Packed up and ready we bundled into the camper-van thingy and set off of the 4 hour trip round to Flamingo, deep in the heart of the Everglades National Park. Being flat, and relatively the same there is not a lot so seen on the drive. It all looks the same. Miles and miles and miles of swamp.
So we got chatting. After all we we about to spend 8 days alone in ‘Mango’s’ charge so we had better start to get to know each other. As always these social interactions take a while to settle in and we were still a bit fazed by the flight and time difference. Regis, the driver, was fantastic at ‘breaking the ice’ and we soon spent a pleasant few hours in conversation.
He was a throughly nice chap. Warm, friendly and a pleasure to know. True he looked like a Hells Angel/Hilly/Billy/Woodstock survivor but he proved to be an informed, astute and conscientious companion.
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’
Something nagged me a little when Regis said he’d been to Flamingo a couple of time before (he thought!!!!) and Mango kept asking him whether the route we took was the best one.
On the outskirts of Miami we took a right turn and drove along the backroads to the Park entrance. Miami, by the way stops abruptly. The urban sprawl doesn’t just peter out and dissipate. It just comes to a north/south road and stops. After that its swamp, reeds, alligators n injun country.
Regis turned out to be an ardent conservationist and helped to habitat restoration in the Everglades. I too help with habitat restoration for Surrey Wildlife Trust on our local commons. Roughly 800 hectares. Regis’s ‘local’ common was 4,000 square miles!!!!!!
When a little reality check was required. It put my efforts into perspective.
He pointed out a section of the ‘Tamiami Trail (US41) that is being ‘raised’ and rebuilt so that the water course can be restored and the water flow allowed to continue unimpeded into Florida Bay via the Everglades. Basically Florida (bigger than the UK) is one huge swamp that drains from North to South, out into the Bay of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The Everglades itself drops only about 1′ over several hundred miles.
We checked into the Park and briefly stopped for a ‘comfort’ break. I’d been this way 10 years earlier and nothing, but nothing had changed.
Apart from day trips to camp in the Everglades you have to pre-book your campsites and visits. There is no ‘offroad’ and you can only stop at official campsites. These are few and far between and each has limited space. Our problem is that you can only pre-book 24 hours in advance….and in person. So you never know until the day before where you can stop. This is where ‘Mango’ and the Naples Kayak Company came in. Whilst we were savouring the delights of Naples the day before, ‘Mango’ had been queuing at the Park office to get our permits as soon as they opened. Depending on campsite dictated in which direction you crossed the Everglades and how far you had to travel each day (and consequently how many days it took).
The campsites are classified into three sorts land, beach and chickee. The former and latter permitted no fires whilst the beach sites allowed fires below the high water mark. The chickees had ‘portaloos’ (luxury….sometimes) whilst the others were dig and bury (above the waterline). The chickees (basically a freestanding platform) were limited to between 4 or 8 campers. The others sometimes more. Either way we had to have our permits prominently displayed at all times; either tied to our kayaks or tents.
Most importantly you could only stay in the site you booked!!!!!
Being a swamp, dry land is pretty limited so there aren’t many ‘land’ campsites. Any bit of land that you could haul out on was normally already occupied by a large lizard-like thing with big teeth. And I didn’t fancy arguing with one of them late at night when they got back to ‘their’ plot after a hard day’s eating as I staggered out to go ‘dig and bury’.