Friday, October 21, 2016

375 Miles: The Rest of Florida

The Miami to Inverness drive the day before demanded rest for our tired bodies and so we woke up late. There were still plenty of food from Gavin's birthday party last night so we just heated some of the food in the microwave. Mayette and Mayet (coincidental twinning) came out to join us for breakfast. Ace will be in-charge of Gavin the whole day while Gloricel drives us to the Kennedy Space Center which once launched Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle. It will be a quick visit since we needed to hit other stops in Florida and hours were dwindling since starting late at 10am.

First we paid Gloricel's former home a visit. They moved out not too long ago and purchased the one we came to last night. And then tall, stately trees along the road didn't go unnoticed. We got off the car and started taking photographs.

Finally, we made it to NASA. We realized that if we went in, we'd be spending the whole day so we settled with pictures outside the visitor entrance. Not too long after, we headaed towards the famed Daytona Drive-In Church. The photographs online just looked mystical and odd. On regular services, cars drive into the property to park at the church front which bore the Portate Cross (slanted to refer to a carried cross). At the Friendship Hall, the church attendees get the chance to socialize with everyone over a Krispy Kreme donut before going back to the car to tune in for the broadcast at 88.5FM. After the service, all cars parade towards the exit. We came at a deserted hour and so we found none of the above descriptions in sight. On the other hand, we lobbied without competition at the parking area. Just as I finished taking the pictures and began heading towards the car, the girls were in the mood to play. I moved a meter closer and the car moved a meter away. I dashed to it and it sped further. Gloricel just drives you nuts. She's the same playful soul I know back in high school. It was hilarious.

The beach was just around the area, therefore, we decided to stop by. Daytona Beach is known for it's hard-packed sands making it possible for motorized vehicles to drive into the certain areas in the shore. It regularly hosts Daytona 500 where 200,000 fans gather for the season opening. We arrived at a crowded sea shore and everybody where minding their own business in bikinis and shorts and we went on with ours unperturbed. The girls took a spot at a nearby bay watchtower and got me trigger-happy with my camera.

The afternoon was getting late and Orlando, Florida is about 70 miles away. The scorching sun was getting us all lazy but we were motivated by the thought of dining at Boston Lobster Feast, their famous all-you-can-eat lobster restaurant. We arrived to find it fully-booked but we we didn't give up. While Glo and Mayet waited for admission, I and Mayette decided to walk around the area to see the eye of Orlando and Rippley's Believe it Or not, stopping also outside the Pirate's Cove. There is always amusement at every block and the town was so alive -- streets, brightly lit. We came back to the restaurant and found our friends digging in on a plateful of lobster. A joke cracked that got everyone boisterous enough to gain attention from customers. Eyes glared at us, some tried to mimic Gloricel infectious laugh, and others didn't look very happy at all. The laughter continued like screams inside Gloricel's car as Mayet sounded lobster-drunk saying loudly "I lobster you". It was crazy and fun. Everyone was generous of themselves and not holding back.

Finally, we were back at the house and Gloricel went straight to nurse Gab who vomited hours ago as reported by Ace. It was a little late so we just drank water and went to our respective nooks. I must have slept very soundly that night that the next thing I know was hearing the squeaking sound of door opening the next morning.

"Gab, Gab!", I said, while reaching out for Ace and Glo's baby after the mother and son woke me up the next day. I looked out the window and felt peaceful seeing the green grass carpeting the backyard. I must've done really well holding Gavin that he started leaning on me as if he knew me well. Then, I started enjoying the so-called feeling of borrowed paternal bliss. It was like that for quite a while until I took him outside the room and showed him his gifts. We opened some of them and showed them off to his parents while he drove his mini car around the living room. The neighborhood was very quiet and so did the house as if it knew we were leaving back to Chicago that day. Ace played the slideshow that showed pictures of him and the family while we watched closely. After we ate our breakfast, the doctor wrote me a prescription for a year-long supply of my hypertension medication (lol). We prayed and took some more pictures outside the house until the Filipino driver, contacted by Gloricel, gave us a ride to our last destination in Tampa, Florida.

Mayette met with her friend who chose Florida over Chicago for career and personal reasons a couple of years ago. We were welcomed into their home with fried chicken and Pizza. Soon after we were done, they fixed us a short trip to Tampa bay which was hands down marvelous! The white sand is real deal white and soft on the feet. It was surprisingly a little bit more appealing than Miami in my opinion. Sadly, we had to leave. Off we went chasing for the flight back. We came at the airport on time but not early enough to get through the lines and security inspection easily without dashing one stop to the other. We were literally running around since it was getting past boarding time. That was in my recollection the only instance I ran as I simultaneously unbuckled and dug for my wallet to surrender them for scanning. Mayette was doing a good job herself and finally we got on the plane, eyes on us, hyperventilating, sweats trickling down our faces, and man --- did I stink!

