Recently I spent some time in Florida, and Hyatt kindly hosted me on an Everglades National Park tour with Everglades Excursions! I hadn’t seen the Everglades since I was a little girl, and I’d never been on an airboat, so it was quite the adventure! (I am so excited that I will be staying at the Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires in less than 10 days!!!)
I was greeted by our tour guide, Dave, in Naples. We drove to the Everglades from Naples and the roomy van was quite comfortable. Dave was a fount of knowledge…I would bet he knows as much about the Everglades as anyone. He has spent a great deal of his life and his time there. My understanding is that he came from up north and is a transplant, he is not a Florida Cracker. I had never heard that term used before, but it means pioneer settlers and their descendants in what is now the U.S. state of Florida. It is not a derogatory word, indeed it is the opposite, Florida Crackers are very proud of their heritage.
On our way, we stopped at a couple of locations to see baby gators and manatees. The baby gators were all over the creek bank, and mama was lying quietly in the water. We also saw manatees under the water.
When we arrived at the marina, we were greeted by a woman with a two foot long alligator in her arms. Normally, I would not do this, but I had never touched an alligator, crocodile, or cayman before, and I could not resist the chance to look into its eyes and feel its leathery, thick skin. Alligators carry a terrible, sometimes fatal, bacteria in their mouths, so when someone holds one they put a band around their mouth. I suppose I had always imagined they would feel slimy and rough, but I could not have been more wrong. She was a beautiful animal, and her skin felt like soft leather. She had bony plates on her back. It was absolutely fascinating to see an alligator close up. Of course, the most arresting feature was her eyes. I’m sure you’ve seen the reality shows about hunting alligators, and they have gone from endangered to being overrun. There is a hunting season every year to cull their numbers.
Next was a boat ride! The airboats are pretty cool…it looks like someone just stuck a big fan on a flat boat, and I suppose when you get right down to it, that is exactly what it is! Our Captain was experienced, and soon had us on the airboat and off into the Everglades.
The next time you are in southern Florida, I urge you to take a tour of the Everglades. It was absolutely fascinating! Our National Parks are absolute treasures, and we must protect them against exploitation of any kind. These habitats are invaluable.