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Monday, January 28, 2013

Today's a Chill Day

Did a bu ch of chores, mailed some packages, cleaned. Waiting to go pick Jane up at the airport.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bike Ride in the Everglades

Dear Blog.  Today is Sunday, January 27, 2013. Yesterday we had a great time paddling around the Everglades in kayaks.  Today we decided to venture out on bicycles into the Big Cypress Swamp National Preserve. It is called Big Cypress, not because of the size of the trees, but because the preserve is over 2,400 square miles.  We were only going to bike a tiny 20 mile loop into the preserve.  Not that a 20 mile bike ride is tiny, but the portion of the preserve we covered was tiny by comparison.

However, before we left the campground, we stopped to say hi to the two resident peacocks. The campground owner loves exotic birds.  In addition to the peacocks, there are all sorts of parrots and even an emu.

We road our bikes over to the loop road and past the country's smallest post office located right on the Tamiami Trail (Route 41 which runs from Naples to Miami) in Ochopee, FL.  Since it was Sunday, the Post Office was closed.

Before the Everglades became a National Park there were a number of businesses located along the Tamiami Trail. In order to clear land for farming and housing developments, roads had to be built.  Large channels were dug into the limestone.  What they scooped out was piled up to make the road bed.  These channels soon filled with water, plants, fish, birds and alligators. You can adopt one of these roads if you like.

The loop took us past a number of micro-enviroments.  Since this is the dry season, many of the water holes have dried up.  The wildlife seems to be concentrated along the canals.  We found orchids blooming in one channel.

In many of the channels there were alligators sunning themselves near the banks.

When we saw this guy, we thought we would be the first in our campground to bag a python.  However, he was just a brown water snake, not even poisonous.  However, a tourist did stop us a short time later and asked us if with saw the python up the road.  Apparently, we were so busy looking left at the canal, we missed an 8 foot python stretched out on the right side of the road sunning himself on the rocks.  Such is life.

Here is a lesser or little blue heron.  While not as majestic as their cousins, the Great Blue Heron, they sure do make a ruckus when you ride your bike next to their pond.

We saw hundreds of White Ibis hanging out along the canal.

Why did the alligator cross the road?  To get to the other side before Dave and Kathy ran him over with their bikes!

We finally had to stop taking photos of alligators.  It's like taking pictures of squirrels.  There are so many of them, the folks around here just take them for granted.

Paddling the Everglades

On Saturday we decided to take a 4-hour paddling trip across Chokoloskee Bay from Everglades City into the Ten Thousand Islands, which are mangrove islands strewn between the mainland and the Gulf of Mexico.  This trip was led by a National Park Service ranger, from the Everglades National Park visitor center in Everglades City.  There were approximately 14 people on our trip, most in double kayaks or canoes.  We decided to rent single kayaks.

Here's a photo of Kathy, on the left, preparing to set out on the water in her kayak:

There is an airport on the water in Everglades City, and as we started our trip, we were buzzed by about a half dozen planes, each in turn approaching over the water to land on the airstrip:

The most exciting things we saw on this trip included dolphins.  Our first spotting was in the open waters of the bay:

Later, in the islands, we saw two dolphins working cooperatively to circle a school of fish, herd them toward the mangrove island, and then feed on them.  Later, our group encountered a dolphin in a cove among some islands, and the dolphin clearly wanted to play with us.  It raced around like a torpedo just under the surface of the water.  Our kayaks were about 20 feet apart, and the dolphin sped between us, heading straight for the ranger's kayak as if to play a marine game of "chicken," then veered off at the last second.  The dolphin leaped and turned in the air, and eventually headed down a channel away from us.

The ranger, Shannon, explained local flora and fauna to us, including a discussion about the conglomerates from which many of the islands were accreted, made of oyster shells.  We saw crabs, live conchs, and other small marine life.

After about 3 hours, we stopped for lunch at Sandfly Key (aptly named for the - you guessed it - sand flies that grace the island).  Although the trees on the island offered shade, we found that the only way to escape the sand flies was to sit out on the single dock on the island as we ate our lunch.

After lunch, the ranger and her volunteer assistant, Mike, told us we were free to paddle back to the visitor center with the group, or stay and explore the island, or even paddle around on our own before heading back.  We decided to paddle back with the group but then spend another couple hours on our own paddling along the shore.  Others, however, took the opportunity to relax on Sandfly Island.  Here's a photo of two of them fishing happily on the dock:

On our way back, we passed a fellow fishing out in the flats by one of the islands.  The water throughout the bay and among the islands was typically only a few feet deep, and in many places it got shallow enough that our paddles struck the seabed as we moved along in our kayaks.  Clearly, the shallow water made it easier for him to fish, as well:

Back at Everglades City, we set out on our own 2-hour paddle trip around past the airport and up Barron River along the western edge of Everglades City:

This was quite a different environment from Ten Thousand Islands.  There were houses large and small, docks, restaurants, boat yards, and the like.  A constant flow of small boat traffic kept us on our toes as we shared the waterway.  We saw our first Everglades air boat, cruising along the river:

Winter is the dry season, and water levels are down, so air boats really can't get back into the marshes during this season the way television portrays them doing in the rainy summer months.  So these air boat operators, having advertised "real" Everglades air boat rides, were trying to persuade their customers that a very slow (but LOUD) ride along the river was a satisfactory substitute for a speeding, spraying ride through the marshes.

