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.

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.

dolphins 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

alligator 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

naturist 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

There were just a few clouds,

view 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

but one of them did produce a short rain.

naturist 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

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 🙂

naturist 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

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

naturist 0004 Everglades, Florida, USA

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

naturist 0005 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

mangrove 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

view 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

great egret 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

A great heron let us approach it pretty close.

american white ibis 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

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

american white ibis 0001 Everglades, Florida, USAamerican white ibis 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

We also saw ospreys by their nests

osprey 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

mangrove 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

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

mangrove 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

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

naturist 0006 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

naturist 0007 Everglades, Florida, USA

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,

naturist 0008 Everglades, Florida, USA

while we had to watch out for low branches

naturist 0011 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

naturist 0010 Everglades, Florida, USA

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…

american black vultures & alligator 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

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.

Montauk, the tip of Long Island

In the end of the summer season, I had a spontaneous beach trip to Montauk State Park with a couple of friends. Thanks to Sergei, we traveled to the beach in style – on a four-seat airplane 🙂 I was always tempted to explore the tip of Long Island just because it looked very pretty on the satellite view in maps, and after this day trip I now want to return there and camp out.

aerial view 0000 Long Island, New York, USA

En route, we flew above Cold Spring Harbor, where we kayaked several times a year ago, when my friend Sasha worked there and had access to kayaks – great memories, and it was nice to get a bird eye view of the place.

aerial view 0000 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

Upon approach to Montauk airport, we got a bird eye view of the tip of Long Island too. It was pretty obvious why I would love the place: combination of tranquil sea and long sand beach, forest and lake.

view 0000 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

We walked to the beach straight from the airport and headed toward Oyster Bay.

view 0001 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

There were a few people  – some came by car, some by boat, some by horse… and some by plane 😉

view 0002 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

One place had a sort of surreal appeal to it because of the purple sand and purple flowers growing next to it!

naturist 0000 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

Obviously, I wanted to take a picture in that paradisiacal spot in my paradisiacal suit (even though this was not an official nudist beach).

view 0003 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

We soon reached Oyster Bay and the sign saying that 4×4 vehicles needed a permit beyond that point. One can only wonder why from a formal standpoint something as destructive to the beach as cars was permitted, but a harmless naked human body would be illegal. (I don’t mean that cars would destroy the beach entirely, but they do crush seashells and definitely leave a much more noticeable footprint,  which you don’t necessarily want to see at such a pristine beach, and which might contribute to erosion.)

view 0005 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

Oyster Bay had a nice stretch of flat wet sand which was perfect for playing frisbee, as it was also protected from wind by the dune.

view 0004 Montauk Point Park, Long Island, New York, USA

On the way back, we hiked through the forest for a bit. There were a lot of grapes but they were not ripe at that time. Beware that it is also full of ticks, but then again it’s easier to spot them on the naked body than under clothes 😉

kayaking in mangroves in Yucatan

Traveling with some new friends in Yucatan, I wanted to arrange another sailing trip at Progreso, a port town near Merida. Luckily the owner of the boat, Samuel, had free time when we were there and the forecast was pretty good… until the last moment. When the wind started getting stronger and the waves, higher. When we left the haven, it looked too dangerous to go in the open sea and we retreated…

Thanks to having a local with us, we quickly figured out an alternative to naked sailing in the open sea – kayaking in mangroves! Luckily, La Ria, eco-touristic centre in Progreso, was right nearby, and and there was also a bus line that could easily bring us back to Merida. We rented single kayaks, as those were easier to manoeuvre judging by my previous experiences in Long Island Sound, which was even more important for passing through channels in mangroves.

naturist 0003 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

Those narrow ‘trails’ were actually quite tricky to paddle through, as the oars were just too long to move between the mangrove trees. We discovered that the best way to move forward was to simply push branches above us with hands; that is probably the closest we can to the state of a monkey leaping from one tree to another.

naturist 0000 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

It was nice that the first part of the trail went in the middle of dense mangroves, so that we stayed in their shade while the sun was high. There were different species of mangrove trees that had various adaptations for living in saline tidal waters. Red mangroves (on the left of the photo below) use stilt roots to keep the rest of the plant above the high tide margin, while black mangroves (on the right) us pneumatophores (specialised root-like structures which stick up out of the soil like straws) to deliver oxygen to the root system.

