So we spent the night in the Walmart parking lot last night and it was the best camping experience in the US so far! Ok, so not the best but certainly the cheapest. And it had the most entertainment..we spent two and a half hours (about an hour and a half longer than Marius would have preferred) in the shop amazed by the range and the prices. We finally found where America shops, or should shop..if I lived here I would actually buy a house based on the proximity of a Walmart. Thanks Walmart Pennsylvania, we had a great night, a great rottiserie lemon pepper chicken and countless hours of shopping fun!
It would be a lie to say that our stay here in the land of the free has been a walk in the park. After kazillion hours of flying, making connection flights, and more flying (ok, there was one connection of an hour and a total of 23h of flying) we landed at Dulles airport, Virginia. Coming from Africa and connecting in the Arabic nation of Quatar we expected customs to be a nightmare, but we were in an out of the airport as fast as we could walk. The ground temperature we expected was about 7°C and I prepared the worst. Surprisingly, although it was cold it was very different from the 7°C I was used to in South-Africa (it may have had something to do with the two layered jacket I had on). A plane, train and two automobile rides later we arrived at the Days Inn motel, Alexandria, Virginia. It was a cosy little motel with two large double beds..all the space we needed after being stuck in a chair for all those hours. Dinner that night as well as both lunch and dinner the next day consisted of hotdogs. We bought a packed of viennas , some very expensive breadrolls and tomato sauce (henceforth referred to ketchup..catching up with the lingo). Since then, we have opted not to have a hotdog again.
We landed on the 6th March and we expected the cruiser to get here by the 9th. Our first line of business was to sort out the vehicle insurance, which was a much less painful but much more expensive experience than we expected. We took the metro to old town Alexandria to the closest insurance agent according to good old Google. With that sorted we only had to get the phone and internet to sort and pickup the cruiser before the weekend. Unfortunately neither of these was as straightforward. Although the cruiser was already at the port by the 9th, clearance procedures were going to take much longer than we thought and we would only be able to get the cruiser by the middle of the next week. At U$60 per night for the cheapest accommodation, this was not good news. We also had no means of making any food for ourselves (well except hotdogs) and buying ready –made meals is super expensive. Lucky for us we had friends from a previous trip that had a daughter living in Maryland. We felt really bad phoning someone we have never met to ask to stay with them for a few days, but Jennifer made it so easy. Soon after we met it felt like we had known this Texas-gal, her daughter Juliana and the dog, little Lu-lu for years. We abused their generosity for more than a week but we had such a great time learning how things happen around here. They live in a beautiful part of Annapolis, Maryland called Edgewater. And just like the name says, it’s next to the water on a side branch of the Cheasepeak lake. When you are not next to the water, you’re surrounded by a large forest of trees. These same trees can be seen in each of the states we have visited so far – I still need find out what they are but if you’ve seen any of the Twilight movies you’ll know the trees I’m referring to! Juliana is an up and coming soccer star and we were privileged to see some of her games. Here, girl’s soccer is a big thing…and yes, they call it soccer like we do, finally something we use the same name for. We went to a Saint Patricks day dinner with Jennifer and made some new friends. Thanks to Jennifer’s neighbours Tito and Carla we now know how a real Mexican marguerita taste and we have a good idea of what’s worth seeing in Mexico.
The cruiser finally arrived on the 15th and the next day we drove to Baltimore harbor to get it. Unfortunately, the guys at Pride International shipping agency made a bugger up and sent us to people that was supposed to escort us, at a price, into the harbor area. What both Pride Int. and the nice people at A1 escorts neglected to see was that the cruiser wasn’t parked in an area of the harbor which required you to have an escort. And of coarse, they only saw it on the paperwork once we got to the harbor and had therefore did the service for which they now wanted to be paid. We finally got the cruiser and because Jennifer was kind enough to borrow us her V6 Ford truck, I had to drive the cruiser from Baltimore to Edgewater. I hadn’t planned in ever driving on the wrong side of the road, but I managed to get the cruiser safely home.
Finding campgrounds has been, to say the least, exhausting. All campgrounds so far in the Maryland and Pennsylvania area (and probably the rest of the US) cater mostly for RVs which generally require an electrical and water hook-up. Problem is they charge a lot for these hook-ups making most general campgrounds “slightly” above our daily budget. State parks offers more affordable rates, but as this area should still be under snow this time of year, most state parks only open from April. In fact, some general campgrounds couldn’t accommodate us because they don’t have water. Their water pipes are above ground and it only get switched on in summer months.
