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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