Last week I had the pleasure to visit the Big Cypress Reservation where my hosts, members of the unconquered Seminole Tribe, treated me with such courtesy I wish I’d traveled there years earlier. Facebook posts made during and after my visit far surpassed any I’d posted before, and it seems quite a few people are curious about visiting themselves so, in brief, I’ll do my best to give you some basics about where to go and what to see.
• Click here to find a map to the area, which is about 45 minutes south of Clewiston.
• While Clewiston has chain stores, restaurants, and hotels, you can also stay on the reservation at Big Cypress RV Resort. Their numbers are (800) 437-4102 and (863)983-1330.
• Down the road from the RV Park, on the corner of Highway 833 and West Boundary Road is the wonderful Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Open Wednesday-Sunday from 9-5, it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian and does a wonderful job relating the story of the Seminoles: Who they are, how they hunted, how they prepared meals and clothing, how they traveled and traded and celebrated. There’s also a wonderful research center here.
• Behind the museum is a well-maintained nature walk that leads through the swampy woods (FYI: Their medicine men could look at these woods and see a pharmacy). The trail eventually reaches a village where Seminole elders feature fabulous beadwork and handicraft for sale.
• About two miles down the road from the museum, the Billie Swamp Safari (863-983-6101) is the primary tourist attraction here. This is where you’ll be able to ride on an airboat, take to the swamp on a modified high-wheeled vehicle, watch a gator wrestler, see an animal show, grab a bite to eat at the Swamp Water Café, look at items in the gift shop and – if you have the fortitude – stay the night in a modified chickee hut. What’s a chickee hut? Well…
• A chickee hut is fashioned after a traditional Seminole dwelling – and I must say it sticks pretty close to the original. There are beds, but no electric, plumbing, or air conditioning. What there is is an opportunity for “adventure sleeping” to the sounds of the adjacent lake that’s home to alligators, water buffalo, deer, sand hill cranes… and awakening to a pure Florida wilderness. I did this one evening and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
One last note: When you arrive, at first glance you may see a remote landscape with little to offer. But look closely. Talk to members of the tribe. If you’re curious and sincere, they’ll be generous with information and soon you’ll realize there’s an entire universe all around you.
For more information regarding the history of the Seminoles, click http://www.semtribe.com/History/, and for an overview of information able Seminole culture, government, and tourism, visit http://www.semtribe.com.