There is more than one reason why I am not happy with vacations that are much longer than a week. With the month-long marathons we've been doing the last few years I usually hit a break point at one week away and then at three weeks away when I just get this feeling that I want to be HOME again. With the month-long trips, I usually just tough through it and then we get to the three week point and we had better start heading towards home or else I get really, really cranky.
So I was cranky and we had a Plan. The plan was to go to the Everglades National Park and do what there was to do there. Out on Flamingo Point there were supposed to be tours of the Everglades by boat. The restaurant and hotel out there had been washed away by Katrina and there were only the skeletons of the old facilities left. There was a picnic area and a camp site out there, that people were using, and there was supposed to be a marina for all the boat tours and a visitor's center for what it was like out there rather than the grasslands by the entrance.
We got to the marina around 11 and found out that the next tour wasn't until 1. We'd brought our own lunch as we knew that they weren't going to be able to serve lunch, but there was a very solid little mini mart with lots of stuff and we could have bought lunch there. We were told that no one else had asked about the 1pm tour and they needed a minimum of four people to get one to go. We were only three. So one more person had to sign up but there was no promise that there even would be a tour.
The literature and stuff said that there weren't that many bugs out on the tour, and John and Jet had breakfasted with a bunch of Boy Scouts that had been on the tour and they hadn't mentioned bugs at all.
The visitor's center was close by, so we went and parked over there, under the trees, by the grass. Natives of the area will recognize the warning signs. We were clueless.
We got out of the car, John cracked all the windows so that the heat could leave the car, and we started across the grassy areas towards the Visitors Center. And we were swarmed by bugs. Lots and lots of biting bugs. I thought they were mosquitoes because when I swatted blood started smearing everywhere. Mostly my blood, I assumed. Jet was stopping to swat his bugs and we started just dragging him towards the Visitor's Center, and both John and I swatted bugs and more bugs off of him. I had them along the backs of my arms, the backs of my legs, and all around my ears whining and buzzing and... when we got to the Visitor's Center we saw the big gaps in the mosquito netting at the front entrance.
Everything was padlocked up. Nothing to get into. It was just an abandoned ruin. So we trotted back to the car. With even that much motion, the biting bugs didn't land on us anymore.
Of course, with the windows left open, the inside of the car swarmed with bugs as well, and this time I saw a couple of mosquitoes. And I smashed them pretty well. We sat there just all adrenaline and panting and I was so angry from being so scared, and John proposed that we just forget it all and go back, and Jet was in agreement as he hadn't liked the bugs at all.
Oddly enough, for me, once I actually met real opposition... something snapped, and I said, "Let's go on the tour. The lady said that the bugs on the water wouldn't be bad and the Boy Scouts didn't mention it being this bad out there... maybe it will be okay as around the marina there weren't this many bugs. Maybe we should put on our sunscreen, as that's supposed to repel bugs some, and just eat our lunch on the marina?"
And I wasn't cranky anymore. Oddly content to have something actually bad happen... we went to the marina, ate our sack lunches with a huge raven that came by to beg some scraps and meow at us. The bugs were there, but they weren't the biters, and they didn't bother us while we ate. I bought a baseball cap as I didn't relish the idea of being out in the sun for two hours without any kind of head protection, and it had the logo for the Flamingo Point, so I could remember the bug battle. Jet got two welts on the back of his neck from mosquitoes, I think. Everything else, the cashier told us, was likely biting deer fly. So we were bitten, but not itchy, much.
Since Jet did get the welts, we bought some insect repellent, too, and put it all over him to keep the mosquitoes off of him. That seemed to work just fine.
When the tour finally left at 1, the boat was nearly full. 25 people showed up, and we were well on our way. It was through the mangrove waters, and while we didn't see alligators or crocodiles we did see Ibis, a blue heron, white cranes, snowy egrets, plenty of osprey, a few bugs, and lots of water, mangroves both red and black, and mahogany trees. I got some pretty amazing pictures. Megan will probably like all the trees I took pictures of. I found that black mangrove grow breathing tubes up through the water. That red mangroves are the ones with the prop roots and roots that come down from the limbs themselves. Both trees like brackish water and from colonies amid their roots. I learned that cypress trees are deciduous conifers, and that there used to be Flamingos at the point, but the settlers found them so tasty that they ate pretty much all the ones that stopped there. So no more flamingos. We also found that there were nearly no bugs on the boat. And the water felt great, and it was a really good place to watch the afternoon thunderstorms build huge thunderheads and watch the lightning and thunder and the pouring rain all around us as we puttered through sunshine and calm waters.
It really was beautiful out there.
Sadly, the hotel isn't going to be rebuilt until sometime in six or seven years. It was blown out by Katrina and then again by another hurricane that came through just three years ago, so the accumulated damage really has closed things down for a while.
