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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

A Swamp Walk

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

~Saturday, January 23, 2021~

Day 223

Waking up to the sound of the most unique birds (I have no idea what species), and the warm sunshine is still something we’re trying to adjust to. It’s a little jarring when you’re used to walking out of your trailer in the early morning, with lingering dew on everything, and it not being a frigid 35 degrees. The morning temps are in the mid to upper 60’s by around 8:00 a.m. and the dew quickly dissipates with temps in the mid to upper 70’s, IN JANUARY!!! We’re kind of digging this place!

I was in the mood to make a fancy egg breakfast along with a new vegetarian thing….cauliflower hash browns. O.k. I’m giving into the world of “Impossible Burgers” and the latest craze “Cauliflower anything”. Cauliflower pizza dough, cauliflower ice cream, and simply more cauliflower. I remember the days my mom would serve cauliflower only to be doused in cheesy goodness for the picky youngster palettes of my sister and I. My, has this interesting vegetable come a long way. The cauliflower hash browns were pretty good for a frozen food item. I would still prefer to make it from scratch, but when your kitchen is the size of a small refrigerator and you’re under a slight time crunch, frozen is a great alternative. After our delicious egg/hashbrown breakfast, Jeff drove me over to the visitor center so I could connect to wi-fi to work on a few emails and Instagram posts before our 2:00 tour.

We drove over to Royal Palm where we had taken the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails a few days ago, to meet our guide by the flagpole. It was the same woman we met at the Coe Visitor Center the day after our arrival to the park. We really have lucked out with our tour guides being extremely knowledgeable but also passionate about their subject matter. It makes all the difference in what you take away from the experience. On our “wet walk” there were a few requirements before our tour. Lace up shoes, long pants and a hiking stick for balance. Oh, haven’t I told you what the tour was about? I couldn’t believe it, but we were about to be led into a swamp on foot. As we drive by these tall, grassy, boggy areas from a distance, I think to myself, I could never imagine venturing into these areas, let alone on foot. But somehow, when you’re being led by a swamp expert/enthusiast, it doesn’t seem all that scary. So here we are.

Before leaving in a caravan of about 7 or 8 cars, she informed us about a few obstacles we might incur, like large tree roots or deeper holes that might immerse you in shoulder deep water. She also asked us to try and keep a short distance from your neighbor due to COVID, but also to keep the water from getting too churned up, affecting our visibility into the normally crystal clear water. After our 10-mile drive out to the sisal pond area, we were given our walking poles (we were going to use our own hiking poles but she said we’d likely prefer her wooden sticks-which worked great). In hindsight, I’d wished I’d brought my camera. But I just didn’t want to chance it, not really knowing what we were in for. So, sorry folks. No photos of the great event (darn, I have no proof). The water was a warm 73 degrees filled with an abundance of tiny fish, (yes, we actually could see them very clearly), dwarf cypress trees and an interesting thing floating on the surface called Periphyton-a soft, spongy mat of algae that blankets the aquatic surface of the Everglades. It is everywhere, grazed by the fish and tadpoles. It looks like something I won’t mention, but as soon as we were told what it was made of and the huge amount of nutrients it provides, it didn’t bother us that we were surrounded by it. The first 5 minutes, you’re thinking to yourself, what did I sign up for? But then, you realize just how cool it is to be able to do this.

She pointed out numerous items like the peculiar, gnome looking “knees” around the dwarf cypress, which scientists have not quite figured out. But the theory is that they help give extra structural support to the trees or act as a conduit of oxygen to the root system that is constantly immersed in water. But the most important message was about just how special and delicate the ecosystem of the Everglades really is. The marshes, sawgrass prairies and forests that are home to an abundance of birds, mammals, fish and reptiles also replenishes the aquifer (the source of clean water for south Florida).

As we got to this one dense tree section that almost appeared elevated from the water we were in, she asked us to imagine what it would like….is it an area with more dirt, more water, void of water, etc. Our guess………..less water, more dirt. We were wrong. As we approached, we noticed once again, very clear water with an abundance of underwater ferns, the water getting deeper (we were about waist high) and the trees becoming denser, thus offering more shade. Then we stopped. She first asked, “Is it what you imagined?” Then she said without hesitation, “Yes, there are alligators in these waters, but you are welcome to wade around for a few minutes away from the group to explore. I just ask you to please avoid the deeper, more open water holes, where they prefer to live.” Do you think anyone wandered away from the group after that little piece of advice? The whole time I was thinking to myself, there’s no way this former science teacher would put us in harm's way….right? Someone did ask her why she didn’t mention this at the beginning of the tour to which she replied, “I don’t give away all my secrets, and if I did, no one would likely come”. In the end, we were very glad we came, AND walked away unscathed!!! It all turned out to be a great 1-½ hour adventure. And now we can say we walked through a swamp in Florida!🐊

With soaked shoes and semi-wet pants (we both had quick dry attire), we took a short drive further up the road to a suggested spot, Mahogany Hammock (one of our tour guide’s favorite spots in the park).

Another elevated boardwalk took us through an area, where just a few inches of elevation change can grow a dense, island forest of temperate trees, live oaks, tropical mahogany (which we’d never seen before), gumbo limbo, and others. Ferns and air plants thrive here as well.

When we arrived back to our campsite, we were excitedly greeted by our furry friend, eagerly awaiting her afternoon snack. After we got out of our mucky clothes, we started our early evening walk, only to get just a few feet from our trailer, meeting some new neighbors and running into one of the couples that was on our tour today. They’re from Wisconsin. Funny how our walks turn into talks. But we love meeting fellow campers, exchanging ideas of places to see (or not), and just sharing experiences. That’s what it’s all about.

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