We nearly didn’t see Miami. Our cruise ship was only staying there a short while, and to enter the United States, you need a visa … or, an ESTA … the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. In England, it costs £14, and we thought that spending that amount for a four-hour excursion wasn’t really worth it, and we’d stay on the ship.
But, it doesn’t work like that … we still needed ESTA!! The reason is, on arrival at Miami, whether disembarking, going on an excursion or just remaining aboard, you MUST get off the ship and go through the formalities, while the authorities ‘clear’ the ship. So, we might as well do something.
What, then, did Miami have to offer?
Even from the ship, the city skyline looked impressive, and several tours of the city were on offer, some of which included a cruise on Biscayne Bay. Some offered a route which allowed peeps at the houses of the famous … or notorious, and most went past the famous Art Deco houses of South Beach. And, of course, there are the beaches. But, having just got in from the Caribbean, we were feeling rather ‘beached out’
We were rather amused by an Australian fellow passenger, who had gone to the beach, and afterwards showed us a photo he’d taken of a lifeguard station on one of the beaches … ‘ … just like a ‘long drop’ toilet back home!’
For us, though, the wildlife was the biggest draw. We were only a short distance from the Everglades, where there’s wildlife aplenty. The Everglades National Park consists of 1.5 million acres of swampland around the southern tip of Florida. That’s a lot of swamp … and, fortunately, efforts to drain it have, so far, usually been resisted, Of course, they were only able to show us the minutest portion, but it did contain a pretty fair cross-section
Gator Park was only about half an hour’s drive away from the cruise terminal’ and we didn’t really see much of the city on the way. The park, although a little basic, was a delight … and I hope it remains that way, rather than becoming too much like an alligator-based theme park. The sole object is to see (and, hopefully, not get eaten by) alligators, which we saw both in the wild in the creeks from the airboat, but also, in case of the unlikely event of missing seeing them, in enclosures around the centre.
The airboat is probably the best way to get around the Everglades. The shallow draught means that it rarely, if ever, runs aground, and there is no chance of the propeller getting fouled by weeds and things. Like the Egyptian river cruise boats, it will probably sail on a heavy dew.
A big plus, though, is that the passengers are really close to the water, and get an excellent view of what’s going on. Unlike the pilot, who sits high up … presumably to get a better view of what’s ahead, but maybe, also, out of the reach of snapping jaws?
I was initially in two minds about the airboat. It really didn’t seem the most environment friendly way to get about the swamps; we were issued with ear defenders, so goodness knows how the wildlife feels about it. But, we did see plenty … mainly birds and, of course, alligators, either sunning themselves or lurking in wait. For these, we slowed down almost to a stop.
This, of course, poses the question … how do you tell an alligator from a crocodile? Well, the obvious one is, if you see a crocodile in the United States, it’s most probably an alligator. But, if you get attacked by an alligator in Australia, it’s almost certainly a crocodile! But, the easiest way to tell them apart is, when an alligator closes its mouth, you can’t see any teeth; with a crocodile, you can.
When we finished the airboat ride, there are a few things to see around the Gator Park centre. They keep a few ‘gators around, presumably to cover the extremely unlikely event that you won’t see any from the airboat. They also have baby alligators to show … the general consensus was that they were ‘cute’, and it’s hard to imagine that they’d grow up into a gnarly mean killing machine.
And, there was a demonstration of alligator wrestling, as practised by the local Native American tribes, who hunted the beasts for food. Anyone who’s ever seen the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ series on TV will be familiar with the technique; you just drop on it and hold its jaws shut.
I can’t say I felt too happy seeing this procedure. I seem to remember the late Steve Irwin, on one of his programmes, saying it does stress the animal, and they only did it at Australia Zoo when it was essential for relocating or medicating, never ‘for show’.