Airports and Alligators: Transition Day Florida Style

Preface–another change in plans.
After a week riding the Florida Keys and into Fort Lauderdale credit-card style, we were supposed to continue on up the coast with our dog and camping gear. These were to be delivered by our Palm Harbor hosts, Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill, who had been looking after Rebbe while we rode the Keys. However, as we started to plan for the next part of the trip, we came to an unfortunate conclusion–there are too many people in Florida right now. We had been paying unreasonably high rates for quite marginal hotels, motels, and hostels since Key West. We thought that might improve, but it had not. So camping will be better, right? Maybe, maybe not. There was no nearby camping destination, so we though we could do one more outrageous motel and then switch to tenting. We called the campground that would be the second night’s destination. Do you have anything? Yes, one spot, but we don’t make reservations for one night. OK, how about two nights? We don’t have anything for two nights. Sigh. We had also experienced some harrowing riding in the last few days of the trip, and wondered how we would have managed any of that with two trailers. All factors considered, it was just not practical with our current budget constraints to continue along the planned itinerary. We will hopefully return to the coast later in the season when things are a bit less crazy, and we may well skip the portion from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Augustine.

Main post: Tuesday, February 17
So, we needed to get three people and three bikes back to Palm Harbor for some safe haven to figure out the next steps. The van had worked well coming from Palm Harbor, so we decided to try it again. Since Key West wasn’t part of the itinerary, the cost was even more reasonable. Our hotel, however, was about 14 miles from the airport and in-town rental spots either didn’t have vans or had higher rates. We did not really want to ride the 14 miles back to the airport Tuesday (having already traveled that route northbound on Monday) so we considered our options. The front desk estimated taxi fare at ~$40. Not astronomical, but not cheap either. My next thought was public transit. We’d seen buses and trains–surely something went to the airport. In fact, the Broward County Transit System is pretty good and I was able to devise a straightforward plan for getting to the airport.
On Tuesday, after our waffles at the La Quinta Fort Lauderdale Northeast (the least expensive lodging of this leg of the trip and quite a nice hotel), Dad and I caught a bus right outside the hotel. That bus went to the Broward Central Bus Terminal, where we picked up a bus to the airport. The system does not use transfers, so you pay on each bus (or buy a day pass), but at $1.75 per bus for me and a whopping $0.85 for my Dad, we really couldn’t complain.
Central bus terminal and mural across the street:

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The bus stops right at the rental car center. At the Budget counter, I asked for a Transit van and got a noncommittal answer. After some hassles with charges and paperwork, we went out to the van the desk person had pulled around for us. It was not a Transit, but an Econoline. We spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out how we could fit three bikes in it and ultimately concluded we could not. We went back in and found the desk person unhelpful (“we don’t have any Transits”) so we went downstairs to the Avis desk (mind you, Avis and Budget are the same company). Here, a very helpful woman walked us out to the garage and got another Avis person to find us a Transit–on the Budget lot! Sadly, this was not the end of the story. After taking back the keys to the Econoline, we discovered that a tire pressure light was on in the Transit. A different Budget employee said she would get us another van and we had to insist that it be a Transit. Several minutes later yet another Transit was delivered to us (we had since seen even more in the Budget lot) and we were able to be on our way after about an hour in the rental car center. Patience and persistence paid off, but I really wish there were a better way to rent exactly the vehicle that you need.
Loading was uneventful, except for the happy coincidence that a hotel employee was breaking down cardboard boxes just as we were looking for packing material to keep the bike that went between the seats from actually touching the seats.
During the bus ride, Dad and I had located a place that was only a couple miles off-route where we could take an airboat ride in the Everglades–something we had talked about off-and-on all week. We got to Sawgrass Recreation Park and decided we were willing to wait up to 30 minutes to take a ride, but no more. Happily, the wait was about 20 minutes.

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The airboat ride was interesting. They provide earplugs, but the loud-engine, fast-moving portion of the trip is far less than 10 minutes of the 30-minute tour. We saw one big gator moving away in the water and one little gator (see photo) hanging out by a log. The guide also taught us about needle grass, rush grass, and saw grass. We saw a couple of purple gallinules, one of which seemed to walk across the water. I wasn’t fast enough for a picture either time.

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The other interesting thing we learned on the ride was that the dead trees we saw (like the one below on which an osprey is perched) are Melaleuca, which are native to Australia. They were brought in under the guidance of Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward and forester John Clayton Gifford in the early 1900s to “dry up the Everglades.” When the wisdom of this idea was questioned decades later, the task of removing the Melaleuca began. This effort continues and many Melaleuca trees that have been killed still need to be removed.

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After the airboat tour, we walked through the facility’s exhibits. The three areas (reptiles, glades, and exotics) house animals that have been abandoned or rescued and cannot be returned to the wild. Maureen enjoyed the variety of reptiles, I was impressed by the huge alligator Cannibal, and Dad liked the beautiful Florida panthers.

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We left the Park and returned to our route. Sadly, there was no food available on Alligator Alley for at least another half hour. The convenience store we found after that at least had chicken fingers, for which we were very grateful. Reasonably fueled, we continued west. Maureen and I spotted several alligators along the water next to the highway. I guess there’s a good reason that it’s called Alligator Alley.
We encountered some heavy rain on the way back up the Gulf coast, but eventually made it in time to meet Bill & Doris at Molly Goodhead’s for Tuesday dinner (yay clam strips!)
Reunited with Rebbe, we set about figuring out what’s next–info coming soon in a future post!

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One thought on “Airports and Alligators: Transition Day Florida Style

  1. Melaleuca, otherwise not so affectionately known as punk trees by the locals. A lot of people are allergic to it and it can bloom 5 times a year.

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