Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Alligators and airboats

Happy airboat tourists

Your blogger smiles for the camera.
“Wern, tew, thu-ree!” said Walter, our airboat captain and a man of few words. His countdown was to alert us to smile as he snapped our picture perched on the ranked seats of his airboat, floating out in the shallow water of the Florida Everglades grasslands. A minute before he’d been powering the flat-bottomed boat through the water, turning it on a dime and just missing various submerged logs, thrilling his clients who were clinging to the rails. At least, I think they were submerged logs. The water might be shallow, but it does contain alligators. “Any qweshtuns?” drawled Walter. “Yes, have you ever tipped your tourists into the water?” Actually, I didn’t ask that, because I didn’t think of it until after Walter had climbed back into his high seat behind us, and gunned the great fan of the airboat into action. Once that thing is going, the roar it makes drowns out any attempt at conversation.

Ah, yes. A good reason to stay in the boat.

The airboat operator we chose was known as 'Speedy Johnson's' and promised both cruises through the mangroves and through the grasslands. I’ve been to the Everglades before, several times, but I’m always happy to go back. The dark spookiness of the mangroves and the beautiful emptiness of the grasslands are equally fascinating, and there’s always the anticipation of animal and bird spotting. On this trip, the water levels were unusually high, meaning we didn’t spot too much wildlife - Walter told us the ‘gators would be somewhere deep in the Everglades, looking for sun on higher ground. But we did find a couple of specimens, one a good sized thug that looked like a tourist in the drink wouldn’t have much time to scramble back aboard the airboat...careful there, Walter. Easy does it.

And awaaaaay we go....

The bird life was a little more abundant, though as usual with birds, frustratingly difficult to capture with a camera. Best just to enjoy spotting them. Once the herons flapped off into the grass, Walter returned to his need for speed, and off we went again on our airboat
roller-coaster ride, zooming along like there were no such thing as submerged obstacles or  alligators.

Everglades mangroves.

Stone crabs: "all you can eat"
The stone crabs are another matter. It is stone crab season in Florida, and at Triad Seafoods in Everglade City, a family-run operation, we sat on a deck over the water and sampled fresh stone crab, caught the night before. Triad Seafoods bills itself as "The Home of All-You-Can-Eat Stone Crabs". We could also have sampled Gator Nuggets, but passed on that one. The home-made key lime pie, though - well, that just was not possible to pass up.

Best key lime pie in Florida.

And in case you haven't experienced the thrill of an airboat ride, here's a little taste:

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