Bucket List Surprise

Did you ever have an absolutely amazing experience (a check on your bucket list per se) that you didn’t know you had until it happened?  I did.  A magic carpet rideYup.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Okay…  so any other human being might call it an airboat ride.  But I’ve been on airboat rides before – this ride far exceeded them all.  Magic carpet ride is, without a doubt, more fitting. 

Charlee and I took a trip to Florida for the Spring Break.  We were hoping to have some fun together – although we each have such differing notions of fun.  That said, I knew she would love going on an airboat ride just as much as I would.  

She had no idea what to expect.  At first, she thought the boat was going to be paddled or pushed along.  Airboat. …as in wind in the sails, meandering along.  An impression stemming from Frank’s numerous sailing stories – as in sailboat.  {Frank must have been Popeye in a past life.  He was disappointed when I would not agree to live on a sailboat with him. The deal breaker came when he tried to ‘reason’ with me about the ‘naturalness’ of having a baby on a boat – as in giving birth. Unfortunately, we spent more time running aground than floating.  Needless to say, I’ve since kept my feet – and my kids – on solid ground.}  

Charlee and I waited on the dock for the other party to arrive.  It was a group of six, that never showed.   The pending rain deterred them.  (Triple L baby!)  

DSC_0189Justin, our trusty guide – aka the Genie at the helm of our carpet – broke the news, “We can get started.  It’s after 11 and we’ve waited long enough.”  Pulling out his cell phone, he did a quick check of the weather.  Huge patches of green, yellow and even some red, on the doppler indicated storms were to the West.  Chuckling as he pointed to the space in between the pretty array of colors, “I think we’re good.”  (Oh joy – this should be interesting…)  I had some doubt as I watched his finger trace the passing window of time and terrane, “Are you sure?”  A confident nod countered, “Yup.  Lets get going.” (Oh boy…)

This wouldn’t be the first time rain opened the knocks of opportunity.  Many years ago, Frank and I were vacationing in Florida.  It was an impromptu road trip, which was typical for us.  We would pack the car and just drive.  On this particular trip, we were hoping to swim with the dolphins.  We waited on line, only to learn that swims had to be scheduled months in advance.  (Who knew?)  Disappointed, we stepped to the side and let the next customer through.  That customer – was canceling for a family – because it was raining out.  (Okay – did I miss something?  You’re getting in the water.  You’re going to get wet?)  The moment they walked away, I jumped back in line and asked to take their spot.  (Yay Triple L!)

As it turns out, they were not the only to cancel on that day.  In fact, many people didn’t show.  It was great!  Frank and I ended up having an awesome, semi-private swim with the dolphins.  

Dolphin chatter is thrilling, which FYI you can hear when you are under water!   One by one dolphins would pass in front of us, while clicking and whistling conversations only they understood.  (It was amazing to think they were talking to or about us. 🙂  

An instructor told us to hold our hands out in front of us, so that – should a dolphin desire – they could brush their bodies along our fingertips.  It was up to them to determine how close they came, of course, based on their comfort level.  Powerful muscles could not be overlooked – we humans were nothing in their environment.  Though we paid to float in waters with them, it was clear, they were inspecting us.  Our job was to be calm and still, as to allow their greeting.  

One dolphin hovered in front of me, peering a path to my soul.  It didn’t feel threatening at all – rather, more like looking into the eyes of a beloved pet.   It was an eye-to-eye encounter I will never forget.  

Towards the end of the session, each person had an opportunity to hold the dorsal fin on a pair of dolphins – one for the left side, one for the right.  The man on the dock blew a whistle, and as if the starting gate gun at a running event was shot, the dolphins took off.   The human in tow was propelled – with daunting power – from one end of the bay to the other.  Had those dolphins chosen to take any one of us to the depths of the bay, they easily could have.  Though, when my turn came about, I did not have time for that concern… I was too busy dealing with the fact that the front of my bathing suit was suddenly overfilled with the force of oncoming waters… giving anyone standing on the dock a show. (Yes, a family of five chose not to cancel. Apparently they weren’t concerned with the rain either.) (Oh… and yeah, they had their cameras….)  With my suit stretched to my navel, I felt akin to the beauty perched off the bow of a viking ship – despite the fact that I guarded nothing.  Not even my own dignity.  (So much for privacy…)

Before I knew it the dolphin ‘ride’ was over.  Frank got a good chuckle.  My dignity was replaced with a funny, you’ll-laugh-about-this-one-day memory, and my thankfulness over the sparse turnout was reinforced.

Waiting on the dock for the airboat ride, I found myself, once again, happy for pending rain.

Given that we were the only party to show up, the pick of seating was ours.  Charlee chose the very front row without skipping a beat.  After the safety briefing, and each of us getting a pair of ear muffs, Justin began pushing the boat from the dock.  A long pole inched us along until we were clear and directed towards open waters.  This was not helping the original lullaby airboat ride perception.  

My darling daughter sat with a bag of cheese doodles. (Which she insisted on having because of how bored she thought she was going to be…)  I instructed her to put the loop of the shopping bag around her wrist so her doodles wouldn’t be fish food.  Her interest was peaked, “Really?”  When the engine was started, and she heard the roar, she double looped her grip.  (Now she understood why we needed ear muffs… Ha.)

Not far from the dock we turned right, and meandered under a bridge.  The path was narrow.   White, teacup sized, flowers with gentle pink centers, graced patches of water lilies – the floating saucers to the cups.


