Tag Archives: airboat rides

Other Towns in Central Florida Offer Out-of-the-Ordinary Entertainment

Central Florida, From Fisheating Creek to the Brighton Seminole Reservation

We drove around Lake Okeechobee, enjoying the expansive views of the leading edge of the Florida Everglades. The sky is big in Florida, and the swamp stretches for mile after desolate mile, broken only by a cluster of live oaks or staked out individually by independent palm trees, whose round heads and lack of branches look very much like landscaped lollypops from a distance. The weather was clearing, but clouds still hung over the land like a dark umbrella bent on betrayal and we drove in and out of rain.

The larger towns in this part of central Florida have the usual chain motels, but most lodging offerings consist of RVs or trailers, some quite weary looking. Campers who don’t mind roughing it will have no trouble finding suitable lodging, but those looking for a little more comfort will have to dig a little deeper. We did find a few cabins. The most inviting were cozy log cabins with peaked roofs in a small enclave. One of the owners rents two of his units, #9 and #17, for around $500 per week. If you’re interested, call Abe at 561-234-0277. A future visit will most assuredly include a week at the Lake Okeechobee Resort in Pahokee. It is the only place with accommodations directly on the lake.

We made a stop at Fisheating Creek where I told my husband the story of my great-great grandmother who was taken (along with her kids) to Fort Myers by Union soldiers trying to flush out my great-great-grandfather who was aiding Confederate soldiers by bringing them cattle. She became disgusted with camp conditions and threatened to whip the soldier who tried to stop her from leaving. She went to her brother’s place on Fisheating Creek and stayed there until the War of Northern Aggression was over. I think I would have liked my great-great-grandmother. :)

The Seminole Indian Reservation in Brighton was a disappointment. No museum, no shopping, just gambling. The room was dark, filled with slot machines that flashed neon colors, and full of cigarette smoke. Once off the reservation, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought swamp cabbage. I look forward to breaking the trunk open and cooking up a pot of swamp cabbage, which tastes a lot like asparagus.

Brighton Seminole Reservation

Most of the central Florida towns around the perimeter of Lake Okeechobee offer airboat rides. Since the weather was bad the weekend of our visit, we decided against it, but if you’ve never been, I strongly encourage you to try it out. Most tours last about an hour, the cost is in the $30 to $40 range (per person) and includes picture stops. Airboat rides are exciting and fun, but not scary.

The Seminole Reservation

No Trip to the Everglades Would be Complete Without a Visit to the Seminole Reservation

The Billie Swamp Safari on 41 offers about the same things as the Big Cypress Seminole reservation on I-75, but the airboat rides are cheaper and longer. I stopped at a roadside stand and bought some sugar cane juice to take home to my mother, a third generation Florida Cracker, who was under my care at a nursing home for dementia at the time. I also purchased a Seminole cornhusk doll, just like the ones she used to buy me when I was a little girl. She was very pleased with both surprises.

We saw numerous Chickee Chobees:

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Most Seminole homes have at least one in their yards. The fanciest shelters have are enclosed or at least screened, others are nothing more than four posts and a roof. These were available for rent for $35 per night, but that price may have changed. I was quite taken with the thatched roof:

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One of the guides (who informed my husband that I was a very cool lady, which I’ve been saying for years), explained the thatching process for me, so guess what one of my NEXT projects is? I’ve decided to make a chickee for Baby Blue, my 2003 Thunderbird, to park under. The first palm fronds are folded in half and then nailed to the pole frame:

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I spent many wonderful hours in the shops and highly recommend the AhTahThiKi (it means “a place to learn”) museum. I thought about buying a skirt pieced by the Seminole women, but paying $700 for a skirt just goes against the grain. Not that I don’t appreciate the hours of work that goes into such a piece, but I had my husband with me, making it hard to justify so I didn’t even try. I DID buy a ceremonial staff, with lots of beading and feathers and leather talismans. I intend to shake the rain out of the clouds. The saleswoman didn’t know how much to charge for shipping, so she said she’d mail it and I could send a check. I offered to pay for the staff, but she told me she trusted me.

Shopping on the reservation was like being a kid in a candy store. I bought some beautiful jewelry, lots of fun beaded things, and three books, one of poetry, another of the history of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, another book on their art.

My husband eventually dragged me out of the swamp and we headed south again, this time landing in Key Largo.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the Gulf on the “It’s a Dive” scuba boat, but that just gives us a good excuse to make a return trip.

Next up? Key West, of course!

