The old irony–that one can live in the same place for 10-20+ years and still it takes a visitor or special occasion (like a hurricane) to actually see some of the things people come from all over to see–is true.
In the past, it took guests visiting us (or one very special birthday) to head up to Walt Disney World, family friends (my dad was in the Air Force) going up in space ships to see Cape Canaveral, and Hurricane Irma to actually take a cross-Florida trip. I used to take the trip across Alligator Alley every other week when going to school, and a few times I would drive with family or friends through the state to visit other family in Atlanta, SC or NC. However, despite taking all kinds of trips in Europe, it’s been a while since I took a trip in the US.
This past Spring Break- well, my mom’s spring break. I had more of a semester break, if you will-, my mom and I had a kind of wild time. The first goal was to visit a friend in Tampa, and then see where we get from there. We’d crossed New Orleans off the list (south Florida to Mississippi and back in 4 days? N’uh uh) and even decided Tallahassee would be a bit too far. Instead, after a nice evening walking around Safety Harbor, a neat little city on the Tampa Bay, we headed east towards Winter Park, planning a stop in Winter Garden to check out the West Orange Trail. This was after realizing that we wanted to go to Winter Park, not Winter Haven. Honestly, you’d think Florida in winter was some kind of thing.
Turns out, it’s hard to travel with a decades old GPS, faulty notes, and little sense of direction. What should have taken 2 hours turned into 4 and just as the afternoon sun had more than peaked, my mom and I landed in Winter Garden, which was a surprising little town. It’s actually quite beautiful and the West Orange Trail was quite put together, even if in hindsight it was all very Disneyish. There was also very little actual nature along the trail, which was a shame. Admittedly, actual nature in Florida gets pretty nasty, so maybe that was okay. If you can make it, do find a way to drive through Winter Garden on your next trip through Florida.
After a surprisingly eventful bike ride due to a flat tire and no spare, my mom and hopped in the car and tried to make it to Winter Park before dark. The question was whether we would try to book it back home that evening or spend an extra night. After stumbling upon a Quality Inn and the historic district, and then a Trader Joe’s, we decided it would be worth spending the night rather than driving tired and arriving home exhausted.
Turns out the idea was good, except the hotel location clientele made for a creepy experience. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except to someone I didn’t really care about. So that’s that. Also, public service announcement, if other hotel guests warn you to bring the bikes up to the room and not leave them locked outside, listen to them.
All in all, it was a bit stressful of a trip, but good considering that we basically waited until the morning of before we decided to even go. And it meant I got to see some more of my home-state. I think my favorite part was driving up the 471 through the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve and the Richloam Wildlife Management Area. There was just such a feeling of old Florida and it took me down memory lane. It reminded me of a time in fourth grade where I was in charge of explaining all the flora on my elementary school mini wildlife preserve. I really enjoyed that. I even won a young maple tree for an Earth Day design contest once and it’s hopefully still in the yard of my family’s old house. If I ever go back there, that’s what I’ll go to look at.
Anyway, it was really cool to do something like this with my mom and connected me back with Florida. Just when I was thinking it was the last place I’d ever want to go back to…
Another cool thing I got to do with both my mom and dad (hi Papa!) was visit the Bahamas. More specifically, we visited Grand Bahama. And even more specifically, we visited Freeport. But most specifically, we spent more time on the boat than any of the Bahamas. It was okay, though.
My parents and I decided that next time we would visit one of the other islands, and we noticed that we were rather isolated on the trip, spending an hour on a tour of the city, where some pretty cool things were pointed out, but I also almost laughed out loud when Wendy’s and Burger King were pointed out as attractions; I’m glad I didn’t, though. Apparently, the city was hit hard by the past few hurricanes and the economy has been suffering for a while, so it was actually a bit of a sad site. After the bus tour, we were dropped off in Port Lucaya and were the only people there, other than the vendors and shop keepers. The beach was beautiful, but had one too many locals to give a firm “no” to, so that was slightly too uncomfortable to enjoy properly.
All in all, it actually reminded me a lot of Florida, except people drove on the left side of the road and the people seemed nicer. The weather and the flora was very similar to what we had just left. However, we made a point to eat the local dishes: conch, stewed fish, sheep’s tongue and we even drank some “Bohemian bears”- which is what it sounded like when the tour guide said Bahamian beers. The sheep and fish was better than it sounds, and while the conch was a bit disappointing, I wonder if it would have tasted better in a salad. I’d definitely try to find the Sand’s beer again.
But as stated, the trip was short, only 6 hours off the boat. It was my first first cruise, so I kind of enjoyed the experience on board as much as off. And once we got back to solid land, it was back to normal routine for my parents and some normal Florida sun ray catching and running (and even a bit of working!) for me.
Call this post a prosaic ode to Florida, if you will. The weather wasn’t always perfect (a bit too hot and humid for March) and the normal life stresses can get one down, but a visit home is always nice, there are enough things to do, and it’s kind of wonderful to call Florida home (until the next local news pages just make me reconsider).