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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

One With the Mangroves

~Saturday, March 18, 2023~

Day 1,008

Having been to Sombrero Beach a few days before for a play day with Sadie, we had noticed a number of rentable kayaks stationed at the park behind the beach. Once Cindy and Blair had given us a thumbs up about this being a great kayak location, we just had to give it a go. As you may recall we did a mangrove tour back in February when we were staying in Naples. Even though we loved the experience of that tour, we really prefer going at our own pace. Florida Keys Kayak & Paddleboard made it so easy for us to do this as they dropped off 2 kayaks for us right at the beach with a pick up at the same location 5 hours later. And to top it off, we picked an amazing, calm day to do it. What a way to end our stay in The Keys!

Being big kayak enthusiasts, Cindy and Blair were kind enough to share a map they had used for their own outing. Let me tell you, without it, we wouldn’t have had the successful trip that we did. It puzzled us that our kayak company did not provide us with one, which would be my only gripe about using them. If you’ve never experienced kayaking through mangrove tunnels, they can be a little intimidating in the way of getting lost. As you’re paddling around in open water trying to find an entrance to the narrow mangrove tunnels, what you think may be an entrance could be a dead end. Or for example you might see 10 entrances, not knowing which one is right. If you ever have the opportunity to do this in Florida, make sure to carry your phone with you so that you can reference your location on Google Maps and compare that with a mangrove tunnel map. Having these 2 things will make you a navigation rockstar, or at least pretend to be one. In the end, we didn’t make one wrong turn thanks to MY awesome navigator husband. Not a surprise.

Before I get into the experience itself, and hoping not to insult your intelligence, I thought I’d give you a short paragraph about what mangroves are. Before coming to Florida, we really had no idea just how important they are to the “sunshine state’s” ecosystem as well as other ecosystems around the world. These forests only grow at tropical and subtropical latitudes near the equator. But how do they grow, what kind of soil do they like, what’s their root system like, how many types are there? First of all, they thrive in loose, wet soils, where their prop roots are either hidden or exposed depending on the tide. They’re beautiful either way. The soil must have low-oxygen and slow moving water which allows fine sediments from brackish water to accumulate around its roots. There are about 80 different species, some of which do live on land. Their importance, other than allowing curious tourists like us to tour their forests, is to protect nearby populated areas by preventing erosion and absorbing storm surge impacts, but also to help protect delicate marine life. Our actions pose the biggest threat to their survival.

Touring these slow-growing forests on our own made me appreciate why Mother Nature put them there in the first place.

As we launched from Sombrero Beach, we started in a sheltered cove area, passing some amazing real estate along the way. About a mile in, we started to question where the entrance to the tunnels would be. An elderly couple even stopped to ask US if we had seen it. It was at this point that we incorporated the Google Maps app with the mangrove tunnel map that Cindy gave us. About another ½ mile to go, we finally found it. That poor couple just hadn’t gone far enough. Hopefully they found it not too long after we had seen them. The first tunnel was about 7 to 8 feet wide allowing for pretty easy paddling. We even ran into several other kayakers coming the other direction which made things interesting in trying to pass each other.

We always felt a level of success when we’d pop out into a lake (there were about 4), cheering each other on before heading into the next tunnel.

At one of the lakes, we stopped for lunch, still sitting in our kayaks since there really isn’t anywhere to beach, unless sitting on a few mangrove roots is your idea of a comfortable arrangement (ouch!). While enjoying lunch, we observed a few interesting marine creatures, such as small urchins, starfish and tiny fish. Don’t worry, nothing dangerous as alligators do not live in mangrove tunnels because they have nowhere to rest. Our most difficult tunnel was one we almost didn’t do, but are happy we did. At times, the tunnel was so tight, we could barely fit our kayak through it. We never were too shallow, but the issue was how to paddle when things are that narrow. Eventually, you give up the paddles and just use your hands on the propped mangrove roots to pull you through. And there was quite an echo from our voices as the trail narrowed. We managed to get back in our 5 hour window, with sore arms and a little too much sun on our tired skin. Sombrero Beach is definitely a winner in our book with the fact they are dog friendly, and are next to amazing kayaking. And

let’s face it…..sandy beaches in The Keys are hard to come by.

Wiped out from all the sun and paddling, we enjoyed our final sunset from our reliable “Tiki Island” spot at our Florida Keys campground of Jolly Roger. From a shared text, we were happy to hear that Cindy and Blaire had an amazing time on their sunset jet skiing tour. The photo certainly proved it. For us, something for next time 😉.

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