Everglades Inerlude, Part 2 (End)

by Kiko Matsing

Road Kill Cafe Rock Bottom Bar

We continued to drive west on Highway 41, then south to Everglades City, when it poured so hard we couldn’t see ten feet ahead of us. This was typical Florida summer. Everglades City seemed to be in hibernation; everything was closed down for the season. The regular fishing crowd with trucks boat in tow were thin. Still, the boat tours were running, motels were taking in guests at half the peak season price, and a couple of restaurants were open for business–Seafood Depot which occupied the old train station (1928), and the Rod and Gun Club (1925) where the likes of Hemingway used to hang out. What amused us though were such redneck establishments we found like the Roadkill Café and Leebo’s Rock Bottom Bar. We decided to ditch camping, fearing rain and mosquitoes, and stayed at Captain Doug’s Motel, which, like most well-run budget motor inns, were owned by Indian families. The bathroom counter-top was black marble with a stylish bowl for a sink; the front porch, as if to compensate for the narrow clearance of the bungalow, flaunted a huge faux Italian fountain–three stallions galloping out of the water, signifying the very pomp of the Trevi. We tossed coins and had supper at Seafood Depot. I had gator meat, frog’s legs, and conch fritters, all battered up and fried, I could not tell which was which on the plate and in my mouth.

Sandfly Island

Ten Thousand Islands (from Google Maps)

The following morning, we drove to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and inquired about canoe trips. The park ranger suggested two routes we could follow: across the bay to Sandfly Island, or north along the seawall and up the Barron River. Crossing the bay seemed certainly more fanciful than going inland, so we dared it. Ten Thousand Islands, as the area was called, consisted of an extended reticulum of mangrove forests, like Phang Nga in Thailand. We plodded with paddles, guided by markers like a trail of breadcrumbs, and asked directions for Sandfly Island from a couple of fishermen, a trout still wriggling on their tackle. They pointed into an inlet and told us to look for the porta-potty. It was at the end of a boardwalk that lead into the island, the only one we could actually set foot on. Everywhere else were barred with hedges of mangroves, their tubular roots curved into the water like exposed plumbing. There was a one-mile trail across the island, but we had not gotten far when mosquitoes became unbearable despite our having worn some repellent. We dipped into the brackish water instead, to cool off and to wait for the tide to slacken so we would not have to row against it on our way back.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Sunshine Skyway Bridge to St. Petersburg

Highway 41 bore north from Naples, and ran parallel to I-75. We stayed on it as it changed from swampy wilderness to one long swanky strip mall for 35 miles up to Fort Meyers, where we switched to the faster interstate. At Bradenton, we took the 13-mile Sunshine Skyway Bridge (I-275) across the mouth of Tampa bay and headed for St. Petersburg and the gun battery at Fort de Soto, the only other extant examples of its canons being the ones on Corregidor Island in the Philippines. We did not wait for the sun to set at Fort de Soto; it just seemed too banal for ones who used to live on islands. It was evening, though, when we got back on the interstate on our way to Gainesville. It was my turn to drive, and sped 10 miles above the limit. Somehow, I know I will not pass this way again.