Nine Mile Pond: vultures and cat vomit

Day 1 in Everglades National Park.

We decided to camp in Flamingo which is a campground at the very southern tip of Florida in Everglades National Park. Any further South and you are swimming to get to Key West. As a veteran of many national parks, I can say that Everglades National Park is the red-headed step child of the park system if the visitor’s center is anything to go by. As an actual red-headed step child, I have street cred to make these statements.

Sadly, this crime against architecture survived Hurricane Wilma

On a totally unrelated side note, should you find yourself at Flamingo and in need of something to eat, do NOT dine at the Buttonwood Cafe in the visitor’s center unless you like terrible food served at a glacially-slow pace at astronomical prices. Instead, go to the marina shop and gorge on overpriced frozen candy bars.  Nothing is more delicious or nutritious than a frozen Snickers washed down with a diet Red Bull for breakfast. I do so hope to grace the cover of a cereal box someday, but I think I should lobby Red Bull to make room for my face on their can:

I think this has serious marketing potential if Red Bull is trying to market to 40 somethings who are constantly sleep-deprived in semi-dangerous situations.

We decided to kayak Nine Mile Pond, which is actually not nine miles long or a pond, but more like just shy of six miles of trail through a series of ponds, mangroves and open sawgrass prairies. The parking area is populated by vultures. These vultures want to destroy your car. Seriously. They are addicted to rubber and will strip your car in no time if you don’t take precautions. I tried to take a picture of a Japanese tourist taking a picture of a car being attacked by vultures, but Troy wouldn’t let me. Probably because he had deduced the vultures wanted to eat that car and not ours.  Even so, we diligently wrapped windshield wipers and kayak cradles in towels to keep the damned vultures at bay.

They are waiting for you to leave so they can strip your car. It's nature's version of Camden NJ.

Everyone (not native to Southern Florida) has an idea of what they think the Everglades looks like.  The terrain varies based on elevation, but at the farthest southern portions, you can expect a lot of wet sawgrass for miles and mangrove stands.

The start (and end) to Nine Mile Pond

We got into the water and headed across the first pond to the mangroves.  The trail is marked by numbered PVC pipes which is a good thing because pretty much everything looks exactly the same.  This area has crocs and alligators, although we saw neither this time.

Side by side in Nine Mile Pond

The middle portion of the trail is pretty much mangrove islands and sawgrass areas where the alligators and crocodiles like to lounge.  Alas, no reptiles to speak of.

Sawgrass on the left, mangroves to the right.

The portion of the trail furthest from the starting point is riddled with some type of reed that made the paddling exceedingly tedious. Each stroke would bring up rotted wet cattails to slap you in the face.  The water here is no more than one foot deep.

Rotting cattail things in the water

Close up, they greatly resemble cat vomit. It is noteworthy that I managed to get three of these things down the front of my shirt while paddling. Cat vomit in the cleavage.

Attractive, isn't it?

Troy realized after we made the turn back that we managed to miss poles 60-79. If it was more of this, I can’t say I’m too sorry. Paddling through stagnant cat vomit loses its charm rapidly when you are already expending energy fighting the wind and shallow water.

If you are in Everglades National Park, the Nine Mile Pond trail falls on the must-do list.  Overall, Troy and I managed to do it with a minimum of strife, no capsizing and it was a nice paddle.  Personal pain rating: 5 out of 10, for cat vomit in the cleavage and a blister on the right hand.

Haiku:

Sawgrass and mangroves

Wind sings across the water

Cat vomit in hair

 

 

 

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Road Trip to Miami, Part Deux

Picking up where I left off, I arrived to rescue my sister from the hospital in Miami. Finding her proved problematic – who knew how many Jackson Memorial branches are in Miami? The GPS was not helpful as I ended up in a parking lot in Little Haiti which is, I assure you, not where I wanted to be. If you are in Little Haiti and driving a Honda CR-V with Tennessee plates and have red hair and pale skin, you will be noticed in an uncomfortable ‘I’m a suburban white girl from out of town and I am lost’ kind of way.

I finally found Susan who was ranting and raving about some Domenican nurse and a dead guy. I really did not ask questions as she was not wearing a bra (or probably underwear), looked like Medusa after a four-day bender and she was cursing in a language which might have been English, but I’m still not sure. I was not happy about having to drive to Miami, so I had already decided that if I was coming down to Miami, I was going back to the Everglades National Park to hike the Snake Bight trail which I did not get to do in December. That meant Susan was going to go with me.

Susan smelled like a wookie and her hair was terrifying so I was deciding where I could dunk her as she looked like a homeless person. The swamp seemed possible, but having some experience being dunked in swamp water, I am reasonably confident she would have smelled worse afterwards. I knew that the Flamingo marina had $3 showers for campers and I could dump her off for a shower while I hiked the trail. It was a great plan. First, though, we had to fill her prescriptions. I headed for Homestead where I knew there would be a pharmacy on the way to Everglades National Park. I did not know the prescription was for Dilaudid, but I digress.

