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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Close Encounters of the Toothy Kind Key Largo, FL, Sunday, 21 October 2012 5:13am

I got up too early this morning and headed out for a kayaking tour of another section of Everglades National Park, Flamingo. We kayaked about 7 miles (I only remembered to turn on my GPS when we turned around, so I don't know the exact distance).

The last time I kayaked (at Clear Lake, in California), I had a lot of trouble steering. I had to stop every third stroke or so, because my kayak would have turned so far to the right that I'd need to reorient the kayak, even when I took this problem into account. I'm not sure if there was a large strength difference between my two shoulders after surgery, or if it was something wrong with the kayak itself. This time I had no particular problems steering.

We saw a bunch of wildlife pretty close up. A lemon shark got within arm's length of my kayak (I was photographing it and drifting) before aiming a big tail-flick at me and splashing water over my kayak. Later, an alligator let a kayak get right over it before deciding to move. We saw another alligator and a crocodile (yes, there are crocodiles here, it turns out).

There was some good bird action as well. There was a scuffle between a vulture who had a dead fish and a bald eagle who wanted the dead fish. The vulture gave in pretty quickly. We saw huge numbers of white pelicans circling far above, and a peregrine falcon hunting. There were also a pair of flamingos. Despite the name of the area, flamingos are not native, so these birds are probably just passing through.

After kayaking, we stopped at an "alligator hole". The Everglades are actually not a swamp, but a huge river that flows north to south. Before people started messing with the water flow, it spanned almost all of Florida. The area was once a seabed covered with coral reefs, which have now become limestone. Where there were coral heads, there are subtle hills. Elevation changes of just a few feet create big differences in the ecosystems. The lower-lying areas are dominated by grasses and small trees that tolerate almost-year-round immersion. Areas that are slightly higher shift to "hammocks", dense stands of hardwood trees.

We pulled over by the side of the road and changed into wading gear (for me, this was just trading my boots for mesh boat shoes) and walked through a few hundred yards of waist-deep water/mud across a grassy area to a hammock of tall trees, bromeliads, lily pads, and ferns. In the center of it was a depression that will contain water later into the dry season than the surrounding area. A large alligator installs itself there as the water level starts to fall, and eats anything that tries to steal its precious mud. The alligator was not apparently there when we visited (though it might have been. The water was deep and dark enough to have hidden almost anything.)

I'm thoroughly exhausted.

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