Florida isn't a small state, tucked in every corner there are fascinating sights and experiences from Miami Beach nightlife to the Sponge Museum in Tarpon Springs.
When people think of Florida they think of beaches and bikinis. I think of friends who travel or traveled renaissance festival circuit. I think of random conversations with gregarious locals and spontaneous adventures nudged into existence by the recommendations of friends.
When I got here I was excited to stay in a Hostel just to see what it was like.
In my mind I had set several goals: go to beaches, see cool places, maybe ride on a boat, swim, go to the Keys, visit friends.
I have always wanted to see the Florida Keys. Sometimes I tease Danny because he'll get so set on a specific food or place that we arrange travel routes around his attraction to various eateries. I have that obsession with the Keys. I read a book called The Phantom Deer as a child. I've always wanted to visit the Keys because of that book. Silly maybe, but it was agonizing to know I was only two hours away and driving further and further out of range. I considered driving six hours to go anyways but reason won out. I could spend twelve hours driving in Florida for a glimpse of the Keys or I could explore around me and have time to appreciate what I found. Danny encouraged me to explore Indian Rocks, Tampa area. Reluctantly, I shelved my dream and in doing so, I opened myself to beauty, art, and adventures I had not anticipated. I never dreamed of Clearwater, because I'd never known about it. Discovering new dreams is like realizing the Sun is not the only star in the sky.
I had a lot of work to do, friends I wanted to see in person that I've only been in touch with digitally. I also wanted to explore.
In Miami Beach I stayed in a Hostel to see what it was like. Picture bunk beds, locked foot lockers for personal effects, unisex showers, full kitchen and a pool that closed before I wandered in. Also picture the traveler's ire, the Hostel neglected to mention all the parking in the area cost $20 a night, making that $26 a night price suddenly equal to the price of a private hotel room where you don't share the room with thirty people or make your own bed. It felt like summer camp and would be fun in the right situation and location. It wasn't stellar with a complicated travel and scenario schedule to meet. I decided even if I had a busy day I would still try to do something to explore Florida.
Wednesday morning I got up before the city. I made my way to South Pointe Beach, I met the stray cats along the path down to the pier. I walked in the sand, watched a huge cargo boat arriving with the dawn. I thought of how many bright lights, how many special people we've lost this year. Time, health, circumstance has gently carried them beyond the grasp of our hands and in doing so, has nestled their touch in our hearts.
I finished working in the evening, I saw more traffic, more roads than anything else that week. I met friends and enjoyed a wonderful visit before racing away in the morning. Away from Miami, away from the Keys, west.
I fought a headache, continued completing work assignments. I put on different identities every day, they pack in my mind, the TSA can't search them, airlines can't charge for them but when I'm working my head is full of synthetic, prefabricated baggage. It sheds as I walk out the door and pick up the next character. Keeping the aspects and nuances different for my own entertainment. Sometimes as I travel, these other people I create are my company as I'm alone in yet another rental car. I swear sometimes, I wonder when Tyler Durdin will get in and start navigating my routes while cynically describing the life endangering flaws on various cars we pass.
Head trying to ache, rainbows in my vision I persevered. I went to the Mote Laboratory and Ringling Circus Museum that day. I loved the carved detail on the circus wagons, the giant banyan trees, the palace by the sea. My heart was warmed by just watching the manatees play and eat, learning about sea turtle rescue and seeing amazing sealife including inside out jelly fish and seeing shark pods.
The friendliest corner of Florida, Clearwater. I met RickDaddy, who makes scrumptious spice blends and hot sauces. I enjoyed the best fish tacos I've ever had at his restaurant, Eatin Fresh. His goal is to serve twenty five people a day an excellent lunch. He does. He's working on putting in a beer garden, starting to bloom to connect with buskers who might be interested in setting an entertainment schedule with him there - offering permission to busk, promotion by venue, and pay based on draw. Very cool to see a venue growing, offering locals and tourists the chance to entertain and be entertained.
I went to Big Cat Rescue and saw the rescue work they're doing, the education, and watched the various large cats enjoy a beautiful day. I went to the Dali museum and marveled at the works of Dali and Escher as both were on display. I added my wristband to the ribbon tree and walked the labyrinth there- the fourth one I've walked this year.
I stayed with a friend north of Tampa, helped with technology quandaries and shared great conversations in the evenings while venturing out to the Sponge Museum, dolphin and shelling boat tour from Tarpon Springs; and walked the trails in Tampa Park.
I walked trails in Baypoint, appreciated the flora at the Sunken Gardens and bought delicious chocolate ginger cookies to bring home from the St. Pete's bakery.
I was more drawn to St Pete's than Orlando. I spent my time in Orlando visiting friends, swapping hugs and stories.
I headed toward Jacksonville and the end of this journey. More road, more cheesy radio stations, more work. It was too late to hit St Augustine. I swear, as much as I'd like to go there that I'm jinxed. I always end up able to be there after five pm: which is too late to really see the oldest fort in the country, the Ripley's Museum. This time I was serene and picked a random park near Jacksonville. I went to Big Talbot Island State Park. It was a natural barrier reef. It was wild, desolate on that grey day and I was the only on there. Me and a translucent tiny crab that raced warily around in sand dunes.
If you go to Florida, explore the parks, talk to gregarious locals, make new friends and try places you may never have heard of. You won't regret the choice. The memories will be the best souvenirs you take home.
I still have a lot on my Florida would like to do list. I want to kayak in the Gulf. I want to see friends again. Someday. I appreciate that, for the moment I've got the illusion of being financially flush. The only way I could afford this adventure was because work sent me. Work pinned locations, receipts were gathered and it was the priority but that didn't detract from the excitement and adventure of exploring new places.