Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Did You Miss Me?

I'm back home now. I know I said I would write while on vacation, but is was like internet probation there. I finally found a WiFi spot but only had enough time to load half my pictures. So I'll try now to remember everything I would have written about if I had the chance each day...

The first day there, we settled into the house. We had a visitor in the guest bathroom. Aunt Terry said they have to cover all the pipes when they are going to be gone for a while. Apparently critters crawl up the pipes and into the house. So they saran wrap the toilets and cap the sinks and showers. When we unwrapped the guest toilet, there was a big green tree frog camping in it. It looked like a weird cling-on cleaner thing. I grabbed it to take it outside, but Terry said that is was a poisonous frog. I put it in the trash pale and took it to the pond, then scrubbed my hands. I was relieved when I looked it up and saw it was just a plain old frog. Then I learned the pond I so carefully picked for it to go free in was home to a large alligator. I hope he has a long and happy life and doesn't get eaten.

We then picked up groceries and went swimming in the pool. We drove around a little, learning our way around the area just a bit. We had dinner at Ihop. We see many different kinds of lizards, frogs, toads, and birds. I lost about a pint of blood to the mosquitoes, argh!

Day two is the trip to the Everglades. We headed south and then east in search for an air boat ride. I'm not excited about this. I've already learned the bugs are much bigger and have an ugly appetite. We made a few stops at information corners and tourist set-ups. There were hefty turtles here and there. The farther east we went, the swampier it got. We came across several air boat places, but skipped them because the Frommer's book recommended one in Frog City. Frog City wasn't on the map, so we just drove, and drove, and drove. It seemed to be hours down the road before we all decided the next boat dock would do. We hadn't passed any signs of civilization for quite a while and were starting to get restless. We finally came up on a little dock called "Buffalo Tiger". We stopped there. There was one air boat at the dock, and no one to be found anywhere in the building or on the dock. We were about to move on when an air boat came out of the swamp. The people seemed happy as they climbed out of the boat. We took this as a good sign. The driver finished chatting with his customers, then came over to us. He introduced himself as Ernie. He proceeded to tell us of his history and the history of his people and the area. He came across as quite an intelligent person, he travels to give speeches at collages and schools. His air boat group has been around for generations. Needless to say, we decide to stay and take a tour with his boat. As we approach the boat, Ernie's grand-daughter pointed out a mighty large alligator just off the dock. There was a second smaller gator in front of the boat. It was exciting, our first gator sighting! Ernie then tells us about growing up around these animals, his understanding of them. He gets the bigger one to come closer and we all take turns taking pictures with it. Since we are on the reservation, the usual rules involving the interaction and handling of gators doesn't apply. Ernie lures the gators closer with bread, then lets us even closer to them. After a little while, we proceed to the boat. Equipped with cotton for our ears to soften the roar of the Cadillac V8, we're off to tour the Everglades. We learn the Everglades are actually a large, 40 mile wide river which takes a gallon of water 30 days to pass through. They are protected, and the natives are working on getting grants and funds from the government to help clean the Everglades and better preserve them. We stop not long into the tour. Ernie has located a 12 foot male alligator. While we are watching him, a smaller female approaches from the other side of the boat. I know see how they can sneak up on people. Ernie gets the male to come along side the boat with bread. He then pops it on the nose, causing it to sit up out of the water with it's gigantic head pressed up against the boat. Ernie then proceeds to reach down and grab the gator by the chin and pull it further out of the water. Our own little Steve Irwin. He releases the beast after we all get pictures and he can no longer support it's weight. To prove all is ok, he pops it on the nose again, and again it rears it's head up. Ernie grabs it under it's chin, a nicer grab, and kisses it on the nose, TWICE!!! We are all floored by now. This is unbelievable. The gator never rushed the boat, but would only bump the side every now and then. Ernie tosses both gators some bread, and we move on. The next stop was around trees and bushes growing in the water. Ernie tells us about the different plants, which ones are edible, which ones are not. Some where good for medications, others for different uses. He tells us about some animals and fish that are found in that area, and not so much in the other portions of the swamps. He then takes us to a small dock with a clearing just behind it. "Did I not mention to you ladies that you have to pay to get back?", he says. We then get out of the boat for a little show and tell. We come across giant grass hoppers and lizards. He was looking for raccoons when a 6 ft female alligator came out of the water. Again I bet he has feed her in the past to get her to come so freely. He lures her up into the clearing and then calls me over. I have a big mouth, and he had a good memory. When we saw the first gators, I commented on how almost pretty they were, and I almost wanted to pet one. Here's my big chance. I declined, I'm wearing flip-flops. Who can evade a gator in flip-flops? After his assurance that I wouldn't get eaten, and my family's push, I went over next to Ernie. He tells me that the alligators have a blind spot. It is directly in front of them and down their middle. Since their eyes are situated on top of their head, it's quite a blind spot. Just move slow and steady, and be gentle. Ernie then shows me the "pet gator stance", which I copy. He grabs my arm and pulls me closer. My toes are curling and I can't breath at this point. With much trust in Ernie's experience, I let him bring my hand over and then down on top of the gator's head, just behind her eyes. I lock eyes with her, still holding my breath. Much to my surprise, she is smooth and soft. I imagined a rough scaly feel. After what seemed minutes, he ushers me back from the alligator. Hooray, I have all my limbs! It's not over yet. Ernie then puts my hand under his chin, showing me to support the jaw firmly. He pops the gator on the nose, and she lifts her head, mouth open, so many sharp teeth. Ernie takes my hand once again and thrusts it under her head and brings it up to catch her lower jaw. Alligators have strength to bite, not open. This means as long as I have a firm grip, I can hold her mouth shut for what ever reason. Again I am surprised as to how she feels, much like a frog. As I am staring in wonderment and stupor, Ernie brings to my attention that my thumb is sticking out away from my hand, dangerously close to the gator's line of sight. I quickly press my thumb back against my hand and then gratefully release the alligator's head and step back. Ernie tosses her some bread, and she returns to the water. I finally breath again, and then shook for the next hour or so. We all get back into the boat and return to the main dock. Ernie sends us on our way with a little speech about respecting Mother Nature and protecting the environment.

