It’s no secret I find Florida enchanting.
Yes, many people run screaming in the other direction when they hear “Let’s go muck in water-submersed mud with alligators and water moccasins and more mosquitoes than you know what to do with.” I go running toward it.
For my birthday, we made it back to the Fakahatchee, a cypress swamp that captured my heart so many years ago, known for the infamous and very coveted ghost orchid.
I, however, know it for something else: Four years ago, I followed my friends into the Fakahatchee, where I was promptly swarmed by mosquitoes after exiting the car. We proceeded down a very mundane path flanked with foliage and at some point, my friends stopped, turned to peer at the dense wall of greenery and said, “Yep, right here” and proceeded to enter said foliage and plunge thigh-deep into the swamp (while my eyes were popping out of my head).
Once I stopped internally screaming and decided to join them in the water, my intense fear quickly subsided and turned to delight as each step I took into the mud released a delightful cloud of bubbles. Walking around in a swamp is like entering a secret, forbidden world you didn’t previously know existed. It’s completely silent, with the buzzing of mosquitoes from the path left behind and new curiosities surround you from all sides: a spider exuberantly spins in circles, an orchid peers out of the crux of a tree, piles of epiphytes explode out of every nook, snail eggs pop up on the underside of leaves, lilies are everywhere, an alligator croaks like a frog far in the distance.
It was over far too quickly.
So when we we corralled a group of 7 to go tromp around in the swamp again, I was all too excited.
There are a series of gates that head what used to be old cypress logging trials. We decided to do a full hike before slogging. Gate 12 leads to a deserted, crumbling Hilton that sits on the edge of what can only be affectionately named, “Alligator lake.” When the Hilton is uninhabited (which I believe is most of the time since the bunk-bed mattresses inside are moldy), you are free to walk down the very questionable pier while 10-foot alligators splosh loudly into the water.
On our way back from the hotel, we wearily eyed the sides of the trail, questioning where exactly we would choose to do the slogging we came to do. Eventually we stumbled upon a decent spot and before I knew it, I was in the car again, wistfully waiting for the next return.