We even shared the river with birds, including this cormorant proudly laying claim to No. 37 Barron River as his home --

- and this Jaba the Penguin holding court on his royal piling among the swaying palms:

 Jaba did not like having his photo taken, and he soared away in indignation:

 Yet another bird shared the river with us:  a mother osprey, sitting protectively on the lower right rung of this telephone pole, while her chick was squeaking noisily in the nest above.  The telephone pole perched on the bank of the river, so Mother Osprey had no trouble looking for food while tending the nest.

Alas, it was after 3:00, and time for us to paddle back to the ranger station and turn in our kayaks.  As we headed back out the mouth of the Barron River, the palm trees lining the base of the airstrip were silhouetted in the afternoon sun, with Chokoloskee Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands on the horizon.

The waters were peaceful, the sun was warm, the breeze balmy, and we couldn't help but imagine we had found our own little paradise here in this corner of the Everglades.

Friday, January 25, 2013

First Day in the Everglades

Dear Blog.  Today we got a chance to get out and about.  We did our usual campground walk around this morning and followed a trail out into the Everglades where we found a tree stand.  Here is Kathy sitting on the comfortable bench watching for signs of wildlife.

It is hard to described this part of the Everglades.  There are these immense wet grass prairies with islands of trees every couple of miles.  It is just wide open spaces for miles.

With all that space it is hard to spot any wildlife.  However, we did see some when we got back to camp:

Sunrise and sunset are our favorite times. We sit at our picnic table and just watch the colors change.

As the sun set, the moon rose.

Bye bye sun.  See you tomorrow.

Footnote: We met a couple campers coming back from a walk out into the prairie.  Turns out, they were python hunting. Apparently, Florida has a big problem with pythons in the Everglades. They are considered an invasive species and need to be rounded up.  Florida started a python hunting season and issued over 1,000 licenses so far.  When we asked the two campers how they would kill a python if they caught, they said they would shoot it.  Hmmm.... The Big Cypress Preserve, where our campground is located, is right smack in the middle of prime python territory.  I don't know what scares me more - the fact that there are pythons in the prairie next to us or that half the campers in the campground are packing heat!

Eddie and George Wake Up in the Everglades!

George and Eddie made some new friends in the Everglades:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Dark Side of Disney

During our week's stay at Disney World, we collected some examples of what we call, "The Dark Side of Disney," or, in other words, elements of our experience that no one talks about, but which are less than appealing.

Coincidentally, just today, published an article about an indie film showing a dark side of Disney.  Coincidence?  We think not!

So, without further ado, here are our Top Ten Dark Sides of Disney:

1. THE LINES.   No matter how hard you try, you have to endure lines:  lines to check into your resort, lines to have your bag checked when you enter a park, lines to get into the park, lines to get into an attraction, lines to get a FastPass so you don't have to wait in such long lines for an attraction.  Lines for food (for further information, see, "THE FOOD SCAM," below.)  We could have this kind of fun for a lot less expense if we spent the day at the airport.

2. THE CATTLE EXPERIENCE.  Mooooooo.  That's how you feel as the "cast members" herd you through the lines, into the rooms, into the theaters, from the theaters.  It's how you feel trying to make it through the streets of the park from attraction to attraction.  Mooooooo.

3. TINY CAMPGROUND ROADS.  Disney advertises nice, big campsites for RV's.  "You won't have any trouble.  The site is huge."  What Disney and its hosts don't mention is how narrow and small and tightly curved the campground roads are.  All of the sites are back-in.  Try backing into a site with a big motor home or fifth wheel.    Never again.

4.  THE RIDE TIME DILEMMA.  We arrive at an attraction at 10:00 am.  How to choose between an 80 minute wait on line or a FastPass reserved time of 6:30 pm?  Try doing this on four different attractions without wasting the whole day.  (See also, "THE FASTPASS SCAM," below.)

5.  THE FOOD SCAM.  It's breakfast time.  I'm hungry.  An hour's wait for "quick service" take-out.  Then the food is cold when you get it.  For further information, see "THE LINES," above.

6. THE FASTPASS SCAM.  Okay, so you get in the park at 10:00 (don't you want a full night's sleep and a relaxed breakfast?) and you head to your first attraction to pick up a FastPass.  It says, "Come back at 5:30 pm."  Wait, that's at the end of the day.  So let's go get another Fast Pass.  We can't get one.  Our first FastPass says we can't get a second one until 5:30 pm.  Hmmm.... What's "fast" about FastPass?

7. THE DINNER RESERVATION TRAP.  We learn we had to make reservations 6 months ago in order to have a sit-down dinner under the meal plan we paid good money for.

