canoeing in the Everglades, part 2

naturist 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the naked volleyball tournament at the Lake Come Resort in Florida again, but as much as it was an amazing weekend of fun and games, I don’t have any footage to share (though there was a photo art project – still need to hear what came out of it). Well, I still have some material from my last year’s journey, however. So, here’s a report from a 2-day canoe/kayak trip that we did in the northern Everglades (you can see the trails on our map).

We started off at the Everglades City, and after paddling about two hours in the open water, we got a bit lost in the mangroves… Until I remembered that I had an offline map on my phone that could still use GPS to tell the location (there’s no mobile service). With this delay, we’d need to really rush to make it to the chickee (a platform above water) where we planned to camp overnight, but luckily there was another campsite on our way at the Lopez River, and there was nobody staying.

view 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

It was great to be on the solid land after several hours of paddling against the current! So we decided to camp there, although I wanted my friends to get an experience of camping on a chickee, which Tam and I enjoyed thoroughly.

naturist 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

The birds were singing in the sunset rays, and everything seemed perfect.

singing bird 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

But then came no-see-ums (sandflies), and our evening was cut short, as we retreated to the tents after the dinner. Though we still enjoyed the full moon, and it was peculiar to see a lot of locomotion in the river as the night came – it must have been a spawning season for some fish.

Next day, we continued paddling upstream, seeing quite a bit of wildlife around us.

ibis 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

Well, if ibises is nothing special for Florida, the next encounter was truly exciting – a sawfish!

I noticed it next to my kayak and called the canoe crew to come to see it. It stayed still, but I was a bit shocked by its strange appearance, so it took me a few more seconds to reach out for my GoPro to take an underwater shot… by which time it left :-/

sawfish 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

It’s probably rarer to see sawfish than manatees, and the ranger station even asks to report their sightings. After this, spotting an osprey nest didn’t seem like a big deal at all.

osprey nest 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

Then we reached the chickee where we were supposed to stay overnight, had lunch there and shot some videos, a few seconds of which became a part of our promo for the NuDance class with damoN.

After that, we decided to split, as I wanted to return by a different route, but the canoe crew wanted “to stay on the safe side” and took the same way back. In the end, it wasn’t a good idea for them, as that route went a lot more through the open water, and the day was windy – so they gladly took an offer of a ranger passing by on a motorboat who gave them a lift. I myself went in a kayak via Turner River and then a canal along the bridge/road to Chokoloskee. My highlight was a little diversion that I took there in a narrow canal on the side.

view 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

This allowed me to see the dense mangrove forest from the inside.

view 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

So, this trip was from the opposite side of the Everglades of where Tam and I had a 4-day adventure in 2014. I hope to do the whole canoe trail through the Everglades some day – still need to see what’s between the two areas I’ve visited.

Rainforest of tree ferns: prehistoric scenery on a forbidden trail

The last (for now!) blogpost of our Hawaiian adventures is about a pretty but also somewhat uncanny rainforest on Puna side of the Big Island that we explored using Ka-hau-a-Le’a trail, which is no longer recommended for visits by authorities and is officially closed. However, it is definitely among the most interesting hikes that I’ve done in my life thanks to a combination of several factors. The guidebook ‘Hawaii, the Big Island Revealed‘ was our inspiration again.

The day was rainy but very warm, appropriately for a tropical rainforest and that part of the island of Hawaii particularly, so the most appropriate attire was just our bare skin – you know it’s my favorite one anyways!

naturist 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

So, I kept my clothes (i.e., only shorts on that day) dry in the backpack for later 🙂

naturist 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Given that the trail is formally closed and conditions were muddy, we didn’t expect to see many hikers (and we didn’t see any at all). Another indication for the lack of other visitors came from the fact that there were quite a few spider webs on the trails.

spider 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Among more pleasant sightings were bamboo orchids. These are quite tall (taller than human) free-standing plants, which is unusual for orchids.

Bamboo orchid 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

But their flowers were very pretty, typically for orchids, and raindrops only added more charm to them.

Bamboo orchid 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

There were a lot of differnet plants,

view 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

plants literally growing on top of each other,

plants 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

as you might expect from a rainforest, albeit not a very tall one.

However, one plant growing in abundance there was much taller than its kind that I’m used to.

naturist 0002 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

I’m talking about tree ferns, which made this forest look prehistoric. There was no sign of dinosaurs, however, only naked cavemen perhaps 😉

naturist 0005 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Walking under ferns was unusual and their inwrought leaves looked pretty from below.

plants 0000 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Too bad they didn’t protect from the rain as good as these ones.

plants 0002 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

One shouldn’t look up all the time in that forest thought, as the trail is strenuous and is full of roots sticking off the ground.

view 0001 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Well, some roots were so hight above the ground that you’d just walk under them!

naturist 0003 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

This variety of plant forms inspired Tod to make a photo of me being one with the tree!

naturist 0004 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

We didn’t see any animals besides a couple of bugs and spiders, but we did see a lot of footprints of humans and dogs; in combination with the soft drizzle and exceptional quietness, all this gave the forest somewhat mysterious aura. We were happy to see that the trail was frequently tagged by orange straps.

