Follow That Bird
Key Largo, Florida
“I’m bored,” my friend Donatella said as we laid out
by the pool at the less-than-modest but affordable
Travel Lodge in Key Largo in between scuba dives as
our bodies got rid of absorbed nitrogen. “Let’s go
explore.” We both had issues with just sitting around
to sunbathe because, let’s face it, as relaxing as it
is, it can and inevitably does become boring. But
where to explore in Key Largo? We had no guide or
concierge or anyone to lead us in any direction.
When you hear the words Florida Keys, you most likely
think of turquoise waters, a relaxed attitude, water
sports and Ernest Hemingway. If you’ve actually been
to The Keys, you know these thoughts only apply to Key
West. The upper Keys don’t fit the stereotype. Key
Largo, just 40 minutes south of glitzy Miami, is the
exact opposite of its southern sibling, full of pick
up trucks, beef jerky, fast food restaurants and
K-marts. If it weren’t for its proximity to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you probably wouldn’t
think of going there. You might as well plan a trip to
the middle of South Carolina.
We left our friend Robin for a short while (she had
much more of an attention span for sunrays than we
did) and hopped in our rental car to head south on US
Route 1. We traveled down the asphalt path through the
backcountry. There really wasn’t anything of interest
until Donatella spotted something out of the corner of
her wannabe J-Lo sunglasses. “Look, there’s a bird
sanctuary.” It was really the only thing we had going
for us without having to drive all the way to Key West
(which, if you’re behind a Floridian driver, takes an
eternity) so we parked the car on the gravel driveway.
The bird sanctuary wasn’t a huge high-tech
conservatory or anything. Like the rest of Key Largo,
it looked as though it was just pieced together by
some country guy who had a lot of wood lying around.
“I reckin I’ll mak me a burd howse,” he probably said,
perpetually expanding it with his plethora of wood
since he was probably bored of lying around
sunbathing. But there was no such fellow at the
supposed entrance. It felt like we were trespassing on
someone’s property. However, we were greeted by the
unlikeliest of hosts: a pelican. You know, one of
those birds about two feet tall with the long beak
where the lower bill has a pouch that cartoon
characters usually hide in. He stared us right in the
eyes and we waved him a hello-type-of-wave you perform
to greet an animal.
He turned around and started walking down the pathway.
“I think he wants us to follow him,” I said. And so we
did. Peli, as Donatella soon dubbed him, led us to the
different sections of the sanctuary like a butler -
where injured pelicans recuperated, where they ate,
where they went to frolic in the water – even to the
actual human we found who was preparing fishy treats.
Peli brought us to places of interest and let us take
them in, and then led us to the next stop. It was
quite unusual to be escorted by a waddling little
bird, and entertaining. We were directed all the way
to the marshy beach where we were rewarded with a
beautiful view of the ocean. It was a great way to
spend an afternoon.
Peli, the gentle bird, even escorted us back to the parking
lot. What a nice gesture I thought. Bye Peli!
Donatella waved back. He truly was a gracious host to
have shown us a good time that day.
So if you’re ever in Key Largo with nothing to do,
look for the birds. You may get a pelican as
entertaining as Peli.