The first time I tried to learn the streets of Miami by riding my bicycle, a man in his fifties wearing a floral print shirt told me it was impossible to get lost. “Just remember, you head east, there are sharks, and if you head west, gators.”
It was solid advice. While the sharks didn’t appeal me, the idea of heading west to the Everglades and visit the king reptile’s home seemed like something every local should do at least once. And here’s why:
1. Face to face with Alligators
It is the main reason everyone decides to go to the Everglades. They are your hosts. This is their territory and to catch a glance of their eyes observing you while the rest of their body is submerged under still waters is quite a sight.
They are used to the airboats and the people. In fact, our guide could easily recognize one alligator from the other and they would swim to him and hang close to the boat when he’d whistle to them. Just don't leave your arm hanging off the edge of the boat.
2. It’s actually a huge River
Contrary to popular belief, including my own, The Everglades are not a swamp but a river that runs 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. It is well known as the “River of Grass” as a way to describe its complex ecosystems that range from mangrove forests, swamps, pine rockland and marine environment. The Everglades are constantly shaped by the flow of water and the fires caused during the dry season. It’s an ever-changing wetland worth exploring.
3. Airboat Rides
I will admit, this was my deciding factor when visiting the Everglades. The idea of gliding over smooth waters onto the endless horizon of tall grass and wild life seemed something out of the Discovery Channel. And in reality, it was just as cool. Kind of. It was more of a constant zigzagging motion than a straight shot because it is an airboat- or my driver wasn’t the best. But it’s still incredibly fun to feel the wind on your face and seeing for yourself the nature of Florida.
4. Interesting snacks
When I was waiting for my airboat to arrive, I wandered around the wooden gift shop and the graveled surroundings, and the smell of fried food wafted from an open screened window nearby that had a sign painted on top.
Gator Bites and Frog Legs. It felt strange, even borderline treasonous, to serve as bite size snacks the reptiles I am about to see alive and kicking. But it seemed to be quite a common thing, to serve creatures of the wild as delicacies and many were in line to see what they tasted like.
If you aren’t an adventurous eater, then think of it as a triple-dog-dare type of eatery. Not everyone can say they ate alligator. I am one of those. I opted for frogs’ legs because no one I know has eaten frog legs. Lime juice squeezed over it served with a side of thin French fries. It didn’t seem so bad.
But whoever said frog legs taste like chicken has never eaten a chicken in their lives. It tastes like a chicken and a fish told society to go to hell and married each other. And I didn’t approve of this marriage.
5. The heart of South Florida
People may know Florida for the beach life, hurricane season and being declared as retirement land. But you can’t say you know Florida without getting in touch with its wild side. The Everglades cover most of the southern peninsula and are the home of thousands of species. Alligators are just one of them. Its varied environments serve as more than an airboat ride and many people have chosen to explore it via canoes, kayaks and even living in them.
It is the source of water of cities nearby and it has been transformed into farmland and urban areas. It is a source of life and water deemed as one of the three wetland areas of global importance and such attention has derived restoration plans and support from locals and visitors.
I hope you enjoy the ride.