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Gators, spoonbills and rockets!

Florida: “… an indistinguishable glob of gated communities, Jiffy Lubes, strip malls, Comfort Inns, RV Parks, Taco Bells, and clover-leaf interchanges.” (Grunwald, M. The Swamp. 2006). At least that was some of my preconceptions about Florida. As it turned out… Grunwald is correct, but I was happy to discover a whole bunch of lesser-known state parks and other designated natural areas besides Everglades National Park. Dear Floridians: your state might lack impressive elevation levels, but you guys are spoiled with the outdoors nevertheless. Take it from someone from a crowded country with slightly higher elevation levels… 

When a friend asked whether I wanted to accompany him on his upcoming trip in January to the Everglades… Something with an inflatable canoe and alligators. I really didn’t have to think long about the invitation to visit a National Park that is a household name almost everywhere. Coincidentally I ordered and read Mac Stone his beautiful photo book ‘Everglades: America’s Wetland’ two months before. All in all, I had a great 8-day trip, in no small part to my guide. We snorkeled in Crystal River, canoed and camped in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, hiked in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and also visited Myakka River State Park, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (not really a refuge if you allow hunting… but what’s in a name?) and Canaveral National Seashore.

This trip was a good blend of photography and exploring the outdoors. Canoeing and camping in the backcountry was a great experience and we were lucky enough to see a bobcat and nine-banded armadillo. The last day of my trip brought us a rocket launch from Kennedy Space Centre as well as finally photographing the beautiful roseate spoonbill that kept eluding us. Also interesting – though sad – were some observations of species never seen before, like an opossum, raccoon, and even coyote – unfortunately in the shape of roadkill. Snorkeling with the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) definitely was a highlight as well. Unfortunately, their location that day combined with low visibility underwater meant photography wasn’t really possible. Observing and even hearing them was pretty neat, however!

So what else did I learn during this trip? A few important findings:

  • using a 16 feet (4,87m) inflatable canoe among alligators isn’t as bad as it sounds;
  • while it’s winter there are FEWER mosquitos and no-see-ums in Southern Florida… I like to point your attention to the word ‘fewer’, give it some thought and plan accordingly;
  • gator burgers (“You saw them, now eat them!”) are perfectly acceptable after surviving on pasta, oatmeal and energy gels for a few days;
  • the USA is such a large country that not only birds but also some people migrate north-south along with the seasons (snowbirds);
  • some retirees take it one step further, by selling their house and migrating with their RV from National Park to National Park year-round, functioning as hosts on the NP campgrounds (excellent idea!);
  • those RV’s sometimes tow a pickup truck, which in turn holds a golf cart: for maximum mobility… no comment.

If you want to know more about the wider Everglades and its history I can really recommend Michael Grunwald’s “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise” and the photo book of Mac Stone I mentioned before.

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