Alligators in the Everglades

I managed a few pictures that capture the vast area, but nothing really does it justice. I felt (and was) very small in the middle of acre upon acre of saw grass and mud flats and a few inches of water. We were 8 miles from where the ValueJet plane went down. The boat captain told us that some parts just got sucked right into the mud, never to be seen again. If I’d gotten out of the boat, the water would have been less than knee deep, but I would have sunk in up to my thighs.

Everglades Airboat Ride

Our boat captain teased the little alligator at the dock.

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Then he took us to meet Tiny. He knows Tiny is a female (sexing an alligator requires an internal exam) because there is a bigger gator in the same pond and if Tiny were male, the bigger alligator would have driven it off.

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This is the bigger gator:

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His name is Rambo.

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He’s been in a recent fight. His back leg is injured, but is healing. Scientists are quite interested in this ability to heal in fetid waters.

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The boat captain would hold out his hand and as the alligator rose its head up, the captain would rap his fingers on the top of its snout and the alligator would open it’s mouth.

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“Rambo’s” head was inches away from my knee when I snapped this picture. They seemed almost tame. I still don’t trust them, but I wasn’t afraid. See that black line that runs back from his eye? That’s his ear. Oh, and they hiss.

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It was kind of creepy the way they’d circle the boat.

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And then slip underneath.

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Only to appear again. This time in the front of the boat. I may have lost sight of them, but they never took their eyes off me. Not once.

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Florida is the only state where the American crocodile still exists. You can tell the difference between alligators and crocodiles by the shape of their snouts. The alligator’s snout is rounded while the crocodile’s snout is elongated. Neither one have tongues.

Most of the eggs in this alligator nest will be eaten by surrounding wildlife, some before hatching.

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Of those that make it, the eggs at the top of the mound will be male and at the bottom of the mound, the emerging baby gators will be female. Temperature decides the sex, the hotter the egg, male, the colder the egg, female. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Anyway, the baby gators still aren’t out of the woods, er, swamp, yet. Predatory birds, raccoons, other alligators, yes, even the one that fathered them (talk about life cycle!), pick off unwary babies. Mother gator does what she can for about a year. After that, it’s every gator for him/herself.

That attitude of independence seems to have bubbled over into all of South Florida’s denizens, as we were about to discover during our trip to Key West, but that’s another post for another day. Later, Gators!

An Airboat Ride in the Everglades

An Airboat Ride in the Everglades

When it comes to finding out-of-the-way corners in Florida, it doesn’t get much more secluded than the Everglades and the best way to find those spots is to treat yourself to an airboat ride. You’ll find numerous charter companies along the highway as you drive US 41, better known as the “Tamiami Trail” along the coastline south of Naples, but I suggest you curve inland, where the highway becomes known as “Alligator Alley”, cutting through Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, and catching your ride at the Seminole reservation for a more authentic experience.

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The airboats are fascinating. We rode in a flat bottom boat, a skiff that had two rows of seats bolted to the bottom. Behind the seats, the boat captain sat on an elevated seat. The engine was located beneath his seat and it ran a huge caged fan directly behind the captain.

Airboat #2

I’m not much of a dare devil, but wasn’t nervous about riding in the airboat, and truly, it was no different than skimming across the lake in a speed boat, except that it banked more sharply and the spray was quite high, adding to the excitement.

Skimming the Swamp

Since everything mechanical is located above the waterline, the boat can glide along on mere inches of water, a good thing when drought conditions hit the area hard. I was amazed at some of the places we made it through, such as this narrow passageway!

Airboat Ride

Walking Trees

Notice the waterline on the Mangrove roots below. When the fresh water dries up, salt water moves in. Mangroves (those are Red Mangroves, to be precise) get rid of the excess salt in their diet through the leaves, turning them yellow in the process.

Mangroves

The Seminoles called them “Walking Trees”. Mangroves regenerate by dropping their green pods (actually long seeds with roots on the bottom and a fully formed, tiny mangrove at the top) in the water below and the pods are carried away by the current. The seedpod is so perfectly balanced that it drops into the water in an upright position and remains that way as it is washed downstream. If it gets tipped over, it rights itself. When something finally stops it, the pod immediately roots, thus continuing the process. Easy to see how Indians would interpret this as “walking”!

Mangroves #2

I tried to capture the way the boat would bank real fast around the bends in the waterway and spray would rise up above my head, curving away back into the water, but all the pictures came out looking like I was just holding the camera wrong and the water’s spray just looks…well, not very interesting. I should take an online photography course on nature. There must be a trick in how to photograph those moments. Then again, how do you photograph touch? Like trying to make one sense do the job of the other. Still, I try. Mostly with words, though.