So, apart from trying to get a campground that is open we have also seen a few all-American sites.. We visited Washington DC and saw the Mall area. At the east end of the National Mall lies the US Capitol. For those wonderfully informed South Africans out there like me..that’s the building the aliens from Independence day blows up with their super-sonic laser. If you’re still not sure (as I am now unsure about which building they actually blow up…) I include a picture. We saw the Washington monument which is a marble obelisk 555ft tall as well as the white house..the flag was raised and I think that means the president was there??? Unfortunately they were doing some construction on the reflecting pool and we couldn’t take some nice pictures of that. We visited both the Natural History museum and the National Air and Space museum which was pretty interesting and informative. Lucky for us two major events, St. Patricks Day parade and the Cherry blossom festival was on during our visit. We witnessed our first American parade and got to see the beautiful cherry blossom in their full glory. There was also an orchid exhibition which was definitely my highlight of the day.
From Maryland we headed north to Pennsylvania. One of the many things Jennifer introduced us to was the Dutch community and their wonderful foods. She took us to one of their stores in Maryland and we experienced the delicious wonders of a whoopee pie for the first time. This is basically a smallish soft cookie of different flavors with filling which must contain a large amount of sugar and cream in the centre. The largest population of this Dutch community has established farmlands in the Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. Although the name implies connections with the Netherlands, the name was a mistaken derivation of Deutsh (German) and in fact they originated from Switzerland. Talk about mistaken identity. Anyway, the founder of this community had unorthodox mannerisms regarding religion which led to the order’s persecution and subsequent resettlement in Lancaster county. Even today these people live in ways quite different from the technologically advanced US we know. The true Amish order do not use any electricity in their houses, they do not own a car and still wear old-style outfits. For the South Africans, it resembles the Voortrekker outfits complete with the men’s hats and beards and the big dresses of the ladies. Instead of cars they use horse-drawn buggies which are allowed on the same tar roads the rest of Pennsylvania drives on at 45mph (app. 75km/h)! They hang their clothes outside in a cloudy 40°F (app. 4°C). It’s a strange symbiotic relationship existing between these pacifists and the rest of the community which buy their delicious fresh produce. But then again, it would be strange to see an American not getting along with any other American… Apparently at a certain age the children get to decide for themselves if they want to continue with this way of life or if they want to live like the rest of the US.
It was time to get the Cruiser a new pair of shoes and like picking a name out of a hat we decided that Allentown, Pennsylvania would be a good place to look for tires. Searching for a tire dealer in a town you have never heard of mainly consist of punching in all the places you think should sell tires into the GPS and then driving wherever it tells you to go. Lucky for us a much higher power intervened and led us to the great people of Britt Tyre & Auto Repair Inc in a little town called Emmaus. Not only could they get the tires we wanted within a day, they were also the cheapest. But the best part of this experience was the guys that worked there. We spent a great day with the three guys, Dave, Rick and Zerin who gave us good advice on tires, hamburgers and visiting New York. Thanks guys for the great service and such good company, it was a pleasure to meet you. While sitting in your reception area, eating a Burgery burger and listening Sweet home Alabama on the radio we finally felt like we were now in the US. Hippo’s forever!
Things we learned about this place and it’s people. ..
They are way better drivers than we are…we have seen no collisions on the road since we’ve been here. The people are some of the friendliest, nicest, well-mannered people we have ever met. Everyone is so tolerant toward each other compared to SA. When someone momentarily blocks your view of the canned goods in the canned foods aisle, they say “excuse me”. When you get to the cashier, she is super friendly and helpful and even asks you if you will be ok to put the stuff in the car. Pretty much everyone we have met has gone out of their way to help in any way possible. Bread is unaffordable here..for a cheap super-refined white loaf on special you will pay about R15..we have resorted to tortilla wraps which is a bit healthier and more affordable. Rita’s has the best icecream…it’s not so much ice cream as a mixture of custard and mousse..your thighs worst nightmare. They have the most V8 vehicles in one spot at any given time you could imagine. Our Toyota Hilux bakkies look like Smartcars compared to their Ford F350 “trucks”. We are still getting use to seeing brand new Mustangs around every corner..Marius and I finally agree on a good looking car! They say everything in the USA is bigger, and if you thought they were exaggerating, you will be sorely mistaken..it is much much bigger than you can imagine. The roads here are so vast, at any given time we have no idea where we are driving to, how to get there and where we actually are (and that is with a GPS!). They are very patriotic, you will not drive through a small town without seeing the Stars and Stripes on a flagpole outside a few houses. And rightfully they should be proud, their democratic system seems to be working, their criminals are behind bars and their infrastructure is outstanding. The streets are clean, their public transport is on time and if you find a public toilet it has toilet paper. The Cruiser runs better on their 87% octane cheap fuel (ZAR 7/liter) than on our 93.