view 0002 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

After two and half hours or so, Tod decided to go back to the car, but I wanted to continue till the edge of the forest. Yes, the forest was supposed to end in an hour and give a view of a lava field and an active and fuming Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent. Pretty soon after we parted, I got to this narrow but deep (a few meters) crack crossing the trail – a sure sign of recent geological activity in the area!

view 0003 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

And much sooner than I expected from the guidebook’s description, the forest ended indeed, with another, much more impressive sign of geological activity – a lava field!

view 0004 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Actually, the forest edge didn’t only appear earlier than in the guidebook, which was published in 2005, but also earlier than in both Google and Apple maps! So the must have come from a relatively fresh eruption. In fact, it was somewhat steaming, but I couldn’t tell whether it was because the lava was still warm after eruption or just got warm in the sun earlier in the day, which would be enough to make the cooler drizzle turn into fog by the surface. But of course I didn’t want to test just how fresh the lava was! I could also see numerous fallen trees with their bases burnt. Due to the foggy conditions, I couldn’t see the vent itself, but the view of the relatively fresh lava field and the devastation it cause was impressive enough!

view 0005 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Someone must have made this pretty menacing “monument” with a pig skull…

view 0006 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

Well, the message was clear – I shouldn’t go any further. So, I turned back after a short lunch break. The dramatic ambience of the place must have influenced my thinking, and on the way back I got quite worried about the numerous (and pretty big!) dog footprints and even had some unpleasant flash visions of finding Tod attacked by dogs and then getting chased myself. But the forest was the same quiet.

view 0007 Ka-hau-a-Le'a tree fern trail, Hawaii, USA

It took me one hour from the edge of the forest to branching that lead to emergency helipad and 3 hours total to the car. I was happy to see that Tod made it back in one piece! However, my worry wasn’t entirely ungrounded – he did see 5 greyhounds on the trail, but apparently they were even more scared from the encounter and ran away quickly… Also, just a couple of minutes before my arrival, Tod had a convo with a local ranger, who came to the trailhead and amongst other things complained about “that blue book” that gave tourists all the wrong ideas 😉

“canuding” swamps of the Mississippi delta area

I’ve mentioned already my recent visit to New Orleans with a resort-like club in the centre of the city, but my trip wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t ventured out to the outdoors. In the case of New Orleans, I am talking about swamps, of course.

There are numerous boat tours offered by tourist agencies in the city, but it was quite difficult to find a place where kayaks or canoes could be rented. My friends and I opted for canoe rental as it promised a more personal and adventurous experience at the swamps, plus it is also a good exercise. I also secretly hoped that I would get a chance to explore the swamps ‘as nature intended’, especially given that mid-October is still summerly hot in New Orleans.

One of just a couple of places that provided canoe rental in the area was Pearl River Eco-tours. They are located in a massive swamp area north-east of New Orleans, which includes various habitats such as river, marshes and flooded forest swamps.

Our adventure started as soon as we departed from the boat/canoe station. All of a sudden, a fish jumped right in our canoe!

You’d think it just happened by chance, but it happened two more times during our trip. Perhaps fish jumps out of water so often in that area, because it is chased by alligators. Oh, have I mentioned that was what we actually hoped to see there most?

Going upstream just a little away from the rental place, we noticed a narrow canal leading to marshes.

It was a vast open space covered with semi-aquatic and floating plants with some lagoons in between.

The water was very shallow, often barely enough for a canoe to go through – tourist boats definitely wouldn’t go there, so I felt confident enough to disrobe for a bit.

And here it was, our first encounter with a gator! Young and small, but looking  out of water with big appetite in the eyes :p

Soon it submerged and we headed back to the main river.

The river itself was beautiful too, surrounded by lush forest and very quiet… except for an occasional water-scooter, unfortunately. Unfortunately – because to me it seemed inappropriate to use such a noisy and not-at-all-environmentally-friendly watercraft in that wilderness.

Abundant fish attracts numerous birds to the Pearl River. You can see them resting in the woods at the riverbank or preying in shallow waters. The most common are egrets

and great blue herons.

It is even easier to spot them when they take off in the air.

A rarer encounter is an osprey, but we did see a few of them, which is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

We continued paddling upstream, and without a proper map, we did not know where we would see those typical southern swamps. We almost gave up, but just behind an old metal bridge, we found an entry to a narrow canal through the flooded forest!

Yes, that was the flooded forest of bald cypresses that we had in mind!

But what gave the forest its mysterious, almost spooky, appeal was not so much the trees themselves but a plant that grew upon all their branches, spanish moss.

Another feature that made this forest look unusual was the so-called cypress knees.

Cypress knees are special structures of swamp cypresses formed above their roots. They are thought to provide additional support and stabilisation, and possibly additional oxygenation for the roots.

It’s pretty obvious that cypress knees indeed help secure trees in the ground, as they create islets around the trees; they look as if protected by fortress walls… I found another use of them – creating a live bridge 🙂

This felt almost like flying right above the water. By the way, the black water of those marshes was in fact quite clear – we checked it by dipping our oars. On the other hand, alligators aren’t as bright as those yellow oars, so one should be careful when stepping outside the boat… And yes, there are some pretty impressive alligators in the area! We saw this beauty on the way back.

Not that gator attacks are common in Louisiana, they are most likely to retreat when they see humans, but you never know… But if you do want a gator to come closer to you, local advise to give it a marshmallow. It sounds more like a joke, but we did see them go for it!