Searching for Gators
Airboat rides are an iconic Florida activity. Gliding through swampy, alligator infested waters is the first image that comes to mind, but our guide told us differently. The alligators usually hide since they can hear the airboats coming, so getting a close look at one is difficult. Luckily for us it was August, which is nesting season for alligators. The mother gators would stay near their nests, even when they sensed intruders drawing near.
We started the tour in a gorgeous canal. Clouds reflected in the green waters and nesting birds watched as we took off. When we approached the opening of the lake we saw the oncoming weather; the clouds were gray and heavy above us and we hoped the downpour would wait until our tour was complete. The weather didn’t ruin our view of the tranquil lake. Tall green, yellow grass scattered in clumps across the lake and large lily pads floated passively as all sorts of wildlife ran across them: birds guarding their young from falling into the water, large dragonflies zooming in and out of the breeze, egrets wading for fish, and even the occasional snake winding through.
Our guide slowed the boat as we approached an island of grass. There was a path that wasn’t quite wide enough for the boat to fit through, but we glided on top nicely. We stopped next to an alligator nest and the mother hissed angrily at us. At first we were nervous the gator would be aggressive, but she never came near us. Our guide told us the only reason the mother gator hadn’t immediately fled was to protect her nest. As long as we didn’t go after the nest we were safe.
I would have never laid eyes on the alligator nest if our guide hadn’t pointed it out. The nests look like matted areas of dirt and grass in the fields of tall grass. The eggs are hidden underneath a top layer. Once the eggs hatch the mother will stay with the babies. We left the mother alligator to protect her nest in peace as the storm began to stir above us. Our guide was well equipped giving us all rain jackets and pants. He maneuvered the boat into the tall grass as it began to pour. Surprisingly, it sheltered us from the storm. Nearby grasshoppers jumped onto our boat to flee the storm and luckily no snakes found their way onto our safe haven.
The rain only lasted around fifteen minutes. After it passed, we found more gator nests. Our guide then took us to a different part of the lake where the water was deeper, a dark green without reflections. No grass grew in these waters. There were islands of lily pads, most dotted with white flowers. Our guide gently took us to a lily pad cloister, and as we got closer, we saw that the white flowers were lotus flowers. He explained that once the flowers bloom they dry out, leaving the brown pods exposed.
Our guide took several pods and each of us two seeds. We peeled back the brown encasing of the first pod and saw a green covering underneath. We ate this whole, putting the whole seed in our mouths. Our faces puckered, the lotus seed was very tart. After a good chuckle, our guide told us to eat the next seed, but to pop off the green covering. Underneath the green layer was a white seed. We all bit into the seeds carefully, but this time they were sweet.
We were heading back to the canal before we knew it, reluctant to leave the serene environment. The airboat ride was an incredible experience. I loved learning about the lake and its inhabitants. Our trip was with Boggy Creek Airboat Rides on east Lake Toho, which connects to the Everglades. I highly recommend this wonderful experience!
August is the perfect time to go on an airboat ride! Not only did we see a lot of alligators on the tour, but we saw the nests. Baby alligators hatch in late August, so you may want to book a tour then. I recommend booking a morning tour: August is part of the rainy season, so if you wait until the afternoon it’s more likely to rain.