Things we miss about SA…
I first and foremost miss a toilet five steps from my bed… Marius agrees completely especially in -10°C…but this has nothing to do with the availability of public toilets in the US which has been amazing. We also miss our families, hearing Afrikaans and having meat, especially beef, at affordable prices. Here you are never unsure whether you can or cannot do something..there will be a signpost telling you where you can go, park, drive, sleep, eat or go to the loo. There are a lot of rules here, (which is likely the reason everything works so efficiently) but we miss being able to just do whatever we want.
8 April 2012
Once the cruiser had new tires we could finally start heading north toward the Canadian border. Although just about everybody we talked to said that New York city was not worth the trouble to go to, it was hard to drive right by the most famous city in the world without stopping. We soon found out however that its one thing to want to see it and quite another to actually go to the Big Apple. All bridges connecting the Manhattan island to the mainland are toll roads costing a pretty penny. We assume they are trying to keep the cars on that side to a minimum as traffic over there is supposedly a nightmare. If you are able to drive there in a reasonable time, you still have to get parking somewhere which is big business costing around $30 for 12 hours! In addition, these parking areas were likely not built for 2.11m high Cruiser…After much deliberation, we decided to drive to the Liberty State Park on the mainland of New Jersey from where you could see the Statue of Liberty and also the skyscrapers of New York City. Navigating through the backstreets of New Jersey, the pristine neighborhoods we had seen in the Washington area were now something of the past. I suspect it is a bit of a different situation on Manhattan where the rich and the famous live in high-rise penthouses though… Along the road we saw typical images out of a Bronx movie…kids with NY caps and giant sneakers playing basketball in caged courts, homeboys trying to swagger with their pants hanging around their knees and poor homeless guys carrying their life’s belongings on his back.
Seeing Manhattan from across the Hudson river was pretty spectacular. The skyline had all the familiar buildings you see the movies..from where we were the World Trade Centre buildings would have been right in the line of sight. I could imagine seeing the two planes crashing from where we were standing..with the mentality of these friendly, harmless people…it must have been the most horrific thing you could possibly imagine seeing. To the left of where we were, the Statue of Liberty had turned her back on us. She was not as big as I had imagined but her she wore her copper apparel with such pride that you could understand the patriotism when driving past a row of houses with the Stars and stripes proudly swaying from the porch.
So after that we started on our way north. We drove in the direction of the Catskill Mountains and planned to sleep at a state park. On our way we passed by the area where the psychedelic summer of ’69 took place…Woodstock. We had now entered the state of New York , not to be confused with New York City, which is located in the state of New Jersey. Unfortunately the Park was still closed for the season and we pitched our tent in their parking area. That night, at about 2500m, we’re pretty sure we heard our first bear…at a safe distance thankfully..not that we really have a clue what a bear sounds like.. We woke to a super chilly morning. Just to make things extra great, it started to icerain. For a South-African couple that freeze at 40°F/5°C, it was quite cold enough. We packed up and headed further north to Albany, the capital of the state of New York.
Our plan was to stay close to Albany for a day or two while we wait for a Canadian ID insurance card to be sent there. As we did not have the internet yet we made the usual drive around town to stores which we knew had free WiFI such as Lowe’s, Dunkin donuts and the reliable favorite Starbucks. We searched the area for privately owned campgrounds because all information about the state parks indicated that they were still closed for the season. We thought we were quite lucky when we found a campground that was not too far but was yet again disappointed when we got there and it was closed for the season as well. We had come to deadman’s door one too many times now and we considered that maybe it wasn’t the right time to be travelling north. When we looked at the accommodation available in Canada, which we would be crossing into pretty soon, we realized that none of the places on that side was open either. It was a hard way to learn a lesson but we finally understood that the north of America closes for the winter. There will be no farmers Market to visit in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, no campsites available anywhere and we will have no choice but to turn south. It was a bit like I would imagine the great explorer’s of the early centuries felt when they set course in the complete opposite direction in search of land.. Anyway, we turned left at the traffic light instead of right and we drove back to Mahlon Dickerson State Park where we had stayed earlier on our way up north. A little defeated (and irritated) but slightly defrosted we settled in for the night.
