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07 June 2011

I Left My Car in Miami Beach

Day 14: Friday, 3 June 2011
We had to wake up early, yet again. Our host Audrey had to be at work before 8am, and we didn't get to bed until past 1:30am, so (including yesterday night) we were definitely sleep-deprived. Audrey left me the key to deliver to her office. The sun was up and feeling beautifully warm. I drove us into downtown, looking for a Starbucks or something. No luck, but at least we got to see central Miami. We drove to Audrey's office to drop off her key; it was located in a warehousey-artistic district with lots of street art everywhere! I definitely liked it.

We then drove north along Biscayne Highway (US 1) to look for a Starbucks for some coffee and wifi. Yet again, we were without a host for the night, so we had to get some wireless internet in order to send some last-minute couchrequests.

I had stopped by a different cafe and asked them for directions to the nearest Starbucks. Only when I was walking out did it feel awkward.

So we stayed in Starbucks for a while; I sent out some requests, and we pondered whether to go to Pompano Beach (north of Fort Lauderdale) or whether to risk staying in Miami and finding a host here. We continued pondering as I drove the car to a nearby hand car wash to get all the road trip dirt washed off. They did a good job, and it was only $17! The car washers didn't speak much English though; which made me feel like I was back in LA - except that they were black, not Mexican.

My impression of Miami so far is that it is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Yes, it's hot and tropical, but it's also at the intersection of so many cultures. Geographically, it may be at the southern tip of the southern US, but it's definitely not in The South. In fact, I'm struck by the fact that there have been hardly any redneck Southern types here. There are plenty of black people, all types of latinos, plenty of visiting Europeans (I overheard Swedish; and Ueli noticed that we sat next to some Swiss people!), and many good looking, spoiled rich girls sitting around getting a tan in their bikini in the middle of the day.

A Full Day: Tampa - Everglades - the Keys - and Arrival in Miami!

Day 13: Thursday, 2 June 2011

We had to wake up at 6am, and leave Annie's apartment at 6:30. And, we were now an hour ahead in the Eastern Time Zone. We were up before the sun, which rose as we were driving through downtown Tampa. The air was comfortable, so I left the windows down for the first couple hours (and of course Ueli slept) until I stopped for coffee and donuts at Dunkin' Donuts in North Fort Meyers. Then, it was not much longer until we were in the Everglades. The surburban developments gradually tapered off into small rural houses and trailer parks and then into nothing but swampland. I saw an information center and stopped there for... information. The woman at the booth referred us to nearby Wooten's, which offered the cheapest airboat ride for 30 minutes (about $25 I think).

Located in the Big Cypress National Preserve (which is thousands of acres originally bought by Mr. Wooten for hunting), Wooten's Swamp Tours also includes a mini-preserve of live alligators and other animals. Right after we bought our tickets, the mosquitoes and bugs descended on us viciously - there were 8 of them on my leg, and they wouldn't fly off when I swatted them! It was unbelievable. I darted into the bathroom and there was still one on my arm, which I killed, and there was a squirt of blood. Ewww.

We had to buy bug spray, which was $8 at the gift shop. I found the spray with the most DEET and covered myself from head to toe, drenching my hair and all my clothes in the spray. The rest of the day was pleasant and bug-free :)

The airboat ride was an amazing experience! We were cruising and spinning atop the 1-foot-deep water. During the ride, we saw a big, 10-foot-long alligator, and our guide explained to us the ecology of the area (brackish [salt + fresh] water, red mangroves, cypress only growing in fresh water, the water being controlled by winds, not tides, etc.). It was a great and worthwhile way to experience the everglades on our drive through.