Last week, I was privileged to go on a fabulous kayak tour with Serge Latour of La Lutra Ecotours. Being a slightly crazy adventurer with perhaps a little less fear than I should have, I generally kayak all over the place by myself. Yet, each time I mentioned I might do that in Tate's Hell to Shannon Lease, Executive Director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper organization, she would suggest that it really might be a good idea to find a guide. At the last minute, I decided she might be right and through various contacts ended up emailing Serge, who graciously agreed to take me around.
I showed up at Serge's and he invited me into his porch to talk. Within a few minutes, I learned all about his freezer filled with carnivorous bugs and even a bat. Apparently, whirligig beetles, which I have encountered before, were the absolute least of my problems. Perdaceous diving beetles, known as the tigers of underwater insect larvae, are far more dangerous... Reason one why it was great to have a guide. I might have actually put my hand in the water by accident!
After I learned about all the things that would terrify me in Tate's Hell, which I was honored to learn Serge only tells people about before they go out if he thinks they can handle it, we took a walk through his yard past his own private spring.
It was so amazing what they had done. They ran pipes from the spring to create this little lake and then there were channels running out from it. Serge and Doc are raising snails here that are the only things limpkin will eat. The rangers at Wakulla Springs are buying these snails and that is why the limpkin are starting to come back there.
We took a trail down to the dock. That was quite a site. The first thing I saw was a plaque they had made that said "Doc's Dock" that was filled with everything they had found in the river, including a naked barbie doll with a blacked out head and many pairs of glasses and fishing lures..
First we took an electric kayak down the Crooked River. It was my first time on an electric kayak and I have to say there are benefits associated with those things. Although I am not averse to exercise, you don't have to paddle them and they don't make any noise. Here is a photo of Serge operating one and getting very excited telling me about something–probably about how they want to turn this area into a military training base, which would be horrible for the wildlife...
Serge is an amazing engineer, who has installed desalinization plants all over the world. At one point, he was working on ones in the Middle East, but he said it got too dangerous because they were blowing up his plants and shooting at him, sohe opted to work in the Bahamas instead. He knows all about water quality, testing water, and what can be done to fix it. With all this knowledge,when he decided to retire he chose a place with very pure water. There is no industry and not a single large town along this watershed, and as you saw he has his own private spring.
After we went along the Crooked River, we went back to the dock to get the regular kayaks so we could go up Pine Log Creek. On the way back, we passed what was once an old crystal meth lab.
The lab is now falling into the Creek. When it was a crystal meth lab, it was no doubt defended by heavy artillery. Apparently, there are no laws against having guns in the forest. Then a family of Mexicans moved in, but they were run out. This is the kind of thing that goes on in Tate's Hell and reason number 2 why I was happy I had a guide...
This is the La Lalutra Ecotours dock and appropriately enough Doc spends much of his time down here fishing. Doc is a vet who suffered a lot of trauma like most vets and like I no doubt would have done if I'd had to serve in Viet Nam. It turns out that many vets have relocated to Tate's Hell. I suppose it is a peaceful enough place to try and heal (except when military planes fly over head.) Doc is a very cool guy, but to feel safe he has to walk everywhere with at least one rifle. I asked Serge if he had any firearms and he said he didn't need any, not with Doc around. Despite having a basic aversion to firearms and complete ineptitude in using them (I once shot off the clothes pins holding up the target at a shooting range) I did have to admit that I could understand how having someone who knows how to use firearms near you at night in an area where everyone and their brother was armed and many of them making or using drugs might make you sleep a little easier.
Now you may wonder, when am I getting to the heaven part. Well, it was pretty much heaven right away if you enjoy being removed from civilization as I do. Even if you don't though, the first time you dip your oar into Pine Log Creek, you will know you are somewhere special. Here are some images of what we saw there. I spent about six hours with Serge and never saw another soul. This truly was heaven to me, except for the yellow flies. I should have known. Serge had a fly swatter and was pretty adamant about using it. He's had people shooting at him before and he seemed concerned about the flies. That should have been a clue. The next day my hand totally swelled up and my whole arm turned red and I got sick, but I am better now and it was worth every second of discomfort to enter this heavenly swamp. Enjoy the images and look Serge up if you wan to see this sort of wild landscape for yourself. You won't regret it!
One of the most amazing things about Tate's Hell is the natural state of the water and the incredible surface tension. There is this film across the water that is totally natural and only exists in healthy ecosystems. It is this film that the whirligig beetles and other creatures skim across. The tension contracts and expands and it is fascinating to watch leaves and other natural material interacting with this surface. During the past year I have kayaked on so many unhealthy rivers where this kind of scene would be unthinkable. All biomass is quickly decomposed and disappears. The water becomes a sick red or yellowish brown and biodiversity is lost. The whole time I was in Tate's Hell, I was in heaven thinking about all the life that was teeming around me.
The last thing I saw when I left the creek was the incredible reflections of the other dock in the very still water. I was sad to be leaving, as I knew it would be a very long time before I would be in such a pristine environment again.
Boat Dock with Reflections, Tate's Hell
IF you find yourself along the Forgotten Coast and are daring enough to venture into Tate's Hell, look up Serge at La Lutra Ecotours (http://www.lalutra.com/Contact_Us.html). You won't regret it. You can say I sent you, but don't let on that I filled you in on his freezer full of bugs or all the things that can eat you in the water...