|We arrived into Florida in sunshine and I was faced with the prospect of finally wearing shorts. We felt like we had a long time in Florida- but it was easy to fill the time up with rides, shows, beaches and sweaty sightseeing.
One of our first stops was the NASA launch headquarters at Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral. It was well organized for huge crowds and felt like theme park. There were simulators, 3D movies and informative tours. We saw the test rocket Ares I-X on the launch pad, walked along side a replica of the Apollo/Saturn 5, touched a ‘moon rock’ and listened to a lot of proud American rhetoric. Hard to believe that in just 8 years the Americans were able to progress from their first space flight to successfully landing and returning from the moon in 1969!
Just a short drive from Cape Canaveral is Orlando, theme park central. After researching the theme parks and prices (not cheap at full pop!) a 70% discount helped us decided to brave the timeshare route to getting cheap tickets. After a tour of the resort that we were ‘interested’ in on a golf cart with the starter salesman and saying ‘No’ more and more forcefully to 4 hard-sell salesmen that followed, we got the ultra cheap tickets to Universal Studios. We spent the day at Universal getting our full of the rides, shows, rollercoasters and general crazy atmosphere. We rounded off the day in classy style by filling in as the audience to a taping of TNA wrestling. Steve was watching the athletes/actors recognizable from TV and I had a great time watching the insane people in the crowd.
The Everglades National Park was really neat to see; it encompasses many distinct, endangered ecosystems and has many ongoing management issues. We first took an airboat ride through the mangroves which was all about speed and a little about wildlife viewing. Captain Doug navigated us at full blast through tight mangrove lined corridors on top of eerily calm dark chocolate water. We saw manatees, fed albatross off the front of the boat and got up close and personal with some deadly looking alligators. It was a pretty awesome ride!
The next portion of the Everglades that we saw was known as the ‘river of grass’ and is the slow moving seasonal river. We did a tour down to an observation tower with a park ranger identifying wildlife and the many issues that exist here on the way. An observation tower was needed because the Everglades, like the rest of Florida, is ridiculously flat with just centimeters making the difference between sawgrass and trees.
Florida is known for its beaches and we sure visited a few- from up west at Daytona Beach- the legendary spring break party town that seemed run down and seedy when we visited – to the beautiful white sand and warm calm water of the more up-market Naples on the Gulf of Mexico. Miami Beach up to Fort Lauderdale is one continuous chain of high rises and buildings along a very nice beach just like you see on TV. We stumbled across a red bull skim-boarding competition where we could drink as much free red bull as we wanted and got to use free paddle boards. Hyperactive teenagers everywhere! It was a very fun way to fill the afternoon on the beach.
We drove down to Key West at the end of the Florida Keys (a line of small islands connected by bridges that seem longer than the islands themselves). These islands were beautiful and not as developed or rich as we had imagined due to a lot of mangrove and rocky areas. The weather was hot and sticky and didn’t get any cooler at night time. It was about then that we really wished that the van had its cooling apparatus working. With no air-conditioning, the drivers-side window jammed shut and not even an interior fan working, we were constantly on the verge of overheating. Night time didn’t cool down much below 30 degrees and we spent two sleepless sticky nights in the back of the van trying to balance the ridiculous suffocating heat with the terrible mosquitoes and biting bugs and flies. Our bed felt like a hot tub waterbed and it was soon wet with sweat. Steve actually spent part of the night sleeping in the communal showers sitting up in a chair to get into some air conditioning while I lay there with all the doors and windows open getting eaten alive by bugs. Needless to say, after the second night we both had enough and were finished with the camping in Florida.
We spent the last four days in Maimi sorting out our stuff and preparing to downsize from a van load to a backpack each! We sent camping gear and important stuff back to Kelowna in the roof container and donated all our excess belongings and food to the goodwills stores. Within all this organizing, there was time for fun too, we went to see a football game (American grid-iron for you kiwis), the Miami Dolphins vs New Orleans Saints. It was actually a lot more fun than I expected and crazy to see the tail gate party’s outside before and after the game. The atmosphere in the stadium was awesome (drunken and crazy) and it was a riot. We also saw the first basketball game of the season- Miami Heat vs New York Knicks and that was entertaining also. We also spent time shopping and beaching.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to the dustbuster and we called the autowreckers to take her away. And not a day too soon because she didn’t sound too healthy- it was like she knew! It was kind of sad to see the van being hauled away on the back of the tow truck. 18,486 km and the end of our North American campervan adventure! From Miami we are jumping on a cruise through the Caribbean and then off to Central America. Bon Voyage!