The Everglades is a must-see for any traveler to Florida ! The Everglades National Park at the southern tip of continental Florida is a wetland preserve made up of lush mangroves, sawgrass marshes that are home to alligators and birds. This national park was established in 1947, and was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You have certainly heard of this vast tropical wilderness in one of the episodes “CSI: Miami“… Horatio Caine and his team of scientists regularly recover corpses in the everglades with their weird little boat pushed by a huge propeller ! Ok, you are not a fan of TV shows, then maybe you like thrillers ? If so, you have surely read the excellent historical novel “Red Grass River” by James Carlos Blake, which portrayed the outlaw John Ashey, known as the “King of the Everglades”. In this novel, one gets lost in the labyrinths of the Everglades among violent human and animal fauna… No, this novel does not ring any bells ? Let’s go together to visit this bustling place, home to creatures of all kinds: gentile birds, reptiles descended from dinosaurs and an area named “Pa-may-okee” (literal translation of “grass river” or “Grassy river”) by the Amerindians. “River of Grass” perfectly describes this unique ecosystem of leafy marsh plants. It is not a river strictly speaking, but rather a shallow steam about one foot deep on average flowing out of Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay about 125 miles south with an average width between 37 and 50 miles. The original Everglades covered an area of about 3,000,000 acres, but is today reduced to 1,509,000 acres. The human activities near these marshes as well as attempts to drain the Everglades and to divert water from the northern Everglades pose a threat to wildlife due through habitat destruction, poaching and the introduction of foreign species into the ecosystem.

The Everglades, Anhinga

We opt for a short bicycle ride (à « Bicyclette ») on the 15-mile road in Shark Valley off Highway 41 to explore the heart of the Everglades flora and fauna… but without sharks contrary to what the name suggests. Adventurers, it is time to head out singing, if you leave early in the morning / if you go on these roads / By bicycle / There are birds and turtles on the way… The density of the vegetation is just fascinating, tall grasses, cypress swamps, ponds covered with water lilies or even jungle where the vegetation is extremely dense ! Everything is incredibly quiet, plunged in shade, with tall trees, ferns, mosses of every kind and surrounded with water. This vast area of vegetation is the habitat of millions of birds and a multitude of insects: look, an Anhinga (also known as snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey) and just little bit further a Common Moorhen, a Great Heron and a tricolor Heron… Herons and Egrets often have their nests just above water where alligators swim, taking advantage of natural protection from an intimidating neighbour. Indeed, the alligators chase away opossums, raccoons and the like, which are likely to steal eggs or chicks.

The Everglades, alligator

The water seems calm, even though it is full of fish and reptiles. Looking at the water, I noticed a piece of wood moving by itself on the surface… but no, it is a big lizard that locals commonly call Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)… it looks at us with a total indifference ! But, if it had identified us as prey, it would have plunged softly into the water, approaching close to us and suddenly emerging from the water with its jaw wide open… not everyone is Paul Hogan and able to emerge from a fight unharmed ! But humans have little chance of being attacked because alligators prefer relatively small prey, prey that they can kill in one bite… The Everglades are obviously know as a den of alligators. You will often see them on the shore and even on tarmac taking the sun. The list of dangerous animals in the park is quite impressive. In addition to alligators, there are also crocodiles and pythons. Pythons are not endemic to the park. People tired of their “new pets” have “accidentally” released them. They have taken over this habitat where they have no predators… and could eventually cause degradation of this beautiful ecosystem ! This southern region of Florida is also the only place in the world where we find both alligator and crocodile: two amphibian reptiles with disturbing eyes and teeth… It seems that the alligator is nicer than its cousin the croc, which attacks even if he is not hungry ! You are surely wondering, how to differentiate an alligator from a crocodile when meeting one while on a bike ride ? After a full bout of panic, I look at its color. The alligators are a dark grayish almost black color while the crocodiles are olive brown in color… but if you have the sun in your face it is not always easy to distinguish color! A second morphological index is the shape of the snout. The crocodile has a long, triangular snout with a more pointed “V”- shaped nose, whereas the alligator has a wide “U”- shaped and rounded snout… Finally, to permanently remove the doubt in your mind, you can always ask him for a smile for the camera. When it closes its jaw and you can only see the teeth of the upper mandible, then it is an alligator. If the teeth of the two lower and upper mandibles are visible, then it is an American crocodile! And if you are not into physiognomy, there is another option: you can taste the water of its habitat… the alligator prefers freshwater whereas the crocodile favors more saline water. On the other hand, if you want to taste the alligator that dabbles in the freshwater, just go to an exit from the park because there, as in any tourist area, you will find shops and a restaurants where you can taste… guess what ? Alligator nuggets… Even if some park visitors devour their nuggets with a few crocodile tears… it is a bit “borderline”. It reminds us that man is at the very top of the chain of predators…

