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New Year 2010 www. marcoreview. com Page 61 ISLAND FUN

The thirty seconds it takes to drive over the Jolley bridge onto Marco Island has always been to me like cross-ing over into another world. Not only because Marco is a community like no other, but also because Marco is the gateway to the wonderful world of the Everglades. Those of us who are lucky enough to have lived here for many years can sometimes take for granted our unique and beautiful surroundings. But when I spent an afternoon with Vantastic Tours, they gave me a different perspective on an area I thought I knew like the back of my hand. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride... We started our adventure by taking a quick tour of Marco in Vantastic Tours' comfortable air- conditioned van. Our guide pointed out highlights of the island and its distinctive wildlife and talked a little about its history, including the early settlers to the area - the Calusa and Seminole Indians. Our fi rst stop was the top of the Goodland bridge, where we took a few minutes to look south over the 10,000 Islands and learned that the surrounding mangrove islands and es-tuaries are part of the Rookery Bay Preserve. Before we had gone too far our eagle- eyed guide spotted the tell- tale " foot-print" of a West- Indian manatee in the canal to our right. It would have been so easy to pass by the gentle giant, but he knew just what he was looking for and he proceeded to tell us some interesting facts about this endangered creature. As we headed further into the Everglades our next stop was at the Fakahatchee State Preserve where we took a leisurely walk down the boardwalk. Our guide would stop and show us various points of inter-est and explain how the fragile eco system works, especially with the feast or famine rain cycle in south Florida. As we followed the curving boardwalk there was so much to look at on every side that I didn't even notice we had reached the end of the walkway until a fellow traveler took a big gasp at the sight in front of her. We had reached a watering hole where two very large alligators were sunning themselves on the bank. They kept very still, evidently hoping to blend into the mud so they could surprise their next meal.