naturist 0011 red and white mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

 

naturist 0007 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

Many trees were full of fruit and blossom, though the latter is not very noticeable.

red mangrove flower 0009 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

It is actually quite amazing that the seeds of many mangrove species germinate while still being on the parent tree – it is probably the best plant equivalent of pregnancy!

red mangrove fruit 0008 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

When the seedling is mature enough to travel, it falls into water and floats until it finds suitable conditions to lodge in the mud and root.

mangrove fruit 0010 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

After ‘crawling’ through the mangroves, it was relieving to emerge into open water!

naturist 0001 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

Our next goal was to find an islet with shorebird colony. The guide from La Ria told us about it, but unfortunately they didn’t provide any maps to take with us, because “they would get wet”. After a bit of wandering, we finally saw it!

shorebird colony 0000 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

It looked like any other island around but was chosen by dozens and dozens of various shorebirds for nesting.

heron 0000 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

We saw herons, cormorants,

frigatebird 0000 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

frigatebirds

pelican 0000 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

and pelicans, of course.

pelican 0001 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

After that, we checked out a couple of other channels in mangroves.

naturist 0002 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

One of the trails seemed particularly promising but it didn’t lead anywhere.

naturist 0004 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

When we came back to the opening, we saw a boat leaving from La Ria, but it went back immediately. We figured that they were probably worried about us already and were relieved to see us. I doubt they could see that we were naked though, but would that matter to them? This is how we do 🙂

naturist 0006 mangroves, Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

Upon return to ecolodge, we chilled in the shade and had a delicious seafood lunch. So the day didn’t go quite like we had planned, but obviously we had no regrets! Kayaking in mangroves is so much fun!

kayaking in Cold Spring Harbor

As Juan wrote in his first blogpost, kayaking, although often overlooked, is probably the easiest outdoor activity to practice in the buff without anyone noticing. It’s hard to tell whether one wears shorts, speedos or… nothing 😉

Last sumer, I had a couple of fun kayak trips with a few buddies in and around Cold Spring Harbor in Long Island.

Cold Spring Harbor hosts the world-famous laboratory that contributed to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Most of the land along Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay is privately owned, but you can definitely explore the area by the sea.

Once you reach the edge of the Oyster Bay, you could head out to the open waters of Long Island Sound

or turn Eastwards in the direction of Caumset State Park.

This is how it looks from the air (these photos were taken on another occasion, obviously).

To reach the beach of Caumset Park, you need to paddle around the sand spit that is a part of private land. You won’t see many people on the shore, perhaps a lonely fisherman.

Once you go around the tip of the sand spit, you will see a beautiful beach of Caumset State Park.

It is surrounded by lush forest which gives it almost tropical appearance.

Cormorants seemed to to be the only ones to welcome us.

The beach doesn’t see many visitors, it has a touch of the lost world…

Which also meant we could stay there as nature intended, without clothes 🙂

The sand cliffs appeared to be even prettier than from afar, revealing different shades of orange and pink.

Some shorebirds, possibly sand martins, have a colony there; my friend Martin :D, who climbed the cliffs couldn’t confirm what they were, we didn’t see any birds leaving the nests.

We enjoyed viewing the scenery for a bit and strolled along the beach.

Low tide revealed a lot seaweed, that tried to anchor at anything solid.

We found a flat white rock that was perfect for a lunch break,

and a golfinch was pleasing our ears while we took a nap…

On another occasion, we actually did some jumps instead of a nap 🙂

After the nap, we discover that a storm was on our way. The forecast for the day was ambiguous, but we were not anticipating to paddle in the sea during a thunderstorm!

We prepared to leave hastily, but as soon as we got on water, the sky started clearing ahead of us and we just tried to escape from the menacing clouds.

It got quiet again.

The storm seemed to get sucked into the Atlantic Ocean over Long Island.

The only place where we got a bit worried again, was around the tip of the sand spit that I mentioned above, because it gets quite strong currents and waves during tide change.

But it wasn’t a challenge after all, and we got back safely. We definitely look forward to more kayaking!

“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!