Sometimes it can be a huge warning sign when locals tell you first about things to do outside of their city as opposed to any attractions right in the middle of town. I had been called to Jacksonville on business for a couple of days and, being me, the first thing I asked was if there was anything unique or interesting in the city to explore. The first thing they mentioned was to go and see the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, about 25 miles to the south.
My colleagues are not as in to historical discoveries as I am but I was intrigued at seeing live alligators and the other animals in the collection. What really perked me up, however, was the mention of St. Augustine, the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the continental United States. Whatever there was in Jacksonville itself could not compete for my attention on the one day I would have to myself which was Sunday afternoon before two days of meetings and conferences at the office.
Like a scalded rabbit I high-tailed it out of the airport in my rental car for the 35 minute drive around central Jacksonville on I-295 towards St. Augustine where I made a beeline to the Alligator Farm. I wanted to see the critters first as it was a bit overcast and wanted to save the "warm" hours of the late afternoon for any landmarks the city had to offer. I wasn't disappointed.
The largest 'gator at the park was just under 14 feet but we marveled more at the handler who hand-fed (tossed, to be precise) the varmints gutted rodents with her bare hands! What, like they wouldn't eat if she had been wearing protective gloves? Juvenile gators were in a separate area so's the moms and dads wouldn't snack on them. These future handbags, shoes and appetizers looked every bit as cute in the Jurassic Park kind of way that one would expect, pearly white teeth smiling wide as they bathed in what sunlight there was.
The story of Gomek the late massive Australian salt water crocodile was touching while his replacement, Maximo, more than lived up to his name. Big he certainly was, if somewhat bored, preferring to simply loll in the lagoon of his enclosure and not move a muscle for the better part of an hour. I know cuz I got bored and checked back with him later. Hadn't moved an inch.
The king cobra and komodo dragon both stared me straight in the face, sending not a little chill up my spine despite being pressed to the nose against the Plexiglas that separated us. My favorite, though, was the green tree python who coiled in his tree exactly as if posing for National Geographic. They and the other motionless creatures throughout the park prompted a few visiting skeptics to surmise that none of them were real. Until one of them moved.
For $50 one can take pictures with the biggest and more docile (docile?) of the alligators, standing at the tail of course and with a handler close by.
I saved my money.