DSC_0198Tall purple flowers looked as if they were mimicking the cattail.  All along the waters edge were these slender cylindrical blooms, surrounded by giant fan sized emerald green leaves.

DSC_0205Our first stop, was an alligator bed.  It was also the first lesson of the trip.  😉  Alligator eggs.   FYI they don’t get turned or they will drown.  The hatch is either all girls or all boys, depending on the temperature.  Mom does not stick around.  She digs a little, covers the eggs with reeds – which rot and ferment causing heat – which incubates the eggs.  Dad?  Oh Dad – eats the babies. 


Gives new meaning to ‘Wait till your Father gets home!’







A lazy river wound a path through old oaks, overgrown with Spanish moss that literally waved us on.  Tall reeds of grass, and even taller purple ‘cattails’ were the fringe to the waters edge.  Arrays of greens were broken by an occasional flowering bud.  I don’t recall seeing one dying bloom.  Either the flower was in full glory or just coming into it.


Our Green Carpet


Great Blue Heron

The red green carpet laid out was that of lily pads – hundreds of thousands of lily pads.  The river opened into a bay, a very large bay, and Justin opened the throttle.  (Hold onto your doodles Charlee! ;))  We raced across the surface of the water like a giant skipping rock, turning corners and hugging coastlines, while birds scurried out of our way.  Many times it seemed we were racing neck-in-neck with a Heron, or Egret, or Cormorant – oh my.  It was awesome to ‘sneak’ up on the wildlife – although it really wasn’t ‘sneaking,’ we just happened to be faster.  


It is hard to see the path… but it’s there.

Once across the bay, Justin went back to navigating slowly.  In part to disturb as little as possible, in part to allow our untrained eyes to scan and soak everything in.  

In the first cove, hidden amongst the the rambling thickets were hordes of White Ibis and Egrets.  As we inched our way, they roused and flushed from their perches, flying into the sky just above our heads.  Their giant wings carried them so clumsily, they near bounced into each other.  I worried for half-a-second that we were going to be bombed with Ibis poop – but that would have just been another highlight-to-my-day(Yup!  Oh come on… how many people can claim to have been pooped on by an Ibis!) (Yes, I’m weird… you know this by now…)

I am sure we could have heard their wings cut through the air, had the airboat fan not been on.  Maybe even felt it. 

Can you see them?

Can you see them?


White Ibis galore!


On a Wing-and-a-Prayer


This little guy (about 3 feet) kept watching us…

In the second cove, dragonflies came out in droves!  They floated dart-like dances all around us, shimmering a dazzling display against the greens that encased us.  There were so many, too quick moving to count.  Hovering like UFO’s, the blue iridescence on their tail was unmissable. Charlee ducked her head, much like a turtle, into the neck of her jacket.  (Actually my jacket, which she was wearing.  Her tiny body lost to the vastness of my adult sized coat.)  She has been known to jump out of moving vehicles to avoid insects – I begged her not to do anything rash.  Jumping – or falling – off the airboat would not be advisable.  (As noted by the alligator eyes that continue to pop up for a view of us humans.)

As we continued through the virtual tunnel of trees, our path seemed to be closing us in.  So too did the weather.  The window of time was slammed shut as drops began to fall.  I hurried to put my camera away, using my body as an awning while I dug through my duffle for a plastic bag.  Storms in Florida are no joke, a cloth bag offered no asylum, plastic was in order.  Fumbling in my rush – because who the heck wanted to look in a bag while all this wonder was unfolding – I felt a weighty flop across my back.  Justin grabbed two of the vinyl equipment covers (they must have been stowed in the lockers at his feet) and quickly draped them over Charlee and I to serve as umbrellas.  With my camera safely stowed, Charlee and I huddled together under the covers.  Rain fell without regard for any dry-ness needs.  And I am SO glad it did!  (Talk about raining on my parade!! I felt like a kid stomping in puddles…)


Love the feet!

The skies opened!  The wildlife reveled!  Purple gallinules surrounded the boat.  They had no fear, only mild-manner moments of not getting too close.  When one boarded the boat, my senses could take in no more, I felt my emotions welling in my chest.  (I was soaked already, whats a little more water?!)  Overwhelmed with all this beauty, I started to cry.  Tears of pure joy.  It felt spiritual through and through – a cleansing of the soul.   Mother Earth was in her glory – and she was showing everyone who was boss.  You go girl!! 

Marble sized drops, could have soaked us through, but they managed to fall straight down, hitting the tarp just right.  We were IN the moment.

(Charlee, I will cherish this experience forever!  It was truly one of the best of my life – made all the better shared with you!)


Purple Gallinule




I am eternally grateful that Justin was such a nature-loving tour guide!  He didn’t have to take us, he could have canceled… It’s amazing to know that this is the life he leads, day in and day out.  Rain or Shine.

Of course, we wouldn’t want him to get bored with all this… With that in mind, I am hoping I offered him a break from his usual entertainment – lol – this strung out, freckled-faced girl from noisy Long Island, crying like a big baby… over greenery, dragonflies, birds and alligators…



 If your interesting in going on an airboat adventure of your own, Justin’s Jungle is a must.  

Phone No. 1-352-636-4060

Tell him Nancy said HI! 🙂    

To see more photos go to my Facebook Album -> Justin’s Jungle Airboat Ride





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