If you thought that Florida was all about Disney World and beaches then think again. We discover the wild Everglades for unique things to do in Florida.
The mist was thick and heavy covering the road and rising off the water on either side of me like steam. Thick green foliage grew out of the water and every now and then, through the mist, I would catch a glimpse of an exotic looking bird or a strange looking boat.
The day before I had been driving through built up towns littered with fast food chains and immaculate looking white houses with private swimming pools. Stunning white beaches shimmered in the afternoon heat and deeply tanned bodies wandered around in bikinis and sun hats. But, within half an hour I had reached a strange looking town that felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, the mist had suddenly descended and everywhere was deserted.
I was in Florida, nicknamed the ‘Sunshine State’ and had come to a part that not many international tourists would immediately think of – the Everglades. Some think that Florida is all about riding roller coasters until you’re dizzy, meeting fairytale princesses at Disney World or sunning it up at the state’s sparkling white sand beaches, however there is a more wild and natural side to Florida that is waiting to be explored – touring the Everglades and its surrounds is one of the most unique things to do in Florida.
The Everglades are sub tropical wetlands that run across the southern part of the state and are home to a number of rare and endangered species. The area has been designated a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve and is probably most famous for being home to the infamous Florida alligators. They are also home to a variety of birdlife, including vultures, turtles and even panthers.
It was dusk by the time I had arrived in Everglade City and the place was almost deserted. The air was thick and heavy and the white fog made it look almost ghostly. The houses were different here, almost like log cabins and wooden slatted bungalows. I pulled up to my accommodation, which consisted of small wooden chalets lining the river. “You’ll find the only place open for food is the place next door,” said the owner in his American twang, as he pointed to a restaurant that would look more at home in the Wild West.
Inside, The Captain’s Table was filled with fishing tackle and hunting memorabilia, and I could tell it was somewhat of a town icon. A few other couples sat at some of the tables, but mostly it was quiet. A large waitress approached me, her blond hair pinned up on top of head in a bun.
“What can I get fa yer?” she drawled “We do the best seafood for miles.” I chose some overly priced battered fish, crab cakes and salad and sat down to eat, feeling that when I’d entered Everglade City, I’d just been transported to an entirely different state.
The next morning the air was already buzzing with animal life, cicadas chirped from the road side, water birds waded through the mangroves and strange calls could be heard from the trees. And somewhere out there I knew that beady-eyed alligators watched me pass.
As I was driving along, I suddenly noticed a few people standing by the roadside, this was the first sign of human life I had seen all morning, so I pulled up to investigate. As I drew closer the scene that greeted me was like those you only see in a wildlife magazine. Tall snowy coloured Ibises waded through the water, while rose coloured spoonbills scooped it up with their beaks, black coots swam in amongst the reeds and pink flamingos sat idly on one spindly leg.
It was then that I noticed several shiny eyes watching me with intent, the flash of sharp white teeth and large scaly bodies moving stealthily through the swamp. This was where the alligators were. As my eyes got used to the scene I began to spot more and more alligators until I could count up to ten in the space of about ten metres, one slowly inching its way up the bank towards the eager onlookers with their large flashy cameras. At this point I felt like it was a good time to leave and jumped back in the car, satisfied to have seen some alligators at last.
As I neared the end of the Everglades, I passed many airboat stations and surprisingly a few American Indian reservations, but all was quiet again. This is one of the most unique things to do in Florida, where the wild takes over. As I left the Everglades the mist suddenly cleared and the life returned. Cars whizzed along the highway and truckers congregated at the junction. Now that I had returned to civilisation I felt it was about time to remind myself that I was in America, so I stopped at a dusty roadside cafe for a stack of pancakes and some good old fashioned maple syrup.