Duck Key to Naples Fl Nov 3,2011

I did a rough calculation when we left Duck Key this morning.  We have put about 7500 km on the car since leaving Coalhurst Oct 5.  We left Duck Key about 930 this morning to start our long drive north to home….we are at the half way mark of our trip.

As we left Homestead we noticed miles and miles of planted crops…January veggies is my guess. There were nurseries one after another…with all kinds of tropical trees, shrubs and flowers. As we continued down this agricultural area, a half ton truck stopped suddenly in front of us…..his shepard cross dog fell out of the box into the middle of the highway.  We stopped…not wanting to hit the dog and behind us…a ways back was another truck similar in size to a U Haul.  The driver wasn’t paying attention and in order to prevent rear ending us, drove into the ditch…which fortunately was even with the road.  That was adventure enough for us today.  I am happy to report after bouncing on the pavement a couple of times, the dog got up and ran off.  The owner called and chased him…..but no way…that dog wasn’t going anywhere near the truck.  Can’t say as I blame him.  Given the speed in which he ran off, he obviously wasn’t badly hurt.

We were able to set the navigation system to avoid toll roads and it took us on highway 41commonly known as alligator alley. We certainly saw parts of the everglades and a few birds but not really much else.  We stopped in the National Park Visitor center and the guide gave us a touring brochure for a road trip, just ten miles down the road.  She said she was sure we would encounter wild life.  At her direction we drove the 16 mile Turner River / Birdon Loop road. It is located within the Big Cypress National Preserve.

The first wild life we saw was a blue heron, followed by a small deer.  Keen eyed Brian spotted this big guy on the right sunning himself.  We were quite a distance away and I would guess this gator was 8′ long.  I did spot the top of one further down the road, but that was it for gator spotting.  We saw several large birds which I will have to look up to see if I can identify them  We saw lots of great white egrets, wood stork, white ibis and these fellas.  I have no idea what they were doing but three of them were in the middle of the road with their wings extended.  They weren’t particularly afraid of us and I did get a close shot and discovered they have a neck similar to a turkey, so perhaps they are turkey vulchers. LATE ENTRY: I have found they are simply called black vulchers.  Turkey vulchers have red heads.   As you can see the road is gravel and full of pot holes.  I think we averaged 10 km /hr.  I was intrigued to see air plants growing on the cypress trees.  At first I mistook them for bird’s nests.  It was quite exciting to see the various birds and animals.  I hope I can book an everglades tour for Saturday.  Finally I thought of something for Brian’s birthday.  Tomorrow we are booked on a Manatee tour.  If we don’t see a Manatee we don’t pay for the tour, so I fully expect the next post will have a photo of the rare sea cow.

We did come across one more critter for our photo collection.  It’s a red bellied turtle seen here  basking in the sun.

After a 16 mile loop we were back on the road heading to Naples Fl.  We checked into the Best Western Inn & Suites.  They would not take the coupon saying it was for walk ins and based on availability.  However upon seeing the grounds and the room, I don’t mind paying a higher rate. 

Our room has a bathroom with tub, sink, loo, separate dressing area with another sink and spacious counter, two queen beds and a flat screen TV.  In another area is another flat screen TV, sofa, desk, lazy boy chair and a PC beleive it or not.  We have a main floor level room with patio chairs. The courtyard is amazing with tropical plants, koi ponds, two pools, two hot tubs, three or more sitting areas, swing sets( for adults) and mini golf. 

After spending some time in the hot tub, we walked over to Red Lobster for dinner.  Don’t you just love their warm buttery biscuits? 

Road sign of the day:

” We buy junk and sell Antiques”

 

Manatee Tour November 4,2011

After the usual Best Western continental breakfast (including gut wrenching coffee) we hit the trail south to go on our Manatee tour. The tour started before we left the harbour with this white Ibis posing for us. We had booked with see-manatees.com run by Captain Barry & Carol.  They guarantee manatee sightings or money back.  Each of the boats hold a maximum of 6 people so each tour is almost personalized.

