My favourite morning of our trip, we grudgingly leave the fabulous breakfast burritos in the Sunset Café behind and head south down the gulf coast, through Manatee County and down into Sarasota, eventually entering the lush Myakka State Park.
Myakka is hot, hot, hot. We sit, quietly melting, waiting for our boat trip to start. But as soon as we're under the shade of the boat's canopy and slipping slowly through the water, it's fabulous. And the breeze is wonderful. Our guide, Captain Dick (a Vietnam vet), is great - his talk is full of gentle humour ('see those massive ugly black birds over there that look like vultures?' We all nod politely. 'Well, they're vultures') and tons of interesting information. The river, we're told, winds 14 shallow miles around the state park (the shallowness is one reason why we see the big gators - there are lots of areas in the river where they just can't submerge).
We see wild pigs, all manner of cranes and herons, and - obviously - TONS of alligators. We even spot an eagle, stopping to eat his catch in a tree.
Every so often a fish pings up onto the deck of the boat (they seem very athletic, flipping about in the water) and John reaches for his trusty fishslice to flip them back in. At one stage our boat hits one of massive gators that slide ominously past us. There is a terrific thud. 'Don't mind him', John says, 'he won't feel a thing'.
This place is an absolute must-see. And park entry is really cheap at just $6 per car. People come here to bike, hike, kayak and camp, and we could see why, it's a stunning place.