All Hallows’ Keys

Last week, the Voyager met with Patricia in Texas and followed her destructive path around the Gulf of Mexico before breaking free in the Sunshine State. In week twelve, the journey reaches the absolute end of the road before the final Northern leg begins in earnest.

Day 78 – Venice, FL to Miami, FL

Summer has reappeared. It is nearly November but that carries a completely different meaning in the Floridian Tropics than it does anywhere else in the country. Not only did we drive through three states and a time zone yesterday, but a change of season too. The umbrellas and winter clothes placed at the front of stores in New Orleans have been replaced by towels, sun-tan lotion and inflatable alligators.

Manatee Area

I was also surprised at how large the state actually is. On a map it appears to be nothing more than an ample piece of land poking into the Caribbean Sea – rather like the Gower Peninsula – not this never-ending, mirage-filled realm of unreachable horizons and infinite Interstate. Although, when anything is related in size to the rest of America it looks like a pygmy shrew. It took us several more sweaty- hours just to reach the beginning of the Everglades National Park, which itself is ineffably vast.

The Everglades

It did not take us long, however, to acquaint ourselves with the park’s notorious guests. The Florida ‘gators, after extensive protection and conservation, now number over a million and can be found chatting and laughing behind most corners. Every one we saw appeared rather relaxed and serene and not in any way snappy. Which was rather comforting given the lack of a sturdy fence between us and them.

The Everglades

The Everglades

After re-learning, for the millionth time, the differences between a ‘gator and a croc, and with nightfall already upon us, we withdrew from the park through its East exit – until tomorrow – and arrived in a new world, Miami.

The Everglades

A Floridian Sunset

Day 79 – Miami, FL to Key West, FL

Today we would merely dip our toes into the proverbial waters of Miami life given that our paths would cross once more on our way North later in the week. For now, urgent unfinished alligator business needed to be attended too as we headed through the main Everglades entrance and towards Flamingo, where the road ends and the Keys begin.

The Everglades

Not only do the Keys begin but a biblical plague of mosquitos does too. The old saying in Flamingo goes that if you swing a pint glass through the air, it would be a quarter full when you were done. The insect repellent we had to re-mortgage our minivan to buy seemed only to attract the hungry horde, until it reached the point where our arms and legs resembled the Appalachian Mountains and there was no fresh skin for the swine’s to suckle on.

Mosquito Report

The Everglades

With the vast majority of the park only accessible by water we hired a canoe for the afternoon and – after spotting a crocodile in the water just before we began our paddle – prepared our croc-attack-contingency-plan. Which turned out to be highly unnecessary given the fact we did not see a single one. However, we did get bitten, blistered and extremely sodden so the experience was not a complete catastrophe.

The Everglades

The Everglades

We then embarked on the longer-than-you-would-think drive from the Everglades to Key West, the Southern-most point of the United States. The spectacular ocean road that connects the small Keys to the smaller Keys looked utterly breath-taking at sunset… at least it does on Google images as we were an hour too late to see anything at all. The endless drive ended somewhere in the Caribbean Sea, in heat and humidity challenging Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Superb.

The Everglades

Day 80: Halloween – Key West, FL

Under cold, grey and wet storm clouds in Texas I promised myself that I would never complain about being too hot, or sweaty or sunburnt until at least next Summer. That promise lasted less than a week as the Key West weather set about turning me from a human into a shrivelled lettuce. It should not be this hot and humid – almost one hundred per cent – on Halloween.

Key West

Key West

Anyhow, it gave us a superb reason to seek out some shade, a cold beverage and a table tennis table on its very last legs. The bar in question had gone to town with peculiar Halloween decorations, as had the town, and it was only now, in daylight, that we realised how much of a deal this sort of thing is to Americans.

Key West

Key West

We spent most of the afternoon liquefying on the beach as we waited for the incredulous queues to die down at Key West’s star attraction. The ‘Southernmost Sign’ proved to be the number one destination for pre-Halloween night out photos, which made us look rather ridiculous in our normal, tedious attire. Having had our photo taken by zombie George Bush – not too dissimilar from regular George Bush – we joined the carnival carnage in Downtown.

Key West

Key West

Never have I seen a more animated, eccentric and culturally diverse parade; combining flagrant nudity – by both sexes – and remarkably tacky costumes. Every balcony and vantage point was taken and every bar teeming with vampires and zombies with the faces of US politicians. Despite never giving much thought or effort to any meaningless, money-making national holidays, it was extremely hard not to embrace the occasion or be captivated by the crowd and atmosphere along Duval Street on a night like this.

Key West

Key West

Day 81 – Key West, FL

Many sore heads must have arisen in Key West this morn, thankfully we were not one of them. We made our way to the beach to spend the morning reading and relaxing and enjoying what actually felt like a holiday for the first time in eons. After sufficiently topping up my sunburn we headed back to Duval Street, the scene of last night’s festivities, to see what Key West looks like when people are clothed.

