From the many providers of airboat tours in the area near Everglades National Park we chose The Original Everglades Airboat Tours at Everglades City, Florida, because it advertises the fully narrated ride with the guide. This was a WONDERFUL experience to introduce us to the flora and fauna of this lovely, protected southwest end of the state. This top entrance to the National Park is more easily accessible than the bottom of The Everglades. South Florida has beautiful flowers and trees and the deep, lush greenery is welcome to the tired eyes of anyone who has driven long highways to get here. Local Floridians also enjoy taking this airboat tour to learn more about their native wildlife. The town of Everglades City has less than 500 permanent residents, yet they host the many tourists who flock here each year. The town was once a much larger fishing community which thrived until commercial fishing was prohibited in these fertile waters. Now tourism and stone crab industry provide the sustenance for locals and many others employed to educate and entertain you.
The Original Everglades Airboat Tours has many trips a day, so we were fortunate to get tickets for the very next time when we arrived. The airboats have a huge fan at the back of a flat-bottom boat, so nothing can disturb underwater life or get tangled. The fans are noisy but the trip is lots of fun and Stephen, our captain, was so knowledgeable of the flora and fauna of these beautiful mangrove jungles which the Barron River passes through for our one-hour ride. Although this is a tidal river the airboats go in high or low tide. Each person is given very comfortable earphones with attached speaker so the captain narrates and can answer anyone’s questions the entire trip. The padded seats are very comfortable, and although there are mosquitoes year-round, they did not bother us during the trip because the breeze from the movement of the boat is constant and pleasant. Only a few guests ride on each boat so each one has great views.
Almost as soon as we left the dock Stephen spotted a huge alligator lying on the shore across the river. He was about 14 feet long, and I teased the driver about it being an animatronics, but we saw the gator breathing and blinking while our captain explained many fascinating facts about these prehistoric reptiles. No one requested to get up close and personal with the large beast when Stephen explained that a large viscous dog bites with around 300 pounds of pressure per square inch, and the alligator has over 1,000! We hoped this glaring fellow was not hungry, since gators only eat once a month and store the fat in their tails. Since he is cold-blooded the alligator was soaking up the sun yet not getting burned because of the film on his body surface.
We went from a large open area into the amazing, natural mangrove tunnels while Stephen explained that the weird “legs” of tangled roots standing well above the water level act as filters and salt water comes into their systems but the yellow “sacrifice” leaves store the salt and purify the water into fresh water for the tree. Then these leaves drop into the water and turn the brackish river black as they decay. However downstream the water becomes crystal clear, thanks to this jungle’s work, limestone natural foundations, and oyster beds, which also filter the water.
Going through the long, natural jungle tunnels created by the trees meeting each other overhead was thrilling. Stephen got transmissions from other boats telling when it was clear passage and then he turned up the speed for the visitors who wanted a daring racing speed, by contrast to the slow pace while in other areas. We spotted birds which Stephen named and told us about along the way. Thank goodness we did not
see the Burmese Pythons, which many years ago escaped from a study center lab during a hurricane and have multiplied quickly to the thousands as they have about 80 eggs at once. They are such an environmental threat that a large bounty is paid to those who kill them during the sponsored group hunt competition.
These airboats are forbidden in Everglades National Park because the noise pollution theoretically frightens the animals, but the ride certainly was fun and informative. Click the above website for more information, or call 1 239 695 2400 for information and tickets.
About the Author:
Bonnie Neely, a professional journalist for over 30 years, has worked extensively in educational television in which she has been project coordinator, researcher, and scriptwriter. She has also been a columnist for various newspapers and magazines as well as a producer/scriptwriter for the Discovery Channel. Furthermore Bonnie is one of the “Top Book Reviewers” for Amazon.com. She founded Real Travel Adventures and built it into a leading travel blog.