Monday, August 15, 2016

418 Miles - Destination: Key West through Tamiami Trail

I have been excited since day one when Gloricel messaged the invitation for me to visit her and her family in Florida. There was no schedule yet, but I figured I'd bring it up with Mayette since they too knew each other since college. We've set the date and then it got changed maybe two or three times more --- then, Mayette put her confirmation on-hold. I was conditioning myself to think it could become a solo flight after all but I didn't care. I was certain I'd go. A few days later, Mayette said she'd go, too --- so I immediately took the cue, booked the tickets, and then a few weeks after, we flew.

Ace, Gavin, and Gloricel

The hours were long but I was awake most of the time during the flight. It must've been the excitement that got me sleepless. Just a week ago, we sat down to finalize our Florida itinerary. Mayette will be celebrating her birthday within the duration of the trip and she's requested we hit the road for Key West. It was a destination Gloricel also mentioned her family would be up to going again but about a week before we left Chicago, she backed out of the Key West trip because it was impossible for her to go there and make it back to Inverness in time for her son's birthday party. The turn-down was costly and refusing a "peace offering" was pointless (happy!!!). She wouldn't take it and have made arrangements of the hotel booking herself. I was ashamed to feel indebted but at the same time awed by such generosity. I still pray for her up to this day to get the blessings she deserves for making the unnecessary gesture. It was at that moment "Gloricel" sounded synonymous with "grace" for undeserved favor. We just missed each other a lot like we feel for the rest of our pack of friends. High school through college is long enough to etch "lifetime" in friendship, I must say. It's tight. So much so, that when we are together, we feel like we've actually seen Lonna, Abel, Alfred, Fra, Wilholm, Henry, Ate Malou, Ramon, Yen, Ian, Jech, Jenny, Jekoy, Joshua, Kuya Martin, Ate Lani, Pastor Cadiz, Mama Fe, and many more friends whose names, if mentioned, will by itself be an entire article. God made it special. Each made imprints to each other's spiritual lives while we were enjoying youthful bliss and madness. --- I honestly will never make it to the Key West story if I went on and on here but I'll park the memories momentarily to give way for the rest of the Florida tale.

From the arrival area, we went straight to the Enterprise Car Rental desk to claim our SUV reservation only to find out that they ran out of it and offered us another type of car instead. The staff was selling the idea as much as he could but we adamantly cancelled and rented from AVIS instead. My company's ties with AVIS got us some discount on a Hyundai Tucson SUV. It smelled brand new as Mayette wheeled it to our inn's parking space that evening. Immediately, we slept to gain the energy needed for our 7AM trip to Key West.

~ ~ ~ * * * ~ ~ ~

A quick breakfast, a handful of take-away cupcakes, and coffee got us started for the day. Coming from Chicago, Florida brings so much of my home country's ambiance. The heat of the sun, the palm trees lined on the street side and then some more trees remind me a lot of Philippines. The occasional sightings of Americans at street crossings became my constant reminder that I am on foreign soil. Wasting no time, we sped away via Sarasota, Fort Myers, and then Naples to try to make it to Key West by sunset. As soon as we pulled out of a McDonalds drive-thru in Naples we mused at the thought of going around a little bit longer. My manager mentioned it in one of our conversations in the office and I have been quite mystified about the place, too. We decided to make use of the opportunity while we were there. We mapped our way to Venice Court and then we wound into what looked like a cozy place full of shops that walled the lake behind it. We didn't have our lunch yet and decided we'd do it in one of the restaurants around the area. We found Riverwalk restaurant and ordered lunch while entertaining the thought of getting on the boat tour that'll take us around Naples Bay where the surrounding million-dollar mansions stood. And so we did. The tour was an hour long and they narrated the history behind each mansion, the who's who, the former and current owners. We spotted, on occasion, bald American eagles and lots of resting pelicans. On maybe two instances, the resident dolphins would show up. The last stop was near the Gulf of Mexico and then we came back. It was worth the time and a much needed break for Mayette who was driving non-stop from Tampa.

We were already hours delayed against schedule and so we continued. We drove through the Tamiami Trail which extends about 275 miles from Florida State Road 60, Tampa to US 1 Miami.

Tucked quietly at a bend in a remote place along the Tamiami highway is a tiny USPS office. It is known to be the smallest and oldest operating post office in the United States. The perks of having a car is that it can take you even to places the public buses do not reach. I regret not having a postcard to send to my family and KV. I would certainly have dropped it in the mailbox to send home. We've noticed a few others stopping by and taking pictures.

Mayette at the Post Office

Lobbying a little longer would have been a great idea but it was getting late in the afternoon so we started moving until we had to make yet another stop. We parked in front of what looked like a shack with a mini boardwalk next to a swamp. All we know was that it was screaming "airboat" in its business sign. It turned out that the office was already closed. We inquired about their schedule of operation and took a few minutes for photo ops.
The airboat tour shop.

