**This is a multi-part series about a trip that I did with my ex-husband in 2001-2002. Unfortunately, I do not have access to my journals that I kept during this trip, so this is all from memory. Some dates, places and timelines may be slightly skewed. ** If you would like to start from the beginning, click here.
The night before we left to kayak to, and through, the Everglades, we had taken out our marine chart book out to determine what our route would be, and to try and figure out how long it was going to take us to get across the Florida Bay to Flamingo.
Blackwater Sound has an almost impenetrable circle of mangroves around it. In looking at the charts, we realized that there is only one area where narrow channels would bring us out to Florida Bay, and the many islands that lead across to Flamingo, the entrance to the Everglades National Park. Using my charting skills that I had learned on my previous sailing voyages, we did a rough estimation of the compass heading that we would need to follow, in order to access “The Boggies”, the name of the main channel. It seemed easy enough, how hard could it be to find this passage?
However, I quickly realized that any thoughts I had about it being easy, were VERY wrong!
We had literally NO experience with Mangroves before, and had no idea that a small channel, like the one we were seeking, is easily disguised by the thick foliage. Unless you are literally RIGHT AT IT, you cannot see these channels from any angle as the shoreline just blends into a tangled mess of brown and green. Less than an hour of paddling our tandem kayak out to who knows where, we were already fighting and arguing because we couldn’t find this channel. Seriously!
Looking back, this set the tone for the entire trip. We argued more and yelled at each other more while we paddled that bloody kayak, it was a miracle that we managed to keep our relationship going.
Obviously, in the end, we finally managed to find it, but it took a really long time, and some slow meandering along the shoreline before we happened upon it. This may have been our first lesson that this wasn’t going to be such a piece of cake as we thought. Not to mention that my lower back and shoulder started to hurt almost immediately, and it took a few weeks for my body to sort out this new way of moving.
After popping out of Blackwater sound, and feeling much freer, we set our sights on North Nest Key where we were to camp for the first night. North Nest key has an actual campground set up already, complete with a couple outhouses mounted on a dock. This was our first experience with something like this, but soon realized that because they were emptied by boats, it made sense to have them out hanging over the water. We had a fairly uneventful paddle there, after our ridiculous start that morning, and an uneventful first night as well.
The next day we had our sights set on Flamingo. Unfortunately, I’m not sure on the distance we had to cover that day, but things didn’t exactly go as planned anyways.
Because we were in a kayak, we felt that we could just paddle wherever we wanted to, as long as the water was a foot deep or so. And so, instead of paddling in a somewhat straight line to Flamingo, which would have taken is into deeper water, we headed north/northwest, to get ourselves closer to the shoreline so that we could see some scenery on shore.
This turned out to be a bad idea.
As previously stated (and likely will be stated repeatedly throughout the course of this story), we had no idea what we were doing, so we paddled for a while in shallow seas that were likely about 2 feet deep. However, they quickly turned to about 1 foot deep, which makes it incredibly difficult to get a full paddle in the water. This forced us to do shallow paddles, which puts unneeded stress on the upper body, as you aren’t able to fully use your torso and leg muscles, to get those good, solid, deep paddles.
We started to realize that at the rate we were going, Flamingo was a long way off. We’d been paddling for 6 hours or so at that point, and I was in full time complain mode as my lower back and shoulder were killing me, and the shallow paddling was making us both crazy, as each time you dipped your paddle in the water, even with shallow paddling, you would connect with the muddy bottom not too far below.
So, after consulting our charts, and realizing that we were both exhausted, we decided to hug the shoreline, and kept our eye out for a good place to pull in for the night.
On one long finger that stuck out into the bay, called Shark Point, we managed to spot a flat area, not much bigger than our tent, that looked to be somewhat free of mangroves, and we figured that it was as good a place as any to pull up for the night. We were just desperate to rest our weary bones, and we would complete our mission to get to Flamingo in the morning.
As we pulled into shore, the water was incredibly murky, and we knew that we were going to have to step out of the kayak, into the muck below, in order to get our boat to the shoreline. It was daunting to say the least. We knew there were saltwater crocodiles in these parts, but had no idea where, and the thick foliage and other icky things, was all mixed into the muddy soup that we were about to dip our delicious looking white calves into. Are there Piranhas in Florida? I think we both did a sharp inhale and braced ourselves emotionally before we took that step.
There was a stiff breeze blowing as we pulled our boat up out of the water, and set up our tent. We made a quick meal and then hung out in the tent for the night. After all, we were surrounded in thick mangrove foliage all around, and there was really no place to explore. Not to mention I think we were both very uncomfortable with where we were camping, and felt safer in the tent, like it acted as some sort of invisible barrier to whatever lurked outside. Little did we know how important our barrier would be!
At some point, after dark, the wind died down and we started to hear a soft humming sound. It seemed to amplify and get louder, and we couldn’t, for the life of us figure out what it could be. Were there power lines in the area?? That was the only logical conclusion to the constant humming that we heard. We really had NO IDEA what it could be and we both slept fitfully that night, with many uncertainties about this strange land and it’s strange creatures surrounding us, running through our minds.
When we awoke the next morning, we were instantly aware of what the humming sound had been. MOSQUITOES!
