises to tour the Everglades. We decided to suck it up and keep our plans, so we borrowed our husbands’ rain coats and headed out to catch our ride.
The tour included a pickup at our hotel. We were the last stop on the pickup route and the rain had caused traffic delays, so our bus was about 30 minutes late. We then had to connect with a bigger coach bus at the Bayside Market Place, but soon we were off on our adventure.
The trip from downtown Miami to the Everglades Safari Park was about 30 minutes, but the gentle rain on the window panes and hum of the motor soon lured both me and my new friend to sleep. We awoke as the bus pulled into the park and luckily had a few minutes to take a bathroom break before being ushered through the ticket kiosk and down the dock to our fan boat. As we crossed the dock, I admired the lily pads with bright yellow flowers floating in a thick blanket on top of the water that was surely hiding various creatures lurking beneath the calm surface.
This was the first time either of us had been to the Everglades, let alone ridden on a fan boat, so we were very excited. Our captain gave us ear plugs and encouraged us to wear them as the fans get really loud. He wasn’t joking. Once the motors are fully revved and the boat is speeding through the water, the sound is that of an enclosed room full of leaf blowers.
As we the docks faded behind us and we entered a channel not much wider than the boat, a lone alligator poked his head above water and stared at our fleeing craft.
For a while we sped through a channel lined with tall grasses and trees, hoping to glimpse more alligators, but the steady rain and cool temperatures were keeping them hidden below the surface.
Our captain brought the boat to a stop once we entered a clearing and gave us time to take photos while he talked about the Everglades.
I learned that, though many think of the Everglades as swampland (myself included), a large portion of it is a river flowing south from Lake Okeechobee. The depth depends on the amount of precipitation the area gets, but most of it is pretty shallow which is why fan boats, with their flat bottoms, are the perfect vehicle for getting around the wetlands. I also learned the fresh water in the Everglades supplies much of the drinking water in Miami.
Though the rain didn’t let up the entire time we were there (and, in fact, pelted us in the face rather sharply when the boat was moving full-speed), the Everglades were beautiful and so remote that I didn’t even have a cellphone signal while we were there! We saw a few more alligators on our way back, but they stayed hidden save for their eyeballs and the tops of their heads floating on the surface of the water.
Once we got back to the docks, we were released to walk around the rest of the park which included a couple of wildlife shows and a trail featuring observation platforms to view various species of alligators and crocodiles in natural habitats.
We stopped at the wildlife show first, which was fortunately in a covered pavilion giving us respite from the rain for a while. A large, circular, glass-enclosed area in the middle housed three alligators and a turtle.
Our host started the show by bringing around a snake and baby alligator, named Snappy, for us all to see. For $5 you could get your picture holding Snappy. It was almost disappointing I’d given my last five bucks to the fan boat operator as a tip–almost.
Once he was done with the show and tell, our host entered the ring with the alligators. The turtle, he said, was in the pen to show that these animals can coexist peacefully. As he talked, one of the alligators was watching him very closely and slowly creeping towards him. Even though he could see this, our host sat on the ground. In the pen. With the alligators. I mean, I didn’t even want to hold Snappy, and here was this guy acting like he’s hanging out in a den of fluffy bunnies.
What he did next was actually really cool. He called the alligator by name and the creature came closer and opened its mouth. Our host popped a piece of chicken in the alligator’s mouth as if it was a dog treat and it sat there waiting for its next command.
Apparently alligators are pretty smart creatures and can be trained like dogs. No really! Check out this video.
We took a quick stroll through the observation trail after the show and saw some massive crocodiles and caimans. The rain continued to come down steadily as we walked, so we kept our tour pretty quick and then headed for the small restaurant on the preserve.
My friend is from Korea and had never tried fried alligator, so though it felt a bit funny to do so at our current location, I ordered the alligator bites and gave her a taste. She liked it! I thought they were pretty good too, but was trying not to think about where they came from.
That pretty much ended our day in the Everglades. We soon got back on our bus and headed back in to Miami where we met up with our husbands and went with them to South Beach to watch them play a game of volleyball with their colleagues. As thrilling as it was, the rain soon started to come down even heavier, so we were happy when we could head back to the hotel and get dry. Of course, that’s when the rain stopped.