Today's plans were to leave around 9:00 this morning and drive the roughly 150 miles to Everglades City to meet up with Ken & Cheryl and their daughter and her husband, Kim and Terry, for an airboat ride through the Everglades.
Funny how things work out … unexpectedly, I got up early and turned on my phone only to discover that Lila Clements had texted me only minutes earlier letting me know she and Brandon … whom we'd visised with in Hilton Head enroute to Florida … had pulled into Sun N Fun, where we're spending the winter, last night and wanted to know if we were available for breakfast. Obviously, our answer was, Yes!"
We met at a local Perkins around 7:30 and had a wonderful time …
and were still able to get on the road by 9 o'clock.
as we bgan our 150 mile drive south on I-75 we found ourselves in an intermittent fog
which, fortunately began to breakup north of Port Charlotte as the temperatures climbed into the low 80os.
We made it to Everglades City and
a few minutes ahead of Ken and Cheryl.
After a short wait, we boarded our airboat
Cheryl, Debbie, Dick, Ken, Terry and Kim
and soon were underway …
passing two decorative lighthouses,
an long-abandoned railroad bridge,
several still unrepaired docks which were damaged during last fall's Hurricane Maria …
before heading into a seemingly never-ending maze of mangrove-lined channels
winding their way through the Everglades (reminding me of some scenes of Charles Alnut's and Rose Sayer's journey on the "African Queen").
While there were no "gators" to be seen on the trip, we were fortunate to spy an immature Osprey trying to fish for lunch,
a Great Blue Heron
and a pair of Bottlenose Dolphins.
However, the highlight of the trip was disovering that raccoons have been a familiar sight for years. These small, bandit-masked looking animals with dark fur and bushy tails. They are extremely intelligent and adaptable, and use their front paws and long fingers to feast on a wide variety of food. Racoons can snatch their prey out of the water, such as crawfish, frogs, and other aquatic creatures. They also eat fruit, plants, and eggs.
Munching on a Cheesedoodle provided by our tour guide
However, a rapid decline in the racoon population throughout Everglades National Park can be blamed partly on the invasive Burmese Python,
which has been relying on mammals and racoons in the Everglades for food. These giant pythons are some of the largest on earth, and can reach up to 23 feet long.
Back on land, we traveled across the street to Jungle Erv's Alligator Refuge where everyone was able to get "up close and personal" with several of these reptiles.
We were amazed to discover that an alligator's scales are not hard and bony as we'd thought but, rather, almost soft and leathery.
Nearby, we were also introduced to a pair of Turkey Vultures
and an untold number of Orb Weaver Spiders.
Heading home, we opted to return along US-41 toward Naples,passing the RV Resort where we spent four winters, before turning north on US-951 to pick up I-75 for our long drive back to Sarasota.
Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of a person wearing a visor through the open driver's side window in a black sedan we were about to pass and I said to Debbie, "That's Wayne!" (a friend who had also stayed at the same Naples RV park all those years).
As we passed the his car, Debbie yelled out her window at him. He turned, looked at us and was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. Fortuantely we were both able to pull into a hospital parking lot and got to visit.
It must be Kismit … as if either one of us had been even 30 seconds ahead of behind out positons, we'd never have connected!