Palm Plantation along Tamiami Highway

Keeping a straight face despite biting mosquitoes -- scar is now a tattoo on my ankle.

We drove again for miles. This time the sun has caught up and it sat while we passed through the 7-mile bridge to the southernmost point of Florida. We were taken one islet to another until we reached Pier House Resort and Spa. It was very late in the evening and there was no describing how uncomfortable it felt to be holding in your pee for a long time. We had to wait a little more for the front desk attendant to be available to confirm our booking. After we were handed the key, each had to run to our own restrooms to unload.

Oh what a day it's been
And what sights we've seen
Our tired bodies complain not
Even if we've been through quite a lot.
I bid the night a temporary goodbye
I know I'll see it again.
For now I'll sleep til morning light.
God -- goodnight! Amen.

The sound of crickets outside were like evening bells saying it's time to nap. Our Florida trip has just started.

More Photos here.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Thrilling Invasion

We've crossed the bridge a second time and then the journey to Ludington began. The way back always seems shorter. Perhaps because the route and sites look more familiar. This time, John had to drive and Mayette sat beside him. I and Jhoanna sat at the back, chatted for a long while until we dozed off to sleep. From time to time we wake to snack on Chips Ahoy and Doritos and then we go back to sleep again. The world is a beautiful place and Michigan is farm space everywhere --- mostly empty from recent harvest.

I have mentioned in prior articles that I have a great appreciation for wanderlust and random trips. And I feel like I am going to sound contradicting if I say that I am all for a well-planned itinerary. Thanks to travel friends like Bee and Brennan who introduced me to the practice. Drafting it is a very engaging process and when you are assigned to complete a portion of the blueprint, it can both be exciting and dreadful. Nothing prepares you for the hurt of instant, random changes to plans you have been working hard all along to happen. On the other hand, there is nothing more rewarding in a group travel than when your plan succeeds and everyone ends up happy of the experience. They don't even have to thank you. Their gush and spoken reverie pays for the effort. Above all, you get the satisfaction of designing the fun the way you envision it.

Amish farmer on a carriage

--- Some good things are found when you're not looking. ---

Our Ludington tower trip set off late because we missed the first trip to Mckinaw Island and had to wait approximately one and a half hours for the next schedule. Of course that could have been avoided if we woke up early and made it to the boat on time. However, not all delays are because of undeliberate reasons. Some are welcomed random interruptions. While the car sped through the highway, we caught sight of locals in costume tending their farm. If my recollection is right, they appeared to be harvesting crops when we saw them. We realized they are people of the Amish sect, "a group of Protestants who broke away from the Mennonites in the seventeenth century. The Amish live in close communities, farm for a living, and do without many modern conveniences, such as telephones, automobiles, and tractor-drawn plows" ( We have had quite a discussion about them and then we saw a carriage moving opposite our direction with the driver in dirt-smudged farm clothing (long sleeves, suspenders, and a bonnet). It snagged Mayette's attention and she could not resist a U-turn to follow the guy. That had to be our first stalking experience. We followed, hoping to go unnoticed as the horse was reined to turn right. I was reading the signs and found "Maple Syrup for Sale". It was a scary move as this community is known to be discreet and exclusive. The moment we turned on a bend we stopped to a dead-end facing the beautiful barn. On the left, we saw two ladies in full Amish costume doing some lady chores as they greeted the arrival of the carriage driver. I lifted my camera to start taking pictures but before I could press the trigger, my eyes locked with their stern glares and knew that they were warding me off. Mayette found the courage to ask permission if we could take a picture with them but was answered with "I'd rather not". Afraid that our presence is becoming a nuisance, I pitched the interest on buying their maple syrup. We bought two and were told that we can take pictures everywhere else (barn, etc.) but not of the people. We conceded and took a picture of ourselves with the red barn on the background. While focusing my lens on the subjects, the sight of a young lad being motioned by his father to hide inside the barn was quite noticeable. Once or twice he would peek to see what we were doing and then hide again. My nerves are telling me not to linger longer lest we get shot for violating personal privacy.

--- What you are not meant to see stays out of sight. ---

The encounter could have been worse as we were clearly trespassing on private property but thank God we got out unharmed. We were chatting non-stop about the experience, drove through a mini forest, and not too long after (around past 5PM) we arrived at Ludington State Park to see the Big Sable Point Lighthouse before sunset. We parked the car and then asked the passersby which road will take us to the site faster. We were told that the only way is around -- by the shoreline. Hills of sand dunes seem to provide as wind and wave breakers. At that moment, the ocean was calm, the sunlight was soft and gentle, the wind breeze was mild and soothing but the lighthouse was out of sight. I ran to try to be ahead so I can signal when we are getting close. We've covered almost a mile but there was still no lighthouse. The sun sat on the horizon and we gave up, rested and watched the sun set before our eyes. We were silhouette figures bathing on warm sunlight as it bid us its momentary farewell to give way for moonlight.

