An Everglades Off-Road Experience: Unplanned and Unprepared

It happened quite by accident, not by choice. A torturous three hour journey through the deep Floridian Everglades. One minute we were soaking up the heady art deco delights of South Beach, Miami, with its dazzling architecture and pastel hues evoking nostalgic fantasies of a bygone era, the next I was clinging on to the interior roof handle of the hire car, muttering expletives under my breath and bracing myself as the car dipped low into the South Florida pothole-ridden dirt road and loomed out again, like a battered pirate ship emerging from the trough of a wave. Only there was less water; marginally less water anyway and definitely no pirates. It was rainy season and little did we know that the road we were traversing, through the depths of the Everglades Big Cypress Preserve, was largely impassable in the wet summer months. The only swashbuckling to be done would have been with the numerous sleeping gators, languidly basking at the side of the road, waiting for an unsuspecting traveller to exit their vehicle to change a flat tyre and so provide a tasty lunch.

This little known scenic driving trail is not for the faint-hearted. Rarely mentioned in the guidebooks, the 26 mile track, once used for timber harvesting, tested our hire car (and our relationship) to the limit. Unsuited to off-road driving, it battled the terrain like a trusted Sherpa, forging its path as every bend in the road cruelly teased us with a midday heat induced mirage of a smooth tarmac surface shimmering up ahead.

In the short moments my boyfriend ceased his predictions of our untimely end, I was able to gaze in wonderment out of the window at the primitive and otherworldly vista before me. Cypress trees towered overhead, draped in an eerie canopy of Spanish moss, reflected in the swamp like glades and culverts which straddled either side of the road. It was hauntingly still, except for the intermittent cacophony of birds occasionally breaking the silence. In the couple of hours it took to navigate the road, we never met another car. The only traffic we had to contend with was a flock of black vultures drinking from the glassy puddles on the road, a snowy white Ibis which proceeded to stroll with a ballerina like elegance across the road and on more than one occasion, a hostile alligator who challenged our presence by stopping and intimidating us for a moment longer than we were comfortable with, before deciding begrudgingly that it would let our car pass, slinking off like an obstinate dinosaur into the undergrowth.

At times, I wondered if my boyfriend had a point. We were dauntingly at the mercy of a wild and remote environment and stupidly unprepared. Yet, stumbling upon this track in navigational error during our drive from Miami to the beautiful island of Sanibel provided me with an experience beyond anything I could imagine or plan for and a deep respect for the early settlers and native Calusa Indians who populated this seemingly uninhabitable, but breathtakingly beautiful part of the world.

S James

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