Big Cypress National Preserve Eco Tour
They are business-minded, the Indians in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, you have to give them that. We are on our way to Billie Swamp Safaris in the Big Cypress Reserve, which is about an hour west of Fort Lauderdale in the middle of the Florida swamps. This is not the original home of the Seminoles. Before the arrival of white settlers, they lived along the coast, where they caught fish in the shallow waters off the coast and collected shells on the beach. In the course of the development of the coasts, which was always associated with the expansion of the tourist infrastructure in Florida, they were increasingly displaced into the humid and swampy interior, into the swamp area of the Everglades, which occupy the entire interior of South Florida.
Via the "Alligator Alley" to the Big Cypress National Preserve
We follow the fast Interstate 75, which is popularly referred to as "Alligator Alley", and turn north at the large-sized advertising posters that point to the offers that await us: Airboat rides in the Everglades, eco tours the swamps and Indian food. The Big Cypress National Preserve turns out to be a surprise. Along the street we keep seeing well-kept houses, which have nothing Indian about them, between simpler residential buildings. And in the center of Big Cypress we suddenly find ourselves in front of a huge retirement home that you won't find in any other Indian reservation.
The rise of the Seminoles
When we inquired, we learn that the Seminoles still had 1957, when their tribe was officially recognized as such, had an annual budget of less than 15.000 dollars. Her rocket-like rise to one of the richest American Indian tribes began with tax-free sales of cigarettes on her reservation. They were the first Indian tribe to offer gambling on its territory in bingo halls, which is strictly prohibited outside. Today, they own several major casinos and have been the proud owners of the Hard Rock Cafes hotel and restaurant chain since 2007, which they bought for an astounding 965 million dollars. The income from these tribal companies will flow back into the tribe; how it is distributed, the Seminoles must give no information. However, a few years ago, corruption within the tribe flourished.
Successful company in the Big Cypress National Preserve
But obviously something sticks with the tribe too, because they can call themselves the owner of a new museum that presents the history of the tribe. And that the Seminoles are also business-savvy in tourism, we see at Billie Swamp Safaris, a company that offers airboat and eco tours through the swamps and shows visitors alligator battles and shows animals as rare as the Florida Panther. We choose the leisurely and above all quiet eco-tour with special vehicles through the swamp area, and our driver explains - with a lot of humor - animals and plants that we see along the way.
It doesn't matter that a few cattle or African water buffalos graze from time to time among the numerous cattle egrets, ducks and other water birds. We don't see alligators, but we can imagine that they are in the numerous watercourses and ponds. And our guide insists on having briefly seen one of the almost extinct Florida Panthers behind one of the bushes. Is it true? We cannot prove it because we have not seen him. We learn a lot from the history of the Seminoles. He tells us how the Seminoles successfully defended themselves in the war against the white invaders by using the special features of the site. It remains to be seen whether we believe everything he tells us, but we definitely have a lot of fun.
On the way with the airboat
Back at the camp, we watch the airboats go out into the swamps with a hell of a noise. And we are astonished to see that the local birdlife is not impressed by this noise. Completely motionless, a heron remains in front of us in the water, looking spellbound at his prey, and can not be irritated by the engine noise. Maybe he's deaf by now, who knows? We will have a freshly baked Indian Bannock Bread at the Swamp Water Cafe before heading back to Fort Lauderdale.
Tips for the environment
Source: own site research with the courtesy of The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau
Text: © Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline
Photos: © Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline