FL: Gators and Mermaids and Palm Trees, Oh My!

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Oooh! (rubs hands together in anticipation). This is gonna be good. The cold weather we had for the first several weeks of our trip meant that Florida glittered in the distance like a tropical beacon; we’d talk about it like a couple of jailed cons would refer to Mexico- “one day we’ll get to Florida, and then we’ll be free!” 

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I have to admit, I’ve held some pretty serious grudges against Florida for most of my life. Yeah, yeah, ignore the fact that Disneyworld is a magical place. My grandma has lived in Florida in the Tampa area for the last couple of decades. For me, the state has become synonymous with urban sprawl. Overdeveloped strip malls. Steamy humidity. Water with a plasticy taste. Pools so chlorinated your skin burns after swimming in them for just a few minutes. Sorry, Grandma, I had fun visiting you all those times, I swear! 

But our week in Florida served to illuminate the reasons so many people love Florida- because it’s pretty dang beautiful, and it’s the EXACT place you want to be when the ice is building up a fortress around your home. 

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We chose to start things in Miami because neither of us had been there before. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the landscape.The skyline shimmers like dragonfly wings- silver, gossamer, shades of mirrored green. The buildings look as though they were designed by people who love the sun and wish to reflect the sky right back in your eyes. It feels so different from the midwestern landscapes we are used to, with dark, solid skyscrapers of iron and concrete creeping into the architecture. On the ground of this silver city, the neon and palm trees make a canopy over the boardwalks crowded with diverse beachgoers. A sea of designer sandals and white pants. More beach-themed shops than could outfit all of the swimmers in the state of Florida spill out onto every street corner. Do I want a pair of sweatpants with ‘bae’ on the butt, Carl asks?

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Miami is also known for it’s vibrant art scene, and we witnessed this firsthand in the Wynwood neighborhood and the fancier hotels on Miami beach. 

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When all was said and done, we appreciated that Miami felt like a unique city with its own population and personality. The city is majority Spanish-speaking, which we were surprised to discover. We imagine that as our trip goes on, places (cities, towns, natural areas- all of it) – will start to feel more and more similar. We’re pretty sure that Miami will continue to stand out as a rare gem once our 50-state road trip is done.  

We also stayed at the most wonderful RV park, ‘Southern Comfort’, a half hour outside of Miami. We are kicking ourselves for not getting any photos of the place, but the lack of evidence of our stay nearly solidifies it as a fantasy. The park feels like a well-kept secret: hard to find on a map and hardly the first option that popped up on a search. We only landed there once we took stock of the place we were SUPPOSED to stay- an unkempt and seemingly dangerous spot (read: lots of barbed wire) that made us uneasy driving through it. In truth, ‘Soco’ (as the fans call it) seemed like a desert oasis after our first stop, like we’d landed in Xanadu. We made friends with all of the snowbirds who made this park a home away from home. The guests clearly came from all over and stayed a while, sometimes even year after year. Everyone seemed to gather around the pool in the afternoon for drinks and park gossip. We’d hear the tiki bar humming at night with laughter and muffled music. Countless people rolled by our site on their bicycle cruisers and shouted that they loved our camper. These were our new people and we didn’t mind it one bit. 

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A word of warning- this next part of our trip isn’t so cool, even though it seems like it should be. We hit The Everglades next because it’s one of the biggest National Parks in the US, and again, a place neither of us had been before. To be honest, The Everglades were a disappointment. When we pulled up to the campground gate, the ranger warned us that our payment was non-refundable (“so, you know, if you don’t like it, you’re out of luck. Are you sure you don’t want to take it a day at a time?”) We waved her off with a shrug, only to discover later the bonkers population of mutant mosquitos hell-bent on ruining our lives. We managed a boat ride that took us through a slice of the park, saw some teeny manatee noses poking up out of the water while they ate (the water is so cloudy in the ‘glades that we couldn’t see the rest of their bodies), and one baby crocodile that Carl and I are 99% sure was fake, planted by the boat guides to make customers feel like they are seeing at least one thing on the tour. Aside from that, we were barely able to leave the trailer because of the bugs (even with minimal exposure, we each got hundreds of bites). It’s so embarrassing to say this as Minnesotans and as self-proclaimed outdoorspeople, but the bugs made it difficult to do anything in the park. This is your one and only explanation for having dismally few photos of The Everglades. We really went there! You’ll have to take our word for it!

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We had much better luck on our way up the Gulf coast, driving down “Alligator Alley” through marshlands. We stopped for passionfruit milkshakes by the side of the road, took a detour to the smallest post office in the US, and watched the live mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs. This was the casual, sunny, nostalgic Florida of our imaginations, where the population wears beach attire 98% of the time. Nestled between palm trees was the constant threat of a gator poking its head out, although most people seemed unconcerned about this. Our friends Susan and Peter were kind enough to host us in Naples for a night for some much-needed R&R. We ended our leg in Florida by meeting up with some of my cousins and Aunt who happened to be in the area. We ate key lime pie in the booth of the trailer, sitting in the parking lot of a suburban Greek restaurant as the sun went down. We were thrilled to connect with some family on the road and felt ready to take on Alabama swinging. 

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Big thanks to Grant, Martha, Driscoll and Sadie for meeting us in Weeki Wachee for dinner, pie and Girl Scout Cookies! 

ALSO, huge thanks to Susan and Peter for taking us in and putting us up for a much-needed night of good sleep in Naples! 

More next week on our adventures in Alabama.

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US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.

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3 thoughts on “FL: Gators and Mermaids and Palm Trees, Oh My!

  • Your pictures and prose are delightful! You caught the complicated state with its draw–and its drawbacks! Apparently the Calusa Indians had figured out how to put a grease on themselves, which repelled mosquitos. But you were smart to avoid them with all this talk of the Zika virus! Your entries and photos are delightful! Keep up the good work! We really are enjoying the trip with you! ❤️☀️

  • I am loving this – thank you for sharing your adventures in pics and words and video.

    But “bae” – that one had me, until I consulted the internet:

    “Bae,” Urban Dictionary says, is an acronym that stands for “before anyone else,” or a shortened version of baby or babe, another word for sweetie, and, mostly unrelated, poop in Danish.Jul 25, 2014

    I am conflicted as to whether Anna should have such sweatpants. Happy Trails!

  • Wow! as much as we have visited Florida to see your Grandma and Charlie, it never looked like this. Uncle Glenn did see an Alligator once and slipped and lost his glasses in the silt and Charlie tried to rescue them, but it did not work. We hope the Alligator is seeing better these days. Thanks for the different pictures of Florida as it was scenery we had not seen before. Love you, Auntie Jo

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