Students explore Okefenokee

An alligator swims in the Okefenokee Swamp. During the six day trip, students got a first-hand experience with wildlife.

Excited voices shouted through the night as we all sat under a pavilion, listening to environmental teacher John Hughes as he was telling us what to expect the next day.

“BEAR,” someone shouted. I turned my head wildly to search for the thief, but to no avail. “What happened to the pumpkin pie?”

When I looked, the bear, along with one of our desserts, was gone. This Okefenokee trip just got crazier. Okefenokee is a swamp that extends from Georgia into Florida. Twelve other students and I signed up for this school trip to take on the wilds of the south during Thanksgiving break.

A couple days before the bear incident, we were driving toward the campsite. After almost a 20 hour trip in the mini bus, we arrived at our final destination in Florida. Thankfully, we had breaks along the way. Otherwise, we’d all be holding our bladders and going stir-crazy.

Snorkeling was the first main event we did. Stripping down to my bathing suit, I shivered, both from the chill of the air and the thought of getting in the water. No wet suit today. Despite the frigid water, snorkeling with the fish was a success. We then traversed on to the campsite, where we set up our tents and prepared dinner in the pavilion, which was surprisingly tasty for camp food.

The next day, I made sure to bring my big, muscular arms, or as big and muscular as a teenage girl can have, for we were going canoeing. Eight miles of paddling can be strenuous, but I managed to survive without my arms falling off. It also helped that the water was crystal clear, except for when canoes tipped and those who fell in the water stirred it up. Plus, the scenery was breathtaking. Regrettably, my canoeing partner junior Matilda Kennedy-Butler and I didn’t see any alligators. We would have to wait for the second canoeing expedition.

Now what I was looking forward to for months: manatees. We snorkeled again in two different places on Tuesday and were able to swim alongside the big sea cows. Finding a manatee beside me, I run my hands along its smooth, but tough, skin as I watched a mother feed her calf. What an adventure.

To top off the day, we had our Thanksgiving dinner that night. However, this was when the bear made his visit to our dessert table. I was completely blindsided — the bear would actually get that close to us? The pie was only a table away. I’m just thankful I don’t like pumpkin flavor. Otherwise, I might have been between the bear and his target, which most likely would involve a bad outcome- say, death.

Though those who love pumpkin pie were all up-in-arms, our grudge didn’t last long, for we had a spare. On that note, we went to bed.

Wednesday morning, as our tour guide Cathy Sakas roused us from our cozy tent, we grumbled to each other. Assembling and disassembling tents, we learned, was not one of our skills. After we shoved what we could of the tent in its bag, everyone headed toward the bus to venture off to the next campsite, roughly four hours north in Georgia.

Before arriving, the bus made a pit stop at the Griffis Honey Company to give us the chance to purchase delicious honey. I didn’t buy any, but the bus was given free honeycombs, which was fantastic. Upon touchdown, we once again grudgingly set up our tent, visited the man who owns the camp grounds, and went to bed after dinner. Canoeing Thursday was the last big event our group accomplished. This time, however, we saw many alligators warming up in the sun.

Honestly, it was quite remarkable. After two miles of paddling, we visited Billy’s Island and learned of its history. Matilda and I then made our way back, though most of the group continued to see more sights. Finishing the trip, we went on a small hike the following day and took in amazing views. There’s nothing like learning about wildlife and experiencing it at the same time.

Elizabeth Driver is a Sports Editor for The Patriot and