March 07, 2011

Orange world

"Ladies and gentlemen, please keep the limbs of your children out of the aisles." Flight attendants working Orlando-bound routes include this admonishment in their airplane safety talks because planes bound for the Magic Kingdom have lots of antsy kids aboard.

Dana and I are back from the Orlando-as-substitute-for-Egypt spring break trip. Because we should have been doing relatively exotic things like navigating Cairo's labyrinthine Khan el-Khalili souk, contemplating the Sphinx and sailing the Nile on the deck of a felucca, I sought out Orlando activities with at least a whiff of adventure. Orlando is theme parks, kitschy retail strips and the sidewalk-less freeways that connect them, but we did manage to find some fun stuff that had nothing to do with big-eared mice, princesses, movie studios, killer whale performances or shops selling citrus and seashells.

We drove about 45 minutes southeast of Orlando to Forever Florida, a 4,700-acre wildlife ranch and conservation area with a menu of EcoSafaris designed to get you out into the Florida wild. You can hike, ride on horseback, travel in a safari vehicle or take a two-hour zipline safari through a varied ecosystem, which we opted for. Advance reservations are essential, as spaces are limited and fill fast.

The zipline safari was exhausting and exhilarating. And scary. I wanted to quit several times, like when we were in the staging area learning how to put on and control our gear and were told "DO NOT TOUCH THE CABLE. YOU ARE MOVING AT 15-20 MILES PER HOUR AND IF YOU PUT YOUR HAND UP THERE THE CABLE WILL SLICE THROUGH YOUR SKIN, MUSCLE AND BONE," and when we climbed the first tower we had to jump from, a tower three times higher than the fire ranger tower atop a mountain near our New Hampshire place, a tower I gave up climbing years ago because each step on those metal stairs with the huge, see-through gaps between them made me want to faint or vomit. But, hey! I'm on vacation! Keep climbing, baby!

Had I not kept going I would have missed zipping over a 12-foot gator who'd been relegated to this isolated outpost in a muddy bog in the woods because, according to our guide, "he kept swimming over to the kids' camp where the kids go kayaking."

At Horse World Stables, 12 miles down a quiet road from my parents' rental condo in Kissimmee, Dana spent two afternoons communing with the horses and went on a trail ride specifically geared to her intermediate/advanced level. Horse World is a beautiful, peaceful, family-run place that rescues unwanted and abused horses and and treats them well. "All our horses die here," said the owner, and he meant that as a good thing. There's a horse cemetery on the property.

While Dana rode, I sat on a dock over a pond and watched a long-necked, black bird swallow a live snake whole. The process took 25 minutes and was almost as exciting as the zipline.