We were smitten with our first footfall on Florida soil. Okay, our second footfall. Our first footfall was in the company of a State Trooper.
Our first scheduled stop was in St. Augustine which had palm tree sunsets, Spanish architecture in warm tones of terracotta and cream, the ocean in jewel tones of sapphire, aquamarine and diamonds, strolling girls in strappy tops, an ancient fort, sunshine so bright it made you squint, wildlife displays and sultry air. It all breathed paradise to us.
We were thrilled to see the 250,000-seater speedway stadium at Daytona Beach if a little disappointed not to see the Daytona 500. So we went back two years later to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
The Kennedy Space Center kept our jaws on our chins for most of the tour – everything in extra, extra-large – rockets, rocket transporters, buildings. The stars alone on the U.S. flag painted on the side of the rocket-building building each measured six feet across.
Fort Lauderdale had been polished up for the nouveau riche. Its Riverwalk is manicured, not a palm frond out of place – like walking in a postcard. As we sat sipping beers in an Irish pub, cocooned within marine detritus as shabby chic decor, million dollar yachts glided up and down the canal, stopping traffic seemingly on a whim by causing the drawbridges to open, just so they could moor up elsewhere for the spoiled passengers to drink their margaritas. Miles of canals in the city provide slips for the yachts on the doorsteps of the Bentley-driving residents. Miles of wide soft sand beaches insulate the city from the Atlantic.
The art deco buildings of South Beach in Miami have a dreamy quality – geometric designs from a bygone era in yummy pastel colors float on a heat haze behind billowing palm fronds. This backdrop was peopled with stunning women (as well as the formerly stunning women who had visited the plastic surgeon just once too often) and gorgeous, slender boys all paired off together. The scene was completed with Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls Royces and the ever-present soft sand and deep blue sea.
As we traveled down the east coast of Florida we had our first sight of many exotic animals – roseate spoonbills, armadillos, iguanas, wood storks, the elusive manatee, the venomous Portuguese man o’ war and crocodiles. Pelicans, great egrets, great blue herons, ibises and alligators became commonplace. The most exotic animal of all was a surfing dog.
The Florida Keys, flung out to the southwest from the Florida mainland like skipping stones, drew us right down to Key West. It is 100 miles and a world away from the mainland. As we bounded along the causeways and bridges that connect the Keys, we drove right into the Caribbean. A stay at Long Key was blissful as we backed our trailer right up to the Atlantic and looked due east across the ocean from our bedroom window. In the Everglades, I counted alligators – then cuddled one.Driving through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail (pronounced tammy-amee, built in the 1920’s, Tampa to Miami) the alligators were lined up on the bank of the roadside canal.
I thoughtfully pointed out the alligators on the canal to my driver who couldn’t take his eyes off the narrow road, and when I tired of, “There’s another one!”, “And another one!” thought I would just count quietly until I got to 50, then I carried on counting to 100. It was too compulsive to give up but thought I might manage to stop after 150. Great egrets, great blue herons and possibly lions, tigers and bears were being overlooked as I obsessed over the ‘gators. Finally I tired of the children’s counting game after 165.
It is a personal best, and tell me – how many people do you know who have seen 165 alligators in one day?
Sarasota seduced us both, with it’s bookshops, bars and restaurants, opera, ballet and orchestra and more beautiful beaches – one in particular at Siesta Key where the sand was 99% finely ground quartz, always cool to the touch and said to have magical healing powers. St. Petersburg has the most beautiful beach of all, we’re told – a beach so wondrous that it has been taken off the Most Beautiful Beaches register, or some such, as it won first place every year and made the competition boring. St. Petersburg also has the most tortuous road system where everyone else knew where they were going and drove so ferociously we weren’t able to get to “the most beautiful beach” to judge for ourselves.
Further north our trailer was nestled in a forest of live oaks; their gnarled limbs dripping with Spanish moss seemed to come straight out of a children’s fairy tale. The impression of the draping moss was cozy when the sun came out, but sinister when it clouded over and the evergreen trees and thick moss would blot out daylight altogether.
I thought that the squirrels were having a little game when the occasional acorn banged off the trailer roof. When the bombardment became more insistent, I realized that acorns dropped whenever the tiniest breeze rustled the treetops. We were strafed by acorns all night on our “tin” roof. It was funny at first.
We so want to fall in love with Florida but the humidity (we call it humdity – one of those funny typos) changed my hairstyle from straight and silky to Betty Boop. This is the humdity that is supposed to only be high in the summer but we found it insufferable and debilitating in December. My ever-present insect repellent, called Jimmy – mosquitoes never bite me, they prefer Jimmy’s flesh – had been driven demented with scratching.
Only his deep tan disguised the red bumps which on closer inspection looked like a nasty case of measles. In a frenzy, he scratched the tops off the bites, “OWWW!!!” then applied his insect “itch eraser.” The pain of ammonia on raw skin, “AARRGGHHH!!” interrupted the crazed raking of fingernails over his ankles, legs, arms and neck for a few seconds before the itch returned . . . . and kept him awake all night. “Get me out of Florida!!” was his refrain. Shame.
That was three years ago. Now we are like sun-dried raisins in arid Arizona and longing for Florida humidity.
You just can’t please some people.
Florida. Love it or hate it? What’s your opinion?
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