The next day brought a whole new trip. We tried our best not to drive the same roads down which we did on the way north and after one more Walmart night we were safe in the state of Virginia. Almost immediately it went from freezing cold to short sleeve shirt weather. ..I was delighted. We headed to the coast and the next night we slept at Virginia Beach. This typical coastal town was close to Norfolk which is home to the largest US naval base. And it wasn’t long until we experienced this in full glory. It was dusk by the time we got to the campgrounds and this was evidently also the time when ALL the jets possible owned by the US return to this base. Every 45 seconds a jet, or any factor of three (in formation) would come in for landing to great despair of our poor ears. After a few hopeless attempts, we abandoned all efforts of communicating for two hours or so. It was amazing to see the accuracy with which they maneuvered such a powerful machine, but after the third one you’ve seen it all.
Virginia beach was every bit the beach resort area we had expected. It had the merri-go-round by the beach, a wide boardwalk strip where people came to jog and about a million little surf-shops. Even though it was a chilly day, you could see people walking around without their shirts off desperately urging summer to arrive…spring break was about to start and everyone was waiting anxiously. We still had a long way South to go so we didn’t wait for their summer to arrive, instead we drove down to get it somewhere else.
Unlike the shoreline of most of Africa, the coastline of North America consist of a million little islands and inlets where rivers force their way into the mainland forming the swamplands of the South (North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, amongst others). The shore of North Carolina is particularly fragmented and you find colossal bridges crossing kilometers of ocean water. One specific area known as the Outer banks consist of a string of barrier islands which is all that is left of ancient sand dunes. Instead of forgetting about this lost piece of the land, the US built wonderful double lane roads on these stretches, some of which are not wider than 300m. The further we moved from the mainland, the more interesting it also became. Places had funny names such as Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head and the restaurants in the area followed example. Although you would imagine this would be a paradise of white sand and sea, we found the houses on the shoreline a little rundown and depressing. You could see most of them were abandoned for the winter and when the guy that owns it would return he would have a hell of a lot of sand to clear from his car port before he could think of stopping. All the houses there are built on stilts from unvarnished wood. We really wanted to camp at one of the campground on these islands but unfortunately all on them were still closed. So we got to about 10 miles from Rodanthe and then turned inland. I think we might have missed the beautiful parts around Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke Island but driving there and back was a little too far and taking the ferry across, somewhat expensive.
On the way south from there everything became greener and greener and the people became fewer and farther in between. Large farming communities could be seen planting beautiful crops which looked like spring onions and some bright yellow flowers. Everywhere you looked you could see swamp by the side of the road. We remembered the trouble the Zambians had with building a causeway from Kaledo and Mongu….we think they should maybe have come to get some tips from these guys! From the beautiful Pettigrew State Parks we drove further south past places like Wallace with it’s wonderfully friendly peoples and Wilmington, the actual site where the show Dawson’s Creek was filmed. (Although there is a little town in Canada called Dawson’s Creek…I could have sworn the show claimed to have been made in Canada?)..Anyway, we got to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and we had finally caught up with summer…and inevitable spring break. The weather was amazing, people were walking around in their swimwear and we could not believe that only a week and a half before we couldn’t wash the dishes without the water freezing on the washed plate! Had it really only been 500 miles (+-800km)? The campgrounds were packed with people on their spring break and we made some great new friends there.
We stuck to South Carolina’s coastline where we stayed in state parks where possible. Just before entering Georgia however, we stayed at the Stoney Creek Campground about 20 miles north of Savannah. Whilst making dinner one of the residents at the campground invited us for a drink at their campfire and were lucky to meet three lovely gals..Candy, Tina and Robin. They lived on the campgrounds in mobile homes and we shared stories about our home countries. Although it would almost be impossible to drive through the US without making a ton of friends, I cannot express how much more of a country you see when you meet the people. Each of the friends we’ve made up to now has brought their own unique interpretation of their country, it people and it’s ways and this had become the best part of the trip for us. From the two relatively shy individuals we were, we now cannot wait to meet the next friend. Candy, Robin and Tina….thanks for a great night, we had a lot of fun.
