Florida: part one

We’ve been spending time going down the West Coast of Florida making our way to the Everglades. It’s been a lovely drive, stopping at various parks and just about any place looking for Manatees on this silly quest to find one. No such luck yet! We have seen plenty of gators though, some in the strangest of places too.

We stayed at a state park while making our trek down, Hillsborough River State Park. It was lovely, the forests in Florida are so dense and beautiful, Jeff and I keep waiting for monkeys to jump out. (Some of the birds even sound like monkeys.) Our stay at the state park was for only one night, but we were able to explore a bit the night we stayed and met a nice family while we were walking about. The next morning we were stuck in the van due to rain but we got showers and that made our rainy day all better!

We’ve also been spending time exploring different cities, and walking along a few different beaches. The beaches have been great birding areas for us, one of the funniest birds we’ve seen was a ‘Monk Parakeet’ or a Quaker. As bird lovers, we also have a pet parrot so it was funny to see a bird we’d generally see in the pet shop outside building a nest.

Our dog Manko has been able to enjoy some time at the beach too. We took her to a dog beach past Fort Meyers Beach and she had a blast! At first we thought she’d be miserable as it was windy and she’s a little bit of a princess but as soon as she realized the leash was off and she could run, she was off! She’s been cooped up in the van for so long, a lot of the areas we’ve been exploring haven’t allowed dogs so we were excited about this beach. She met some friends, ran and ran and ran. It was great to see her be a dog for a little while.

We finally made our way all way down to the Everglades! Our first night we stayed in the Big Cypress area, parking our van in lot for back country parking. We were nervous we’d get told to move as it wasn’t a real campground, but I think one of the best parts of living in the van is people don’t always realize you’re in there. We weren’t bothered at all that night, only noises of some critter investigating our smells around the van. The next morning we drove into the actual Everglades National Park, stopping at the various visitors centers, then one of the big boardwalks however we were rained out and ended up sitting in the van for quite some time watching people and birds. Given our weather situation we decided to stay in the van for the day driving around and ended up at the Flamingo campground at the very end of the park.

We had planned on originally going on this big trip of ours in June but had decided last minute to leave sooner and one of the reasons was that we read the ‘dry season’ at the park would be better for bugs (aka relentless mosquitoes) A park ranger had warned us the Flamingo area had more bugs then the other campground we were originally going to stay at but that one didn’t have showers and we’d have to drive the 30 miles to Flamingo for showers anyway. So we figured a few extra bugs would be worth the 30 miles and the showers. Since it had poured rain pretty much all day, the mosquitoes were everywhere and it seemed that no amount of bug spray kept them away. So we quickly made dinner and spent the rest of the night in the van. We were entertained though with about a dozen Black Vultures going campground to campground scavenging, they truly are vultures.

Our second day at the Everglades was a much nicer day, no rain and the sun shined down on us with lots of warmth! We made our way back through the park, very eagerly looking for that Florida Panther. We found lots of birds, of course many gators and stopped on the side of the road two separate times for a soft shelled turtles. The park is very pretty, some areas even look like an Africa Savannah, giraffe and elephants should be stampeding through. Or the other areas of hammocks and swampy lands are so dense, you can only imagine what is lurking around the corner or peering through the vines at you.

There are many things to there at the park but only a few if you’re only exploring by foot. They offer many areas for canoes/kayaks etc. We only explored by foot so we felt there was so much more to be seen. If you’ve ever wanted to go, you definitely should, there really is no other place like it. And we must recommend going during the dry season if you don’t want to be pestered with those relentless mosquitoes!

Yes, please swim with caution
The ‘Monk Parakeet’ building his nest
Warning signs everywhere, ‘Vultures may destroy your car’
So many beautiful birds on our walks
Soft Shelled Turtle, so ugly he’s cute!

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