Ever since I moved to Florida, the land of sunshine and gators, I’ve wanted to see gators in the wild. I’ve been reading some really bizarre gator stories on Florida news websites. Gator spotted crossing the road, man lets gator ride his motorbike and of course the tragic ones that made it to the international headlines – Gator kills boy at Disneyland.

So last week, when my husband suggested we visit Okefenokee — a swamp in nearby south-east Georgia, famous for its wild gator sightings — I was excited. The drive just before we reached the national park was breathtaking, a long narrow road with tall long leaf pine trees on both sides. *Most roads that I’ve traversed along in the US have beautiful trees that dot the sides but sadly give no shade to travellers using the road. That’s perhaps one thing I really miss about Mumbai and other places in India.*

The name Okefenokee, it’s hard to get in the first instance, comes from the Native Americans and means ‘Land of the trembling earth’. The swamp land, which is a national wildlife refuge is abundant with wildlife including the omnipresent gators, birds like the white ibis, wood storks, sandhill cranes, and rare creatures like the gopher tortoise, red-cockaded wood-pecker and indigo snake.

It’s also important to note that the swamp is the source of two rivers – the St Marys River and the Suwannee River. We decided to try kayaking and canoeing on the tranquil Suwannee. It was exciting at the start but after we completed one hour of paddling our way with many failed attempts to synchronise with each other, we grew very tired. The exhaustion was partly because of the harsh sunlight and partly cause our thumbs were bruised because of friction with the oars.

So we decided to head back. On our journey, we saw several snouts and protruding eyes watching us from the sidelines. One was so invisible that we realised its existence only after we bumped into it by the shore. I was pleasantly surprised to see how harmless and calm the gators actually are.

Here are a few pictures from our adventure.

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View from my kayak. Tandem kayaking is not very easy.
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My friends chose the canoe and it appeared to be easier to paddle as compared to the kayak.
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One of the gators who volunteered for a photo.
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Another still gator, almost statuesque.
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Great blue heron
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Double-crested cormorant

After we returned, we visited the museum and store on the swamp campus. The museum was interactive and had activities for children.

What did I learn?

There once was a drink called swamp tea. Described as being a complex brew of decaying vegetation, the drink that was once popular with sailors, is now not safe to drink.

Check out the details below.

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And then there was this juke box with sounds of all the wildlife belonging to the Okefenokee swamp.

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There was also a movie screening, which we missed and this photobooth where I leapt to take a photo.

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Jargon I picked up from the adventure –

 

Peat: Partly decomposed vegetable matter, usually mosses, found in marshy or damp regions, and composed of partially decayed vegetable matter.

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