The slow-moving waters of the Okefenokee are tea-colored due to the tannic acid released from decaying vegetation. The principal outlet of the swamp, the Suwannee River, originates in the heart of the Okefenokee and drains southwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The swamp’s southeastern drainage to the Atlantic Ocean is the St. Mary’s River, which forms the squiggly part of the boundary between Georgia and Florida.
Hector and I first visited the Okefenokee in the 80’s with a group from Atlanta. When we lived in Georgia we did a lot of river rafting and some canoeing and really enjoyed it. And we really had a great time canoeing on the Okefenokee, even though the group had one “incident” where one of our friends, Lisa, fell out of her canoe into the alligator infested black water after it hit a cypress knee. Somehow Lisa levitated out of the water and back into the canoe in what seemed like a split second. All was well.
We’d been thoroughly enjoying kayaking in Florida so including the Okefenokee Swamp in our trip through the south was an easy choice. Although it seemed a little nuts to go to yet one more place that has tons of alligators.
Having decided that we love kayaking and that our trip holds many great paddling opportunities, we purchased two matching sit on top solo kayaks in Jacksonville – an early 35th anniversary present. Having solo kayaks gives each of us much more freedom to roam as we please, although Hector no longer has the benefit of my expert steering during his photography :-). For now the Dolphin (our inflatable kayak) is being retired, she was a wonderful starter kayak though.
We took the Fuego and the Caribe out on three different days in the Okefenokee. The swamp is surrounded by Cypress trees covered with Spanish Moss (which is neither moss, nor is it Spanish) and other interesting vegetation and is covered in many lily pads and flowers.
On our first outing, we went to Billy’s Island, an island that was inhabited by several hundred workers and slaves in the early 1800’s in a logging camp. There is very little left of the community, and it’s hard to believe that people actually lived here in the heat, amongst the bugs and alligators. It’s much like the stories we heard about the ten thousand islands in Florida.
On our second outing we went on a longer trek (about eight miles) where we spotted baby alligators that looked like lizards (I counted ten but saw no sign of mama). Along the way, we met a wonderful young couple from Athens, Georgia. We wound up having lunch together at a shelter. Andie and Wick are both involved in environmental education and were skilled observers of nature.
Our third outing to the other side of the river was slightly shorter and included a narrow portion of the river where I got pretty stuck between logs and branches on three sides. Fortunately, with a little patience, I managed to get free, helping to build my confidence in dealing with different conditions. On this outing we spotted two adorable juvenile Barred Owls and, of course, lots of alligators.
We were pleased to find that we could cover a lot more ground with our sleek new kayaks and are looking forward to more great outings. And so, our brief return to the swamp was just as great as our first trip, even though an apple crashed in the swamp.