The next morning we drove through the beautifully, romantic Savannah with the Spanish moss dripping from each willing tree where we finally picked up the Canadian ID card. The old buildings were surrounded by a million small churches and religious establishments reminding us why the South is also known as the Bible belt. So the night before last, we camped “primitively” in a little town called Richmond for the first time since we got here. It basically involves hiking to your campsite and pitching your own tent. As the word primitive might imply, there is no showers or toilets (pretty much equivalent to a good campsite in Africa). The perks of staying at one of these campsites are that they are usually much cheaper. Georgia, however, is an expensive state to camp in as we found when we paid $23 for the nights “accommodation”. The site was next to the salt swamp and it was nice but we were disappointed about the price and would have appreciated one of those wooden tables we found at each of the other parks we visited. The night went fine until it started raining just as we had collected enough firewood to make a nice fire. We ended up spending the night in the tent reading about the US history and were grateful to finally escape the confinement at 6am the next morning (with broken backs).
Today we are in Florida! We are staying in a National forest reserve campground which has cost us the least since starting out. This not only includes hot showers but also a gorgeous campsite surrounded by giant Coniferous trees. We have a great neighbor, Jimmy, who came here for the weekend. He has a Jeep with great big tires with which he was kind enough to give us a ride into the off-road tracks around the forest reserve last night. As South Africans we were a bit skeptical as we drove around in the muddy swamps in the middle of the night..but we were once again assured by the Southern hospitality. He is one of those beautiful people who would give you the clothes on their backs if you needed it and his way of doing contagiously nudges you into wanting to be a better person. He has hands-down been the most interesting, raw, genuine, individual we have met on this trip which we are happy to call a new friend. Thanks for introducing us to Queals, muddy backroads and a drink made from moondrops…;-).
New things we’ve learned..the US has more bugs trying to eat you piece by piece than we encountered across our whole Africa trip. Here they have what they call “no see-ums” which are basically a small midge-like insect that like to take little bites out of you as they go. As the name implies, you don’t ever really ever see them, because by the time you feel their sting you have instantly squashed whatever caused it into a little ball of nothingness. The mosquito’s are much bigger than their African cousins, but luckily much more stupid…so although they still sting you, you have the pleasure of killing most of them. Unlike the rest of the US however, these creature are not very well mannered and have crossed invisible boundaries by biting you in the face and on the head…it just damnwell rude! Also, the US has perfected campground showers. I am almost at the place where I do not worry about still having hot water for my shower. Apparently they have accurately determined the correct amount of hot water required for all campers on the grounds….Africa please shape up!
I have decided to add a part at the bottom of each diary insert of the people we have met and include pictures if we took some. Tony, great to meet another South-African so far from home..sorry we couldn’t meet your son. Joe Luzcando from Ecuador that brought their children to the play Liberty park. It still amazes us how friendly and forthcoming people from this continent are.
Bill and Kristina, thanks for the suggestions for the vineyards and the campgrounds along the blueridge parkway. Jimmy at the rest area along RT158 for your information on Canada..we loved your dog! Kim and Melissa…we loved your bubbling personalities and thanks for the word ‘fix’n’! Derrick and Andrea, you look like the most laid back people ever, we enjoyed speaking to you and thanks for the tips on where to stay. Craig and Sandy, thanks for all the help with finding a campground in South Carolina and the beer/champagne..its people like you that have made the US so great to travel through. German travellers, Gina and Julia, good luck and happy cycling…we really admire your energy! Sammy, good to have met a fellow oil and gas man!
17 April 2012
We drove south from the one forest reserve to the next and soon found ourselves in the beautiful surroundings of Ocala national forest. This area was even greener than up north with white sandy ground wherever some shrub had been forbidden to grow. We were soo lazy from the heat that we stayed for two days under the guise of finally deciding (again) on which route we were going to follow through the US. The biggest determining factor was that the National Parks closed at certain times of the year as a result of the weather. We had to try and time our visit according to this schedule. It took us most of the day but we eventually decided on which ones we wanted to see and had a rough idea of how we would be able to see most of them.
