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Everglades Day Safari from Fort Lauderdale

May 4, 2018

I meant to do Everglades Day Safari back in September, but Hurricane Irma got in the way.  Truth is, it would have been hot, buggy and miserable in September. I’m glad I decided to wait until my birthday. May is much less hot and more breezy. I didn’t even need bug spray.

I took a full day in Fort Lauderdale before the safari. A friend and I visited the Museum of Discovery and Science.

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The river otters are the museum’s showcase exhibit. They live in a spacious set-up with a waterfall, caves, and a deep pool. They frolicked around, looking happy. But I suspect otters always look happy. I could not say the same for some of the other critters, sadly. I’ve worked with wildlife in captivity, in an aquarium and a wildlife center. I understand how difficult it is to keep such creatures healthy in zoos, but this place doesn’t seem to take such great care of its critters. I especially empathized with the poor lone, domestic bunny housed in the reptile room, displayed like in a pet store, but probably slotted for a snake’s dinner. In the meantime, she’s all alone (rabbits are very social) and surrounded by predators she can see and smell.

After the museum, I cheered up with lunch at Tacocraft. I ate there 6 months ago while evacuated for Hurricane Irma, and I itched to go back. It was just as good as I remembered. It offers chef-driven tacos with interesting ingredients, high-end tequilas, and I love the sugar-skull decorations. Then, we rented bikes from one of those overpriced bike-rental stations and rode 3 miles to the beach area, a somewhat frustrating trip proving I need a better biking GPS app.

The morning of my Everglades adventure, the van picked me up right on time at my hotel near the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Mark was a 5-star guide from the first moment we met, courteous, professional, passionate, and he knew his stuff.  He would serve as driver and tour guide for much of the day,

The van for the Everglades Day Safari only seats about 10, so I spent the day with a nice small group. My fellow safari-goers were all women, three generations of women from Kentucky, one German 20-something, and moi. After a little driving, we’d all spotted lots of birds and ‘gators. Then, we arrived at our first excursion–an airboat ride through the stunning and expansive “River of Grass!”

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I saw lots of birds, including my first ever wood stork in the wild (through binoculars, but still.) And boy oh boy, did I see alligators. Many, many alligators, and I would see many more throughout the day, close up and far away.

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Photo op–the country’s smallest post office, tended by one guy

Next, a short hike through the Big Cypress Preserve.

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Eastern lubber grasshoppers don’t have to blend in. They’re toxic. They can even spray you with a noxious liquid if provoked.

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The Everglades houses a pharmacy: willow bark for pain, pond apples to boost the immune system, and hemlock for poisoning your enemies.

 

Lunch in Everglades City!  Some women fussed about the stink of the crab traps next to the restaurant, but the smell brought back pleasant childhood memories of my summers in Maine.

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Next, we arrived in Chokoloskee, where we poked through the quirky Smallwood’s Store Museum, then boarded a comfortable little boat ride through through Everglades National Park’s mangrove estuary, an area known as the 10,000 Islands. Some of these islands are actually made out of shells, the discarded food and tools of the Calusa, who apparently planned their waste into their infrastructure.

Our boat captain was the daughter of the folks who run the museum. She’s grown up in those waters, and I guess she’s driven boats since she was knee-high to a lubber grasshopper. I could’ve have held a full martini without spilling as she whipped passed the mangroves.

I’ve seen Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the wild a hundred times. But I have never seen dolphins interact with a boat quite like this.

It was a dance between the boat and the dolphins. They came right up to us, and our captain started driving off to make a wake for them. The captain and the dolphins seemed to know each other’s rhythms, and the dolphins leapt with feet of the boat, sometimes over the boat, we could’ve easily reached out and touched them. They knew the captain’s route, her way of moving through the water, and they kept in sync. You’ve never seen a boatload of women more thrilled!

I’d highly recommend Everglades Day Safari. It was a perfect introduction to the natural beauty of the Everglades, low stress and cost-efficient. I dislike driving, and was glad to leave it in Mark’s sensible hands. I was able to move seamlessly between activities while learning as much as I could about everything. The all-inclusive price (except tips) made budgeting easy. I meant for this to be an inexpensive little getaway, and since I rode the Greyhound to and from Fort Lauderdale, avoided renting a car, and stayed in a cheap airport hotel with a big pool, I got to enjoy the ‘Glades without breaking my bank.

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