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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

canoeing in the Everglades

You might have been surprised to hear about a hiking trail in South Florida in my previous blogpost, but did you know that you could go canoeing in the Everglades for a week or so without seeing any settlements? That is the largest continuous mangrove forest in western hemisphere for you! On our latest trip to Florida, Tam and I didn’t have quite as much time, but we ventured out to explore the southern part of the Everglades National Park for 3 days on a canoe. That’s where the “river of grass” I was talking about in my previous post meets the sea, but at this point it is no longer dominated by sawgrass but mangroves, a unique group of trees that can grow in brackish and even sea water (I wrote more about them previously). The canoe trail goes from Flamingo Visitor Center in the south to Everglades city, and there are multiple campgrounds along the way. As you may wonder how one would be able to camp in the mangroves, it’s better to reveal the solution right away – chickee.

naturist 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

These are simple above-water wooden structures consisting of raised floor and roof adapted from Seminole (local Native American tribe) design; porta-potty is an important modern addition, though. As we didn’t have time to do the whole trail, we just planned our route based on availability of chickees in the vicinity of Flamingo visitor center. It turned out to be a good idea to arrive in the afternoon the day before, so we could reserve our spot on chickees and have 3 full days of canoeing. We were told that it would take about 6 hours of paddling to get to the nearest chickee, in Hells Bay, but rarely people did paddle there all the way from Flamingo and preferred to be rather dropped off at a closer location, from which they could use another path. We were happy to do all the way by canoe though, that was why we came there for. It’s worth noting that the campground at Flamingo has the best kind of grass for camping, it felt very comfortable to sleep even without any mats. The night was pretty cold (by South Florida standards!), the first cold night of this winter, but the forecast looked promising for the next days. The morning was much warmer indeed, but there were some rain clouds around. Tam and I rented a canoe, and Peter, who could only stay for a day, got a single kayak. We also bought a very detailed map of the area, which is a must if you plan a trip like this. People at boat rental sounded a bit surprised that we were going to paddle to Hells Bay from there, but we trusted the park ranger who said we would be able to do it. Off we went, and it started raining. Luckily, I was clever enough to take my waterproof bike pannier “Ortlieb”, where we could store the essentials. Our food provision  consisted of dried cretan barley bread, banana bread, nuts and a box of tropical fruits that we bought at “Robert is here” farmer market.

It took us about an hour to go through the first canal, and somewhere midway I took off my shorts, as they got soaked in the rain and didn’t serve any purpose. When we reached the first area with open water – Coot Bay, Peter decided to head back to Flamingo. The rain was losing power and turned into a calm warm drizzle. Then I briefly saw a fin sticking out of water, and I was quite speechless, as it was very close to us and I couldn’t figure out whether it was a shark or a dolphin. But not for too long – we heard a sound of deep exhale and saw another fin, it was clearly a dolphin. We followed it for a while and saw that there were a few more closer to the shore. We even saw one jumping out of water in a distance. Then three of them were swimming towards the channel where we had to go too. It was amazing to see dolphins so close and hear how they breathed, thanks to quietness around.

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After that, we went through another, even bigger, Whitewater Bay and then East River. We enjoyed navigational aspect of canoeing both in the open water and narrow winding river. Overall, it took us just 4.5 hours to reach Hells Bay chickee from Flamingo, but we weren’t the only ones to arrive. Just when we entered Hells Bay, we saw a group of 5 canoes with 10 people  approaching the chickee too. They docked all at one side and we took the other. I was still naked and decided to give it a try – I really didn’t want to put on my wet shorts. I noticed a couple of stares and put on my sarong for a while, but it didn’t hold well while we were pitching the tent. One guy from the group came to us though, and asked me to put on some clothes in a semi-awkward semi-appologetic manner, explaining his request by the presence of “college girls”. Later he came back not but once but twice, as he wanted to stay on friendly terms with us. It turned out they were from Outward Bound School, and he said he and his fellow instructor were personally cool with nudity but the girls apparently weren’t; we didn’t feel like having a lengthy discussion as to whether girls of college age should be familiar with male anatomy and why the mere sight of a naked man doing random things like pitching a tent should be seen in any way offensive. On the second time, he gave us a compass; we had one too, but his was more convenient to use with the map. He gave us a couple of navigation tips too. Before the darkness fell, we went on a short trip to explore the surroundings and saw an alligator swimming not too far from the chickee.

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Three more people came to the chickee in the evening, but apparently there was a mistake with reservations, as  such chickees are not meant for more than 12 people. Luckily those guys seemed to know the area and didn’t mind to go further to another chickee.

As we went to sleep, we realized that it was a big mistake not to bring any kind of padding to put under sleeping bags… Chickee floor is hard wood, and it’s not something I’m used to when I go camping, so it didn’t even occur in my head to bring something soft… Somehow, we managed to sleep well, probably due to tiredness from paddling, and by the time we woke up, the Outward Bound School team had already left. We started the day with planning out the route, Tam definitely liked to work with our new compass.

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There were just a few clouds,

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but one of them did produce a short rain.

