Although we only had 3 days in Fort Lauderdale we still managed to drive down to Key Biscayne (Key Largo and the drive to Key West was just that little bit too far) on our way to Miami. We had hoped to see the launch of the SpacEx rocket from Cape Canaveral, but this proved too hopeful. We stopped at somewhere for coffee and cake and found a beach (with meter maid charging for entry to the beach), a pier with café (there was a charge to walk on the pier and the café was unable to serve us any of the items we ordered from their menu) but we did get some great photos of what should have been a delightful beach side stopover.
We reached Key Biscayne drove over the bridge stopped for a restroom break and lunch finishing up the supplies we had carried from Orlando sitting in the car in the carpark by the beach. However, as we continued to drive into Biscayne we found a fabulous park by the ocean from where we hoped to see the launch. Here was a carpark for thousands of cars with access to partly open grassy areas leading to the beach – only $5 to enter. The beach was littered with thick layers of seaweed washed ashore from the beds just 25 metres off the beach. Kerry braved the crossing to stand in the water to view the launch that we were never going to see from so far away. But it really is a beautiful park and in summer I guess it will be standing room only. We headed for home to pack to move down to Miami as we had to be at the airport by 4.00am. Then onto New Orleans Tennessee.
After the Gator show we drove deeper into the everglades to the Seminole Reservation at Big Cypress to visit Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum of the Seminole tribes of Florida (the Seminole are not only found in Florida and were not the only native tribe inhabiting these everglades, but they are the “undefeated “tribe).
The word “Seminole” is derived from the Creek word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “runaway” or “wild one”. Seminole culture is largely derived from that of the Creek; the most important ceremony is the Green Corn Dance; other notable traditions include use of the black drink and ritual tobacco. As the Seminole adapted to Florida environs, they developed local traditions, such as the construction of open-air, thatched-roof houses known as chickees. After the United States achieved independence, its settlers increased pressure on Seminole lands, leading to the Seminole Wars (1818–1858). Perhaps fewer than 200 Seminoles remained in Florida after the Third Seminole War (1855–1858), but they fostered a resurgence in traditional customs and a culture of staunch independence. In the late 19th century, the Florida Seminole re-established limited relations with the U.S. government and in 1930 received 5,000 acres (20 km2) of reservation lands. Few Seminole moved to reservations until the 1940s; they re-organised their government and received federal recognition in 1957 as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The museum starts with a video history of the tribes and how they avoided being forced into government reservations in the west like the Seminoles of Oklahoma. They have a number of static displays of the Seminoles life at the time of Europeans moving into the everglades. There are some other garments displayed created by the Choctaws and Cherokee tribes. There is also a bush walk where you can see the remains of a Seminole camp and information on the native plants and animals.
This was a big day of driving made even bigger by Kerry’s desire to travel back to Fort Lauderdale the long way around by travel beside a lake. Unfortunately, the lake was surrounded by levee banks so all we saw was grassy slopes of levees. I did not photograph these features.
Our apartment was one of many in a complex of at least 3 towers surrounding pools and other entertainments. However we were not half way round the world to swim in a pool. From our apartment we planned our next assault – a visit to the Everglades with a jet boat tour and alligator show and a visit to the Seminole Reservation and Museum.
Kerry and I had been to the everglades previously and ridden in an open jet boat but I am certain the alleged alligator was of the stuffed variety.
This tour we were about to embark upon was a far superior experience. The drive to the Gator Park itself was an experience viewing the different countryside. the HQ at the Gator Park was different. Log buildings with wide verandahs both set 3 feet off the ground. The first thing I noticed was the long queue of jet boats down on the water. The jet boats are partly enclosed and carry a lot more people. We saw many live and kicking biting Alligators, along with fish, vultures, eagles, water lilies and water plants, and grasses which keep the water filtered of pollutants. The everglades is actually a very slow flowing river which the Army Corps of engineers were instructed to drain so they dug deeper channels through the everglades but fortunately the decision was reversed and these channels have made the everglades more accessible. Despite the prolific numbers of alligators swimming through the everglades some brave souls thought nothing of doing a spot of fishing.
One of the black birds inhabiting the everglades is a “grackel”. I will talk about this later. After the tour of the everglades finished we decided to visit the Gator show which was most enjoyable with a “Steve Irwin” type presenting, pushing, pulling, kissing and demonstrating the Seminole method to tie an alligator. After watching the show we spoke with Paul who said he had visited the Northern Territory doing crocodile capturing so he was familiar with both critters and that he found the Australian crocodile more aggressive. So, we then went and nursed a baby alligator for a photo.
Time for some lunch. The menu is not so flash at the Gator Park but then you are in the everglades and there are dangers. David ordered gator bites (pieces of alligator deep fried) and fries and immediately on collecting the food he was swooped from all sides by hungry grackels. Sensibly I did not order any fries.
Our trip to Daytona was but only a few days long before we drove down to Fort Lauderdale and boarded the “SS Grand Celebration” bound for the Bahamas. After finding the wharf we took a photo of the car and it rego plate(so we could find it when we get back) and left it in the hands of some rather rough looking locals passing off as parking attendants.
Leaving the port of Fort Lauderdale, the presence of the coast guard could be seen in the harbour side houses, amongst the mangroves, and in the water ways. Grand Celebration is a full size cruise ship making the voyage on an almost daily basis from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport in the Bahamas.
We sailed over night to be greeted by the Pilot boat and a curious entry into the harbour – the vessel parked (docked) like a car reversing into it’s spot. We had risen early to view the docking. As with all cruise ships food was available even at 5.00 am so we grabbed two croissants and two cups of coffee and headed for the observation deck. Before we could reach the rail one of the local gulls had swooped and stolen a croissant. I got a mug shot for the wanted poster.
Arriving at Freeport we were rather disappointed. The available tours took us to resorts on the Island or you could catch a local taxi to the commercial centre. The resorts were of no interest and the local taxis proved difficult. We could not get a firm price from any of the taxi drivers to take us to Freeport. As a result we stepped ashore at the dock and visited the few vendors by the dock and then returned to the boat – the Bahamas are still recovering from Hurricane Larry. One of the likely original things at the port was the hut selling drinks – they chopped the top off a coconut put a straw in and you were done.
So we spent most of our time on the ship which was enjoyable of course until it came time to return and disembark. The Bahamas are independent and part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. So there is a full on custom clearance to be undertaken. I don’t know how long it took but we left the ship straight after breakfast and by the time we were back in the car it was almost lunch time and we had to find our car then our accommodation. This proved to be quite easy with the vehicle being brought to us (they were in a hurry to empty the parking lot for the next cruise) and the gps finding our apartment – a lovely apartment with pools games and lots of things.