We saw 3 ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. We saw 3 ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning. Actually we saw way more than 3 ships as we left Marco Island.* On Christmas Day, in the morning. We also saw jet skiers. And tourists crowding the railing on tour boats. And charter fishermen. And parasailors.
That’s right, parasailors. On Christmas Day, in the morning. Don’t these people have homes?
In the song, by the way, the folks are sailing into the Little Town of Bethlehem. Of course Doug looked on Google Earth. Nope. The fully-booked inn and the stable and the manger and the hay all were surrounded by West Bank desert. And probably Israeli tanks. No navigable water whatsoever. We even looked at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, just in case. Still nope.
Maybe everybody just wanted to enjoy another beautiful day on the water. It indeed was a beautiful day on the water as we approached the dangerous Cape Romano Shoals.
The Cape Romano Shoals might be called The Graveyard of The Gulf if (1) the folks around here were as overly-dramatic as those running the Great Lakes museum gift shops on which we’ve previously commented and (2) the water around here was more than about 10-feet deep. Mostly if you shipwrecked on these shoals it would just ruin your day as you sat waiting for help or high tide. Dana timed things out perfectly, of course, and we successfully worked around the skinny water on our way into the Ten Thousand Islands. Ten Thousand Islands? Sweet. We’ve already done the Thousand Islands. And the 30,000 Islands. That’s now up to total of 41,000 islands. Unfortunately we’ve already used up our salad dressing jokes.
Anyway, a quick PSA regarding Everglades City. We’ll get to the cool stuff later, but this is a note for any Loopers traveling behind us with nothing better to do than read our diary. The scary myths about getting here are just that: myths. Anyone who safely passed through Canal Lake in Ontario or made it in and out of the marina in Alton, Illinois, will have no difficulty at all. We made a time-lapse to prove it. (And to prove again that Doug worked out the kinks.)
The point is, it’s really easy to get here once one commits to going a few miles out of the way. And it’s worth going a few miles out of the way. Very much worth it. In fact, this may be our favorite stop so far, and we’ve been to some really cool places. It helped that we were met by champagne-carrying crews from Forever Friday and The Lower Place. And Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
That said, Everglades City is to a city what Mini Pearl is to a Carnival cruise ship. But that’s part of the charm. Only 400 or so full time residents, but a decent-yet-not-overwhelming tourist trade. Mostly people come to see the Everglades.
Which brings us to airboats. Ever since seeing Gentle Ben and all of Opie Taylor’s family before he was Opie Taylor (and McCloud before he was McCloud) airboat-scooting through the Everglades on all sorts of implausible adventures, airboats have been on our list. Turns out there are two types of airboat tours. One is the kind that buzzes around Barron River by Everglades Isle where we’re docked.
It’s actually kind of funny, yet sad. As soon as someone spots a dorsal fin in the river, the airboatloads of folks who’ve never seen a dolphin scream in towards it. They did make a good subject for Doug’s first hyperlapse drone video though.
No offense to the airboat companies running these tours, but they suck. Because they don’t actually go into the Everglades.
The other kind of airboat tour starts several miles deep in the mangroves. We chose Captain Mitch.
This was one of the coolest things we’ve done. Not just in Everglades City, but on the entire Loop so far. The trip took us about 10 miles deep into the alligator and python infested glades, as called by the locals. No other boats to be seen. Or heard. Because these suckers are loud.
At one point the captain/guide spotted two alligators sleeping on a shallow bank. Or pretending to sleep on a bank in order to lure delicious Arizonans to a horribly painful encounter. Apparently forgetting that airboats have no brakes or reverse, the dude at the controls coasted in a bit faster and further than he wanted, planting us about 5 feet from the biggest one.
This after telling us that these monsters can leap 6 feet out of the water. We’re no mathematicians but that would seem to work out to an unacceptable 1-foot overlap into the being-eaten zone. He later admitted that it was an unintended close call. None of us were marinated or sauced, however, so we all survived.
The restaurant sign proclaims that Everglades City is “The Fishing Mecca of the World.” Non-Muslims aren’t allowed within the Mecca city limits so we’re unsure what to make of this, but in the 80s Everglades City was more like the Mecca of weed. According to the documentary we watched on Amazon Prime, 80% of the adult male population of Everglades City and Chokoloskee were imprisoned for smuggling “square grouper,” using shallow water and secret hidey-holes to dodge The Man. The Man, of course, almost always wins.
On Thursday, Robin (The Lower Place) suggested a dinghy trip across Chokoloskee Bay to the Cuban restaurant. So she and Charlie piled in theirs, Mike and Mary (Forever Friday) piled in theirs, and we all climbed aboard Mini Pearl. We figured about 30 minutes to go the 4 miles. We figured wrong. The Bay was the color of tea, meaning we couldn’t see the bottom that Mike’s handheld depth gauge put at less than 2 feet in most places and less than 1 foot in some places. Which also meant idle speed with motors trimmed so the props barely touched the surface. Which meant an hour and a half. Which meant we were really hungry when we finally docked at Chokoloskee Island Park. And by “docked” we mean pulled up onto the mud flat amongst the ubiquitous pelicans. Remember when we spotted pelicans in Illinois or someplace and thought they were really cool and novel? They’re still pretty cool, but hardly novel.
The lunch was delicious and the company was outstanding.
By the time we left the tide was up a foot so we put all the props in the water and planed back to the big boats. Wheee!
Ok, now about Everglades Isles. This place mostly caters to million-dollar motor coach people, which we aren’t. But the docks are padded concrete and floating. With the good kind of 240-volt power that would’ve worked for Second Wave.** Wicked-fast WiFi. The grounds are immaculate. The clubhouse is better than most country clubs.
Private theater. Free laundry. Bar. With tender. Amazing bathrooms. Pool. Hot tub. Pretty much everything one might want. Plus an attached lighthouse that has a really neat-o staircase. Basically any Loopers who skip this just because it’s out of the way or because someone at docktails said it’s too shallow are missing a real treat.
Mallory kayaked around until her phone jumped into the water. Dana and the girls took turns modeling for airboat tourists who were fascinated by the seat we dangled over the water.
We Mini-Pearled around again before prepping for the marathon to Marathon tomorrow.
* Note to those Loopers traveling behind us. Marco Island Marina has the softest toilet paper we’ve encountered to date. These things are important when you live on a boat. Marine TP generally is about 180-grit yet dissolves immediately upon seeing liquid approaching. This stuff was woven from the down of angel wings. Soft. Thick. Absorbent. Ohhhhh.
** RIP Second Wave, sold to the highest bidder. Congratulations to Karen. Condolences to Brent.