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It remained very warm, and we just enjoyed the sound of rain and the view of the bay from under the roof of the chickee.

view 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

As the sun came out, we gave it a proper salutation 🙂

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We definitely needed some good stretching, and partner exercises worked great for us.

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We were almost sad to say good-by to our first chickee, but we knew we had a great day ahead.

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We stopped by for lunch at another chickee, in Lane Bay, and then continued our way towards Whitewater Bay. We noticed that for some reason one bank of the channel had smaller and younger mangrove trees than the other.

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When we entered the Whitewater Bay, it was much more difficult to paddle due to wind and currents. It was also more difficult to navigate with few landmarks around. But at least the day was a perfect combination of clouds and sun.

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We didn’t see that many birds to our surprise (apparently, there are some bird colonies further up north of the Whitewater Bay), but there still was some variety.

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A great heron let us approach it pretty close.

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We saw quite a few american ibises but those were a lot warier. I managed to snap some nice shots of their profiles, though.

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We also saw ospreys by their nests

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One pair seemed to be happy: they were sitting together in the nest watching sunset,

osprey 0002 Everglades, Florida, USAosprey 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

whereas the other pair seemed to go through some issues, as one them was out of the nest and they looked in different directions. Well, I’m just making things up, but it’d be nice if could observe their behavior longer.

We also saw dolphins again, they passed by us very close.

view 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

As the clouds turned white, we finally saw that Whitewater Bay deserved its name. After that, we went through another channel, Joe River, and then entered its smaller branch that was supposed to bring us to the next chickee.

view 0004 Everglades, Florida, USA

Our timing was just perfect,

view 0005 Everglades, Florida, USA

a beautiful sunset view opened before us, and then we saw the chickee. We arrived just as the sun touched horizon.

chickee 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

We still had enough time to pitch our tent in light, but then mosquitos became quite brutal despite the repellent.

view 0006 Everglades, Florida, USA

This didn’t last too long, luckily, mosquitos mostly disappeared after nightfall. We saw an amazing starry sky. We also heard familiar breathing sound close to our chickee but we didn’t see any fins sticking out of the water. So, my guess was that it might have been a manatee, which Florida is famous for but are not easy to spot in the wild. By the way, we were quite annoyed to see some speeding motorboats despite the signs warning about manatees. And even more so, it was annoying to hear how far their noise travels in otherwise amazingly tranquil environment. Here is another paradox for you, how come something like a speedboat is allowed in this national park, despite it is known to be hurtful to the endangered species the park is meant to protect, whereas something as innocent as a sight a naked human wouldn’t be accepted… These were some topics we talked about before we had our early night sleep; again on the hard floor, but we seemed to be getting accustomed to it.  We heard alligators or crocodiles grunting at night, so my first thought in the morning was to go around the bay and try to see any.

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It was a nice quiet morning, mangrove trees with their white trunks reflected beautifully in the still dark water.

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When we approached the place from where we thought the grunting was coming from at night,

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we indeed saw a middle-size alligator! It was looking at us for while but dived when we approached closer.

alligator 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

When we got back to the chickee, we saw a few juvenile needlefish – mangroves are important fish nurseries after all.

juvenile needlefish 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

We didn’t linger much after breakfast, as we had a full day of paddling back to Flamingo and we didn’t know how the wind and currents would be. On the way to Whitewater Bay, we went through another smaller channel where we were supposed to see marshes according to the map. However, both banks seemed to be entirely taken over by mangrove trees. This must be a recent change, as those were small trees.

mangrove 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

The weather was just perfect again. We saw rain somewhere afar, but it didn’t come to us.

view 0007 Everglades, Florida, USA

Despite the wind, we were doing very well in terms of timing, so when we reached Coot Bay, I thought we should divert to Mud Lake, as it was connected by a very narrow channel, which sounded like fun to go through.

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The sign saying “No motorboats” sounded promising. This was a path similar to the narrow kayak trail I took in Yucatan last year, but mangroves were much bigger here. It was quite a lot of fun to maneuver in this channel, challenging our coordination,

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while we had to watch out for low branches

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and mosquitos at the same time. As mosquitos couldn’t reach us in the open water, they must have felt lucky that we decided to go deep into the mangrove forest.

mangrove 0004 Everglades, Florida, USA

We managed to pass through the channel quite fast and were rewarded with seeing the particularly peaceful Mud Lake with several herons ashore and young alligators swimming at the surface.

