Having been to three theme parks, we decided it was high time that we took the boys out to see something of the real Florida. We, therefore, packed up our cars and drove south to Sarasota in order to visit Myakka River State Park, a wildlife preserve of marshes and lakes.
Our quest for the day was to see wild alligators. The boys have never seen an alligator in the wild before and I had only seen one once (at the Kennedy Space Centre in 1998) so we were eager to have some kind of ‘gator encounter. We were not disappointed. We parked the car up beneath trees festooned in Spanish moss and walked across to a bridge over a stream and there we saw a whole congregation of alligators (that is the collective noun – I looked it up) lazing on the river bank. These were not dinky or juvenile alligators either; these were full-sized, muscular, powerful beasts. They paid no attention to the groups of people standing gawping at them. They didn’t even move a muscle when a pair of folks in a kayak moved past them. I was wanting to keep pressing on through the park in the hopes of having a closer encounter with an alligator but it was not to be because my children decided to bicker between each other and rebel.
(The close up photo of the gators was taken by my 7 year old and is shared with his permission)
Before we left the park, however, we took a stroll out along a wooden boardwalk that projected into the marshes and there we saw all sorts of bird life: wood storks, varieties of heron, egrets, ibis, and roseate spoonbills. There were lots of bird watchers so apparently the park was a great location for seeing birds. It would have been great to keep exploring the park because there was clearly a diverse ecosystem and lots of interesting wildlife to observe. There was no point, however, in dragging non-compliant children any further since their whines and yelps would only scare things away.
Mission partly accomplished but mostly abandoned, we decided to take the boys to experience the Gulf Coast. It was actually quite hard to find a stretch of beach that had public access but we finally found one at Long Boat Key. As much as I loathe sand, I have to concede that the beach had nice sand. There was no section of rocky stones and shells at the shoreline to step on and over either, just fine, smooth sand from grass line to sea. The boys had a whale of a time running and splashing in the water, wading and swimming. Inspired by a nearby man who was sculpting the sand, they decided to build a sand castle with moats and defences.
Energy burned off, it was time to consume some energy. My husband and his parents wanted to seek out a restaurant named Duff’s because it was the first buffet they had ever eaten in in America. We headed to one in a town named Bradenton. I know absolutely nothing about the town but it appears to be on its uppers. The restaurant turned out to be adjacent to a food bank and opposite the worst trailer park I have ever seen. The whole area just screamed depression. The restaurant, however, was rather good. The food was all traditional southern cooking, which I am rather partial too. I must have eaten the equivalent of a plate full of just fried green tomatoes. There were also several sides containing okra as a chief ingredient. Lots of seasoned fish and lots of chicken dishes. It was all delicious. It transpired, however, that the nostalgia of Mr Pict and his parents was thwarted. This Duff’s, it turned out, had nothing to do with the Duff’s of the 1970s and ‘80s. That Duff’s chain had gone out of business decades before. Never mind. I still loved those green tomatoes.