It was time to head out to our hotel and we were starved and thirsty. Despite drained batteries and the near nothing internet signal, we managed to locate a restaurant an hour before its closing. It didn't take us long and then we left for hotel check-in. One more trip tomorrow (at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park) and then we head back to Chicago -- back to the comfort of our bed and pillows, my freedom to snore as loud as I can and to my friends -- away from its deafening sound.

Final check! Phones, cameras, tired bodies - reCHARGING!!

There Somewhere in Time
Shoes, Elbow, Tunnel

I end my Michigan travel blog here. If you've been around Michigan drop me a comment about your favorite nooks and what you like about this beautiful state in US. Enjoy the slideshow (works only on a full browser, not on its mobile version) below. By the way --- that maple syrup was good!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

There Somewhere in Time

Mckinac Island is the famed film site of the movie, Somewhere In Time, starred by Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour in 1980. Mayette was clever for bringing it up and selling it, hence, becoming our primary destination in this Michigan trip. Eight hours and more on the road yesterday was long. Thanks to a good night's rest, all four of us felt rejuvenated and ready to sail into the day's adventure.

We arrived a little late at the ferry terminal, so we settled to wait for the next boat trip to the island. It was already late March but the cold still bit in St. Ignace and an hour is too long to be doing nothing. I took my tripod and dared the chill to take pictures around the port area. My time flew as I watched birds fly over the ocean and into in the sky. The egrets are everywhere in US and I have not seen the lack of them, whether near the lake, in the suburbs, or even in downtown Chicago. I am amazed at how well traveled these birds are and I am oftentimes captivated just watching the graceful flapping of their wings and how unafraid they are from people. It is a comforting discomfort when they come too close. Moments later, I joined my friends back in the waiting area.

A few minutes passed then we boarded. The ride was making me remember of the island trips I had back in the Philippines. I realized that sea water in US is still dark blue, the same for their sky. The boat only bigger. I -- a lot shorter around six foot locals, my skin -- brown, theirs -- white, and some black. On board, too, was a Filipino couple who were tourists like us.

The boat had a decent dock and we were offloaded on a wooden platform. We stopped for the restroom. Across the door, a line of lockers were available for tourists who will pay for valuable/baggage safekeeping.

The island is small. Four hours on a bicycle, they say, is enough to circumnavigate it. Cars were not the popular means of transportation. Call for a taxi and a horse carriage will stop in front of you.

Tours in a carriage was popular in the island but sadly, we arrived a week too early for the season. Bicycles would have been an option but we have arrived too early for the day. The rental shops were closed yet. We were running out of options. The only thing I had left under my sleeves that day were hope and the audacity to start a conversation with locals. The horses have just been brought in from Mckinac City across the island and there were only a number of taxis in sight. We approached the driver of the carriage and asked if he could give us a tour for the price similar with the seasonal ones. He said No as the one he was on was really for taxi purposes. I looked around and there were not too many tourists. Eventually, I got myself on the phone talking with their taxi supervisor to try to persuade her to consent for a quick tour at $15 dollars each for an hour.

I and Mayette took the front seat to get a better view around and preferably good vantage point for photo opportunities. It didn't take us long to silently regret the decision as there was no denying the foul smell of horse poop. We did have the best view --- of the horses' behind, nonetheless! Good gracious!

While the horses trotted, we chatted with the driver. He was accommodating every question while he snorted from his colds which is likely due to the cold weather. Occasionally, I asked to be stopped at certain places for picture-taking. The horses paced by The Grand Hotel, the island's cemetery, the Governors house, some residential houses owned by rich people in Illinois, through forest roads and then back to the Grand Hotel. We tipped the driver for his gracious tour since it had already been over an hour.

Everyone else were feeling contented but I was looking for more. Days before, I have done my research of the sites to see in the island and I knew there was the Arch Rock. We earlier passed by signs pointing to its remote location but my friends said they are not up for a mile walk and would rather just go to the docking area where the restaurants are for lunch. Like a sheep gone astray, I have removed myself from the herd and headed to the Arch Rock myself. GPS and instinct are really not the best of friends but this time they made the best of guides. Like a consolation, internet data was up and so I Skyped with my baby and showed her the beauty of the Arch from the top where the sea waves crash to the barriers that held the well-paved highway around the island. I climbed down a long stairway to the bottom to see the arch somewhat becoming a viewfinder to the big blue sky behind it. Suddenly the long distance felt near. I held the phone like I clasped her hands. I showed her the egrets, the lighthouse, the yacht club, the mini Statue of Liberty, until the phone's battery ran out.

Somewhere in time,
You and I -- one.
Somewhere in time,
The distance, gone.

With barely enough power in my phone, I tried to locate the restaurant where my friends were and got reunited. For now, an enormous meal. Then, the lighthouse at Ludington.

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