Key West

Extremely pleasant is the answer to that. Copious art galleries and colonial Spanish architecture – now unmasked by the recent removal of Halloween decorations – make for an attractive town. We grabbed a few more cold beverages before heading to an American naval base which we heard had the best sunset on the island.

Key West

Key West

It certainly was beautiful, although the war ships and guard towers did not assist in its beauty; the Americans watching with us thought otherwise. Key West was rather more serene this evening and, after a night-time stroll along the beach, we decided to join in the town’s early slumber. Tomorrow, we head North.

Key West

Key West

Day 82 – Key West, FL to Orlando, FL

Without any charged electrical devices, we prayed that someone up above would wake us up early this morn. Our prayers were spectacularly answered by a brood of roosters perched in a tree above the Voyager. The reason for today’s necessary punctuality being a meeting with Aaron and Jess in Miami before spending a final few Floridian days with our companions as their journey comes to an end.

The Road Through The Keys

The Road Through The Keys

So the long drive North through the Keys – this time in daylight – yielded the tremendous views we had been hoping for on the way down. The layby’s certainly beat any you would get along the M4; a few metres of sand to pull your car in to then endless calm, clear water to dip your feet in to. The odd tree for shade and fish-a-plenty for lunch; all roads need facilities like this…

The Road Through The Keys

The Road Through The Keys

So the group was reunited for the very last time along the shores of South Beach in Miami, several worlds’ away from our Vancouver home. Aaron & Jess, having sold the legendary Pontiac Montana in Toronto, looked a peculiar sight in their diminutive Kia hire car. However, it did have air conditioning and doors that did not require any duct tape the stay in once place so it could be seen as an improvement.

Miami

A crawl along Ocean Drive and a glance at several famous retro hotels – the inspiration behind GTA: Vice City – is all the sightseeing required in Miami. We still had several more hours driving to complete today so we continued on and, despite a puncture and pit-stop tire change along the way, made it to Orlando with enough time to find our hotel base camp, have a real shower and drink a few beers on a real bed. An extremely rare delight.

Day 83 – Orlando, FL

The only reason anybody goes to Orlando is to visit theme parks, it is certainly not to see their Downtown museums or green spaces – I do not even know if they have any, and Walt Disney World was exactly why we had sped from Miami to get here too. Despite my early reticence at the idea, given that I cannot stomach any rides that provide any sort of physical thrill or stimulation, I was quite looking forward to a day with Baloo and his acquaintances instead of another day sitting on my backside in the Voyager.

Walt Disney World, Orlando

Walt Disney World, Orlando

Having visited Disneyland Paris, as a rollercoaster-terrified youth, I had an idea of what I would enjoy and what I needed to avoid in order to survive. A visit to Belle’s house, from Beauty and the Beast fame and Shu’s favourite character, was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.

Walt Disney World, Orlando

Walt Disney World, Orlando

It is plain to see why children urinate themselves with excitement at the prospect of visiting this place, and how parents can blackmail them into behaving all year just to come. It is easy to enjoy. The day is capped off by a rather spectacular night-time light show and firework display in front of the infamous castle before the dad’s, each carrying at least one sleeping baby, wage war with each other to get to the car park first.

Walt Disney World, Orlando

We, however, were not in a rush and after arriving back at the hotel we began a game of National Park Monopoly, devastated the beers, then the wine, then the whiskey and celebrated what should have been our final night, and in the end morning, as a foursome. The beginning of the end.

Day 84 – Orlando, FL

However, following the consummation of the beer, the wine and the whiskey, we were heading nowhere. Luckily for us, Aaron & Jess were booked in to the hotel for one more night so we decided to abandon our plans to head North to Georgia in an attempt to regain our abilities to move and function like normal human beings.

This involved staying in bed until four in the afternoon before struggling to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet and consuming miniscule amounts of as many different foods as was possible to see which would remain in stomach situ and which would not. Most did, so it was back to the hotel and back to sleep. We have sixteen days remaining in America, SIXTEEN, and sixteen states still to visit… Ah.

Next week the Voyager must get a move on as the state-a-day challenge begins in Georgia. A criss-crossing over the Appalachian Mountains provides a grand entrance to the nation’s capital before arriving in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.

Key West

Total kilometres: 22,068

J

JOIN JACK ON THE ROAD
I agree to have my details stored at MailChimp (click here for info)
Join the subscribers already receiving updates on the latest blog posts from me, and some of my favourite travel writers on the web. No marketing, spam, or third-party sales. Just articles, guides, and plenty of tales!
Join my road-tripping community. Never . Any . Spam

Leave Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: