in close formation skim the surface of the choppy water ahead of
our double kayak. A long-necked egret
in high heels picks its way cautiously among the tangle of mangrove
roots, oblivious to our presence.
three puffs of steam erupt next to us. Dolphins! For one brief but
lasting moment, the leader of this hunting pack rises out of the
water to exchange glances with me.
these fearless hunters wondering whether our 17-foot silver-skinned
craft with the huge side flippers is friend or foe? I wonder if
we are going to be rammed. We unexpectedly lurch to a stop and all
“ Oyster beds!” Back paddle!” To my chagrin, the wading birds we
passed, wade past again, this time with smiles on their faces. “Al,
can you keep your eye on where we are going or we will be wading
home too” my paddling partner teases- a not unlikely scenario in
these shallow waters!
are paddling the Everglades – an unusual place, a place on earth
with more chattering and buzzing and splashing as you will ever
have the luck to experience; a land of flooded forests and deceptive
brown waters where stepping out of a kayak most anywhere will have
you touching bottom if not a crocodile or alligator. It is also
a place that will be difficult to replace, desspite the genius of
Las Vegas to recreate everything else
thought we would spend a few days getting lost here.
first heard of the Florida Everglades from movies in my youth: the
little I can remember were these wildly painted natives (called
Seminoles I was ater to find out) chasing unshaven white men in
mud-spattered pants through high grass and mosquito-infested swamp.
Every so often one of these unfortunates would get an arrow or spear
in their back and would stumble into the muck, or better still,
be struck by a poisonous snake the size of a garden hose as they
stumbled into the mud. I always wanted to return to the place where
if the Indians didn’t win, the mud, the snakes and the insects did.
like to think of myself as a nature lover who like to see the under
Florida Everglades is now under siege. This massive plain, much
like our prairies, once covered most of southern Florida, just as
the plains covered much of North America. This is a wilderness of
saw grass stretching as far as he eye can see, and creating the
buiggest of skies. Droughts and fires are a regular occurance, with
life in both of these flat lands hanging in perilous balance while
awaiting the summer rains.
unlike the prairies, the rainfall is substantially greater in the
Everglades, averaging between 40 to 65 inches a year.Much
of this precipitation collects in shallow Lake Okeechobee before
beginning its 50 mile-wide flow to the sea. This slow moving “river
of grass”, seldom moving faster than 100 feet day, finally reaches
the mangrove islands and estuaries which flank the Gulf of Mexico
– where it is tamed by the tides to become kayak fodder for the
likes of us.
is this labyrinth of brackish waters that also serves as home and
nursery to countless species of fish, birds and reptiles - so important
to the world that these wild lands have been accorded three international
designations: “World Heritage Site”, “International Biosphere Reserve”
and “Wetland of International Importance”. These designations underscore
the serious threats this fragile ecosystem faces from rapid if not
uncontrolled development on surrounding lands, development which
among many things requires water, and much of it. Not coincidentally,
it is these same “left over” waters that are the source of attraction
for increasing numbers of fishermen, nature lovers and paddlers
such as ourselves.
issue is simple: too many people and too little water: Since 1953
the population of Florida has quadrupled from 3 million to over
12 million people. Add in tourist numbers and the population in
winter typically exceeds the whole of Canada. And every day it is
estimated that another 900 people move to this semi-tropical state,
each family desiring a swimming pool, a watered lawn, access to
canals and full flush toilets (like their northern neighbours) in
a vain attempt to consume more water per capita than any civilization
Predictably, the Everglades have suffered over the years. According
to the National park Service for example, the number of wading birds
nesting in the southern everglades has declined 93% since the 1930’s,
Other species such as wood storks, manatees and the Florida Panther
have seen their numbers decline even more perilously.
hate to think of myself as part of the problem.
good new is that the bugs still seem to be around in healthy numbers
to bug the visitors and to ensure that visitation does not become
a permanent problem. The best time to come here – if not the only
time, is during the winter months from late November to May when
many of the 43 varieties of mosquitoes and innumerable no-see-ums
respect the restricted fly zones imposed by cold north fronts sweeping
down from Canada. Paddlers soon learn the humbling truth that in
this wild land they are only bit players on this stage, and that
the six-legged animals set the pace, the time and the price of admission
for all attractions.
journey we set out for ourselves was the 159 km stretch of waterway,
which connects Everglades City by water with Flamingo, the two jumping
off spots for Everglades National Park. Both are within a
1.5-hour drive from Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Each of these starting
points features a Nature Interpretive Centre where you can obtain
a park permit, charts, tide tables and all the other information
you need to do this adventure for yourselves. To visit their
informative web site go to:
kayaks and all camping equipment can be rented from private operators
at both these park administrative centres. For those who would prefer
to leave the equipment and organization to others, there are a number
of guided paddling tours of the Glades one can join. These all-inclusive
tours cost about $100 U.S. a day and most operators provide a choice
of boats . See
If you want to do it yourself, make sure to obtain a copy of Malloy's
"Paddler's Guide to Everglades National Park " .
wanted to do it ourselves. So we brought our own boat along - a
Klepper folding kayak. Our first big challenge was packing
all the gear and supplies to last the 9 days we expected our trip
from Everglades City to Flamingo would take. Next time we
will take a deep 17 foot canoe, and one which doesn’t mind being
dragged over sharp oyster beds!
One mistake we made was to take along bulky skin diving equipment!
Unless you can echo-locate or have a death wish, you do not skin
dive the turbid waters of the ”Glades”!
for this part of the world, neither Flamingo or Everglades City
can be accessed by public transport. So if you bring your vehicle
and intend on doing the entire stretch of the coastline and don’t
have someone to trade car keys with en-route, your only choice is
to utilize the car shuttle services offered by local entrepreneurs.
Their services are not cheap. An alternative is to do a shorter
loop and return to where you started. This is what we eventually
did, as we did not wish to take a chance in missing our Thanksgiving
Day reunion with our relatives in Fort Lauderdale.
you like corn mazes and getting lost or want to rationalize your
new GPS, you will like some of the navigational challenges posed
by the coastal stretch of the Glades, a place where every mangrove
island looks like the next and where the only navigational features
are the bright lights of Miami on the night horizon. The inland
route by contrast is well marked and easy to follow. Numbered signposts
mark most of the trails, all located within “eyeshot” of each other.
But bring charts and a compass, just in case…
are required to paddle the Glades so as not to depreciate the paddling
experience. To further protect this wilderness, park policy discourages
boaters from going ashore except at the more than 48 camp and launch
sites, which have been designated for this purpose. This restriction
appears to be unnecessary as it soon becomes obvious to paddlers
that Florida mangrove is just as impenetrable as West Coast Salal.
So if you go, plan your pee and lunch stops accordingly.
called “chikees” are a unique experience and provide welcome respite
after a hard days paddle through the Glades. These campsites, designed
in the manner of the early native residents, are built on stilts
above the water, some being just large enough for a toilet and a
couple of self-standing tents to be erected. Many of the land sites
by contrast, are built on reclaimed
mangrove, often on shell middens (early garbage sites) located scant
inches above the high tide line and the prying eyes of alligators
a boat less than 20 feet long and 6 inches deep you can go most
anywhere in this road-free realm. Paddling options can range from
a few hours to weeks. Experienced paddlers wishing to enjoy the
wildlife and scenery plan on paddling from 8 to 12 miles per day.
And the beauty is that you can always find places where motor- boats
you camp on some of the 1000 Islands and believe that tide tables
are not worth consulting, (and your physique is not the equal of
Arnold Shwartzenegger), then be prepared to be stranded on beaches
as we were in the pic below. For compensation we were treated to
a treasure trove of sea- shells and hundreds of Horshoe Crabs the
size of footballs. Yes, you are allowed to take shells home with
from Canada and especially the West Coast, will notice that crows
and cormorants are not as high in the pecking order here. Instead,
there are an unusual number of long necked, long beaked and long
legged wading birds such as ibis, egrets, herons, cranes, and all
kinds of other birds I have yet to identify. Many unfortunately
can’t seem to get Canadian citizenship. They are about their jobs
as usual today, busily picking
their way across the shallows, sometimes in the same channel we
are about to paddle (often making us calculate how long their legs
really are). And then there are some that have no fear - or no shame.
are in greater abundance here also. Turkey Vultures,
the most common of these meat-eaters come here for the winter also.
They can be seen soaring patiently in lazy spirals above us, reminding
us that where there is great life there is also great death.
mangrove islands of the Everglades, the wildlife and the solitude
we experienced will be long remembered. If you can appreciate the
suspense of watching a “log” with knobs for eyes on it slowly disappear
beneath the surface – and the tell- tale ripple of this creature’s
bubbles pass beneath your fragile skin boat, then you would also
appreciate paddling the mystery and the magic which are the Glades.
our entire trip we met only a handful of people. To our surprise
all were not only from Canada, but all were from within a 50-mile
radius of Victoria, our Vancouver Island home! It seems this well
kept secret is not as well kept as I had thought. Or is it only
Canadians and turkey vultures that venture out in the November sun?
Come, find out. You have only your imagination - and your arm to
article was written by the author while on vacation in Florida with
his partner, Sue. Plans for this winter are to sail a 55 foot ketch
from Sydney Australia to the Great Barrier Reef. In the meantime,
Al and his Blackfish Wilderness Expeditions' crew are "relegated
" to paddling home waters off Vancouver Island.
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