Friday, January 12, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Kayaking in the Everglades

Although we love spending time with my family, in the middle of our trip it became clear we needed a break, and on December 27, Roger and I took a day trip down to the Everglades. A four-hour drive from my parents' place, it was a little far for a day, and in the future, I'd like to return for an overnight trip, but we had a wonderful time despite the long drive!

We arrived in Chokoloskee around lunch time, and had a really tasty meal at Havana Cafe. Their pork plate and rice and beans were divine, and sitting outside in their little grotto was a delight. It was great for a little people watching, and the food really couldn't be beat.

After lunch we headed into Everglades City to meet with Shurr Adventures for a sunset kayaking tour of the mangroves. Although the group was bigger than I'd hoped for (there were maybe 15 of us all together), we split into four smaller groups once we arrived at the launch site, so that there were only six of us with Alli, our guide and one of the owners of the company. Each group took its own route, so the tour ended up being really personal and intimate.

As soon as we were in the water, we saw our first alligator, which was exhilarating. They look very similar to tires sticking up out of the water, and it's a little unnerving to see how many there. Even more unnerving? Knowing how many more are hanging out under the water, which is a dark brown color from all the mangrove leaves.

Alli led us through three mangrove tunnels, which each got progressively tighter and tighter. I was glad we opted for separate kayaks (in Maine we'd done a tandem), because it was hard enough to navigate one person through them! The tunnels were really fascinating and covered in large spiders. At one point, a racoon raced through over the branches and nearly fell into Alli's kayak, which was pretty funny to see. We saw more alligators throughout, including one that was hanging out in one of those tighter tunnels, and one that was sunbathing near the shore so you could see almost all of it. It seemed to be around 10 or 12 feet long.

After a few hours, as the sun started to set, we made our way back to the boat launch. One of the most surreal moments was getting back onto the beach and seeing several alligators pop up out of the water as soon as the coast was clear. Alli had mentioned they do night tours where you wear headlamps, and that their eyes shine red in them. She said that you look around in the dark and just see red eyes everywhere.

Overall, the tour was a lot of fun, and I learned a ton about the Florida ecosystem and wildlife. A huge portion of southern Florida is covered in a national park and nature reserves, and it felt like a real privilege to travel around a small part of it in such a close and quiet way.

The following day, December 28, was our last full day in paradise, and we spent it relaxing. I finished my first James Patterson book (or, "bookshot" to be accurate), and it was terrible. We went to my cousins' house for lunch, and it was wonderful. Seeing Dave and Faithy was great, and Faithy's homemade ravioli tasted just like being back at our family reunion. As we were leaving their house, we got a call alerting us that the pipes in the ell were frozen and that we'd run out of oil in the house, so it was a fair amount of scrambling that evening to try and get things taken care of. A fun reminder that we were heading back to reality--and negative 20 degree temperatures!

The next morning, December 29, we did a bit more scrambling as our incredible friends, Courtney and Sal, filled up our tank with diesel fuel and our furnace guy got things started again, just in time for an emergency fuel delivery. (I'm hoping to write more about the house soon--it's been an adventure!) We also luckily got to see my sister for an early lunch in Disney Springs at the Polite Pig. Even though we spent a week in Florida, we only got to see her twice, so I was really glad to have had that last meal with her! We perused some of the shops (I love the dress shop) and then dropped her off as we headed to the airport to say our goodbyes.

We had such a wonderful Christmas trip to Florida, and it was so nice to spend a week in warmth. It's always a little sad to leave family behind, but I'm excited to see my parents again in May when they're back up north for a family friend's wedding!

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