|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 4/19/2019
Occurred: 7/17/2009 6:00:00 PM
|Topics/Keywords: #AlligatorFarm #Florida #St.Augustine #Travel #Zachary||Page Views: 4276|
|The second day of the East Coast trip I made with Michael and Zachary.|
It was now our first day in St. Augustine, and there was so much to do! We wanted to get a really early start. So we began by waking up at 11 am.
We were staying with my sister Louise and her husband Mikey. So it seemed reasonable to begin our visit by visiting my other sister, Mary Joan, who lives about 15 minutes away. (I should add that, in St. Augustine, everything is 15 minutes away from every other thing.)
Mary Joan lives in a charming little cottage just off Masters Drive.
For those of you who may be from other parts of the country, please note that it is considered good manners in Florida to greet visitors while shirtless. At least, if you are a man. Especially in the summer it is entirely too humid and hot to wear even a square inch of unnecessary cloth. Occasionally a man might don a shirt to go to church or a fancy restaurant. But he might not, and no one will give him a second look. Women are more modest, but two-piece bathing suits are seen pretty much everywhere. They are certainly not limited to the beach!
Mary Joan was entertaining her granddaughter Toni when we got there. Her husband and brother-in-law were there, as well. Toni was very happy to meet her older, second cousin Zachary for the first time.
Toni's mother, my niece Lisa, did come by after awhile so we were happy to be able to see her, too, as well as newest addition baby Jack. Jack is at the age where he enjoys playing musical adults. That's the game where you reach for an adult to be held, then immediately reach for another.
Calvin showed off his custom model car collection, which fascinated both Michael and Zach; and Mary Joan explained where the various examples of her souvenir Frisbees came from. ("They don't sell them anymore," she explained. "The souvenir shops kept finding them on their rooftops.")
After a bit we left and met Mikey at his home, where we transferred into his truck. Mikey works for the St. Augustine Record, the local newspaper, as a printer—though his job is in its last week, as the printing operation has been moved to Jacksonville. There were perks to that job besides a paycheck—not least of which is access to local tourism promotions. So Mikey was able to take us for free to the Alligator Farm.
The Alligator Farm has been a fixture in St. Augustine tourism since the days in the late 1800s when Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway first provided Yankees with an easy way to come down here and visit. When I was a kid, locals could go for free and even visitors only paid a couple of dollars a head to visit. Now it costs $11 for kids and twice that for adults. On the other hand, it's been years since any five-year-olds fell into the alligator pit and were eaten alive. So there is that.
In addition to alligators, the Alligator Farm also houses crocodiles and caimans. Collectively, such animals are called "crocodilians" and the Farm has them from every country.
There are also a number of birds. Most of them are species native to Florida that make their home here simply because it's an ideal environment for them. But some, like the Marabou Stork, are exotics brought for their ability to attract tourists.
The Marabou Stork is startlingly unattractive. From the top of its balding head to the bottom of its excrement-covered feet, it's hard to imagine any adolescent Marabou Stork gushing to its friends about how cute its new mate is.
And yet, the Marabou Stork on exhibit did have one endearing quality: It seemed as interested in us as we were in it. It stood in front of the window that protects it from too-enthusiastic tourists and simply gazed at us the entire time we were there.
By the way, that growth hanging from under its beak is an air sack which it inflates in order to look more attractive. There's another on the back of its neck as well. Unfortunately, neither does the trick.
Fortunately, there are parrots and macaws hanging around to more than offset the aesthetically-challenged marabous.
If things are moving too fast for you, you might want to ride a giant tortoise. They used to allow people to do that at the Alligator Farm; I remember that as being a mild thrill when I was a kid. Of course, you had to get on one that was moving already, since they didn't tend to respond to yells of "giddy up". But it turns out this was bad for the tortoises; they live a long time (even longer than Dick Clark) and many of the tortoises living here still bear the indentations of former riders.
Alligators enjoy spending time in and under water, especially the really big ones. A special tank lets visitors see them as they hold their breaths, which, because of their size, is more fun than it sounds.
One of the Alligator Farm's prize exhibits is a monitor lizard. These things, which come from Asia, are particularly large and vicious. But they are also kind of pretty, in a reptilian sort of way.
In the rookery were many birds—mostly local, as I said—raising their babies. These nests are cleverly located directly above the alligators, so any chicks that fall out of the nest are no longer their parents' problem. As a parent with adult children living at home, I have mixed feelings about this arrangement. Of course, my kids are contributing to the household, both financially and in helping keep things clean and organized. I see no evidence of either behavior in birds.
Of course, with all this avian activity around, it was inevitable that someone would be hit by a bird bomb. And, since Michael was around, it was inevitable that he be the target.
Luckily this happened about the time we'd decided to leave anyway. But Mikey insisted that Michael either remove his soiled shirt, or ride home in the back of the truck.
Michael chose to remove his shirt. And, since we were in Florida, that only meant that he was appropriately dressed to receive visitors.