Dec 6 – We spend the day in our brand-new loaner Mercedes Benz SUV as the motorhome gets a much-needed oil change, fuel filter, and tire rotation.  We take it to the Mercedes Benz dealership to keep our warranty and it is very, very expensive!

Dec 7 finds us in Naples visiting the beach.  We have a relaxing bike ride along the Gulfshore Boulevard gawking at the beautiful mansions.  We are lucky to spot a dolphin just off the Naples pier!  A visit to the Collier County museum shows us a Seminole village and war fort.

Dec 8 – Big Cypress National Preserve is a huge swamp full of lots of alligators and turtles, even a couple of snakes.  The cypress trees are full of bromeliads that live on air and moisture.  People travel and hunt through this preserve on airboats and swamp buggies.  We camp in the preserve with many, many mosquitos and noseeums.  Whose idea was that?

Dec 9 – We leave the cypress preserve and enter the Everglades.  The Everglades is actually a very slow-moving river covering 1.5 million acres.  A tram tour takes us 7 miles out past too many alligators to count.  One mama alligator keeps a close eye on her babies – probably 60+ of these cute little guys.  Apparently, alligators only eat about once a week and usually at night, so people are quite safe if they keep their distance.  Lots of waterfowl around, including roseate spoonbills and wood storks. 

Dec 10-11 We are moving south and the weather is getting warmer.  We start our journey down the Florida Keys, visiting Key Largo down to Marathon Key where we are spending a few days.  As we drive, we are seeing hurricane damage from Hurricane Irma in August 2017.  There is lots of rebuilding still going on and some things remain closed.  At Islamorada, we stop at Robbie’s – a marina with restaurant and shops.  The Keys are the place to charter a sailfish expedition or catch a tarpon.  At Robbie’s people can hand feed the tarpon which are a protected fish.  Of course, the pelicans all want a handout as well, so they get very aggressive.  Tarpon can grow to 4 feet and 350 lbs.  We see a huge male named ‘Moose’ who weighs approximately 250 lbs.  Moose hangs around the dock and waits for handouts from the fishing boat operators trying to sell tarpon fishing trips.  The Keys are also the place to go for sailfish trips. 

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