Posted by: adventuressetravels | October 4, 2011

The Real Florida

A large leggy animal padded nonchalantly across the road ahead of me.  Too busy leaning into my morning bike ride, streamlining my way through the humid day, I barely gave the figure a glance.   Someone’s lab was out for a morning stroll, no doubt.  Big dog, my mind saw what it expected to see.  What else would be that large?

As I cycled past the rocky bank leading down to the Indian River I did a double take.  An enormous cat, his sleek tawny hide dappled with large black dots, as spotted as any leopard’s.  Unafraid, he stood on the rocks, his fur shining in the morning light.  I wasn’t a threat, on a bicycle I wasn’t part of his world, not even worth a twitch of the ear.  He had better things to worry about; like his breakfast

My heart soared as I cycled past slowly, not 10 feet away from this glossy-coated animal.   Craning my neck to soak in every second of this magical moment I wrestled with the temptation to stop.  Had I had my camera with me I certainly would have, but as beautiful as this creature was he was a wild animal.  Off of the bike I might be perceived as more of a threat, but on it I did not even factor into the bobcat’s reality.

In that moment I understood what the Park Ranger meant by the “Real Florida.”

I had always thought of Florida as a place of plastic Disnified tourism.  A warm climate where New Yorkers went to retire and spring-breakers’ paradise, but not really a place with much but beaches and theme parks.  Sure it had the everglades, but I’d gone on the afternoon airboat tour and though interesting, the alligator show and tour guide’s showmanship made the tour seem contrived and touristic: geared towards Disney-goers interested more than those wanting to experience nature.

Now to be fair, there are many people who love theme parks and that sort of packaged entertainment.  It is mainstream culture… they are in the majority.  It’s just not for me.  I am one of the weird ones…  an off-the-beaten-path type person.  I like looking behind the curtain and seeing the inner-workings of places… the reality behind the facade.

For as with many things, my prejudgment and first impression of Florida was misinformed and incorrect. Just below the plastic tourism-driven surface is a veritable paradise.  The Disney empire does the corner on advertising dollars, and because of this, many people think of the Mouse when they think of Florida.  However, these manufactured parks are not the real Florida.  For just a little off the paved and well-beaten path lies Florida’s true treasure, its state and national parks.

With bathwater warm water, lush plant-life, a spectrum of animal species (unfortunately many of them biting insects), and an ocean filled with a vast array of marine animals, as the Florida Parks’ campaign says, the Real Florida has nothing to do with the commercial world of Disney.

I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at Sebastian Inlet State Park, the second most popular state park in Florida summer of 2011.  It is really no wonder this state park is so popular.  Joining the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon the diversity of marine life is astounding and visitors can either fish for delicious snook, redfish, and a multitude of other fish, or learn about the area’s fishing history at the fishing museum.

I was extremely lucky to see a bobcat, but walks or bike rides along the park’s trails are always peaceful and nice.  Just be sure to bathe yourself in insect repellant.  The mosquitoes and tiny biting “no-see-ums” are vicious, especially in the summertime.

This two-time national gold medal winning park offers so much to do and explore.  Visitors can rent a kayak or boat from the marina and explore the red, white, and black mangrove channels.  Dolphins are semi-permanent residents in the inlet as well, and I was lucky enough to see them almost every day, playing, feeding, and just enjoying themselves in the lovely warm water.  Going for a dip in the inlet’s tidal pool with its bathwater warm waters is hugely popular, for visitors as well as for local manatees.  Though people are prohibited to touch or approach these lumbering sea cows, often the animals will get curious and make their way over to swimmers.

The park is located on Florida’s famed treasure coast and is home to The McClarty Treasure museum.  Visiting the museum and learning about the 11 Spanish galleons and millions in treasure just off the coast, inspires many a visitor to go beach combing for shells, seaglass… and for treasure.





  1. Any advice on what to do when a bobcat crosses your path? I think you did just the right thing.

  2. I’m glad you finally found the ‘real’ Florida, it’s disappearing fast. I’ve always avoided the tourist traps…..rather have a canoe and get lost in the swamp. Welcome to MY Florida…

    Rick (your Bonnaroo ride…;)

    PS: Glad to see you’re still globetrotting.

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