After leaving the Keys, we traveled about 100 miles to Big Cypress Swamp, a wild natural preserve that nestles against the eastern edge of the Everglades. It’s a magical place of tall cypress trees festooned with Spanish moss and bromeliads; the knobby knees of the trees poke up out of clear pools of water. The haunting calls of Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Red-shouldered Hawks echo through the wildness. Alligators lie motionless in the shallows, ancient and unblinking.
The weather was surprisingly cool and dry. Amazingly, there were no bugs. We set up at Midway Campground, a spacious and very nice park within the national preserve, and a perfect location for exploring Big Cypress. In two full days in the swamp, we did a beautiful driving tour of the scenic 27-mile loop road (the numbers of wading birds and alligators are astonishing), biked the 15-mile loop trail of nearby Shark Valley, and explored the Visitor’s Center and boardwalk trails. And we signed up for a 5-hour canoe trip, which seemed like an intriguing way to spend my birthday.
Except that a torrential rainstorm appeared the eve of my birthday, replete with lightning and thunder and bringing with it dense humidity and a horrific number of insects, all of which were trying to get into our trailer. On the morning of my birthday, I looked at Eric and said, “My idea of a happy birthday does not include being hot, sweaty, bug-eaten, and in a thunderstorm while kayaking in an alligator-infested swamp.”
So we bailed on the canoe trip, packed up, and moved 70 miles north to Sanibel Island, stopping on the way in picturesque little Everglades City (population 403), where we had lunch at the Camellia Street Grill, along with every sheriff and wildlife patrol officer in the county. The heat, humidity, and bugs dissipated with the miles, and sunset found us walking on the lovely beach at Sanibel Island, followed by a fantastic dinner at Sweet Melissa’s Café. A very nice birthday, indeed.