“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
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.
“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.
“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.”
“WHAT KIND OF SNAKES?”
“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.
It was quite magical in the middle of a city.
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.
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.