Hans, our guide, a courageous fellow who says he once fell off an airboat into the Florida Everglades swamp — for about 2 seconds (“My socks didn’t even get wet — that’s how fast I got out,” he says.), knows how easy it is to become a gator’s lunch. Yet, this bit of information is only a tease to the thrilling Billie Swamp Safari adventure.
Once the large fan on the back of the boat begins turning and we skim the surface of the untamed swamplands, an unexpected thrill happens as the boat propels forward at high speed over lily pads that paint the surface of the swamp. A spray of water is all that we leave behind. Then we stop in a bayou and the mood changes.
“There are about 100 eyes watching you at all times,” he adds, building the fear in each and every one of us who are at the mercy of his expertise as captain of the small airboat.
You can’t help but search at a quickened speed to look out for whatever lurks below. And you think “what if the motor just stopped working — while at the same time a gator prowls forward?” These and many more thoughts consumed us as Hans stopped to lecture on the swamplands we feared and then started the motor to a cough before throttling forward. Why the motor continued to sound like it was dying added to our fears.
“Sitting in the middle is a good place,” I kept telling myself while searching out the eyes of hungry gators below. Just how many alligators are there in this swamp? Well, let’s just say there are 2,200 acres of swamplands that include exotic wildlife such as bison, deer, egret, wild pigs, ostrich — and more alligators than you can count. Shades of our worst nightmares come to fruition as we motor past many large gators sunning along the muddy landline, watching us with those beady eyes.
Upon our arrival to Billie Swamp Safari, the whole visit seemed harmless. We drove from Fort Lauderdale along Alligator Alley, about an hour’s drive, to arrive at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. We perused the gift shop, the casino off the cafeteria-style restaurant, and the porpoises who obviously consumed something with an aphrodisiac property. We headed to the airboat giggling. But once boarded, those free-spirited giggles turned to nervous laughs and cautious movements.
But we were here to take an airboat adventure, followed by a swamp buggy tour of which the latter proved the bumpiest of rides, but the best way to appreciate the flora. Lower back sufferers should skip this segment of the tour, however, as you will most surely feel the unpredictable bumps.
It is while touring through the Billie Swamp Safari that I learn of the unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Florida Everglades. This self-governed tribe offers tourism stays on the reservation, in huts that do not appeal to a luxury traveler, but for the adventure-bound, go for it, I say. Just keep your eyes peeled for panthers. They are most definitely out there.
Visit www.BillieSwamp.com for more information.