This ends my Florida trip. Dare to read the complete itinerary here:

Day 1. 418 Miles - Destination: Key West through Tamiami Trail
Day 2. 5 Miles - Around the Southernmost Point of USA (Key West, Florida)
Day 3. 654 Miles: Hello Everglades. I Heart ♥ Miami
Day 4: 375 Miles: The Rest of Florida

Saturday, October 1, 2016

654 Miles: Hello Everglades. I Heart ♥ Miami

By 9AM, we were up and ready for yet another joy ride but first, a stop at Pier House's restaurant to ask for disposable spoons for our yoghurt breakfast. Then, we headed to the Southernmost Point Buoy since Mayette was not able to see it yesterday. While on the way, we stopped by the Mile 0 (zero) signage that marks the Key West start of US Route 1 highway which extends 2,369 miles to Maine, USA.

By the time we arrived at the spot, a line of people have already built up for an orderly photo opportunity of the Southernmost Point of USA. As soon as our picture was taken, we went to the Key West state line -- our final stop before we hit the 113-mile Overseas Highway.

It was going to be another long drive back to the Everglades. Adrenaline is pumping glee as we anticipated the airboat experience at Wooten Everglades Airboat Tour. On our way to the venue, we stopped for yet another delay - a farm of tomatoes by the roadside. The fruits were mostly rotten and the dried twines looked golden brown under the heat of the scorching sun. We stopped and quickly took a photograph.

Finally, we arrived at Wooten's and learned that we just made it in time for the last schedule that day. The ticket included access to their mini zoo. We ran from one cage to another to see the captive animals. We saw otters, panther, alligators and tigers. As soon as we heard the trainer bark, we quit sightseeing and joined the group as Charlie, the huge gator, was being rubbed on the neck. We watched in fear as the trainer sat his chin at the tip of the gator's mouth while he educated us about the animal. It was a quick 15-minute talk ending where everyone had the chance to hold a baby gator which weight wasn't to be underestimated. I struggled to keep my cool while holding the gator for a picture. Soon after that, we moved to the swamp side and got boarded onto an airboat. Noticeably, a huge fan at the back powered the engine that moved the boat. The moment the boat started speeding away, we held tightly on the rails to prevent getting thrown out. The wind was against our face as the captain sped through the water jungle with airy confidence. His words faded against the whirring fan behind us as he spoke about alligators and their habitat. He careens here and there and every turn was a thrill that made the tour feel like a roller coaster ride. We spotted a number of alligators but they were so few that if you only came for them you would feel disappointed by the time the tour ends. I wasn't, however, because I came with little expectation, although, with great excitement. My satisfaction was already at the brim just having experienced criss-crossing Florida's Everglades.

It didn't take us long and we got back en route to Miami. We were constantly checking our watch aiming to beat the time to see the sunset at the beach. It started setting while we drove over the elevated highway where the palm trees are nothing but beautiful silhouettes over the warm sunlight. There was no way I could've captured the scene in photographs since we were speeding through -- eyes locked at the scenery. We found ourselves a parking space and then headed out to the beach without delay. Mayette took as much time she could to enjoy the sky canvass as it gradually changed colors from dark red to light pink while sitting down on the shore -- the sand powdering her skin. I walked further away to get a wider perspective of the beach. I climbed up to the guard house and aimed my camera everywhere feasting on the serenity and stillness of it all despite the scatter of people busy with their own agenda. It is crazy how moments like this emanates the feeling of seclusion or solitude in the company of many - beauty amidst chaos. Alone, yet not, totally.

After an hour, we went back to the car and resumed the remainder of the long drive to Tampa Airport to return the rented car. We drove through almost pitch dark highways where only the road signs glared. A few cars passed by but they were petty consolation to the spooky darkness. Nonetheless, we made it intact and whole. From the airport, we called for an Uber ride to Gloricel's house. Finally -- the absence of news and the distance in separation is going to end into a reunion and in a country remote from our common home.

The conversation with the driver went from politics in Cuba and Philippines to IT and technology. Apparently the guy was an IT enthusiast who grew up in Cuba and saw how communism brought fear among his countrymen and pressed them deep into poverty. Their tunnel light lay on a continent across through Florida.

He drove the car to a stop at the front yard of a house in Inverness -- the neighborhood was already asleep at 1:55 AM.

"Glo,.. naa na mi.", I messaged.

Slowly and very quietly, the door opened, her petite frame in pajamas stood before us, and then she let us into their home.

654 Miles: Key West - Everglades - Miami - Tampa - Inverness

Day 1. 418 Miles - Destination: Key West through Tamiami Trail
Day 2. 5 Miles - Around the Southernmost Point of USA (Key West, Florida)
Day 3. 654 Miles: Hello Everglades. I Heart ♥ Miami

Day 4: 375 Miles: The Rest of Florida
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