Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gatorland, Part One

We all have our special fears. Some people are afraid of heights. Others dread airplanes, bugs, ghosts and clowns. I am terrified of crocodiles and alligators.

My family lived in Florida during the summer that I was three years old. I only have dim memories of our Florida summer, but I understand I attended a preschool camp that was next to a canal. There was a chain link fence between the preschool and the canal, but my parents instructed me to keep the eff away from the water because it was teeming with croc-a-gators. (I used the same word for crocodiles and alligators. It was easier on my toddler vocabulary.)

I spent my childhood terrified of croc-a-gators. When the lights went out for bedtime, I thought a big croc-a-gator beast came to life under my bed.

Fast forward to the present, and croc-a-gators still scare the crap out of me. When I think of a place like Florida, this is what I imagine:

So when we went to Florida last month, I was on high alert. Every body of water, from pools to ponds to roadside canals, was suspect. And OMG, half the state is covered with water. It's just a big freaking swamp made for these prehistoric beasts. We drove past the headwaters to the Everglades at least 30 times, and every time, I expected a herd of gators to pour on to the freeway and chomp through our car. Seriously, when you are in Florida, a croc-a-gator could be ANYWHERE. Even here:

Our guidebook mentioned Gatorland as a fun Orlando attraction. In light of my extreme gator phobia, you would think I would avoid Gatorland like the plague. But I'm pregnant, so the usual theme parks are out of the question; and besides, Gatorland seemed like a healthy way to confront my demons.

Visitors are welcomed to the park by piles of gators. At first, I was amused. The gators and I were separated by a safe and respectable distance. The barriers were too high for even the most enterprising gator to vault.
Then we went to the Breeding Marsh.

The Breeding Marsh is easily the most terrifying spot in the entire world. You walk along a dock. There are barriers on either side of the dock, but the dock is quite narrow. Too narrow, if you ask me. Also, as we walked along the dock, the wood felt a little soft. As if it has spent one too many years soaking up Florida rains. As if, a hungry gator could easily nudge the planks aside and drag me into the marsh.

I summoned all my courage and marched into the marsh.

At first glance, the photo above looks like a lovely shot of the water. Oh look, how the clouds and trees are reflected on the water's surface! But look closer, and you will see the source of 98% of my childhood nightmares.

Now let's talk about the Zipline.

Here is a view of the marsh. This is just about 20% of the Breeding Marsh, but you get the idea. Visitors to Gatorland can, for an additional fee, ride a Zipline that passes over the gators. Why any rational human being would think this is a good idea is beyond me. (Question: is any reputable insurance company actually cool with this???) In the photo above, you can see the tower that the Zipline riders climb. The Zipline passes over the Breeding Marsh. You could not pay me enough to ride that thing. 

I felt very courageous in the Breeding Marsh. Look how close I was to this gator, and I was still able to take a focused photo without dropping my camera into the water.

Then I saw this guy:

He was swimming fast and straight towards the dock where Nathan and I were standing. And he looked hungry. Hungry for human flesh.

But I was okay. The guidebook would not have recommended Gatorland if the gators had a penchant for leaping over barricades and snacking on tourists.

We proceeded a little further. I was such a bad ass. I could totally handle the Breeding Marsh. Then I looked to the left and saw a pile of about 30 gators, moving around and acting hungry. Then I looked to the right, and there were at least 70 gators, moving around and acting famished. There were gators swimming beneath the dock, just inches from our feet.

We were completely surrounded.

I do not have any photos to document this moment because I freaked the eff out. I hyperventilated and walked as quickly as I could to the exit. We were clearly moments away from instant death. The gators were planning an attack, and soon a frenzy of those prehistoric beasts would tear the dock down. I would have run, but I was afraid I might stumble and crash over the dock into the water.

After the Breeding Marsh, we rode the Choo Choo Train around the park. The Choo Choo Train passed some cows and emus. This was much more to my liking.

Tomorrow: Gator Wrestling, aka the dumbest way to earn minimum wage in Florida.