Tuesday 28 November to Saturday 2 December
Next day we were on the move again, to the western or Gulf of Mexico side of the Florida peninsula. We drove into Tampa and found a big city – too difficult, so we kept driving. We crossed Old Tampa Bay on one of the many long bridges that span the bay and headed south to St Pete Beach.
Once again, holiday living at its best. We drove past massive condominiums and little wooden shacks, all with tracks leading to the beach.
We arrived at sunset and sat for a quiet hour overlooking the beach and enjoying the balmy evening. Unfortunately, we had only allowed a single night here.
Much to Bruce’s delight, we tracked down a local brewery The Sea Dog Brewing Co. Uber wasn’t co-operating, so we asked our hotel to get us a taxi to the brewery. Instead they suggested the free local shuttle, which is supported by the advertising that covers the car. They suggested that we tip the driver, about what an Uber would cost. We had friendly drivers in both directions who seem to scraper a living out of the service.
It was a lively brewery with decent food.
Next morning we crossed the road for breakfast, and found a delightful French patisserie with real croissants and real orange juice and real coffee. Starlings were on the move, and in something reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds we watched mesmerised as they perched on the wires, flew around the trees and settled back on the wires.
Our next destination was Miami, for no other reason than we must see it. This was to be our stepping off point to our next adventures in Central and South America.
We had found an apartment hotel just a short trot to the Metromover. It came complete with a washing machine and the luxury of being able to do a big wash.
After completing the domestic chores and Bruce putting a few more hours into his latest consulting, we booked into an Everglades half day tour.
The drive was approximately 35 miles north west, in typical Florida traffic – slow.
The major attraction to sightseeing on the Everglades is the vehicle, an Airboat. And the highlight of the tour is the speed trip where we travelled very fast. We made three fast runs during our tour through the wetlands of the wildlife preserve.
This area is claimed to be the only place where crocodiles and alligators are found in the same place. The crocodiles here are aggressive, but they are also threatened. Alligators are calmer, and we were told, will not go after you.
The Everglades host hundreds of species of birds, fish and plants. It includes some endangered animals such as the Florida panther.
Our guide, a young lady who had a penchant for speed, gave us an insight to some of the elements of the Everglades.
The most common plant in the everglades is the sawgrass. These create prairies and marshes, around which the water flows and they provide nesting for alligators. Pith of reed can be used to cover grazes and stop bleeding.
Water lilies grow in up to 6 feet (1.8m) of water, so if you can see leaves you know the water is less than 6 feet deep. The flowers of the waterlily were used as a token engagement gift for natives. The stem can filter water but doesn’t taste very good.
As expected in a wetland, the water is relatively shallow over most of the area, however in one area our guide told us that the water was 35 feet (10.7m) deep and here it appeared to be moving quite quickly.
Towards the end of our tour an alligator swam out towards us and kindly stopped for photos. He appeared calm and relaxed.
After the air ride there was a presentation of alligators by the Gator Boys. They are a famous alligator rescue group that educates the public about the ongoing conservation and presentation efforts of the Everglades. Alligators caught in urban areas can be slaughtered for meat and skin. They can’t be returned to the wild because they will find their way back to where they were living. The Gator Boys in this park provides a protected habitat for them.
And in Miami we found a Japanese restaurant for dinner that served a Korean Barbeque. Specials on offer included cheese-filled wontons and velveteen cheese to spread over your bbq’d meat.
The major language spoken there was … Latin American Spanish
The Metromover is Florida’s free above ground transport, made up of three separate and interconnected rail loops. It is fast, frequent and a very efficient way of moving people around. Our nearest station was Brickell on the Brickell Loop, which runs counter clockwise and took us to the Bayfront Park and College Bayside in downtown old Florida.
Most of upmarket Florida is on the Atlantic Ocean across the Intercoastal Waterway.
We took the Biscayne Bay Cruise around the harbour, where some of the more exclusive properties can be found.
It was a pleasant cruise and an opportunity to learn how big money was made and lost on property development in this area.
Downtown Miami is a small, uninspiring area. There are a few nice art décor buildings such as the Dade County Courthouse (1925), and a lot of homeless people. We didn’t cross over to the beachside areas like Miami Beach and South Beach, which we assumed would be rather like a giant Surfers’ Paradise.
We also considered driving down the Keys, but it would have been a full day’s drive in each direction, to see a lot of expensive properties.
Actually, we had better things to do. Bruce’s 70th birthday was close, and we had arranged a family get-together to celebrate. So, we flew out of Miami, Florida, United States for a brand new destination – Jamaica.