During the recent heavy rainy down pour, sea grass was floating all over the harbour and our guide told us the manatee may be hard to find as this presents them with banquet.  The grass was carpeted in areas and if the manatees were feeding there, they would be under the grass and we wouldn’t see the usual “footprint” of their breathing circles and bubbles. Prior to starting the tour, we were given polarized glasses to fit over our own glasses/sunglasses.  This was to cut down on the glare off the water and allow one to see the manatee better.  I was a bit skeptical but it did work.

The water is very brackish and tea colored. The reason for the color of the water is the red mangrove secretes a tannin like substance turning water into a dark “tea.”

The manatee don’t linger on the surface, especially when they are feeding. I didn’t think I would be able to get a photo of one but finally one stayed around long enough for this photo.  They appear to be the gentle giant of the waterways.  They move gracefully and slowly.  Occasionally they would just stick their nose up, othe time the would come up and down similar to a whale…so you got to see their tail.  Well that’s another thing to cross off the “bucket” list.

As we were slowly going to the channels we passed this nest and very soon a pair of osprey flew into it.  The guide thinks they may have young in the nest as he said last week the male flew back and forth frequently, while the female stayed put.  To see this photo clearly, double click on it.

The area we were in was about 20 miles from Naples near the Port of Islands Hotels.  The guide was telling us while many people build homes in the area, several are for sale by owner or bank owned. He said except for fishing there is nothing  to do.  The nearest store is in Naples.  The guide also said the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant and the marine shop closes a 2 pm. So here you are in this lovely surroundings staying in a hotel in the middle of no where and nada to eat.

Here is a photo of an example of the homes around the marina.  All have screened in porches/patios as the local wild life ( alligators) like to crawl up on the lawn to sun themselves.  There are also many poisonous snakes that like to drop in to visit as well.  No wonder so many of the homes are for sale!

After our tour we still had part of the afternoon left so I went walk about.  There is a strip mall(large) close to the hotel so I went there.  I spent some time looking for a book but everytime I found one…I thought it’s cheaper on Kindle, so came away empty handed.  The walk was not without merit as I found a local pub…. called Mulligan’s.  Remember Naples is golf heaven!  They had a great menu so we came back for dinner.  I had the Friday “fish fry” special which was a large portion of beer battered cod, fries and cole slaw.  The fish was lightly battered and cooked to crispy perfection.  The waitress scoured the kitchen for white vinegar for me and found some.  Sorry I hate malt vinegar. The menu is quite extensive and varied. They make their own additions such as Pico de Gallo,lemon basil butter sauce, mango-cilantro sauce, and chipotle aioli to name a few.  In addition they had live music….not bad for a dinner for 2 costing $30 including diet coke and beer. 

We’re up early tomorrow for a full day Everglade tour.  The bus picks us up at the hotel and drops us off 9 hours later.  I finally had this as an idea for Brian’s birthday gift…how good is that….especially as I get to share it!

When planning this trip we had it planned as far as Duck Key and had planned to “wing it” after that. We are spending 3 nights here in Naples and then will head to New Orleans,La.  We looked at things between but didn’t really find anything of interest. We will likely stay in New Orleans for 4 to 5 days taking in the sights then head to Corpus Christi.  That’s the plan…..for now.

Everglade Tour Nov 5,201

I think I mentioned in a previous post this was a lovely hotel and had a beautiful courtyard. The only problem is their breakfast is served poolside……outdoors.  As we had a tour bus to catch at 8 a.m. we were poolside at 745 and the temp was 60 F.  Eating a cold breakfast in the cold…not much fun. Shortly after 8 our 14 seat tour bus came to pick us up and said…..we were it for the day.  I was surprized they would honor our reservation for just two of us…but glad they did.

