Deep in the Florida Everglades, in the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve, senior editor Gay Nagle Myers threw caution to the wind and gamely waded into waist-high murky waters to experience and report on what Miami-based Dragonfly Expeditions billed as a “romp in the swamp.” Here is her account of a one-hour swamp walk in Florida’s backwaters.
I was a swamp virgin until last Saturday.
By noon on that day, I was way out of my comfort zone, trying to balance on a slippery tree root in the Big Cypress Preserve, a place I’d never known about until my oldest daughter won a prize of a guided eco-tour in the Everglades and invited my youngest daughter Jenn and me along.
The venue was the complete opposite of my usual haunts in the Caribbean and Mexico where beaches are wide, waters are clear and the only danger is sunburn.
The precursor to my anxiety began as we zipped along the Tamiami Trail, heading toward Ochopee in the western Everglades to begin the swamp trek.
Scores of alligators basked in the sunlight along the banks of the estuary that paralleled the road.
“Where do they live?” I asked the guide.
“Their habitat is the Big Cypress Preserve,” she said.
“Isn’t that where we’re going?”
Sure enough, when we pulled into parking lot where the trailhead began, a big sign warned people not to feed the alligators, a couple of whom were lolling in the grass.
We’d been instructed to wear old pants and bring a change of clothing. We donned water shoes, were handed walking sticks (actual broomsticks without the broom) and without further ado, sloshed into the swamp water.
“Don’t touch the trees. Oil from your hands could damage the bark,” our guide Connie told us.
Without a tree to support me if I slipped on a tree root or got stuck in inches of muck, I kept a white-knuckled, two-handed grip on my stick.
The water went from knee-high to waist-high with no warning, so while my daughters exhilarated in the beauty of the snowy egrets high in the branches of the cypress trees and peered intently through masses of ferns to spot native orchids, I concentrated on staying upright.
We rounded a bend and I found myself staring at a baby gator not 15 feet away.
“Where are the mom and dad?” I asked Connie.
“Not very far away. They’re watching, but don’t worry. They’re just being protective, like all parents,” she said.
It was too late to tell me not to worry.
Jenn asked about snakes and turtles.
“Yes, they’re here too. Also eels. We rarely see the panthers, however.”
“Oh, they’re here, too, along with bobcats and raccoons and other critters,” Connie said.
At that point, I pretty much abandoned all hope of making it out of this experience unscathed.
Of course, I did make it out unharmed. My mood soared as I set rubber shoe on terra firma, taking one last glance at the mysterious, untamed world of the Everglades.
Later, I had gator salad at lunch down the road at Camelia Street Grill in Everglades City.
A fitting end to a tour I’ll never forget — and probably never ever repeat.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.