Red Eyes and I don’t mean a Late night flight
It was a Groupon that leads to me this wild adventure, which even most Floridians have never been on.
Groupon is a place where I go when I can figure out what to do. Some of the stuff have been disastrous, and others have been good.
I am filing this one under epic.
The Groupon read something along the lines of Airboat ride at night, see gators when they are most active. I grew up with the image of gators being somewhat lazy, plus I never been on an airboat ride at night, so sign me up.
We had scheduled the first ride for Halloween, but because they had a party cancel, they moved us to the following week.
Hint: Red Eye Tours must be booked in advanced and if they don’t have enough people they will cancel it.
So the night of our tour arrived, and my boyfriend and I drove out to Sawgrass Recreation Center off of, US Highway 27 in Weston. It is as far as you can go out of civilization before being engulfed in the Everglades. The parking lot was empty except for a couple of raccoons and the occasional opossum. At this point, both he and I were wondering what we got ourselves into.
After checking in (you do have to arrive early) and filling out the “we understand that this is very, very dangerous and we might get eaten by an alligator, but if we do we will not sue” forms. It was time to head down to the dock and our awaiting airboat.
I have been on airboats before, and they usually sit higher off the water, so the occasional tourist doesn’t put his hands in the water. Also most airboats I have been on, have a cage around you, to protect you from the wildlife.
Guess what; these didn’t. We were warned before we headed out that gators are known to do two things at night, hunt and mate. That all I need to hear, that we were going out into their territory, and they will be hungry or horney or both.
Captain Jim greeted us and told us that there wasn’t much to safety instructions except hold on, don’t stand up while the boat is moving, don’t fall in, and don’t feed the alligators. Also, no petting them because they are protected and it is a lot of paperwork to fill out if we do.
Off we go.
Airboats are low water crafts that can pick up amazing speed. And when it is going at high speed, you really get to feel the wind in your face. A traditional airboat does not have any windshield; it is just you and the pilot out in nature. Airboats have great moveable capabilities, allowing them to do figure 8 and 360 turns with just a flick of the wrist.
Tonight we weren’t going as fast, mostly because once you pull away from the docks and head into the Glades, it is complete darkness, except the light from the boat. And for someone who grew up the city and can be a little terrifying.
It didn’t take long for us to find our first two gators. There is a reason why the tour is called the Red Eye Tour – when you shine a light in a gator’s eyes at night they glow red. And two of them were peeking out of the tall sawgrass about a couple of yards to the side of us.
The Captain stopped the boat and started to talk to us about the history of the Glades when we started to notice those red eyes were coming towards us.
We are out in the middle of a very dark and very quiet swamp, and two gators are making their way towards us.
“Now folks, this isn’t normal. Usually, I spend half the night trying to get close to them.”
In a matter of seconds, we are surrounded by two of them, and another one shows up to see what all the fuss was about.
They swim right next to the boat, and there wasn’t much separating us from them.
And before you click away thinking someone is about to get eaten, the most amazing thing happens.
While we stood there on 8 feet wide, 12 feet long, low to the water, no cage airboat about a couple of miles out, snapping our cell phone, nothing happened.
The gators were more interested in watching us. And we were memorized by the fact that we only stood a couple of feet away from this prehistoric predator. A couple of times one of them would move or change directions, but other than that they were happy to float and to list to the Captain talking about them.
It is at that point someone said, that they aren’t that aggressive.
“No mama,” said the Captain. “They are quite lazy; the only time they move is to feed or mate.”
All the news that you hear, and all of the stories that have been told about them, and you wonder at that moment were they being misrepresent to us. Could it be if we left them alone, they would do the same?
After a half hour of them just floating there, allowing us to take pictures, Jim decided that we got our money’s worth in seeing gators. He decided to take us for a midnight ride. Hearing the airboat blades start up, the gators went back to whatever a gator does at 9:00 pm Saturday evening.
We speed along the glades enjoy the dark, fast ride, as Jim waived the boat. We stop at another place, just to see if the Big Boy was there. Big Boy was a 12-foot bull gator (male) who usually hung out at one of the sawgrass marsh islands. He wasn’t there, but we did spot two female gators poking their noses around. They weren’t as interested in the boat as those three were, and continued to go about their business
It was time for us to head back. We went slowly this time, allowing us to enjoy the quietness of the Glades at night. Once in a while, a strange sound would echo, and Jim would tell us what it was. A gator calling for his mate, a screeching owl, a panther (that was scary) getting into a fight with another one. But out among the swamp water, sawgrass and cypress trees, watching the night sky light up with thousands of stars, you can imagine yourself back a hundred years ago in the Seminole time.
Many of times, we don’t plan for something epic to happen, it just does. I have lived in South Florida over 32 years, and I have never been that close to a gator before. I have seen them from behind a glass window or off in the distance, but never close enough to one where I could scratch its head. And I wonder if that gator, who was floating next to the part of the boat where I was; has he or she has never been that close to a human either. I felt a connection: if we could just sit there watching each other than maybe there was hope for the human/animal world.
So this vagabond’s advice is never to turn down adventure; however you learn about it.
If you are coming to Florida anytime soon and want a truly unique experience, I would recommend taking an airboat ride. If you are in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area and want something a little more adventurous, I would recommend the Red Eye Tour. I will have a link to the information below.