Note: I'm a little disappointed looking back over this week or so here through Florida at how few pictures I took. Now admittedly, Florida sucks, and Bush just got re-elected, and I was having a hard time getting Katie to pose in a bikini for me, but there were still more things deserving of pictures at least. Oh well :)
On the recommendation of Katie's friends in Clearwater, we went to the beach at Siesta Key. White sands, bikinis, warm water. No waves. It was like a california beach, only people would occasionally play in the water. Still mostly just sitting on the beach though. Proper beach infrastructure though, showers and foot washers and so forth.
Off to the everglades. Doesn't seem to be season here yet, as the campgrounds all have odd signage. Seems to be free at the moment, so we set up camp at Monument Lake, just as the sun was setting. A beautiful sunset, and the mosquitos weren't as terrible as they often had been. Well, maybe they were, and there was just a nice sunset. We're pretty sure we saw an alligator in the lake, and there were warnings posted, which made it fun to set up camp just by the lake. :)
Went to the visitor center again in the morning. We'd been the previous afternoon, when they'd closed shop before their official closing hours, and the mosquitos had been fierce enough to do the aeroguard dance while trying to read signage.
We had heard that canoeing around the everglades was meant to be nice, so we rented a canoe, and took off.
Wind aside, this was quite pleasant for a while. We were doing a loop up one creek and back down another, as we thought that would be more fun than paddling across the passage to one of the islands.
Wrong. Not bad at first, seeing all the private jetties and their decorations, and me pointing out all these plants that grow in australia. (umbrella trees, casurina, bananas, bouganvillias) Then the mangroves got closer and closer, the mosquitos got thicker and thicker.
And thicker and thicker. And thicker and thicker. And we turned around and went home. We'd made it about one third of the way through the first leg. We saw lots of little crabs and birds in the mangroves, and it didn't smell as bad as mangroves can smell, but the mosquitoes were just out of control. Apparrently they don't even staff some ranger stations in the summer.
So we ran to the florida keys, where we were told there was no mosquitoes.
They were right. We got a site at John Pennekamp state park on Key Largo, which we could only have for the night, we'd unfortunately ended up in the keys over a weekend. I rented a snorkel for the afternoon, (Katie still wasn't keen on getting wet) and had a bit of a swim around their fake ship wreck. Real canons from other places, and an anchor all laid out about 30m offshore. Some nice reef fish, but pretty muck visibility. Not exactly the great barrier reef. Got to swim around with a school of Tarpon though. Those are some ugly fishes. Big too.
After hoping (in vain) for a late cancellation, we packed up in the morning and moved the car while we went out on a glass bottom boat tour. This was kinda neat, and even Katie enjoyed it, as she got to see all the reefs and the fishies, without them being able to get near her.
It was actually quite nice. I had memories of the glass bottom boats on the great barrier reef being either small tinnies with glass bottoms, and you got your head right up against them, or big boats where you went right down into the hull, and it was more glass side windows. This was neither :) it was like a normal large catamaran, with glass bottommed hulls, but you weren't real close to them, and they didn't have a very good viewing angle (because of how high above the glass we were), and were fairly small.
But the guide was excellent, really knew his fish, and the captain was even pretty good at moving the boat back over things. I got to see a baracuda, which I'd never seen before, and we saw some cool trumpetfish that change colours all the time. Worthwhile. Particularly if you're Katie and have never seen a reef before. We got to see some really big spotted rays on the motor in and out too.
Then it was out to Key West. We stopped at Big Pine Key to try and see some Key Deer (miniture deer endemic to the keys) but all we saw was a limestone sinkhole with some fishies in it.
Key West was New Orleans for the 30+ crowd. It was drizzling a bit so we missed the sunset celebration they have every afternoon. Instead there was a margaritaville street party with a covers band and beads, and corona. Managed to find a reasonably tasteful sized "Mile 0" piece of memorabilia. (Don't bother trying to find a small sticker, they all want them lifesize, which is simply far too big) Had some beers, got some pizza, and then started driving back, wondering where we were going to camp.
Which ended up being back in the Everglades. With more mosquitos. And for about the first time, camp site neighbours that were serioiusly up to late and too loud. 2am with 8 year old kids yelling and screaming and throwing things in the fire is more than one would expect. They probably weren't expecting anyone to be foolish enough to camp there either mind you, there was just us two, and one other group.
They Keys were pretty though. The water was deliciously blue, the long bridges neat, and the food and hospitality very pleasant. (didn't think much of their local brews, but you can't have it all) The Keys turned out to be Florida's single redeeming feature. (besides Disneyworld) Long live the Conch Republic
Sunset over Monument Lake, Everglades NP
Canoing in the everglades
Me at Key West, the south place on the east coast, with a shirt from the north place