Places to Go, Things to See – Tourists in Florida

Turning down into southern Florida we had the wind ahead of us yet again but our spirits were high as we started to realise we had made time to spare. Shedding the extra layers as temperatures rose up into the eighties was also delightful.
Camping in comfort for three nights with Warm Showers host Jim, put us back in tourist mode as we visited Tallahassee in neighbour Jethro’s car. Despite being the capital of Florida, Lonely Planet is fairly dismissive of the city saying a couple of days is plenty. We found one did the trick – In the Museum of Florida History I was fascinated to learn that ‘dug out’ canoes were in fact burnt out and the trees initially burnt down – coaxing the shape out of the wood with mini fires and scrapping out the charcoal. None of this sawing and chopping malarkey for these Indians. The museum also laid out some of the ebb and flow of peoples across what became Florida. Our second stop was the Florida State Capitol.  The one building houses all the political part of Florida’s government, but, wisely, they only meet for politics for about 1/4 of the year. The panoramic view from the 22nd floor was unusual due to the nearby abruptness of the city limits whereafter the tree line went as far as the eye could see.
Wakulla Springs, as the name suggests, has a fresh water spring, that’s notably warmer than the winter sea. Many creatures are tempted to enjoy this, indeed it extends the northern limits of manatees and probably other species too. It’s been a peaceful spot for many years, the beasties have lost their fear of man, and don’t run away. Viewing the manatees from a tower and a boat tour,  which also gave us our first full on experience of wild alligators, introduced what became very special in Florida – the wildlife. Manatees, turtles, wading birds, iguanas, armadillos and, did I mention alligators?  were all exceptional. A few days later, at Crystal River, we paid our tourist dollars for a chance to swim with manatees.

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 There were so many herons they can have their own panel!
And that’s leaving out the pelicans, ibis, spoonbills and storks, the other leggy, beaky, wady things. To be fair, bird watching opportunities had been superb pretty much since Galveston, south of Houston. The flat country was often wetlands, which always attracts birds. But in Florida the birds were tamer. Alas though, we never spotted the rare American Crocodile, only alligators.
Turning down south, accommodation prices rocketed and that was when you could find any. RV parks greeted us with, ‘There used to be tents here, but I haven’t seen any for … years‘.  Pitch late, strike early and the ever present dog walkers are none the wiser of our camping if you’re prepared to take the risk.
We stumbled through to an emergency stop in Fort Myers with Warm Showers hosts Dennis & Divina. After a day of reassurance there, they were encouragingly suggesting something would turn up and we’d find places to camp as we cycled along the Keys, we decided to hop across to Key West, on the assumption that it would all work out.. The Florida Keys are one of the region’s big attractions, so we boarded the ferry from Fort Myers, full of anticipation, with the intention of sneaking up on Miami from the south.
In Key West we got the T- shirts before yet another search for somewhere to camp. As luck would have it we got a space for two nights at our second try for a mere $69/night. Later at Key Largo the warden at John P State Park stated they tried to help get bikers and hikers off the road at night. We couldn’t have a regular site there, they’d been all booked up months ago, but they could let us on the group camp site as it wasn’t being used that night. Although there were no immediate  facilities, except a tap with, to our surprise, a three foot long iguana staking it out, the full amenities weren’t far.  Actually, it was so nice that we begged to stay for another night – allowing us to hire their kayaks for a potter. Another time, a very friendly Chinese man offered us some scrubland, we bought supper at the grill next door – who agreed to leave the back loo unlocked – and that was another night sorted.
Finally, WarmShowers saved the day near Miami with the spacious grounds of Steve’s church. After a good nights sleep, having been disturbed only by his resident peacocks, Steve grinned when we said we were going on to Miami Beach. Bit of a party town he chortled. And verily, our hostel was a bit unhappy about our bikes while selling  pub crawls to topless nightclubs to the rest of the guests. After a day there, one suspects it should be called Miami Breach as frequently areas of flesh broke free from their defenses. In some items of clothing elastic triumphed over gravity in its effort to hold back the wobbling flesh. Tho I do believe there is a beach.
But before heading into Miami and boxing up the bikes, we were keen to see the Everglades proper and so with the prospect of more alligators we headed inland again – especially as we’d managed to book a campsite! The wind on our backs made the excursion, together with the 15 mile lap round the Shark Valley gator trail, delightful.
The trail, along with the frequent sightings in the stream by the roadside, took our gator count well up to the one hundred mark in a day. A kaleidoscope of birds: storks, cranes, ibis’, a wide variety of herons, and the egret family, all flying up in alarm as we cycled past. Trucks and cars they don’t mind, but bicycles must be unfamiliar on Hwy 41.
On the next day, our last cycling day in the USA, we’re back into the headwind. On this occasion it also rained for a while, although more like Thailand’s warm monsoon than Texas’ freezing rain.  Bank holiday, roadworks, big city, with added Cuban machismo – Gid recorded three near misses on the Miami approach. We found a crack in Clare’s worn rear rim – outlasting the other rear rim by a mere 3000km or so. And Hailey told us our dear old cat had died. Quite a day!
Besides the beach at Miami Beach, there’s a little bit of culture too. They’re very proud of their art deco hotels and buildings, and make a bit of a them of it. Like El Paso’s unexpectedly Victorian mansions, it reminded us of home, a mix of Brighton’s hedonism, Shoreham Beach’s geography, and Worthing’s architecture: But writ large, spacious, and so much sunnier!
We’ve had a great time in the USA, it’s another country where the permitted visit length (90 days) isn’t really enough. We’ve seen so much, and been aware of so much more we’ve skipped. Plus, we were crouched down as far south as possible, to avoid the cold. But now, after the wide open spaces and newness of Australia, New Zealand and the USA, we’re back off to Europe, perhaps appropriately to one of the cities that first sent forth European adventurers to claim the New World, Lisbon.

Although we used Warm Showers a little in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, it was in the USA where we used it most. Here’s our complete USA thank you list, there were a few others we had offers from but missed (starting with the nice Californian  lady we met back in Pushkar). Thanks to all, and we’d love to accommodate you back in Sussex.
  • Oscar – LA
  • Dan & Pat – Phoenix
  • Hal, Jay – Safford, and the history tour
  • Deborah & Clayton – Duncan
  • Nick –  Silver City
  • Bonnie, Lake Roberts, not actually WS, but so kind she must be an honourary!
  • John & Donetta – Las Cruces
  • Greg & Cindy, Matt – Victoria – and good luck with round-the-USA later this year!
  • Ryan – Houston
  • Mike & Peggy – Crystal Beach, and again in Port Neches
  • Melissa & Elvin – Grand Chenier
  • Will & Kathy – New Iberia
  • Martin – Inlet Beach
  • David – Blountstown, who remembered a friend from Worthing, Tim Lezard, who cycled round the world a few years ago.
  • James (and Jeffro) – Medart
  • Divina & Dennis – Fort Myers
  • Steve- Kendall near Miami
  • Max – for advice in Miami Beach

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