Naples Pier

Total change of scenery… A few miles away from the Everglades Park on the Gulf of Mexico is the city of Naples, pronounced “naipeuls”… This seaside resort, named after its Italian sister Napoli, was baptized in 1887 by its founders, Kentucky U. S. Senator John Stuart Williams and his partner Louisville businessman Walter Newman Haldeman, publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, and home to those who prefer to flee the noisy urban areas of Palm Beach and Miami… There is limited public transportation and nobody wants it because in Naples, everyone has a car ! Neighborhoods are peaceful, the city streets are adorned with palm trees, large and cozy houses are laid in the center of beautiful unfenced lawns worthy of a golf fairway, the gardens are manicured… From Gordon Pass (south) to Seagale Drive (north) lies an uninterrupted succession of superb pristine white sandy beaches lined by a parade of palm trees nearly ten miles long. This is where the residents of Naples come to maintain their year-round tan ! At the west end of 12th Avenue South is the Naples emblem, the Naples Pier, an impressive 1,000 feet long jetty erected in 1888. This pontoon was a dock for gigantic ships carrying building materials and supplies. It was a vital element in the development of the city. It even had a post office ! Exposed to the devastating fury of hurricanes (in 1910, 1926, 1944 and 1960 the jetty completely collapsed under the force of the wind), the Naples Pier has undergone successive reconstructions. In addition to hurricanes, in 1922 a fire destroyed the post office as well as part of the structure. But the pier is unshakeable, it is still standing and is the joy of many fishermen due to the concentration of large fish in this location, as well as of tourists admiring the scenic sunset views and with a little luck dolphins, pelicans catching fish and sometimes even small sharks…

Naples, Pelican

This beach resort is a popular vacation destination for the wealthiest. Naples is the second highest population of millionaires per capita in the United States and is the winter quarters of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. Like New York, Naples has a its 5th avenue with fashion boutiques, antique shops, art galleries (Fifth Avenue Design Gallery), designer shops (Peach Tree Designs), jewelry stores and restaurants with shady terraces, dog bars… If your eyes like what is flashy and you have a deep pocket, you can stroll in the luxury shops of 3rd street… Ferraris, Bentleys, luxury boats anchored in the Marina and wealthy tanned retirees give the street flash. Finally, to complete your program for the day, you can dream in front of the extravagant houses of millionaires in Aqualane Shores, a very chic neighborhood located between old Naples and Port Royal. At sunset, make sure to stroll along the beach next to the Pier in front of “rather posh families” enjoying a glass of sparkling wine with the setting sun in the background… And enjoy the spectacle (for free ! ) of the sunset that blazes into the sea with a palette of stunning colors… while listening to French singer Gerald De Palmas: J’ai vécu longtemps votre système / Le pouvoir de l’argent, tout le monde l’aime / Je perdais le sommeil, je perdais mon calme /Alors, j’ai touché le soleil pour sauver mon âme / Et désormais / J’obéis aux lois de la nature… translated as, I lived in your system for a long time / The power of money, everyone loves it / I was losing sleep, I was losing my calm / So I touched the sun to save my soul / And now / I obey the laws of nature… (Les lois de la nature).


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