We arrive into Fort Lauderdale an hour later than scheduled and face a two hour queuing process to get through Homeland Security. Oh the joy!
We’d had a similar experience arriving from Cuba into Cancun, where the flight was quicker than the time it took for us to get out of the airport.
Due to the often unreliable Cuban flight schedule, we had decided not to risk missing a connecting flight from Cancun to the US and overnighted in Mexico.
We had decided to stay in PM (Puerto Morelos); unfortunately – or maybe fortunately, Casa Caribe was full.
Having got to know Catriona, the Australian expat running the B&B, she generously offered for us to stay the night at her place.
Catriona has been living in Mexico for over 15 years and has become a successful entrepreneur. On arrival in PM, she saw a need for a dive shop – not having ever dived herself!
Two years later (and competent diver), she sold the successful dive business to explore other opportunities; these include: developing property, running a cooking school, operating a B&B and a charity. In her spare time (what spare time?), she plays Polo.
We arrive early evening – to her surprise (she couldn’t remember which day we were arriving). Not fussed, she pours us a wine and beer, whilst we start telling our tales of Cuba.
Catriona rounds up the troops; there are also two others staying with her, and she takes us all along to a party. It’s a spectacular full moon night and we are partying in a spectacular beachfront house.
These people know how to party – there’s a band playing on the roof, margarita’s flowing and people dancing and chatting away.
Jon and his wife are welcoming hosts and we have a great night, met lots of people including Chas, Marilyn and others whose names escape me – probably due to the many margarita’s! Thanks Catriona for your hospitality and we hope to see you (somewhere in the world), sometime soon.
After the lengthy process to get into the USA, we take the rental car shuttle to the bus stop where you pick-up the rental car shuttle for your particular rental location! This is turning out to be a very long day.
I have a surprise lined up for Don…our wheels for the next week is a convertible – a late birthday present. It turns out to be a silver Mustang (Sally) – what else should you be seen in, driving through Miami and the Keys?
Once we have the car we have a 1.5hr drive across to Naples to meet up with John and Holly Bracknell.
Don met the Bracknells in Santa Fe in 1997 and have remained great friends ever since. John and Don share a love of golf and it is through the generosity of John that Don has managed to see the Masters in Augusta several times.
The friendship between Don and John surpasses distance and time. No matter how long it’s been between visits, it immediately feels like you saw him yesterday. The last time was two years ago, in New York.
John has kindly driven his camper down from South Carolina for us to stay in. I had been reticent at first to go ‘camping’, but our home for the next few days is more ‘glamping’!
The well appointed camper has a lounge/dining area and separate bedroom, shower and toilet, along with a fully stocked kitchen (thanks Holly). John’s got all the comforts of home, including satellite TV, so he doesn’t like miss a football game.
We’ve stayed in some pretty basic accommodation, especially recently in Mexico and Cuba. John’s camper rates in the luxury end of our world wide experiences.
After a quick catch-up with John – it’s been a long day, we both happily crawl under soft cotton sheets, place our heads on perfectly soft pillows and sleep soundly.
Recreational Vehicles (RV’s if you haven’t worked that out by now) are serious business in the US. Some of the RV’s parked around us would be worth the price of a house in the US – well into six figures.
Many of the RV parks are like mini resorts. Ours has a swimming pool and there are water aerobics class each morning, along with other park activities. Everyone is very friendly and whilst doing the laundry, I chatted with Canadians and Americans who make an annual pilgrimage south to escape their snow buried homes.
John and Holly are staying with Holly’s parents, who also escape the cold in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to spend the winter playing golf and relaxing in the warmth of Florida. However, they don’t do RV parks; they do a condo on the golf course!
After meeting up with the gang for lunch (John and Holly, along with her parents Hollis and Sally), John has planned an adventurous afternoon. The three of us are heading out to the Everglades, whilst Holly runs some errands with her parents.
The Everglades is one of the largest wetlands in the world, covering over 1.5million acres (>600,000 ha).
It conjures up images of undiscovered bodies and TV shows like Dexter and Miami Vice, or a John Grisham novel. I’m waiting for Horatio (CSI Miami) to speed by, fully suited and Rayban sunglasses on!
The air boat flys across the water, through twisting mangrove tunnels, making high speed turns into open water prairies – hold on! Home to hundreds of bird species, we spot plenty; ibises, spoonbills, egrets, herons and pelicans (Alison Brown, you should be proud).
The Manatee, a dolphin like mammal is elusive. They only come up to breathe every 15 minutes; unfortunately we don’t spot one. We do meet a baby alligator, its eyes just peaking above water unperturbed by our presence.
We spend a few days exploring Naples. Don played Golf with Hollis one afternoon; we all have a delightful lunch of clam chowder and chicken wing at Buzz’s lighthouse cafe – an iconic landmark; and John and Holly take us to a local crab shack, famous for their soft shell crabs.
Having helped settle her parents in Naples, Holly is heading back to work. John (with a sparkle in his eyes) is joining us for a few days. We are taking a road trip to Key West – the most southern tip of America.
We move the camper over to Fort Lauderdale, so it will be closer to the airport (we have an early departure). Leaving the camper and truck, we take the convertible down to Key West.
Our first stop is breakfast; we pull into a typical roadside dinner in Key Lago, the first of the Keys.
Florida’s Keys are the largest coral reef chain in the United States. I counted 23 Keys/islands from Key Largo to Key West and 42 bridges, the longest being the Seven Mile Bridge, so named for it’s length.
Key West, being the most southern tip of the US, is also at the upmarket end of holiday destinations White and blue weatherboard homes surrounded by palm trees, American flags flying proudly. The boys go off in search of somewhere to sleep and they find a B&B a few blocks from town.
Everyone heads to the pier to watch the sunset. The promenade is lined with entertainers working for tips, some are very creative; a man with a pig (I’m not sure what he does with the pig!), a man eating fire and a man in a straight jacket are just a few.
After a light dinner at a french influenced cafe, we find a jazz bar. John loves Jazz and we also discover that he is an avid American Idol fan(?).
Tonight’s guest is Kristen McNamara, who was a finalist in 2009. She’s now eking out a living in Key West, a regular guest in this particular bar, whilst writing songs and reinventing herself for the umpteenth time; her new name is KMac.
Suffering a bit of a head cold, I bail early and leave the boys, to enjoy themselves and support KMac through to the end.
The following day it’s a leisurely drive back to the camper. On a whim, we pull into a seaside restaurant for lunch. It turns out to be a popular spot and served a delectable She Crab bisque. We also couldn’t resist sharing a serve of Key Lime Pie – a specialty of the area.
Back to the camper, it’s a lazy night – Over pizza, John tries to impart the tactile intricacies of American Football. I retire and leave Don and John to debate that topic and solve the problems of the world.
The following morning at 5 AM, we bid John farewell and head to the airport.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘Southern Hospitality’, there really isn’t anything like it. The Bracknells excel at it; there generosity is beyond measure and we are so glad to have spent time with them (and Hollis & Sally).
We can only hope John and Holly will come and visit us in Australia soon, so we can attempt to repay them in some small way.
All our thanks go to John and Holly for an enjoyable time spent with such wonderful friends.
* Borrowed some photo’s from the web since my photos are now in Australia! Sources available on request.