A t the almost southern tip of Americana, in an almost secluded habitat bordered by swamp and a single road is a strip of walkway that veins out from the road and into the murky, thick foliage of the Everglades. This strip is amongst a marshland called Shark Valley. It’s a pleasant sightseeing walk through its lush setting during day but at night, well that’s something unseen.
So we take it easy. Take more pictures. Laugh. Giggle. Do all the stupid things you see in movies right before the lowly bad actors cease to exist. What can harm us here? And anyway those everglade rangers wouldn’t let us stay here if they knew we were in danger, right?
My girlfriend and I decided to take a day trip to the Everglades. It’s only an hour drive from Miami proper. During our planning of the day trip, we armed ourselves with the what, how and informative specifics about the park.
Shark Valley is a national park, which stretches 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. Over 40 different mammal species inhabit the park. And there are trails that can be used to explore the everglades. One trail, especially interesting for us, is called Tram Road which is a paved road that is 15 miles round trip. As the name of the road entails it is used for Trams that take visitors to the Observation Tower at the half-way mark, allowing nature seekers breathtaking almost African panoramic views. Visitors taking this trail, either by foot or tram, are fortunate to see up close and personal: alligators, turtles, heron and alligators.
And as you can imagine, we and probably like most of the sensationalists there that day, alligators were the number 1 in our things-to-see list.
Even with all our planning the day before we managed to arrive at the park three hours behind schedule.
Arrival time: 3:17 pm
Mosquito repellent, check. Camera, check. Sneakers and shorts, check. Lunch, let’s eat when we get back.
And off we go, venturing where wild animals roam freely. Where you can see a heron gobble its prey in one flawlessly neck swoop, and where you can almost make out a trailing bump run down its neck. Where turtles slowly wade in waters too dark to see the bottom of. Where alligators walk in whosever’s path and lay down on the warm concrete of the road. Where humans get daring or stupider when signs of nature encroaches in their line of vision; taking close-ups of alligators’ eyes and quick snap-shots of a nest of baby alligators then pulling back as the mother sweeps in to snap at the air where the brave photographer used to be. Where visitors use sticks and rocks to scare the resting beast off the path to allow passage. Where time seems to slip by and people seem to disappear from your vicinity. Where it becomes a beautiful romantic place to hold hands and giggle with natural abandon. Where it becomes apparent that the Observation tower is nowhere close by. Where stubbornness and desire to reach the tower becomes a new rationale. Where we keep on walking to the direction of the tower knowing that we might be the only ones left out here. Where it seems that we should’ve checked what time the park closed. Where we should’ve brought a watch. Where we don’t know how far we walked from the ranger station. Where it seems like the sun is definitely setting and that we should definitely walk back.
We do though have a rough idea of how long we’ve been walking. We figure by the markers on the path that we have walked about three miles. I wonder if we can make it back before it really gets dark. Can we out run the sun? These new, though not strong, thoughts spring to mind
But at this point we aren’t panicking. There are still blue skies. We know how far we are. So we take it easy. Take more pictures. Laugh. Giggle. Do all the stupid things you see in movies right before the lowly bad actors cease to exist. What can harm us here? And anyway those everglade rangers wouldn’t let us stay here if they knew we were in danger, right?
So we stroll back in the direction of our car. A stroll through the surrounding, ever so quieting marshland. Thickening in its silence that we can almost hear the cars pass—that’s good! Civilization is somewhere that way. So we keep on walking, the road ahead remaining a road without any change. But we are hopeful to see the barricade at the start of this path at the turn of the bend.
But what we do see is a small, autonomous, mist around a certain flower bush. We can see lines zip back and forth from it. Quick shots of dots bouncing around the bush that’s along the path. We slow our walk and try to diagnose the situation, “What the fuck is that?” though our knowledge stretches out to absurdity and finally categorize them as big bees flying frantically all around the bush and road.
I imagine the last screams from my girlfriend as she gets pulled into the everglades to be torn and engulfed by the other alligators awaiting her.
The closer we get the more audible their flight paths are. After valiantly telling my girlfriend to run ahead past the mess of flying things, I turn my head to suddenly react in a flinch as a speeding orange yellow dot vrooms straight to my glasses missing them but running its wings across the left side of my head.
“Let’s go…I think they’re attacking,” I yell leaping forward.
We race through the horde of flying dots like two amateur football players, head down and arms waving about to keep defenders away. We make it through with only the whizzing and vrooms still replaying in our mind.
“What were those things?” I ask, looking around to see if there were anymore airborne assassins nearby.
“I think those were insects.” My girlfriends yelps, as she pulls up the back of her t-shirt to see if there any clingers.
“C’mon, let’s just keep on walking.”
The sky is beginning to turn. From its favored blue to an almost ominous purple. We still have hope that we can make it. These bushes there look very similar to the ones at the beginning of the trail; though that was only a wishful mirage. The road seems to never end its ceaseless taunting—it keeps on going to infinity with no end at sight.
We pick up our pace after the attack. But we spot another cloud. Same bush and same zipping dots. It looks like we went around a circle. It’s a bad nightmare. Are we going to get out of here before nightfall?
We run at first warning shot from these zipping things. Right through the cloud and keep on running.
“Just keep on running,” I say in between breathes. “We have to get out of here before night.”
We run for about ten minutes. But it feels like we’re on a treadmill. Staying put in one spot. I don’t panic. Not just yet.
“Let’s walk a bit and run again.”
“I can’t.” she says. “My legs are cramping. I don’t even feel like walking.”
I can imagine the both of us sitting in the middle of the road exhausted from running, enveloped in darkness, with the sounds of rustling leaves and rippling water keeping us aware. I imagine the moon’s white light beaming off the knobby body of a slow moving alligator approaching us, and we are too frozen in fear to move that we let the beast lunge forward, taking a hold of our legs and doing its death roll on us. I imagine the last screams from my girlfriend as she gets pulled into the everglades to be torn and engulfed by the other alligators awaiting her.
I shake the thoughts away and plead with her to try to keep on moving.
We run for the last time. This time for about fifteen minutes. We can see the last bits of sun dropping past the horizon. She stops out of breath and out of energy. I tell her to climb on me. But this lasts only ten minutes. It is dark now. And we hear everything.
We pull out our camera; flip the LCD to shine our path in case we run into something knobby in our path. We can hear almost everything now. Water drops, wings flap, hissing sounds. Hissing! Great, I think, alligators hiss. I don’t tell my girlfriend. Trying to keep the little hope we have left alive.
But a different form of hope comes to sight. A set of headlights. It is in front of us. A distance away but still ahead of us. We make a dash for it. Shouting. Yelling for it to hear us. We start taking pictures with the flash so he can see us. Take about a dozen pictures. The headlights are still coming this way. But they turn left. Then we see nothing then a pair of red lights appear. He’s turning back. We run frantically. But the object disappears into the night.
We are back to where we were. Alone. Walking closely to one another like in a haunted house. Hands and arms gripped around one another, afraid of the next step. Hissing sounds grow. A growl and whooshing of leaves. The air is still but the leaves seem to move.
We are hopeless at this point. Walking carefully now. Walking blindly. But we see the car again. And this time he sees us. It is parked in front of the barrier. We made it. We are about thirty feet from the end. The sounds of the everglades intensify even more, growing angrier because we are leaving. The growls and splashes resonate behind us as we race over the barrier.
“Didn’t know where you guys were,” said the ranger in his truck, “It’s a good thing you parked inside. We would’ve just left. Next time come back earlier.”
“Yes officer.” Exhausted and elated to be in one piece. “This definitely won’t happen again.”