Tag Archives: Everglades

Exploding Pythons

“You must be Jimmy!”

What a cheery and welcome greeting at the end of a truly awful trip. We drove from Ocala, Florida through teeming rain missing the view of Lake Okeechobee altogether, along mile upon dead straight mile of road through sugar cane groves in the

Domino Sugar
Domino Sugar (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Everglades (and past the curiously out-of-place-looking Domino Sugar refinery, puffing and stinking on the horizon) and arrived on the Interstate in Fort Lauderdale in time for a frenzied rush hour on Thanksgiving Eve.An RV blocking the drive of the city campground – forcing us to stop in the middle of a busy road, left turn indicator blinking – had been turned away. The driver slunk from the gate and gave us a desultory shrug as if to say you’ll be lucky before he climbed back in his camper to drive off. We had reservations.

The campground gate commandant smiled, moved two traffic cones and waved us in from across the road. “Washington! What a beautiful state! Do you live there?” He’d spotted our license plates. Thus began a lengthy question and answer session about how we arrived in the United States, why we lived in Washington for a time and why we now have no home.

Thor's Hammer - Bryce Canyon
Thor’s Hammer – Bryce Canyon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“That’s fantastic! What’s your favorite place?” and he and Jimmy discussed the merits of Utah, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Montana, California, Washington, Colorado and just about every other state and landmark west of the Mississippi.

The park ranger was either very friendly or just having a slow day and needed some company. His peaked cap tried to hold down an explosion of grey curls. The smile on his weathered face was genuine.

“We’re a bit surprised by the heat and humidity this late in the year. Is that common this far south?” I asked him.

“Nah. It’s pretty unusual. We’ve usually had a cold snap by now. It would wipe out the mosquitoes but they’re still around.”

“Oh great. They’ll come after me. They love me,” groaned Jimmy.

“Yeah, me too,” he commiserated.

Excellent, I thought. Two deterrents for me.

“We saw our first iguana here about this time last year,” Jimmy told the chatty ranger.

Nice pose Iggy!
Nice pose Iggy!

“Yeah, they’re getting to be real nuisance.”

“Are you allowed to control them?” I asked. That’s squeamish speak for kill them.

“No, but they did take an eight foot alligator out of the pond two months ago.”

“Eight feet. That’s pretty big,” I said faintly. A glance at the map we’d been given showed that the pond referred to was only yards away from our campsite.

“We noticed that the ducks were disappearing and wondered why, then somebody saw the alligator. When they caught it they had to kill it. It would come back you know. What with the duck banquet.”  Jimmy and I were grimacing at this point and unable to think of a suitable reply. “It’s bound to happen. The park is surrounded by water and they come down the canal.”

We’d just driven the length of the North New River Canal, or alligator speedway it would seem, that drains south from the Everglades and feeds into Fort Lauderdale.

“Then there are the snakes.”

My mouth dropped open. “What kind of snakes?”

“Oh people have them as pets and they get too big.”

“What kind of snakes?”

“Then they flush them down the toilet or just throw them in the waterways.”

“What kind of snakes?”

“They’re not native to here.”




“Now here’s a story they will tell around here for years to come,” he continued gleefully, his grey ringlets springing out madly. “Did you hear about the python that fought the alligator in the Everglades? A 13 foot python and a six-foot alligator. They say they were pretty evenly matched. The python swallowed the alligator whole then exploded.”

We laughed just to humor him and drove off to find our campsite. We questioned being back in Ft. Lauderdale where the wild life had proliferated so and the ground rumbled underfoot like an earthquake every time the main line Amtrak train passed 50 feet away.

But if you put your fingers in your ears to drown out the traffic noise from the busy road into the city center, choose a moment between the frequent trains thundering past and looked in a direction so as not to see the many RVs, the tarmac road and the plumbing and electrical hookups, you could imagine that you were in the deepest jungle. Palm trees and palmettos, lizards and parrots lent the site a tropical feel.

Ft. Lauderdale City Park
Here we are in deepest, darkest Ft. Lauderdale.

It was quite magical in the middle of a city.

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Thanksgiving Day’s excitement was a massive explosion that seemed to be within feet of us. The shock wave went right through me, reverberating in my chest cavity. I thought we were under attack.

A few minutes later, a helpful neighboring camper saw us looking around and cycled up to us to explain. “The electricity will be on in about half an hour. I work for the electricity company. I called my friend and he’ll be right out. A squirrel took out the transformer.”

They have commando squirrels as well?

Convenient that an electricity trouble-shooter was on the campsite. Not so handy for the squirrel.

