When you travel west from Miami there are two main routes – US Highway 41 and Interstate 75. The first, known as the Tamiami Trail, is the smaller two-way, slower road that allows you to stop along the way at river crossings, fishing areas, Indian Villages, campgrounds and Everglades access points. Or Joanie’s Blue Crab Café if you aren’t into salubrious but love strawberry smoothies. The second, Alligator Alley, is a divided high-speed link and is fenced either side throughout its length. There are service points for natural breaks but the road is essentially a ‘get across as quickly as you can’ route. The fence is for wildlife management and intended to prevent animals being killed on the road. The Florida Panther, a race of the Mountain Lion, is just about hanging on here with a small population so any measures taken to maintain the numbers is fine with me. I find this road is frustrating and a little boring as it’s not possible to stop if you see something interesting and the other vehicles are moving at ferocious speed.
We drove the Tamiami as crossing the Glades without stopping to gawp at alligators and more birds than you can count is unthinkable. Construction of US41 commenced in the early 1900s to link Tampa and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida and, after a lot of interesting detours involving boundary changes, local politics, private enterprise funding and general New World entrepreneurialism it was formally designated in 1926. I love driving it. The road is bounded by canals, ponds, saw grass plains and hardwood hammocks and wildlife abounds. Alligators bask along the side of the road and the birds occur in hundreds. Eagles and hawks, storks and egrets, ducks, kingfishers and any number of LBJs [little brown jobs – and there are a lot of them here] are everywhere.
So, having decided to keep the convertible after wedging a suitcase into the boot and the remaining bags into the back seat we set off in bright sunshine. The Tamiami [said to get its name from a contraction of Tampa and Miami] is a suburban road for about thirty kilometres out of downtown, with numerous signalled junctions and murderous traffic. It takes ages to get into anything resembling wilderness and, despite having driven it dozens of time, getting out of Miami always seems to take longer than planned. It continues to fray tempers until, almost as if you cross a line, development stops and Everglades begins. That point is marked by a huge hotel/casino run by the Miccosukee Tribe of Native Americans. Unfortunately, with the open space came the rain. And it rained most of the way across so the car roof, the cause of more than a little bad temper and discomfort, stayed in place. We braved the weather once, to walk a short boardwalk called the Kirby Storter Wayside Boardwalk. We were soaked to the skin with warm torrents but it stopped just as I got back to the car and, like magic, the trees and sky filled with birds. From a single point next to the car I saw Black and Turkey Vultures, Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers, Loggerhead Shrike, Killdeer, Great-crested Flycatcher, Limpkin, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Great Egret, Tree Swallow, Belted Kingfisher and Broad-winged Hawk. The place is magical.
From there it was a dash to the coast and Sanibel Island, just in time to see the sun disappear as the clouds broke up and blew away in the freezing air.
I really did expect it to be warmer than this.