The next day, day three, we went to Matlacha. It is a smaller town, art district. There isn't a beach there, mostly boat docks and such. We have lunch at a place called Bert's. It looked to be a hole in the wall type place. We walked the docks for a little bit, then went inside to eat. While waiting for our orders, we watched a pelican take a break and sunbathe. Something had the water stirred up in a couple places, but we never saw what it was. The food was great. After eating, we walked through shops and art gardens. It was very nice, even in the rain. We had dinner that evening back at the community where my Aunt's house is at. It is a 55+ community, so we stuck out a bit. The ham dinner was amazing, and dessert was of course wonderful. There was karaoke and trivia. After dinner, we went for a swim in the pool again.

Day four was fun. We finally got to go to the beach. We started with Venice Beach, just North of Fort Myers. It was nice, but not mind blowing. The sand was white, and the water blue, but it wasn't too amazing. We walked the beach for a little while, then went for lunch. After lunch, we headed South to Sanibel Island. That had to be the best beach around. The island was more residential than commercial, which was pleasant. We strolled up and down the beach, and played in the water for a little while. There were so many shells to pick up. The sand was so white, and the water so blue. It has to be the prettiest beach I've seen. We didn't stay long, it was too hot and we didn't bring our swim suits. As we were leaving, we saw a giant iguana walk off the sidewalk and into the trees. It was huge, and too cool. I didn't get a picture of it, I think he was camera shy. As we were calming back down and driving on, we saw another large lizard. At first, I thought it was an alligator, but it didn't have spikes down it's back and tail. Then it stuck out a narrow black tongue, like a snake. Turned and slithered off into the trees. I googled it, and found out it was a Nile Monitor. They have been released there by dumb people, and have populated. The authorities are keeping track of all sightings and attempting to hunt the lizards down. The Monitors are very aggressive and would even challenge an alligator!

Day five, we got up early to catch the sunrise on Sanibel. After laughing at a crazy, half rabid squirrel, we took off to the beach. When we got there, we had the beach to ourselves. It was so nice. We played in the water and collected loads of shells. We had an early lunch, then headed back to the mainland. We went back to the house to freshen up. Plans were made to take Terry's friends from the down the road to dinner. She made reservations at a seafood place on Matlacha. It was a cute restaurant. I ordered wings, which ended up not holding a candle to Pluckers. We watched a fat happy dolphin chase fish. Dessert was good, yet again. We then walked around some more shops, after which we headed home.

Each night, I slept on the couch. You can hear the gators croak like frogs all night. The last day we were there, Aunt Tammy adopted a puppy. She named it Limpkins, after the bird mom never got to see. Our flights were uneventful, thank goodness. The iPhone saved us many times with it's GPS and wonderful apps. All in all, it was a good time. I want to go back during the winter months some time and see some manatees.

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