English: An American alligator and a Burmese p...
Python eats alligator! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That python did swallow that alligator whole. It happened in 2005. There are estimated to

be 100,000 giant Burmese pythons in the Everglades. At an average length of 15 feet there were 284 miles of big nasty snakes with easy access to our trailer.

That particular python did explode. The duel-to-the-death details make gruesome reading.

Shall We Stay or Shall We Go On?

After completing 5/8 of a life on the edge of each other’s nerves – we had towed the trailer 11,654 miles and put 20,122 miles on the odometer in the car. In a country that is 3,000 miles wide by 2,000 miles top to bottom that’s pretty good going. We’d drawn a very drunken diagonal line down across the U.S. map from Washington State to Florida and back along the southern border and west coast. A two-year-old with a crayon could have scrawled a tidier route. But in the process we perused 26 of the 48 states on our agenda of looking for the perfect place to live in the continental U.S.A.

We decided this was definitely a plastic 'gator put out for the tourists in the Everglades when her real brothers and sisters were in hiding.
We decided this was definitely a plastic ‘gator put out for the tourists in the Everglades when her live brothers and sisters were in hiding.

Some states only merited a quick drive straight through to the next state. I won’t tell you which ones as all us patriotic Americans are proud of and proprietorial about our own states and I am sure we didn’t do them justice by not stopping to poke around. Other states kept us fascinated for days, sometimes weeks. But we were just tourists. Visiting The Everglades, Monument Valley, Mount Rushmore or San Francisco for the first time is a real kick but they are not areas we would consider living due to weather, remoteness or cost of living. And we were just so enthralled with the sight-seeing sights in this diverse and stunning country, we often didn’t bother to do our homework on towns as potential homesteaders.

One our favorite campgrounds: Monument Valley UT
One our favorite campgrounds: Monument Valley UT

The next stage of the route would take us east across the top of the country, up into New England and down the east coast with a bit of the inevitable to-ing and fro-ing. Getting in the way of the search was a spacious apartment in sunny and probably-too-expensive California that was calling us.

I was longing to get our furniture out of storage and put my underwear in a drawer instead of having it stuffed in a shoe box and to hang up my clothes instead of playing lucky dip in a jam packed locker. Jewelry was tangled up in a box and fine chains and long necklaces formed a monkey’s fist of silver and gold, beads and crystals. I doubted I would ever wear them again. I wore the same jeans and hoody for days out of sheer inertia.

The same rotation of clean clothes came off the top of the stack day after day rather than create an avalanche of tee shirts to put together a new look. We dressed, hobo unchic, in cotton clothes that were washer/dryer-ready-to-wear. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Unmentionable articles of underclothing aside, we sometimes scrutinized and sniffed our outerwear for an extra day’s service before consigning it to the laundry bag. My prissy nature came out when faced with dirty laundramat machines that may have seen dog blankets, greasy overalls, muddy trousers and almost certainly much worse.

Books and files were hidden deep within a hell hole under the bed instead of being to hand on a bookshelf. Wrenching my right shoulder to lift the mattress and locker lid and hold it up, I then wrenched my left shoulder to haul out the printer, two sleeping bags and a bag of wrapping paper and ribbon (yes, of course ribbon is essential on an RV) to gaze at a cardboard box of books through a gap just big enough for my head. As I grunted and strained with the weight of the mattress and locker lid on my shoulders himself would ask, “Can I help you with that?”

“NO!” I would bellow in frustration and risked decapitating myself with the trap door of the dungeon. A feeble flashlight that doubled as the oven light barely glowed much less illuminated the book titles so reading choices were often made by feel. Sometimes I thought oh stuff it and lay on the bed listening to my iPod until whatever inkling of motivation to do something creative or productive or even vaguely educational passed.

Should we stop somewhere to live in an apartment and try to regain our sanity or continue to play happy trails?

Are We Crazy for Loving Florida?

We were smitten with our first footfall on Florida soil. Okay, our second footfall. Our first footfall was in the company of a State Trooper.

Our first scheduled stop was in St. Augustine which had palm tree sunsets, Spanish architecture in warm tones of terracotta and cream, the ocean in jewel tones of sapphire, aquamarine and diamonds, strolling girls in strappy tops, an ancient fort, sunshine so bright it made you squint, wildlife displays and sultry air. It all breathed paradise to us.

We were thrilled to see the 250,000-seater speedway stadium at Daytona Beach if a little disappointed not to see the Daytona 500. 081108.081122 127 So we went back two years later to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

100214daytona 090

The Kennedy Space Center kept our jaws on our chins for most of the tour – everything in extra, extra-large – rockets, rocket transporters, buildings. The stars alone on the U.S. flag painted on the side of the rocket-building building each measured six feet across.

