I’m a big fan of old. Old people, old houses, old towns. Old has experience. Old has depth and character. Old usually has wisdom. And old tells great stories. I’m also a fan of imperfect. Disheveled, dilapidated, crumbling. Imperfect is always, always more interesting than perfect and pristine.
So it should be no surprise that after laying eyes for the first time on Tarpon Springs, Florida, which is the oldest town in Pinellas County, I fell instantly in love. It also didn’t hurt that this little town is, essentially, a fishing village with a predominantly Greek population. I mean, really. Tarpon Springs and I were meant to be together.
I wish I had a picture that conveys the town’s charm and eccentricity, but this damn Prius. Seriously.
Blah, blah, blah, Greeks, sponges, oldness.
The downtown “strip” is lined on one side with boats that much resemble the crews who sail them. Careworn, craggy and smelling of salt, wind and sun. The spongers sit on the docks beside their gonna-need-a-bigger boats, their full-featured Greek faces seamed and tanned from years on the water, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, laughing, shootin’ the shit and just generally being very Greek and fisherman-y as the warm Florida sun sets behind them and soft breezes bear the smells of grilling lamb, handmade soap and the ocean. Y’all, I almost turned inside out from happiness.
And what do the women do? They run the tourist shops, selling miniature statues of Greek gods and goddesses, glass jars full of “Evil Eye” talismans and handmade soap. The tourists eat it up, man. It’s so Greek. However, these ladies don’t play. You get ONE buy 4 get 1 free deal, my friend, and your free soap is the GREEN soap. Thaaat’s right. We will TELL you what your free soap is, lady. Have a nice day!
But for all their micro-managing of soap special offers, these ladies have a definite no-rules attitude toward libation consumption. It’s always time to drink right the hell here, so suck it, Buffett.
Now. Get ready, friends. I would like to take you all along with me on a photographic journey through the highlight of our trip. Remember how I told you I was a big fan of the old and decrepit? Well, I’m also quite fond of the creepy, unusual and just not right. In fact, if you put all these things together, old, decrepit and weird…well, you get the Pope, but you also get the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. This place was just so wrong. Which made it sooo right.
I’m just gonna go ahead and start out with something ripped straight outta your nightmares and mine. If I’m ever stricken dead from fright, put out an APB on this terrifying creature.
This is an Alligator Turtle who bears a strong resemblance to my 7th grade English teacher. The picture doesn’t really show the size of Mr. Alligator Turtle, but he is freakin’ huge. So, you’re probably thinking gentle giant, right? Wrong. This guy actually can be a threat to this guy:
Thaaat’s right. The Gentle Giant will straight up throw down on some gator. So, naturally, Tarpon Springs Aquarium put them both in the same tank. To make it even more morbid, above the tank, right in the sight line of Hannibal Gator Turtle’s current roommate, they hung the skull of the last alligator who bunked up with Satan’s housepet. You can clearly make out where the Gator Turtle chomped down so hard on its victim’s head, it broke through the skull bone. Sweet dreams, alligator!
Moving on to the big-ass snakes. The boa constrictors and pythons at the aquarium were very interested in Evie. While visiting their tanks, I kept turning around only to come face to face with one pressing itself right up to the glass. I’d yelp and yank Evie away and then try to explain to her why she shouldn’t be afraid of snakes. It’s just a lost cause, and I’m tired of the charade. You should be scared of snakes, Evie, because they will totally eat you. To wit:
The good people at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium felt inclined to post right much literature outside the snakes’ tanks that regales visitors with tales of toddlers being swallowed alive, grown men trying to fight off giant pythons with knives and losing and giant pythons escaping from this same aquarium and roaming freely through folks’ backyards. This little display was carefully pasted onto a small piece of cardboard that was leaned up against a snake tank. I made the mistake of taking the cardboard down for a closer look and came face to face with this:
And then I screamed and ran.
But we can’t move on from the snake area before I share this with you. Okay. A giant python was in the process of eating an alligator. Because of course. Now, the alligator was still alive while being eaten by the giant python. Because of course. So, in one final desperate attempt to survive, the alligator opened its enormous jaws and…split open the giant python from the inside out. What I love about this story is the picture. If I hadn’t told you what happened, would you have been able to make out what the hell you were even looking at? I know.
On to the shark tanks. Yes, that is totally a tiger shark getting ready to attack the head of our tour guide. No. But still! Given that Stephanie was, just moments before, actually swimming with sharks and feeding them, this picture could easily show up on a top ten list of eerie photographs one day.
You’ll notice there is metal screening completely covering the top of the tank except for a small square where guess what? People can stick their hands in and feed the sharks bits of raw shrimp skewered onto wooden sticks that could never, ever, ever be long enough for me to STICK MY HAND IN A SHARK TANK.
More informative literature about how sharks will most definitely wipe out all of mankind one day.
I’ll tell you what the hell happened, friends. A fisherman managed to hook a particularly large tarpon fish and was reeling it in when a tiger shark swam up like a bullet shot from the bowels of hell and, with one bite, ate half of the fisherman’s enormous catch. I guess he felt the need to reel the rest of the ravaged carcass in. I don’t know. I’d have just let the mother have the whole thing.
I think this expression pretty much sums it up. Also, she appears to be giving the sharks the finger, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
Friends, you might think I was frightened by our trip to the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. And I was. But that’s the point. Tarpon Springs charmed me and terrified me and thereby won my heart. Others may prefer Busch Gardens or Disney, but I’d take a python-induced anxiety attack followed by lamb gyros and cold beers by the water while watching the sun set any damn day.