When we left, it started to rain, to really downpour hard. We got back to the visitors' center at the entrance of the park and it was pouring beautifully, and we walked slowly through the rain to the center. The bugs didn't want to fly in the rain, so it was clear for us, completely. And so wonderful to be out in a warm, summer rain. I haven't had that in years.
In the center we learned that the winter is the dry season here, and that the throngs of visitors in the winter actually put more strain on the ecosystem and the tug of war over fresh water between commercial stuff and the Everglades' needs. So we were very glad that we were here during the rainy season and not adding to the problem already really prominent in the area.
There was a Discovery channel special on the ecosystem between the big Lake to the north all the way down to the Dry Tortugas, which is just west and south of Key West, and it outlined the whole flow of freshwater through the Everglades all the way from the top and the drier farms and forests through the various types of forest, tall pines, cypress domes, and mangroves down to the Everglades stream of grasses, and how it creates that storm and surge buffer for the area as well as provide homes for everything that is a meeting of the sub-tropics and the temperate zones to the north.
After having been brave and gotten up and done our adventure, I felt we deserved a reward. So we stopped at the Robert Is Here fruit stand, yet again, and got fresh fruit shakes. Jet got a key lime shake which was surprisingly tart as well as rich. He said, "It's like drinking a Key Lime Pie!" I got a mango shake that was so full of mango, it was fibrous and perfectly rich to match the richness of the fruit. I also bought a precious ten black leaf lychees, different and more expensive than the regular ones I'd gotten the last few times, as I finally said, why not? They turned out to be juicier than the other kind, even bigger, and sweet and tender and with pits just the size of olive pits rather than the size of my thumb as the other ones were.
That was pretty cool. It was even neater as John searched the Internet and found some place to eat and wandered through the South Florida neighborhoods as it really was a meeting of temperate climes with the sub-tropics. The houses were little ranch adobe-like houses that could have been at home in San Diego, except they were all these gorgeous colors like turquoise or coral or sky blue, and each little ranch house was on a whole acre of basically what jungle they couldn't tear out. There were thousands of things growing everywhere, colorful and lush and wonderful. Down one street were enormous mountains of mangrove tree, red mangrove with the hanging roots, and the trees dwarfed the houses, and made these astonishing shaded patches of existence that seemed removed from the modern structures all around their enormous girths. They were beautiful, twisted, shadowed, and so beautiful! It was like trying to get a closeup picture of a cloud or mountain or something naturally immense. I could only really do it in pieces.
We ended up at Shivers BBQ. This place is such a mix of Southern, Cuban, and the Conch Republic, we'd sampled the other bits, and so we thought we'd go for the Southern BBQ as well, and it was well, well worth the doing.
John got the rib and chicken combination, I got the beef rib platter, and Jet got little corn dog bites but with sweet potato fries instead of the usual kind. John's ribs and chicken were tender, juicy, smoky and wonderful. He loved his meal, especially with the tangy vinagar based sauces rather than the thick, sweet tomato based ones. There was a mustard based sauce that Jet loved on his corn dogs. He also inhaled the fries, and said that they were much better than the regular kind, so I'm going to have to look for those some more as they're mildly more nutrient rich for him than regular fries and I love them a lot more than the regular kind, too. I got a dinosaur rack of ribs, nearly six HUGE bones, with just the shreds of meat on them. It was nearly more like beef jerky than anything, but rich and concentrated with smoke and flavor. Lovely stuff. I enjoyed them greatly and had plenty of room even after my collard greens and lovely, oniony Hush Puppies, to share some peanut butter pie with the boys.
And I still fit in my size ten Levi's. laughter I haven't fit into size tens in the Levi's line since high school... and I know that today's sizes aren't what they were then, but I don't care. It amuses me to eat like sin for a week and not just still fit but be really comfortable in my size tens when I was doing fourteens a year ago, and they just fall off me now. Whew.
Jet didn't really like the peanut butter pie, so we went back to the hotel (with a few stops for me to photograph the rain pouring down on different parts of the city), and he got some microwave popcorn and "The Deadliest Catch" and then he did his reading and getting ready for bed and then I got to do reading for him as he went to sleep.
I am happy to be able to dump my brain before going to sleep. I'll probably dump all my pictures up on Flickr when I get the chance, everything that's not fuzzy, just like for the Biloxi trip. Then folks can see Trees if they want to the way I madly took pictures of them as I just wanted them. Some of the historical train tour pictures I'll actually be able to add notes to as I took one of the little journals Jet and I made this summer with me for the whole trip and it's got all my dreams and notes from all the guided tours we took including the boat ride today. So it should be fun to match up the pictures with the notes I took. laughter WAY too organized for my own good.
Tomorrow is likely a slow start and then a peek at Miami, her beaches, and finally, her airport. Home again, home again. Wheee.... and then John's off for the conference pow wow for the weekend, so Jet and I will have each other for the whole time. It'll be interesting.