Sunday, November 12, 2006

I see dead people

There came a point on this trip – one of the necessary business ones, this time to Naples, FL – that the three of us became obsessed with seeing alligators. I’ll take the blame for infecting the rest of the crew with the idea. We were in Florida, after all, a place that was obviously teeming with them (in the ditches, turning up inexplicably in tubs, running wild in the streets, etc.) and we were determined to see ourselves some gators. On the last day of our too-short trip, we got our wish.

The locals had informed us that riding an airboat atop the marshes was a waste of a) our money and b) our precious time. So, about an hour away from where we were staying and a kindly information booth worker later, we found where they were hanging out in a wildlife preserve for free. No airboats required.

There were alligators everywhere. But, well, mostly in a long stretch of marshy river-swamp. We joined the rest of the tourists in taking our photos and staring and marveling at how coolly they imitated lazy, floating logs, but we had to take it a step further: we wanted to see them up close, as nature intended. We wanted to wrassle.

It took just crossing the road to the other part of the river-swamp for us to do so. Over there, nothing was fenced off. Not really, anyway. Brooks was the closest we came to having a Crocodile Hunter on our hands – came within 5-10 feet of a couple of them on a bank, sending one splashing back inside the water, while another kept a watchful eye – and we just egged him on to get closer and closer. He would have, too, but he valued not having any scars from the waist down.

i swear he looked much bigger up close

It brought to memory my having seen a man not far from Panama City Beach as a kid, an alligator tamer who existed waaay before the late Steve Irwin ever began making a name for himself. He would do all sorts of things, like balancing a gator’s jaw under his own chin and placing his hand right inside its teeth for a split second before it clamped down, thrilling those who’d paid to watch. I quietly wished there was someone around in this neck of the jungle/woods to do the same.

Instead, we got to drive along a dirt road and make several stops along the way. I was able to jump out and get pretty close to some crocs, snap a few shots, then run away. See, I’m not so keen on alligator teeth. And apparently they can run 30 mph (though they seemed rather lazy – they spend the duration of their lives in relaxation, after all)**. While it may have been fun to wrestle with a few in the waters, I opted for steering clear. Some other day, when I manage to fit in a round or two of skydiving as well.

**Aside No. 1: I’ve thought on it some and, well, it just doesn’t seem logical that an alligator can run that fast. Not 30 mph fast, anyway. I mean, c’mon. Picture their stumpy little gecko legs compared to my long ones. It just doesn’t stand to reason that they could move all that fast. I could probably speed-walk away from them faster than they could nip at my ankles. And, considering they’re so close to the ground anyway, I could just step over them as they got near, right?

Other sights seen: a bird with a long neck and red eyes that would swim underwater, scout for fish until it was full, then perch itself atop a tree with its wings out until it dried off; huge birds akin to something along the lines of whooping cranes; a whole flock of vultures tearing at what appeared to be an overturned – and very dead – alligator; a whole batch of Scandinavian tourists, talking excitedly.

There were other things we did in Florida that were cool, too. The boat ride to the Gulf of Mexico was a thrill, especially considering we got to walk barefoot in the sand all along the coast, collecting shells while we chatted with those we’d come to see. I even got to dig for real, live sand dollars with my feet, something that never merited any quantifiable results. Saw a very camera shy dolphin along the way, but no manatees quite revealed themselves. There was dancing like a chicken to the strains of a Harry Belafonte soundalike in an island bar of sorts. And chowing on homemade antipasto salad was a treat (as was the delicious filet mignon we’d had the night before at Shula’s).

Nothing appeared to beat alligator country, though. The only thing that could have made it better was possibly scoring me a pair of alligator cowboy boots. I know they exist in Orlando’s Gator World, but nobody had them this trek out. Eh, dare to dream.

all that was left of the one who didn't get away


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you didn't wrestle them.

Anonymous said...

I have eaten Alligator and it was really REALLY good.

But I am pretty sure it wasn't FOUND dead and bloated before. At least I hope not.

Obvious Expert said...

I can't imagine an airboat being a waste of time. And, I caught a sand dollar with my foot once. That was a moral victory.

aisy said...

at first i thought you were crazy to get so close but then i did a little googling... turns out you were right to not be too nervous.

click and scroll down on this link to find out about alligator speeds. then there is this link about crocs that let you rest assured you could outrun them (if you really are still in shape!)

Dainon said...

Aha. I like this:

"There is no documented evidence of alligators running after human beings to prey upon them."

It brings me comfort. As for this nugget - "Regardless of how fast alligators can run, you should never approach an alligator that is on land" - I had to. Man's gotta take some photos, you dig? I live on the edge.

Anonymous said...

wow. you must have one tremendous bird-like boss to send you on trips like this one.

me = jealous.