Troy and I went to the Everglades in December at the start of the dry season. The water was much higher then and three months later, the water levels were drying up. Before Christmas it looked like this:

Anhinga trail at Christmas 2010 with stacks o' alligators

At the end of the dry season, the same place looked like this:

Anhinga trail, same place, three months later into the dry season

I was pretty stoked as I thought the trail I wanted to do would be dry and bug-free. That was a mistake. First, I had to get Susan to take a shower. I told her she was scaring small children and I loaned her some underwear and a sports bra because I am kind like that. I paid the $3 shower fee and told her I’d be back in an hour.  I told her to stand on the side of the marina and watch for manatees because they hang out there. She never saw a manatee but I did once I left:

I saw manatees while Susan was in the shower

The Snake Bight trail leads from the main road to Flamingo to Florida Bay. It’s a little shy of a mile and three quarters one way. When I arrived, it was absolutely deserted and I was the only person on the trail.

Snake Bight trail, Everglades National Park

My theory that lack of water = no bugs was a major miscalculation. I have never seen so many flying bugs in my life. And they all wanted to bite me. Still, I persevered and walked very fast with the idea that I could somehow out pace them. Not possible. I walked this trail like it was the Bataan Death March because I drove to Miami in one shot dammit and I was going to do this trail. I could hear nothing but my breathing and the sounds of things rustling in the leaves off the trail. I did not investigate. I saw a giant water moccasin high tail it across the trail in front of me and I stepped up my speed. The longer I was alone on the trail the more I imagined some extra from Deliverance jumping out in front of me. I walked faster. About a quarter mile from the end I started to hear something odd. Like the squealing of piglets. I convinced myself my Deliverance fantasies were working overtime. I walked even faster until I was basically at a slow jog. The squealing got louder until it was clear I was not imagining the sound of pigs. There were pigs. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I recalled that the Everglades have lots of wild hogs and they are not friendly. The end of the trail was close – I could hear the ocean. I could also hear piglets. Somehow, despite years of stubborn determination to finish stupid quests in the face of overwhelming evidence that quitting was the best option, I decided to turn around. In short, I walked in a bug-infested swamp with lots of snakes in hot, humid weather at top speed only to stop short one-tenth of a mile from the end. Dammit.

I picked up a slightly cleaner and less smelly Susan who laughed maniacally when I told her I did not get to see the end of the trail because of wild hogs. We drove to Homestead to pick up her prescription of Dilaudid (note: Susan had been hospitalized for acute pancreatitis). We hit the southern end of Miami on a Friday night at 5 p.m. Genius. And to make my joy complete, the air conditioning in my car chose that particular moment in time to cease working.   Susan popped a Dilaudid for the road as we had a 470 mile drive to the beach house in Carillon.

Here’s a tip for someone who might be making a seriously long drive late in the day with someone taking Dilaudid: make them take enough so that they pass out. As the sun set, and I was able to roll up the windows and not broil in the car, Susan began to shout random things out to me in a truly-alarmed tone which caused me to automatically slam on the brakes. Some examples:

  • Look out for the basketball player sleeping on the road!
  • Oh my God, it’s a dead panther!
  • Don’t hit the dolphin!
Susan was hallucinating which is very unhelpful to someone trying to concentrate on seeing the road after two days of continuous driving. We rolled into Panama City about 2 a.m. and Susan shouted “Oh my God, don’t hit the people on the scooters!” I nearly paid no attention, but there was in fact, a horde of scooters loaded with drunk college students on the highway with no lights. Moral of the story: Sometimes, even stoned people have valid things to say. I did get 24 hours at my mother-in-law’s beach house which is not a bad thing. The view:

Carillon Beach, a martini and 9 hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep = relaxation

Save the dogs; then maybe if time permits, other small mammals

I was going to write a long post about how Troy and I stayed at Tiburon in Naples, Florida, as home base for our Everglades adventure. (For those not in the know, Tiburon is a “resort community” with a golf course connected to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida). This is, apparently, a big deal to golfers. Troy and I do not golf. Ever. Troy’s mother owns a condo there so it seemed like a good idea, chiefly because it is free. This area is full of zero-percent-body-fat trophy wives of a certain age who get lots of work done and look perpetually surprised due to Botox overload. Coincidentally, we were visited by one of these very blonde, sleek women who knocked on our door to ask us not to get up so early as it disturbed her. Right. Anyway, I digress. This is the land of the very wealthy and every single resident there could be (and should be) charged with the crime of living while overprivileged.

Parking for the visitors of the overprivileged

While I could ramble on about my Margaret Mead exploration of the land of nip and tuck, I would rather talk tonight about something more socially redeeming. As some of you know, I am a big fan of big dogs in general and am especially fond of a particular rescue, Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, that rescues these guys. This rescue is in dire financial straits because it is run by volunteers with huge hearts, but small wallets. This rescue took in 16 puppies in danger of being put down from shelters in the South. These 16 puppies then broke with a very bad disease called parvo, which is caused by a virus and it is very expensive to treat and fatal a lot of the time.  $16,000 later, 10 of the puppies have survived, but the rescue is left with crushing vet bills. I think we can help spread the word and raise some cash to help them out.

Do you want to say no to this face?

I know this post has nothing to do with our more typical discussions like how Troy is trying to kill me on some remote mountain hike, but this is a worthy cause and I promise extra surly posts for the rest of the week to make up for it.

Big Fluffy Dog Rescue is a 501c3 rescue and gifts to them are tax deductible. You can donate to them here and the nice folks that handle donations will send you a letter thanking you for your gift.

I am sure the big fluffies will thank you for your donations and for spreading the word. Tomorrow I promise a detailed discussion of whether bears do in fact shit in the woods. I have visual proof to share that shows they do. Also, Troy tried to kill me in a kayak. Tomorrow. Really.

Sleep the sleep of angels or of a Great Pyrenees, and donate to a worthy cause