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As we came back to the main route, we were still naked, but when a couple of tour boats were passing by we covered with shorts to avoid possible confrontation. But we couldn’t really complain, as the previous day we spent naked entirely, and on that day we did 14 out of 15 miles of canoeing in the buff! Sadly, but our naked adventure was over. People at canoe rental seemed to be surprised that we made it 😀

We were happy to have a warm meal at the restaurant in Flamingo, although we both agreed that our self-proclaimed ‘eat like a bird diet’, consisting of mainly fruits and nuts, was just fine and we didn’t get tired of it in three days. Now that I think of it, this was more like our ancestral ‘monkey diet’, no wonder it worked well for us. What we were really looking forward to was sleeping on that amazing soft grass of Flamingo campground! During night, the temperature plummeted as a result of the infamous polar vortex which brought freezing temperatures down to central Florida. It wasn’t quite as cold in South Florida, which hardly ever gets freezing temperatures being at the tip of the tropical climate zone, but even 15˚C  felt chilling after the previous three hot days. Wind was more of a problem though, as we had to cycle about 45 miles to Florida city. Because of the constant  headwind, what could be a pleasant leisurely ride of 3.5h across the flat plane of the Everglades, turned into an exhausting 5h trip that felt like a never-ending uphill.

view 0008 Everglades, Florida, USA

This part was no longer naked, of course, but it’s worth mentioning that on one of our brief stops, at Nine Mile Pond, we were almost eaten by saw a huge alligator,alligator 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

which we noticed in the last moment… It seemed to be sleeping.

alligator 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

I wonder if those black vultures noticed it too, as they were coming very close to it, but we didn’t have time to wait and see…

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Actually, we had a chance to eat some alligator meat as we stopped at Gator Grill diner after exiting the Everglades, but I went for local frog legs instead and they were amazing (Tam had a veggie burger). We definitely would love to make another similar trip and do the whole canoe trail perhaps. Let’s see who eats whom next time 😉

Well, after making this joke, I feel I need to refer to some of the comments made to my blogpost about hiking in the Everglades:

airseatraveler:

Wow… I could never venture to a place that had snakes alligators, and many other creatures that could KILL me, much less naked! Good on you, and awesome pictures! Thanks for sharing!

My reply was:

… thanks for your comments about my bravery, but here is some food for thought for you. So, you say you “would never venture to a place that had… many… creatures that could KILL” you, but I’m pretty sure you drive or at the very least cross streets where others drive. How many people did die from cars in Florida? 2500-3500 per year between 2005-2009. Now, how many people did die from alligators? Between 2000 and 2007, there were 0-3 fatal alligator attacks per year, and none at all between 2007-2014 so far! In the whole of US, on average 5 people per year die because of snake bites. Of course, you could argue that a lot more people drive cars than wrestle with alligators, but nevertheless these numbers show that many more people suffer from cars than from alligators, and yet it’s only the latter that scare you!

And sadly, in the end of our vacation in Florida, well in the ‘safety’ of Miami urban jungle, I only confirmed the statistics with my own example – I was hit and run over by a car, but luckily not with a fatal result, or even, at least as it seems now, any lifelong injuries. I have a few fractures but they are supposed to heal fast… So, I don’t think I’ll stop hiking or canoeing anytime soon, just like I’ll continue move around in big cities such as my current hometown New York.

‘4 mile beach’ full of sea life

Next day after visiting Big Basin Redwoods, we mostly stayed on the road heading south, but we had a nice memorable stop at Four Mile beach next to Santa Cruz. This is an official clothing-optional beach, as was designated on our bike map. It was recommended to us by Dan, the masseur from Burning Man who you might remember from my blogpost about acro-yoga in San Francisco. The beach looked beautiful already on our approach to it, and we could see just a couple of surfers there.

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As we came down, the beach looked even more impressive, though we were not sure if it was 4 miles long… or where did the name come from?

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Besides those few surfers, there were only some fishermen quite far out…

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and lots of birds!

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When we arrived, most birds moved from the sand onto the water, and we could see all beach covered in their footprints.

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Then we noticed there also was an airplane! No, just cliffs that look like one 😉 The cliffs were full of birds too.

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Gulls were the most numerous,

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but there were many kinds of other sea- and shorebirds too, mostly grouped together. The photo below illustrates that indeed birds of a feather flock together.

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Cormorants were probably the second largest group,

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but there were many pelicans too.

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This was a clear indicator of richness of the ocean waters by this beach. To a large extent, it was probably thanks to the kelp forests, of which we could literally only scratch the surface.

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Low tide revealed the rocks covered with the densest mussel colony I had ever seen.

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That’s a lot of seafood!

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In just few minutes, Niko created this seafood bouquet. We didn’t feel adventurous to actually eat any of that, but it looked tasty 🙂

To make this place even more ecologically diverse, there was a freshwater pond too.

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A sandpiper and a group of ducks were hanging out there away from the seabirds.

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And aside from all these water birds, ravens apparently called this place their home too.

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So as this young snake, whose species I couldn’t identify – any serpentologist among my readers?

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With all this biodiversity, I thought that we only missed dolphins but Niko said it would be too much to ask from just a couple of hours at the beach… We played some frisbee, which went very well, probably because the beach is protected from wind by the cliffs.

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And then we saw them! 4 dolphins were passing along the beach showing their back fins. I was happy and ran with my camera to the cliffs that went farther into the ocean to take a better picture, but they disappeared.

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And then I saw something that I didn’t even expect to see – a sea otter!

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It even showed me its cute swim on the back while opening a mussel with claws.

sea otter 0001 4 Mile Beach, CA, USA

Then I felt like we could leave the place with enough memories…

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And my boys were already checking out the map to see how we would get to the next campground… and we had to get dressed too.

anti-naturist 0000 cafe, CA, USA