The next night we stayed our first non-walmart free campsite. It was a fishing site at a big lake called Okeechobee. The area was pretty much flooded and all roads including the campgrounds were causeways. The little village was lovely consisting of a row of houses followed by a waterway and then another row of houses. Each person had their boat, big or small, anchored by the side of their house. It was beautiful. The people weren’t quite as friendly or inquisitive as we had come to expect, but it was a very pleasant experience…especially the part where you get a hot shower and they don’t ask for anything in return.
All these little pit stops had led us to one of the areas that we (well mostly I) were looking forward to…Palm beach, Miami and the Florida Keys! First up was Palm beach and from there we drove on Hwy 1 along the coast all the way south. Palm beach was even prettier than we could have imagined from movies. There were houses as big as some of our small malls all with an amazing views of the ocean. Each had his own boathouse across the road on the shore where we imagined Mr. billionaire would likely host some excellent cocktail parties. We had seen these boathouses made from wood and netting on our way down, but these were a little bigger..pretty much as big as some of our houses! Here, you don’t get a landscaper to lay out your garden and then you wait for 5 years for it grow, you get an instant garden with almost fully-grown trees, blooming flowers and weekly maintenance! Either way, we decided Palm beach would be a reasonable place to settle down one day..if we could learn to live with all the old people in the area!
I laid out an entire day of activities for us which poor Marius was nice enough indulge me with. Our next stop was Boca Raton which literally means “mouth of the rat”. I doubt however if anything relating to a rat could be associated with this town! The architecture, and also the reason I was so eager to see the place, is known for its Mediterranean feel which is the result of influence of the architect Addison Mizner. We went to one of his creations, Mizner Park, a large open air shopping complex with fountains and palm trees. Beautiful place, but do not go there if you need to use the restroom..there is no public restrooms in the entire mall.. as a final resort, we ended up abusing Starbucks again..best US franchise yet! We drove further south and after a long day we reached Miami. We passed hundreds high rise holiday flats and apartments, each one more beautiful than the one before. Funny part was that none of it really come close to the super-luxurious Palm beach we had gone through earlier. I had expected that this would be it…huge houses, streets lined with couture stores and a Brad Pitt or two whizzing by in his Mazaratti…what we got was more in the line of fancy hotels scattered between normal houses in dirty-looking areas, really bad drivers and some homeless guys…maybe we were at the wrong place.
We got seriously stuck in afternoon traffic and only got to the campsite just as it was getting dark. All we wanted to do was eat and sleep but was met by a funny little man who was in charge of the camping area…the night watchman/Miami info-board. He wanted to tell us everything about well, pretty much everything. He met a guy from SA once who told it was real dangerous in some places…but he already knew that. Then we had an elaborate conversation on all the famous people which his bartender friend who works in South beach has seen. A lot of the names he threw out we didn’t even recognize but we when we finally got away we knew that although Madonna lived there, we wouldn’t see her because she was on tour at the moment but we sure had a chance to see Wesley Snipes and Richard Gere.. We tried to relate by talking about Charlize Theron..but he didn’t know who she was! It seemed that around here your business is knowing the business of the famous people..I guess it makes life a little more interesting and I guess around here who doesn’t want to be a celebrity..
