A Series of Everglades Mistakes

Have some forethought when trying to camp in the Everglades in Florida and avoid my (multiple) mistakes

Simply reading the words, “What do you mean there’s no tent poles?” are not apt enough to describe the despair of my last trip to the Everglades.

There’s certain supplies and forethought you need to be prepared for a trip to Florida’s largest national park to prevent hearing this through gritted teeth. Luckily, that specific issue got overshadowed all in one trip by, “What do you mean it’s not mosquito proof,” “What do you mean there’s no matches,” and “What do you mean it’s the worst month for bugs.”

I hadn’t been camping in awhile; being surrounded by trees, the leaves rustling above, a campfire in the evening, strange noises in the dark with just thin cloth of a tent separating you, its peaceful. Being so far south and west in the Everglades — my friend and I drove two and a half hours from Boca Raton — the sky becomes an inky black, with the Milky Way a faint starry line in the summer.

Being “the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States” according to the National Park Service website — translated as hot and humid as hell in a swamp — you end up pretty far from the cities and from any chance of retrieving forgotten items.

Our initial screw-up was circumvented with wonderous paracord skills and taking advantage of the tree branch above us, seemingly home to some innocent enough red ants. We camped under this tree in a wide windy field close to the shore called Flamingo, the farthest camping field from the entrance. It was peaceful as there was only one other tent in the field, as peaceful as before a storm of more screw-ups.

As the light drifted away leading to more stars we decided to make a fire, we had bought wood beforehand. But what did we forget? A lighter. And kindling. Inventory showed stormproof matches, hand sanitizer, leaves, and a few solid fire starters. Luckily hand sanitizer is very flammable as we poured the essentially low-proof napalm onto crumbled up fire starter and kept lighting matches and burning Purell until the logs caught.

Earlier before we set up our tent in the windy field, we tried to go for a walk through the brush west of the field. First there was one, then five, then 20 before we noticed how many there really were. There were so many mosquitos, that as we ran for our itch-less lives back to the field my yellow-shirted back was black with them. We did not go for another walk.

The field became utterly mosquito ridden as it lost its windy identity, and in the process revealed our final mistake to not be repeated. We wanted to take photos of the stars but being away from the swarm was more important so we bolted down inside the tent, opening and closing the door as quickly as we could.

After talking for a while, swatting what must have been mosquitos that got through the door when we opened it, we finally decided we were tired and went to sleep around 9:30 PM. When you are around mosquitos for so long and then suddenly are protected you still feel like you’re being landed on, or bitten or something. There’s a paranoia. I started swatting away, slapping myself, trying to sleep and ignore it just to finally throw my arms in a frenzy to kill what must have landed on me and start the cycle over.

After two hours I couldn’t handle the mental stress, I got my flashlight and looked around to see how all these mosquitos could have possibly gotten into the tent, or if I was crazy.

Slowly looking down from the paracord that I MacGyvered to keep the tent up, I watched a line of red ants march down the inside seam of my tent to the floor, watched the dozen mosquitos fluttering around the roof of the tent, and finally the swarm slowly, but surely, making its way through the strangely not dense mesh of my tent.

I poked my friend and said we are going to the car, she responded immediately yes. She hadn’t slept a wink. Getting our pillows and sleeping bags, and keys, we mentally prepared ourselves, unzipped the tent and sprinted to the car. In the 15 seconds it took to get to the car I got bit four times and, getting into the car, three followed us in.

I spent 15 minutes killing two and finally gave up on murdering the final buzzing little bastard that, by morning, still was alive. In the morning I also called my friend who let me borrow the tent. He said the tent wasn’t mosquito proof, he also knew I was taking it to go camping in the Everglades.

If you go camping there, don’t make my mistakes. I’ve slept in bushes in Budapest in the cold after not finding a CouchSurfing host and had a better sleep than this. Check your tent for poles, bring lighters, and don’t have friends who have tents that aren’t mosquito-proof.

Walking around the Everglades in the wind the next morning was lovely though.

A journalist, photographer, designer and traveler, Andrew has hitchhiked over 2,500 miles and written on extreme budget travelling, homelessness, and more.

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