Because the wind had been blowing when we pulled in, the mosquitoes had been kept at bay. However, as soon as the wind died down, they smelled fresh blood, and had been buzzing our tent all night long, likely desperate to get at us.
The only thing that separated us from the 30 or so mosquitoes on our tent, was a very thin mesh. We hadn’t put our water proof fly sheet on the night before, as there was no forecast of rain, and no need for privacy. So we laid there face to face with these beasts as they patiently waited for us to come out of our barrier. We thought that maybe if it got too hot, they would eventually go away. Or maybe the wind would start up again and blow them all to their hiding places amongst the mangroves. We waited and waited for what seemed like eternity, until Jamie finally decided that he was going to make a break to the kayak to grab some food. How bad could it really be?? There were about 30 mosquitoes attached to our tent screen at any given time, surely he could withstand a few stings in the minute or so it would take to grab a couple things to eat.
So we hatched a plan, he would open the zipper and run out quick, as I zipped it closed behind him.
Okay, no problem, this was going to be a piece of cake.
So, in one foul swoop, Jamie unzipped the door and jumped out. The buzzing instantly amplified, and within a split second, there were AT LEAST 40 mosquitoes now zipped up INSIDE the tent, and Jamie was already screaming “Let me in! Let me in!”
He figured he had been stung about 30 times in that second, and I had my fair share too! He came barging back in, bringing with him a new wave of mosquitoes, while we both screamed bloody murder. I’m sure if ANYONE had been within even 100 km of us, they would have thought somebody was indeed getting murdered. It may very well have been the most frantic second of my entire life thus far.
We spent the next few minutes squishing mosquitoes and smearing them along the inside of the tent walls, all of them filled with fresh blood!
We sat in our tent breathless, and took some time to get ourselves back together physically and emotionally, so we could figure out how the hell we were going to get out of here.
But first, we were still hungry and really needed something to eat. We were determined to get some food back to the tent so that we could hang out and figure out, with rational minds and full bellies, our escape plan.
We finally decided that if Jamie covered himself with sleeping bags, blankets, towels, sarongs and whatever else we had in the tent, he could shuffle to the kayak and just grab anything that was on top, and then run back as quick as possible. The kayak was only about 10 feet away, so it was definitely doable.
And so, amidst another wave of mosquitoes flocking INTO the tent, more ridiculous screaming at the top of my lungs, and more sustained mosquito stings for both of us, he managed to bring back some small staples that fed us substantially for the moment. I seem to remember crackers, or something like that.
As we sat there helpless, watching them flitter back and forth, bouncing around on the mesh of the tent, and smearing their sisters and their (our) blood across the inner tent walls, we finally satisfied our hunger, and came up with another plan.
It was now about noon, and we didn’t see an end to these things. I’m sure you are wondering how we went to the bathroom amongst all of this. And I can honestly say that I don’t remember, and can only assume that we peed into a water bottle or something, as there was NO WAY that we would have been able to leave the tent to do so. We realized at this point, that the 30 mosquitoes that were dancing around on our tent, obviously had MANY other sisters lurking in the grasses, just waiting patiently to feast on the fresh meat they could sense was nearby.
We also knew, from growing up camping around lakes etc. back in Canada, that bugs usually stick to the shoreline, and don’t venture out into the water very far. So we knew that if we could just get our stuff on the boat, and push off, even 30 feet from shore, we would be free of these things, and then could sort our gear out once we got out there.
So, we came up with a detailed game plan, complete with tasks for each one of us, that would allow us to literally just jump out the door, collapse the poles of the tent, bundle it up as much as possible with everything in it, throw it onto the kayak, and then just push off.
This is what we did.
After about a minute of franticness, with both of us fiercely determined to get out of there alive, we managed to complete our plan with not a word to each other. We were like robots, in total survival mode, and adrenaline coursing through our veins. Mosquitoes stung us in every orifice, through whatever clothing we had on, and over every inch of our exposed skin. I will never forget the feeling of small darts poking me in my butt cheek, right through my bathing suit and thin shorts that I was wearing. Never in my life had I been stung by a mosquito on my tender white butt skin!
We heaved the kayak into the water and pushed off as hard as possible. Within 30 seconds, we were blissfully floating out on the water, with nary a mosquito to be seen. Although the top of our kayak was piled high with our belongings, the peace that washed over us was wonderful, and we took a minute to soak it in before we both erupted in uncontrollable laughter.
We looked at each other with wide open eyes and a look that can only be described as; Holy Shit! We had heard that the bugs could be bad in the Everglades, but never in our wildest dreams, or nightmares, could we have imagined that.
We were in awe, we were in disbelief, we were amazed and we were humbled. We had nothing but utter respect for the power of the bugs in this strange land where we found ourselves. And finally, us 2 naive Canadian kids, now knew the answer to the question of how bad the bugs could be.
THEY WERE BAD! Bad, in the biggest, baddest sense of the word!
It was a valuable lesson learned, early in the trip, and one that would stick with us for the next three weeks as we navigated the waters of the Everglades.
*Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part Three of our adventure, coming soon!*
*My boyfriend and I are currently transitioning from a “normal” life to that of an adventurous one! We are selling everything to head out into the world to make traveling a priority in our lives. If you are interested in reading about our letting go process, please read my first post here.*