We heard about a Miami Marlins baseball game followed by a Dadee Yankee performance on the radio and the next day we drove to the stadium in Little Havana to find out what a ticket would cost. As going to a game and watching a famous artist perform was two of the things we wanted to do while in the US, we figured we could kill two birds with one stone. The stadium was newly build and as the day went on we got more and more interesting stories on this gigantic ballpark with its retractable roof. Story goes that the manager of the Marlins got the State of Florida to build this stadium under the guise that it would boost the attendance of the games and could serve for various other shows and performances. Good and noble idea if your team is allegedly one of the worst baseball teams in the country, but then you shouldn’t go and tick the community off by stating publically that you condone the ways of Fidal Castro. Very confusing..we know. In a community with such a large percentage of Cubans, that may be the way to hang yourself. On the inside, the stadium was amazing. It was all you could expect from a US ballpark…big flashy scoreboards and electronic banners all around. You could buy any type of fastfood from any of the kiosks on each of the +- 5 levels …from Mexican taco’s to chilli dogs to burgers or pizzas…and beer, all types in any shape and size, popcorn and candy floss. Unfortunately, all these lovely condiments comes at superridiculous prices. One beer cost a whopping $9! Once all the players were warmed up, a gospel singer from the area opened up with the American anthem. And what a sight to see a ballpark filled with Americans stand with their hats on their chests singing their anthem so proudly..complete with the cheers at the end. I remember a time when I felt like that too…The game was interesting once we understood what was going on. Lucky for us we had another interesting little man that was more than willing to tell us all we wanted (and didn’t want) to know about the game, the Indians and his successful children. I have to admit though that it did make the game more enjoyable to know what everything meant! In true American style, the Marlins won the game after 11 innings with a homerun hit by Gaby Sanchez. It felt like being in a happy ending movie! Within minutes of the end of the game, little golf cars appeared with all the equipment for the Dadee Yankee’s show. I think it may have took them 20min to set up an entire stage, with lights and fake smoke…it was like watching little working ants.. The show was good and we just got to hear “Gasolina” before we left. It was around 2am when we got to the campsite with just enough energy to eat can of spaghetti and meatballs and fall asleep…(and tell the funny little night watchman dude that we could indeed pitch our own tent)
That same exhausting day we also went to South Beach. It looked rather cloudy but in such a tropical area you can never really tell if it will rain or nor..and even if it does, the sun will come out after the rain and burn down on you like the gates of hell. We parked about 4 blocks away from Ocean dr. which runs along the coast and is the main area where you can see the pastel-coloured Art Deco buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. Think CSI Miami beachfront with pink, white and blue buildings that look like they belong in the 1970s. I include a million photos so I think you will get the idea. Just as we got to the beach it started raining and like a bunch of crabs the “beautiful people” of the world started rushing toward the restaurants and bars in Ocean dr. The beach area was pretty, but nothing compared to that of Palm beach. The restaurants and holiday flats lined the beachfront and we could smell all kinds of foods which were being washed down with the biggest cocktail drinks you can imagine. Forget about our fishbowls.. The cars in the area were a sight to see. From Bentleys, to Ferrari’s, Mazarati’s and H1 hummers…the rich and famous was there all right, and although they were beautiful but at the end of the day they were just a bunch of people partying the Friday afternoon away.
After seeing Miami, there was only one place left to go…Florida keys! We decided not to stay on the Keys as the campsites are rather pricey but would go down to the “Middle Keys” as they call it. The entire Overseas Hwy 1 is about 180km and we turned around just before the 7 mile bridge. The keys were amazingly beautiful with the colour of the water comparable to that of Zanzibar. Everywhere you looked you saw turkois blue water and creamy coloured beaches, huge catamarans, sailboats and speedboats piled in vertical boathouses, quant restaurants advertising all types of seafood and thousands of people just lazily fishing off the peers and bridges. At one of the little restaurants we stopped to taste the keys’ famous dessert, key lime pie. It was the most expensive piece of pie I ever had and I cannot deny that I had a slight sugar headache afterwards, but it was all worth it! For the South Africans back home..its basically a suurlemoentert or lemontart (?)..I’m not sure if we got it from these guys or they from us, or if we just coincidently found out that condensed milk and lemon juice make a brilliant combination. Sweet and contented we drove back to the mainland of Florida into the Everglade National Park.
We have heard about the Everglades on TV but had no idea what to expect. It consists of a wetland on limestone and includes a thousand islands each known as a specific key. The word key actually comes from the Spanish word Cayo for island, and there are literally thousands of these at the tip of florida. We stayed at a campsite close to the most southern gate of the park called Long Pine Key. The area was, well, surrounded by long pine trees and thick srubby vegetation. In summer they say it rains every afternoon, something we experienced the next day, and as a result of the wet moist weather the mosquitoes eat you alive. I cannot say that we really experienced any of the wraths of those mosquitoes but we definitely lost a little blood! The following day we walked most of their short trials where we learned about mangroves, big mahogany trees and saw an alarming amount of alligators and crocodiles. The way we suppose you should actually experience this great wetland is by canoe. You can paddle your way from the south of the park to the north along the wilderness waterway which is about 130 miles. The campsites are apparently built on stilts in the waterway and the entire trip takes you about 7days. Later we heard that you can only attempt this in summer when the whole place is under water, but we were really under no illusion that we would be able to attempt this.
You can listen to Ryan Seacrest on at least one radiostation anywhere in the country at any time of the day. All pets here are rescues…Squirels are slowly taking over the US…watch out guys you’re being infiltrated!