So, the monkey and his ravishing bride, Mrs. Kongo, are in Florida for a few weeks. What drove these two level-headed, cautious simians to fly across the country in the middle of a pandemic to a COVID hotspot? Why, grandchildren, of course. Mrs. Kongo (and Papa Kongo too) badly needed a grandparent fix from their two little munchkins living in Tampa.
Kongo was missing his bike so he got another one. Not as fancy as his California electric bike but one that got him around the flat Florida terrain pretty well. And since the last time the monkey has been to Florida, Kongo’s son had acquired a big (somewhat heavy), green canoe and was eager to show off his paddling expertise on the local rivers. So we loaded up the canoe and transformed his car into what Mrs. Kongo dubbed a red-bodied duck-nosed toyotasaurus.
The first canoe trip was great, albeit a bit long for the novice monkey. We paddled about six miles along the Hillsborough River near Temple Terrace, a suburb of Tampa, and everything went pretty smoothly.
Kongo snapped lots of pictures. Sure there there was the occasional alligator, this is Florida after all, but they weren’t interested in monkeys so we were fine. And they were pretty small gators. Yes. And the river was stunningly beautiful despite the bugs and the brutal 90-degree heat and high humidity.
Kongo loves birdwatching and Florida wetlands always offer up plenty to point a lens at as the following images show.
So the first canoe trip was just fine. Then there was the second canoe trip. (Key foreboding organ music). We decided to launch in an area of the river Patrick (Kongo’s youngest son) had not been before. But hey, what can go wrong? They actually advertise this part of the river as a CANOE TRAIL, yes a trail, so all you had to do is stay on the trail, right? Easier said than done. Besides, this was a beautiful day, clear skies, temperature in the low 70s, and very low humidity (for Florida).
A Florida Black Vulture looking down at the monkey should have been a clue. But the monkey didn’t see hovering vultures as anything to be worried about, this was just a great photo opportunity. There were other clues just around the next bend of the trail.
Since we were farther up the river than on the first trip, the passage was a bit more wildernessy. Not quite Deliverance wildernessy but it was narrower, the current ran faster, and there were lots of overhanging branches you had to duck beneath to get past. The first couple of miles were fine. But then we came to a confusing junction: one part of the river (the correct path) almost completely doubled back on itself, the other option was more straight and looked like it was heading in the right direction, so that’s the path we took. (Key more foreboding organ music)
As we paddled along, alligators on the bank splashed into the water, tails slithering back and forth, and headed toward us. It was like a scene you see in “that kind” of movie where naive and innocent adventurers are treading into dangerous, swampy waters near the Black Lagoon. Water birds called out, echoing across the water. It was eerily quiet. Deathly quiet. Splashes behind us suggested more alligators were entering the water. And these were proper alligators. Before this we had seen fingers and toes alligators, these were something Crocodile Dundee would appreciate. On and on we paddled. The farther along we went the narrower the passage. We often had to lay flat in the canoe to pass under giant cypress trees that had fallen across the stream and use paddles and little seat jumps to get over shallow logs.
At this point, Kongo began to raise doubts. This can’t be the “trail.” Maybe we should go back. Watch out for that branch! But Patrick assured Kongo this was “fine.” Logs had obviously recently fallen and trail keepers just hadn’t had a chance to clean things up. Farther and farther into the unknown we went.
Finally, we were blocked by a cypress trunk across the stream that was at least three feet in diameter. There was no way we could go under it. No way to go over it. No way around it. Not yet willing to give up, we decided to portage. Kongo slugged through primordial muck and ooze to struggle up the bank, completely trashing his fairly new, fashionable blue Topsiders. Picking leeches off his legs, the monkey asked Patrick to scout ahead to make sure the river really opened up. He came back with a positive report, “Yup, it opens up just ahead.” So we hauled the canoe out of the water and dragged it 50 yards across cypress bumps, sticky branches that scratched your shins, and more primordial ooze until we could once again put in. After another thirty yards we were again completely blocked by logs across the stream. This obviously wasn’t working and even the ever-optimistic Patrick had to concede perhaps we should turn back.
To turn back we had to do another portage and this is where it gets really, bad, terrible, and awful. As we’re maneuvering to get the canoe turned around and back past the obstacles we had put so much effort into overcoming, a tree root along the bank that Kongo was standing on gave way, and he crashed half into about three feet of water and half on the side of the canoe. Knowing how canoes operate, the little vessel promptly rolled on its side filling with water. So the picture you see a couple of paragraphs ago was the last image before Kongo’s super-duper, highly loved, Canon 5D MK III, with a 70-200 white lens and a 2x extender went underwater.
I know, I know. Should have had a waterproof bag when these types of things happen. Hindsight is 20-20.
To move this sad tale along, suffice it to note that we made it out of the river, found the correct canoe trail, and paddled successfully to the pick up point where Kongo’s lovely daughter-in-law arrived to take us home to hot showers. The camera promptly went into a Tupperware container full of rice but the monkey is pretty sure this camera and the accompanying lenses are toast. Anyway, there’s insurance, a wonderful thing, so the monkey may be out of action for awhile but expects to soon be fully equipped.
Despite the misadventures, the loss of a camera, trashing shoes, and so forth. Time spent on the water with your son is priceless. Undoubtedly this story will mature and grow with time and distance, and become a staple of family lore to be rolled out at future holiday gatherings and embellished at family cocktail hours. But you heard it here first!
Travel safe. Have fun.