Fort Lauderdale had been polished up for the nouveau riche. Its Riverwalk is manicured, not a palm frond out of place – like walking in a postcard. As we sat sipping beers in an Irish pub, cocooned within marine detritus as shabby chic decor, million dollar yachts glided up and down the canal, stopping traffic seemingly on a whim by causing the drawbridges to open, just so they could moor up elsewhere for the spoiled passengers to drink their margaritas. Miles of canals in the city provide slips for the yachts on the doorsteps of the Bentley-driving residents. Miles of wide soft sand beaches insulate the city from the Atlantic.

The art deco buildings of South Beach in Miami have a dreamy quality – geometric designs from a bygone era in yummy pastel colors float on a heat haze behind billowing palm fronds. This backdrop was peopled with stunning women (as well as the formerly stunning women who had visited the plastic surgeon just once too often) and gorgeous, slender boys all paired off together. The scene was completed with Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls Royces and the ever-present soft sand and deep blue sea.

As we traveled down the east coast of Florida we had our first sight of many exotic animals – roseate spoonbills, armadillos, iguanas, wood storks, the elusive manatee, the venomous Portuguese man o’ war and crocodiles. Pelicans, great egrets, great blue herons, ibises and alligators became commonplace. The most exotic animal of all was a surfing dog.

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The Florida Keys, flung out to the southwest from the Florida mainland like skipping stones, drew us right down to Key West. It is 100 miles and a world away from the mainland. As we bounded along the causeways and bridges that connect the Keys, we drove right into the Caribbean. A stay at Long Key was blissful as we backed our trailer right up to the Atlantic and looked due east across the ocean from our bedroom window.081202LongKey 008 In the Everglades, I counted alligators – then cuddled one.081222FL 026Driving through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail (pronounced tammy-amee, built in the 1920’s, Tampa to Miami) the alligators were lined up on the bank of the roadside canal.

I thoughtfully pointed out the alligators on the canal to my driver who couldn’t take his eyes off the narrow road, and when I tired of, “There’s another one!”, “And another one!” thought I would just count quietly until I got to 50, then I carried on counting to 100. It was too compulsive to give up but thought I might manage to stop after 150. Great egrets, great blue herons and possibly lions, tigers and bears were being overlooked as I obsessed over the ‘gators. Finally I tired of the children’s counting game after 165.

It is a personal best, and tell me – how many people do you know who have seen 165 alligators in one day?

Sarasota seduced us both, with it’s bookshops, bars and restaurants, opera, ballet and orchestra and more beautiful beaches – one in particular at Siesta Key where the sand was 99% finely ground quartz, always cool to the touch and said to have magical healing powers.090108destin 010 St. Petersburg has the most beautiful beach of all, we’re told – a beach so wondrous that it has been taken off the Most Beautiful Beaches register, or some such, as it won first place every year and made the competition boring. St. Petersburg also has the most tortuous road system where everyone else knew where they were going and drove so ferociously we weren’t able to get to “the most beautiful beach” to judge for ourselves.

Further north our trailer was nestled in a forest of live oaks; their gnarled limbs dripping with Spanish moss seemed to come straight out of a children’s fairy tale. The impression of the draping moss was cozy when the sun came out, but sinister when it clouded over and the evergreen trees and thick moss would blot out daylight altogether.

I thought that the squirrels were having a little game when the occasional acorn banged off the trailer roof. When the bombardment became more insistent, I realized that acorns dropped whenever the tiniest breeze rustled the treetops. We were strafed by acorns all night on our “tin” roof. It was funny at first.

Himself sweeping acorns off the slide roof after being under attack all night.
Himself sweeping acorns off the slide roof after being under attack all night.

We so want to fall in love with Florida but the humidity (we call it humdity – one of those funny typos) changed my hairstyle from straight and silky to Betty Boop. This is the humdity that is supposed to only be high in the summer but we found it insufferable and debilitating in December. My ever-present insect repellent, called Jimmy – mosquitoes never bite me, they prefer Jimmy’s flesh – had been driven demented with scratching.

Only his deep tan disguised the red bumps which on closer inspection looked like a nasty case of measles. In a frenzy, he scratched the tops off the bites, “OWWW!!!” then applied his insect “itch eraser.” The pain of ammonia on raw skin, “AARRGGHHH!!” interrupted the crazed raking of fingernails over his ankles, legs, arms and neck for a few seconds before the itch returned . . . . and kept him awake all night. “Get me out of Florida!!” was his refrain. Shame.

That was three years ago. Now we are like sun-dried raisins in arid Arizona and longing for Florida humidity.

You just can’t please some people.

Florida. Love it or hate it? What’s your opinion?

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