By Steve Gillman
Florida camping can be expensive. My wifa Ana and I paid $23 to camp in our conversion van one night. Of course, it was at a beautiful state park on the beach, and in the morning we saw a dolphin swimming near shore.
Florida camping can be inexpensive too. While at the beach, we heard we could camp for free at the isolated campgrounds which dotted the Apalachicola National Forest. Naturally, our frugality sent us into alligator country.
We camped two nights in the dark woods, next to the dark waters of a slow river. There was was an old guy who seemed to be living there, and a young couple with their two-year-old daughter. Lester was from England, Kari from Texas, and Indya was born in Guatamala. They met in India, of course.
No crowds, and the price was right. March nights can be chilly here, so the six of us circled the fire at night, trading stories, and sometimes sneaking down to the water to look for the eyes of alligators. Unfortunately, we saw nothing, but we did hear splashes in the night.
The old guy told us that camping was also free at Williams Landing, on Lake Talquin, about twenty minutes west of Tallahassee. We moved up there, looking forward to the hot showers. Lester, Kari, and Indya followed the next day in "The Beast," which was an old RV that had carried them there from Texas.
For eight days, we continued trading stories around the fire each night. We saw all kinds of wildlife. Packs of armadillos walked through camp, and giant grey herons fished offshore from the van. There were racoons, owls, squirrels, ducks, and turtles. Then there was the "monster."
I was poking around near a corner of the lake, when I heard the splash. We had already seen two small alligators sunning themselves the day before, but this one had to be a giant. I returned with Ana the next morning, and again heard the splash, but it was under the water before we could see it.
Every morning we visited the monster once the sun was high enough for him to come out and soak up the heat. We caught glimpses, enough to know he was at least ten feet long. Lester and Kari made a "Crocodile Hunter" movie of us stalking it. Soon it no longer panicked, but just slowly lowered itself into the water, as if getting ready to hunt us properly.
After that we stopped trying to get so close to it. The five of us went to view alligators safely after that, from the tour boat at Wakulla Springs. I even got the chance to jump off of the big diving platform there. We eventually said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, but we hope it wasn't our last time in Florida, camping.
About The Author
Steve Gillman hit the road at sixteen, and traveled the U.S. and Mexico alone at 17. Now 40, he travels with his wife Ana, whom he met in Ecuador. For travel stories, tips and a free e-book, visit: http://www.EverythingAboutTravel.com.
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