When we originally planned this leg of the journey we thought that we’d spend a couple of days exploring the west coast of Florida, however as it wasn’t overly hot and we’d just had beaches in Cuba and the Bahamas, we decided to keep driving. We stopped for lunch and a swim at Siesta Key, which is a very swanky beach town just outside Sarasota on the Gulf of Mexico. Dominic had a swim and was rewarded with sharing the beach with a pod of friendly dolphins, playing no more than 50 meters off the shore.
It was a pretty uneventful journey until night fell and the petrol light started flashing. You don’t realize how anxious you can become until you’re in the middle of the Everglades with very little gas, it’s pitch black, there are no other cars around, the only signs were those advising of Panthers in the area and your wife is chirping in your ear about not getting gas at the last petrol station you passed 30 miles ago. The fuel gauge offering advice of exactly how many more miles until you hit empty didn’t help the dire situation. Said wife closely watched this useful piece of technology and comments were made at very regular intervals. Luckily my fuel management skills were 100% as we rolled into a petrol station just prior to it closing. Cue heavy sigh of relief.
The next issue was trying to find somewhere to stay in Everglades City, which isn’t a city; it’s a small village. There appeared to be three accommodation options available to us. The first choice couldn’t sleep four, the second option refused to answer the door so it was again with some relief that the last choice had a room. The Captains Table was budget and basic but clean and a provided us with a roof over our head. Everglades City is literally in the middle of nowhere so it would have involved a long trek back if the Captain hadn’t come to the party.
We were up early to sort out a fan boat ride over the mangroves CSI Miami style. Captain Doug was the outfit we went with (everyone here is called Captain something!) It was a fun ride with plenty of thrills and spills to keep the boys smiling. Dominic was allowed to drive for a while much to the concern of the German couple that was sharing a boat with us. He did a great job and the mile wide smile on his face told a thousand words.
The fan boats aren’t designed for wildlife watching. They are very noisy but that was ok. We just wanted to go really fast. We did see an alligator stalking a family of raccoons which was great, but that was about it in terms of exciting wildlife. It was great fun nonetheless.
The boys did get to hold a baby ‘gator albeit with its mouth tied shut (these ties don’t come in sizes for seven and five year old boys unfortunately). We didn’t think Callum would do it but he quickly volunteered.
About 30 miles from Miami is Shark Valley, which offers walking tracks and bike rides through the Everglades. We had hoped to rent bikes for all of us like we did in the Costa Brava but Callum was two pounds over weight for him to ride shotgun with me. We tried to reason with the staff that two pounds is nothing but they wouldn’t budge on policy sighting a lawsuit they are currently involved in. The US is so litigious that rules are strictly adhered to and there is no “bending” of the rules no matter how minor the request. The massive billboards and TV advertising by lawyers all looking to sue anyone for anything highlight the state of their society. An upset Callum went for a walk with Trina while Dominic and I rented some bikes for an hour. It was an ok ride but no wildlife was seen so all in all a bit of a waste of time. Trina and Callum actually saw more wildlife on foot than we did on the bikes. Trina was a bit nervous walking so close to the water with Callum and jumped every time she heard a splash. It was an ok day trip however the Pantanal in Brazil (visited pre-kids days) was a much better wildlife experience in my opinion for viewing reptiles and bird watching.
We had a couple of days in Miami before heading to Costa Rica so that allowed us to introduce the boys to the delights of South Beach. We actually had dinner and drinks at the same bar Trina and I went to 10 years ago. The Cleveland Hotel is the best place to sit and watch the world go by. South Beach, Miami is a melting pot of everything great and weird – fantastic fun!