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Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park, Florida, USA ( bike tour, round trip 24 km)

A sign like this is not unusual in Florida, USA. The Florida inhabitants that I know are used to the animals on this sign to a certain extent, and they call them gators.

And it is not unusual that a piece of wood drifting in a pond isn't a piece of wood, but an alligator. I will never forget when we met a lot of them on the bike tour that I describe here. The map looks simple, and the tour was easy on a rented bike. After a visit at the west coast of Florida, we returned to Miami. At half way we passed the Shark valley. Obviously there were neither sharks nor a real valley. The Shark valley is part of the Everglades National Park, an extremely flat area that looks like grassland. Scientists describe it as a stream flowing from north to the south, which is a 15 centimeters deep and 80 kilometers wide. Because the land is very flat, there is no viewpoint where you can overlook the landscape. At the Shark valley about 10 km from the highway a tower was built as an artificial viewpoint, and you can see a lot of different animals on the tour. The street is reserved for shuttles and bikes. The bikes are very simple, but the area is flat, anyway, and you do not need 21 gears. Of course, we took the bike.

We biked along the paved road, and one species of animals occured very frequently: the American Alligator. They can reach a lenght of up to six meters. From a visit in an alligator farm we remembered some features of the gators. While, as was demonstrated, the alligator has very weak muscles to open its mouth, and you can hold the jaws together with your hands, the muscles for closing the jaws are extremely strong. And, one reason more to be careful, a gator that seems to be resting without a movement, can make a sudden jump of several meters, and they can run very fast a short distance. How fast ? I could not remember. Now, we would make 30 km/h with these bikes, and we would be careful.

During the tour we saw about 20 of those animals in different sizes at their resting places along the street, some of them very easy to see, some more distant in the grass. Sometimes it looked from far away like somebody had thrown away an old tire from his car, but of course, it was one more alligator. Most of them did not show any movement. I was fascinated to take photos of them.

This one here was lying very picturesque at his pond, and Carola took a photo of him. While all the others kept sleeping, this one here moved into the water and came nearer. Carola did not wait to make still better photos. We took our bikes and retreated in a safe distance.

We did not have any rainclothes with us, like most of the other people in this warm country. A hundred meters away from the tower, a tropical rain started suddenly with occasionally lightnings and thunder. I took only a few seconds until we were completely wet. At least it was warm, and we reached the tower soon. All people stayed in the tower while it was raining, some tried to use the handdryers in the restroom to dry their clothes a bit. We overlooked the plane now. The bushy islands in the grassland are caused by different elevations of the land. A few centimeters make a big difference.

From the tower we could look down to one of the bigger gators in the high grass, we estimated a lenght of 4 to 5 meters. The color of the grass indicates that this is probably his usual restplace. At these places during a longer time a flat deepening forms in the ground. This is very important, because during the dry winter, when the water level falls, animals depending on water can find room for living in these flat ponds together with the alligators.

After the rain stopped, we returned to our car and made the second half of the tour without longer stops.

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