Unlike the grassy marshland that I imagined, the part of the Everglades we were canoeing in, leaving from Chokoloskee on the northern end of the park, was basically just mazy mangrove channels. We initially paddled inland, through murky tidal channels that were two to four feet deep (although they were so murky you couldn't tell). The above photo, where we stopped for lunch was pretty much the first place we could even get out of the canoe- the rest of the way was walled off by forty-foot tall mangroves.
Later that day we arrived at our first camp, Lopez River, one of the only "ground" campsites in the Everglades. And it was only possible to camp there because the camp was an old shell mound, which prevented the mangroves from taking over. The camp itself was cool- there was an old cracked cistern carved with the date it was built, 1892.
The mosquitos, aka "swamp angels" were less cool, so were in the tent with all the zippers zipped tight before the sun even set. Here's the birthday girl herself (before we retreated from the mosquitos)!
The next morning we continued south, through inland bays that were more than a mile across. I never got over the shock of digging my paddle into the mud in the middle of these bays in water that turned out to only be eight inches deep. A wrong turn led us to stumble across a school of dolphins four miles inland- there's some haunting about actually hearing the dolphins inhale and exhale, sounds normally drowned out by motor noise (sorry no photos). We eventually arrived at our lodging for the night, perhaps the most unique campground I've ever been to: the Sweetwater Chickee.
Chickees are 10ft x 10ft elevated platforms stuck throughout the Everglades where there isn't any land suitable for camping. Most of these platforms are doubles, so we got to know are camping partners well- Jason and Holly, a 30-year old couple from West Palm Beach on their annual Everglades anniversary trip. We were again chased into our tents early, but we did get to enjoy the alligator show (one of the more than half dozen we saw) from our chickee.
We said our goodbyes the next morning and paddled west for the Gulf of Mexico, a paddle strongly aided by the outgoing tide. After a few hours we passed the infamous Watson's Place campground, home of a murderous plantation owner in the mid-to-late 1800's. Or so the story goes. Peter Matthiessen wrote a semi-historical and National Book Aware winning trilogy, The Shadow Country, which I stumbled across and brought along for the journey. True or not, it was a pretty eerie place:
I was happy not to camp there...
An hour later we canoed passed this bird colony,
and then paddled out into the open Gulf of Mexico, which was much calmer than I feared it might be.
It's worth noting that in spite of my fear of flipping, the water was still only about four feet deep in this part of the Gulf. Toward the end of the paddle things got quite choppy, but we eventually crossed an open channel and made it to Rabbit Key, our final campground. And perhaps our prettiest- we had the entire two acre island to ourselves.
After a romantic fire-lit dinner it was time for bed.
It was tough to wake up the next morning, knowing that we would end the day back in 17-degree New York.
But alas, it was time to go. We started paddling at 7 AM and were back in Chokoloskee by 10. We got one last visit from the locals however- you can just make out his fin.
After spending the afternoon in Naples (quick: the first one to spot some under 50 wins!), we flew back to Brooklyn that night and were back at work the next morning.
While this wasn't my normal trip, it was awesome. The quiet (and more relaxing nature) of paddling was soothing and helped the time pass refreshingly slowly. The environment was new to me and provided novel animals and subtler beauty- waves lapping against mangroves and silence broken only by lone bird calls. And it was seventy five all day.
Most importantly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNY!!!