When coming back from Cuba last month I was flying through Miami and decided to delay my return home to explore the Everglades. I was last there when I was a kid, and then it just seemed a hot and buggy place. I wanted to return now so I could truly appreciate its unique beauty.
I explored lots of different habitats, but one of my favorites was the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. With over 85,000 acres, it is the largest State Park in Florida. This is the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms grow together. It has more orchids than anywhere else in North America, including the rare ghost orchid. It is also home to the equally ghostly Florida panther, with signs on nearby roads warning cars to slow down for this elusive cat.
As I arrived a family was fleeing, saying they only made it a short way down the boardwalk before mosquitos overcame them. Looking at the kids in the group, I could almost rewind time and imagine it was me years ago. But now, armed with a long-sleeved shirt and tolerance from years of wildlife encounters that made the mosquito hordes seem tame, I set off to explore what has been called the Amazon of North America. The boardwalk starts after a short walk past a canal, providing much easier access than walking through the swamp. Several alligators gazed at me as I walked by, or maybe they just hoped to startle me into falling off with their insistent and slightly sinister smiles. The wildlife has the right of way, literally, with the boardwalk built to allow several cypress trees to grow right up through it. Having just left the neon jungle of Miami behind at dawn, I was amazed to find this serene beauty so close to the city. In spite of the many threats to this wilderness, I hope that ghost orchids are never truly ghosts, but continue to flower as ethereal living plants in lonely forgotten corners of this immense swamp, perhaps guarded by the strangely hypnotic alligators.