8. TOUR GROUPS.  Everywhere we went, there were large tour groups.  They seemed to follow us around, but were always in front of us.  Did you notice that the number of unpredictable turns and stops that confront you in a crowd increases exponentially with the number of people in the group in front of you?  So, for example, there's a 50% chance that that fellow in front of you will look right and suddenly veer left into you, spilling your drink.  It becomes a 75% chance if it's a couple.  90% if they have a child.  95% if it's a family of four.  100% if it's a tour group.

9. TRY TO GET ANYTHING FIXED.  Okay, so when we arrived, we hooked our water up, and as we turned it on, water started spraying wildly from the water faucet handle.  Disney's famously talented engineers designed the water line to attach to the same post as the 50 amp electrical service (translated, 50 amp means, "VERY MUCH CURRENT," and is dangerous enough as it is).  So the water was spraying all over our 50 amp electrical connection.  We devised a way to tie a plastic bag around the water faucet handle so that the water would not spray on the electrical connection.  We immediately bicycled over to the "lobby" and spoke to the "concierge," asking that a repair person be sent over as soon as possible to fix the spraying faucet handle.  One week later, as we checked out, the water was still spraying.

10. "DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF STRESSIN'" became our Disney motto.  Just plan not to achieve anything, and you just might be able to avoid all the Disney-programmed stress.

Tonight, we checked into a new, family-run campground in the Everglades.  Looking at the sunset and listening to the birds, we decided that there might be some things in the world more enjoyable than Disney World:

Arrived Trail Lakes Campground, the Everglades @ 2:30 pm

Sent from my iPhone

Departed Disney @ 10:00 am

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day Off

Dear Blog,

We decided to take a day off from blogging to revisit Disney Hollywood Studios.

The Management

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean - The Evacuation Experience!

Hi Blog!  Today was the day we visited the Magic Kingdom.  We did all the other parks first, leaving the best for last.  Well, not really last since we still have two more days here, but there are only four Disney parks, so technically it is the last of our first visits this trip.  We have both been to Disney World twice before.  We got an early start. Put some coffee in our travel mugs and rode the ferry boat from our campground to the Magic Kingdom.  Here is Kathy with Castle (not the crime solving novelist, but the big building in the middle of the park).

We zipped over to Frontier Land to grab a Fastpass for the Thunder Mountain Train Ride, when Dave ran into his old friend Woody.  Here is Dave sporting a woody pose.

We stopped at Gaston's Tavern in the new Fantasyland.  We just happened to be eating breakfast right next to Gaston's photo spot.  This was our vantage point.  We probably had our photos taken at least 100 times while we ate.

Now I know you are all asking yourselves - what evacuation experience?  Is there a new ride I don't know about?  Well, I'll tell you. It all started as we entered Adventure Land and noticed that the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride only had a 5 minute wait.  How could we pass that up?  We jumped on the boat and began the slow ride through the scary tunnels.  This was the ride that inspired the whole movie franchise.  Suddenly, the boats started running into each other and we came to a dead stop. After a few minutes, we came to the realization that we were not going anywhere anytime soon.  The announcement came:  "Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be evacuated.  Please remain in your boat until a cast member comes to escort you to the nearest exist."

Cool!  Evacuation - a behind the scenes tour of the inner workings of a Disney ride!  After sitting and waiting for another 10 minutes, the natives were beginning to get restless.  We had run out of stupid pirate jokes - arrgghh matey.  Several boats ahead of us contained a group of a capella singers. They burst out into some show tunes, then "Amazing Grace," and, just as the rescuers arrived, the "Star Spangled Banner."  As they finished their singing, all the stranded riders burst into applause.

As it turned out, one of the staff, a young woman, had to don a pair of fishing waders and, wading out into the water, push each boat back to the beginning of the ride.  Here is our wader-clad rescuer approaching our boat to pull us to safety:

Our soggy heroine single-handedly pushed our boat all the way back to the entrance. We climbed out of the boat and were escorted out a side exit.  As we departed, we were each handed an unlimited Fast Pass to use anywhere in the park.  We went to Infinity and Beyond!

After a day of rides, we found our spot on the curb to watch the light parade and fireworks.

Did you know the Magic Kingdom is dry - not a beer or wine in the whole place.  We had to ride the monorail over to the Polynesian Resort Hotel in order to get a pina colada.  We're going back to Epcot tomorrow!

Waiting for the Electric Light Parade at the Magic Kingdom

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Disney Hollywood Studio Moments

The first two of these photos require no explanation:

We were fortunate enough to attend the ceremony for the investiture of the latest class of Padawans:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Day With the Wildlife in Animal Kingdom

(and not all of them are the animals)

(Okay, so an explanation is needed for the following photo.  We saw a 3-D, multimedia show, "It's Tough to be a Bug!"  Those are 3-D glasses, but they do, coincidentally, make us look bug-eyed, don't they?  Or do we look like he and she Elton Johns?  By the way, the show was really GOOD)