Even after almost 23 years of living in Florida, I often have to pinch myself to ensure I’m really here.

Yes, I know that many times our state makes national news for all the wrong reasons, but we can’t deny the fact that this is a wild and wonderful place. The perfect example of that is the Everglades.

Only a short drive from the towns of our readership, the Everglades holds all the secrets of old Florida, complete with some prehistoric-looking flora and fauna holdovers. Once I decided to take a kayak tour there, I chose one where I was sure I could see the most beautiful, and the most beastly, the area had to offer.

The Alligators and Orchids Eco-Tour, offered by Everglades Area Tours, has a very apt title, since you see quite a bit of both. And my guide for the day, Ron Wofford, was incredibly knowledgeable about the area, pointing out everything our group saw on the three-hour paddle.

I joined a South Korean family on my tour, and though they had never been in a kayak before, they were eager to learn and did well for their first time out. The first thing Ron did was to give us a tutorial on paddling the kayak.

After we got started, we were all fascinated as Ron pointed out the abundant bromeliads, ferns, wildflowers and several different species of orchids along the shoreline of the Turner River. Apparently, there are at least seven species of orchids that can be blooming there at various times of year.

We took a slow and easy pace through the water, so slow, in fact that alligators didn’t even bother to move out of the way when we were going past them. Ron did keep a safe distance away from them, but we got a little closer when we saw birds feeding at the edge of the water.

Since none of the animals seemed alarmed that we were there, it offered us a unique perspective and some fantastic photo opportunities.

During part of the tour, we made our way through a mangrove forest, where the green canopies made a living tunnel for us. At one point, we were holding onto the branches above us and monkey-climbing our way through.

Though I’m sure a sunset tour would provide great lighting for photos, I did enjoy going on the 8:30 a.m. morning tour. The water was calm, and the swamp animals were out enjoying their breakfast and sometimes taking a gander at the strange people paddling by them.

Thanks to a well-informed guide, and the fact that all the animals and plants cooperated, it was a great day to be out in the Everglades.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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