I woke up on top of a pile of pillows on the floor. There were white Styrofoam containers all around filled with last night’s Cuban food. I rubbed my eyes and made my way towards the shower. Izzy, well done, we had quite a night.
We braved the sunlight and heat and headed out of The Shelley. We each have a things-I-really-want-to-do-on-this-trip-list and one of Joey’s was on tap for today. He has really wanted to go on an airboat ride in the Everglades so he plugged Gator Park into Mrs. Wellington, my GPS, and we trundled off down the road.
The drive down wasn’t long; we hopped on a two lane highway surrounded by tall swampy overgrowth and drew nearer to Gator Park. It was a hot day. When we arrived at the park we bought tickets for the boat, a postcard, some alligator jerky and waited on a picnic table for our tour to be called. Birds were flying around everywhere, some of whom landed on the table tops expectantly and then darted off. After awhile a peacock strutted by and I followed like paparazzi trying to get the most glamorous shot of the beautiful bird.
Our boat was ready and we were called so we loaded onto the airboat with a mishmash of other tourists and our guide climbed up to the seat above us in the back. We had been given neon orange ear plugs but were told we didn’t need them quite yet. Our guide talked about alligators and the swamp lands and frequently interrupted himself to point out any gators that lazily floated by like logs, if logs could bite off one of your appendages.
We saw several gators on the way out; it was like being on a nature show. On all of these nature watching tours they tell you before you go out that you might not see anything. I guess the Provincetown Humpbacks and the Everglades Gators know who they’re putting on a show for. I’d probably make an appearance to be on the web’s most amazing travel blog too.
At the mouth of the stream we came to an open expanse of grasslands and water and our guide told us now would be the time for those neon orange ear plugs. He took off at top speed, whipping us around a corner then headed straight for a piece of grassland. But he didn’t slow down, he just kept accelerating toward this chunk of grassy land. He’s not really going to ram us into the shore I said to myself - and right as I was thinking that we ripped through the grass as though it wasn’t there at all. How weird.
Our guide jumped out of the boat (after stopping it…) into the mud and was only in water up to mid-shin. He grabbed some of the mud to show us how it was like clay and stuck together. He explained how the swamps are being dried out and talked about the importance of conserving the area. He jumped back in and sped us around a little bit more then headed back towards the dock.
On the way back in we saw several baby alligators which had brightly colored stripes across their backs and were pretty cute just hanging out around some lilly pads.
We idled back down the river and once we arrived at the dock jumped out of the airboat one row at a time. Once back on shore we waited around for an alligator show despite the sweaty hot heat. We eventually got to go sit on a small section of stadium style benches under a roof where we watched a crazy guy with a blonde pony tail and a camouflage bandana walk around with alligators. He pulled a tiny alligator out of a tank and wandered up and down the steps by the audience holding it towards anyone who wanted to touch it. He got a big kick out of frightening a few children - all right, it’s mean, but it’s kind of funny to see little kids sneak towards the baby gator and then when the guy turns around with it and roars their eyes bug out and they scream and run away.
The gator trainer put the little one back and got in a pen with a large gator. He called to the large gator that it was time to go to work but the gator didn’t flinch. He called again adding “get out here!” The gator indignantly blinked a large yellow eye. A few people gasped as he pulled the huge gator out by its tail and left it front and center. At the beginning of the show while he was walking around with the baby gator he picked a young British woman out of the audience and told her she would be helping him out with the show. Her eyes grew larger and the friend next to her let out a loud laugh and got her camera ready. The guy called to the young woman and told her to watch how to jump on an alligator’s back because she would be doing it in a second. He covered the alligator’s eyes quickly and sprang onto its back explaining that when alligators can’t see you, they don’t try to eat you.
The young British woman watched pensively. He jumped off it’s back and pulled it around by it’s tail so it was sideways to us in the audience. He tapped it on the snout until it opened it’s massive jaw and then he put his hand inside the alligator’s mouth very close to, but not touching, the rows of sharp menacing teeth. He drew his hand out of peril and showed us what would have happened if he had touched anywhere inside the alligator’s mouth. He picked up a stick and tapped the gator’s snout again so it opened up. As soon as the stick even slightly touched the inside of the gator’s mouth the gator snapped it’s jaws shut and left the man with a splinter to show us. The young woman flinched and he called up to her “see, all you gotta do is not touch the inside of his mouth! It’s simple!”
He called her down to the front and - after showing her how to hold it - handed her a medium sized gator with a rubber mussel around it’s snout. While he was talking about how the she was in no danger of being bitten because of the mussel he swiftly removed it and the young woman’s jaw dropped. He got a big kick out of that.
Joey leaned over to me, “You’re doing that.”
“Sarah, we’re getting pictures of you holding an alligator, it’s for the website.” He chuckled at his fake scolding and I willingly got in line to hold the gator. When it was my turn the man handed it to me tail first, then had me put an hand on it’s underbelly and Joey snapped pictures, “look at the camera,” he said, “look scared” and he let out another Joey chuckle.
Gator Park was really fun and very interesting, but it was hot, I mean really hot. It was also time to drive the length of the Florida Keys so that we could get to Key West in time for the Sunset Celebration so we hopped in the car, blasted the AC and started our scenic drive.
Bridges, water, clouds and sky made for an amazing hundred mile drive down the length of the Keys. We didn’t have time to stop though, I was determined to have our only night here kick off with the Sunset Celebration and really hammered it home to these guys but they didn’t argue, they were actually kind of excited to see what I was so jazzed up about.
I'll tell you all about it in my next post a few hours from now. Until next time America.