To wrestle alligators

Palm trees on a rest area near Port St. Lucie.

We didn't leave the hotel until 9, tanked gas and bought some ice for our cooler, then headed south from Ormond-by-the-Sea, where we had spent the night. This day's final goal was Miami, but along the way, we would visit Everglades Holiday Park outside Fort Lauderdale. From home we had booked an airboat tour in the park. The drive to Miami was only 248 miles, so we had lots of time. We set our satnav to show us the way to Everglades Holiday Park and then we were underway. For the first many miles we just rolled down I-95 with a single stop along the way to switch drivers. About 5 miles after our stop, the satnav wanted us to leave the interstate - which we did. We thought it wanted us to go west and then south on smaller roads, but that was not the case. Instead it guided us to the Florida Turnpike, and we didn't discover that until it was too late. The Turnpike is a freeway like the interstate, but a toll road. Not that we minded paying, but at every exit a sign said "Sunpass, Cash not accepted" - and we had no Sunpass. We therefore visited a rest area to make inquiries on how to leave the turnpike, and were told, that cash would be accepted at the exit, we needed to use. Only it wasn't!

But a sign over one of the exit lanes said, that our licenseplates would be photographed and we we would have to pay later. The toll was $ 2,50, and now that we knew, we could exit the road, we didn't mind the two other times the satnav put us on toll roads ($ 1.32 and $ 0.74). That is, we didn't mind until we got home and got the bill from the rental company. $ 25 including their fee for collecting the money. But aside from that everything went smoothly the rest of the day.

We found the Holiday Park easily enough, parked the car, walked to the ticket office and exchanged our booking confirmation for two tickets. We were told to be at the boat departure 15 minutes later, which we were. Here we waited in line with about 20 other people. A guy collected our tickets and then a "captain" arrived and took us to the boat. This tour company was different from anything we had tried in Lousiana. There were several boats, maybe 15 or 20, and the staff, including the captain wore uniforms, where as everyone in all the companies we had tried before were rather more casual. The airboat itself were larger than anyone I'd tried previously with room for about 25 or 30 passengers. It was also covered with a roof and the engines and propellers were behind a screen considerably reducing the noice, so that we didn't need ear protection.

When everybody were ready we took of. The Everglades proved to be very different from the swamps in Louisiana. This was more like a marsh, with a lot of canals, many of which were man made. Where the Lousiana swamps consisted of narrow bayous surrounded by large trees, the Everglades was much more open, with much fewer and much smaller trees, but a lot of reeds, grasses and other water plants. We saw a few rather large alligators and also some birds, like a flock of black vultures enjoying themselves in the sun. Also a purple gallinule with a chick and some very friendly boat-tailed grackles were on the "menu". The latter ate bread crumbs from our hands - well not from Tim's hands. Her is not that keen on birds. After about an hour we were back to the holiday park.

Alligator wrestling with Gus Onebear.

Next on the program was an alligator show. Everglades Holiday Park is home of the Gator Boy's Alligator Rescue, known from Animal Planet, so we were looking forward to see Paul, Jimmi, Tre, Scott, Chris or some of the other characters from the television show, especially sexy Ashley. But unfortunately it shouldn't be so. The alligator wrestler of the day was Gus "Onebear" from the show Swamp Men that airs on NatGeoWild - and he wasn't sexy at all :-). But in spite of an injured leg, he put on a good show, and we got some nice pictures of him doing the "Face off" trick - holding the upper jaw of the alligator between his body and chin while it's mouth is open and with no use of hands. When the shoe was over, we returned to the car, set the satnav to our pre-booked hotel in Miami, and continued our trip.

The hotel, Conrad by Hilton, was on Brickell Avenue in  Brickell. This used to be home of the millionaires (and maybe it still is), but today the large mansions are gone and replaced by skyscrapers in concrete, steel and glass. Modern day Brickell's home of the Miami Financial District. We had a little difficulty finding the entrance, but managed after a drive around the hotel. We stopped the car and after having removed the necessary luggage, it was driven away by a valet. Inside the hotel, we found a uniformed man behind a small counter. He asked if we were checking in, which we confirmed. He then told us to take the elevator to the 25th floor, where the lobby was, and so we did. Well arrived in the lobby, we checked in and got our room on the 22nd floor. It was the first time I have ever had to go down to my room from the lobby. We later discovered that the hotel took up the space from 16th to 25th floor, with the lobby, restaurant and bar on the uppermost floor. Floors 26 to 31 were appartments, and the lower floors (1 to 15) housed offices, espcially from the Epirito Santo Bank. This was the most luxurious and most expensive hotel on the trip, but the view was worth most of the cost.

When we had relaxed for a while in our room, we went out to get some dinner. The lady behind the counter at check-in had told us that if we took the monorail for two stops, there would be plenty of restaurants, so we did and there were. The terminus of the free monorail was just across the street from the hotel, so it was an easy walk, even in the evening heat. We decided for Baires Argentinian Grill, and as we were for once not driving, we started with a nice strong mojito. The food was very good. For starters I had probably the best gazpacho I ever tasted (including the ones I make myself) and the chicken that had produced my lemon marinated grilled chicken breast. must have been the size of a turkey. When the meat were on the plate there was room for nothing else. After dinner we decided to walk to the hotel and so we did. Along the way we passed a drugstore, where we bought something to drink in the room, as we figured that it would be cheaper than the minibar - which it was.

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