A former wilderness guide recalls working in the Florida Everglades in this passionate if at times crude travel guide–cum-memoir.
In his debut, Mitchell recounts taking waves of anxious tourists through the alligator-infested waters of the Everglades. The book is shaped into a series of tours through the national park, punctuated by humorous anecdotes along the way. A former IT security specialist from the Isle of Wight, Mitchell lived and worked at the Everglades International Hostel offering various immersion excursions to the guests. Many of the tours described are on foot, walking knee-deep in water. In true tour-guide fashion, Mitchell leads readers step by step through this alien landscape, describing flora and fauna along the way. He warns of saw grass that can “shred your clothing and skin,” the infamous and highly venomous cottonmouth snake, and, of course, the American alligator, the “keeper of the glades.” Mitchell has a keen eye for topography, and some of the most fascinating descriptions come in the shape of the various cypress domes that dot the park. These ponds, below a tree canopy that forms the shape of a dome, house a variety of wildlife and are foreboding to enter. Mitchell describes tourists blanching at the sight of a resident alligator or screaming as turtles brush by their ankles. In the preface to the book, Mitchell says, “The Everglades are a wild and poetic landscape that is largely indescribable,” yet he compensates with stunning color photographs and a wealth of background information. The book is, however, prone to repetition. For instance, Mitchell twice describes the differences between an alligator and a crocodile, and he repeatedly refers to how touching some wildlife in the park is deemed “harassment.” A few of his anecdotes might be considered puerile—forever the prankster, he describes putting his own feces beneath the pillow of a colleague—and indeed, such anecdotes are mostly unnecessary and muddy the tone of a perfectly readable travel guide, limiting the book’s audience in the process.
A flawed yet engaging and informative on-the-ground travel guide.