Our guide Joe was full of information.  In yesterday’s post I mentioned a hotel built in the middle of the glades.  He told us the hotel was built by mafia members and a trip to the hotel for some guests, meant a one way ticket and the body dumped into the water for the aligators to dispose of.  The highway we were on ( Hwy 41) was formerly called Marijuana Road.  We learned later in the tour, this area of Florida was heavy into drug running/importing and largely was left to do what they wanted for over 20 years.  The heart of this activity was Everglade city….the first stop on our tour.  We were going to take an airboat through the mangroves to look for wildlife.  The tour company is Totch Tours. The owners are relatives of Loren ” Totch” Brown( no relative of mine).  The orignal Totch was born in the everglades and loved to hunt and fish the area.  After the second world war it became a challenge for him to earn  a living in the everglades with all the changes to the area – a ban on net fishing, and laws regarding perservation of the alligator and everglades. In the sixites he was approached to come off shore and off load some bales and then hide them in the everglades.  Later he assisted in loading these into trucks to head north.  One day he decided to open a bale up and found marijuana and indication it came from Columbia.  Seizing an opportunity to cut out the middle man, he sailed to Columbia and started bringing the stuff back himself…..later he was bringing in other products other than marijuana.  He made so much money he couldn’t find enough place to store it…..so he took lengths of PVC pipe, stuffed cash inside, capped them and buried them all over the area.  People are still digging for those pipes today!  He was such a character and an example of the Everglade life of old, I bought his book ” Totch, A Life in The Everglades.”

The airboat ride was not what I expected at all.  We were only four on the boat with Brian and I sitting up front.  The good ole boy driving the boat was showing off his skills to the blond passenger on with us…I rather think.

First of all the boat was a lot noisier than I had anticipated, fortunately they gave us ear protection to wear.  They also go a great deal faster than I thought.  When the boat jockey got into his groove, my short hair was straight back and my stomach in knots when he took tight turns at a 30 degree angle.  We went through channels overgrown with mangroves and at times had to dodge tree branches.  We ended up following another airboat…..and guess what…those big fans spray lots of water off the back…so if you are behind one….and sitting right up front….you get WET!

As you can see by the photo of the gator we did get up close and personal…however not without a little help. Now if you want to show people gators….you may want to attract them with food ( which by the way is illegal) and if you wanted the gators to feed on the surface….you’d give them something that floats……..like MARSHMALLOWS!  Those gators were on them in a flash and then went cruising around looking for more!

After the boat tour we went for lunch.  The starter was “alligator bites” and I hate to say this…but it taste like chicken.

After lunch we board another larger boat to tour Everglades National Park and 10,000 Islands. While Manatee are often seen in the area, we saw only birds…however we saw lots of birds. Examples of what we saw: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret,Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret ( rare and endangered),Tricolored Heron, Anhinga, doubled crested Cormorants, terns, wood stork and pelicans.

After this outing, we got back on the bus and went to the Smallwood museum on the Island of Chokoloskee.  The museums was originally a store in the 20s and the museum is really the old store complete with old equipment and goods.  I didn’t realize how old I was until I walked around and I said…I remember those…I remember that…..for instance soda crackers coming in cans, not paper boxes.  They had a wringer washer very similar to one used when I was a kid.

The final tour was a road trip into the everglades.  The driver took time to ensure we didn’t miss anything.   We saw more birds and more gators. As we drove down the road occasionally we would come across people out of their car taking photos.  The driver was concerned as often you can’t see a gator within feet of you.  This fella came swimming along and turned directly towards the people on the edge of the water…looking for a bit of lunch I think.  It was amazing to see how fast he was swimming.  Needless to say the people were back in their car lickedy split.  We continued to see birds including this huge wood stork.  The driver said it was he biggest he’d ever seen.

On our way back to the city we passed the USA’s smallest post office.  Honest to goodness…it’s a real working post office.  The lady mans it about 5 hours a day and sells post cards and stamps indicating it was mailed from the smallest working post office.  This building sits in the middle of no where and I wonder where the post master goes when nature calls.  The building sits on the edge of the everglades.  I also wonder about her safety being in the middle of no where.

The driver asked what we were planning to do for dinner and made a recommendation of Di Julio’s Italian Restaurant.  Even though it was a bit of a drive ( 11km) we decided to give it a try.  It was an excellent choice and we left very satisfied, with dinner, tip, tax and drinks for under $40.  It was a long busy day but a great day.  The highlight for me was chasing through the tight mangrove channels in the airboat. I can strike that off the bucket list..although until today I didn’t know I wanted to do it.  An experience of a lifetime for sure.

I am so glad we get an extra hour of sleep tonight as it is 1130 pm local time.  We leave Naples, sadly…in the morning.   Our tour driver gave us the name of a great diner for breakfast…so no sitting out in the cold for us tomorrow.  Next stop….Crystal Springs Fl.

 

The Cypress trees give home to “Air Plants.”

 

 

Terns taking flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               Wood Stork