Viatori sold with a possession date of December 18th which meant our plan to hang out with Celebration and Family Business in Key West for New Years was out. We decided to drive to Everglades City to hook up with the Celebrants one last time before heading to Canada and then Oman. I didn’t really have any preconceived notions as to what a drive through the everglades would be like, but it turned out to be quite interesting. For those of you who don’t know the bottom third of the state from the west coast to the outskirts of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale is Everglades National Park. What we have seen is two biomes; the fresh water grass marsh and the salty mangrove swamps. The interstate running east-west across the Everglades is primarily in the grass marsh, while the secondary highway off the interstate south to Everglades City is more mangrove. In the grassy marsh there will occasionally be a hill with some trees on it but generally the landscape is pretty flat and unchanging. Lots of birds along the way. Once we turned south toward Everglades City we entered the mangrove area which is swampy forest with lots of birds as well.
The weather the last month has been cold and while it was annoying in Hollywood, it was a blessing for us once we got to the everglades as the bugs were nearly non-existent; except at sunset for an hour when we would have to retreat into the boat. We have heard some boats who head up there don’t even leave the boat except to tie up and plug in the AC. In town, nearly every house in the area has a screened porch which leads me to believe the hype about the bugs.
After moving aboard Celebration we went exploring on a dinghy ride.
Leah and I like going on walks, it gives us time to talk and usually to house snoop, so we went on one in a residential area of town. The town is quite quaint with lots of historical buildings most of which are in good shape with several undergoing restoration. Only about half the townsite is developed at this time as many blocks are owned by one individual or group. The catholic church owns one complete block and have a small church on one of the corners, the locals seem fine with this situation but it seems a waste to me. Most of the houses and buildings have unique architectural details and decorations which add to the overall pleasantness of the town. The best story we heard while in town was about the hardware store cashier’s grandmother. She was sitting in her garden when an alligator came out of the mangrove, grabbed her leg and started to pull her toward the swamp. A good samatarian saved her by shooting the alligator but unfortunately her leg had to be amputated, she was over 90 at the time. They never found the ‘gator that did this. Link
Celebration was docked at the Rod and Gun Club which dates back to 1864 when the building was built. The building is rustic and everything is a little tired which adds to the charm of the place. According to the waitress there are ghosts on the second floor of the building and ghost hunters who visit usually do not leave “empty handed” whatever that means in ghost hunting. We got there in the afternoon and chilled on the boat catching up on old times. The boys watched “The Wizard of Oz” and we had a great evening reminiscing about the Bahamas. Our plans about Oman also filled a large part of the afternoon. That evening Leah and I shared a hide-a-bed in the salon and the boys shared a bunk bed in the second stateroom.
The next day we had an awesome breakfast of bacon, cinnamon buns, english muffins and coffee to die for. By about 10:00 we could hear one of the main attractions of the area going full bore as the air boats touring the everglades hit the water. Originally we had planned on doing the airboat tour as we crossed the Okeechobee so it was a no brainer to try them here. The group was a little bummed out that we would have to split into two boats because they can only take 6 people per boat independent of size of people. James and Matty went with Wayne and Gaye and Leah, Ethan and I were in another. Before we left I didn’t know that mangroves have navigable waterways in them, but they are criss-crossed with tidal streams that carry tide water into and out of the forest. The current prevents mangrove trees from growing there, though I think they must move a little bit every year as trees die and the trees on the edges grow.
An airboat ride is a bit of a thrill ride as they speed along the winding streams in the mangrove that at times are barely wider than the boat; Lots of marks on the branches could be seen where the boats had scraped the side of the trees. Along the way we saw lots of birds and the remnants of the railway that was washed out in 1960 by a hurricane. The railway was never repaired because of the embargo with Cuba which started in 1959 and ended cattle shipments from Everglades City to Cuba. The air boat captains also feed a family of racoons who run down the trees and hang off the branches stretching out their hands for a piece of meat, not sure this is legit in a national park but whatever. Another thing that surprised me is that the mangroves will occasionally open up into a lake which the air boats will use to make large turns and do donuts in. An hour on the boat went quick and soon we were back in civilization.
Back to Celebration and then the kids went to the park while Wayne and I went on a dinghy ride to the ranger station. Leah made an awesome pasta dish for us all and we spent the night talking.
In the morning we had pancakes and then had to say farewell for now. We will never forget our great friends the Celebrants who helped us to learn how to cruise, were great grand friends to our kids and will always have a special place in our hearts. I miss them already and a little part of me is dying inside to not head to the Bahamas next year with them.