Theme song - "We're on a road to Nowhere", by Talking Heads
Despite a huge last night in Miami we both woke up in a pretty good state. We packed up, loaded the car and bid adieu to South Beach - I will miss you!! On our first night Shelly had tried to navigate us to a popular Cuban restaurant, Versailles, that she thought was in town. We walked up and down 10th Avenue but found nothing, before realising that it was 10th Avenue in downtown Miami. Oops, slight miscalculation there! So we decided to drive into downtown on our way south. We drove along the inner harbour where the cruise ships dock - so many of them - and along the causeway back to the mainland. The sky was looking threatening however and the thunderheads burst in another torrential downpour that almost stalled all traffic on the motorway. It stopped when we reached Little Havana and there was the restaurant right in front of us. We settled in for a delicious meal of huge proportions. Serving sizes are invariably enormous in America and people often have to take away of doggy bag of leftovers. Back in Savannah I had fried chicken with honey and pecans - it comprised four enormous pieces of chicken, vegetables, grits, a salad and two servings of corn bread. Don't get me wrong it was absolutely delicious and I did have a fair ol' crack at finishing it off, but you can't really eat this way and not expect to get fat. Very fat.
We set off south towards the Everglades. The Everglades is amongst the largest rivers in the world - it's enormously broad and not very deep, in some places not more than 3 inches. Consequently it appears more as a swamp or floodplain than a river. The whole central and southern part of Florida basically comprises the Everglades. We both went there expecting dense swampy forests, but they were actually in Louisiana. Instead the Everglades as flat with endless fields of tall grass. The swamps are filled with alligators, turtles, snakes and other dangerous wildlife. We drove down to the Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead, Florida. Once again the heavens opened and we thought the trip would be a washout, but the storm passed just as we arrived. We got to watch the gator feeding - which is always fun - and then took an airboat ride.
An airboat is basically a flat bottomed boat driven by a propeller at the rear. Our airport was powered by a Chevy V6. It was a fun ride and the captain/pilot - Jimmy- was hilariously deadpan. The boat really moves and he spun it around a couple of times, splashing us all with delightfully fresh swamp water. It was so hot though that we dried off almost instantly.
Then it was back on the road, but not before we stopped at 'Richard is Here', a famous fruit and vegetable stall that makes fresh fruit thickshakes. Their specialty is key lime. Whoah nelly, it was good!! It was worth driving all the way to the bottom of Florida for.
We turned south. We had ambitions to drive out to Key West, the farthest island of the Florida Keys. These islands are all now linked by a bridge and causeway to the mainland. The Keys stretch out for several hundred miles - it's a strange thought to be driving so far out over the ocean. We got as far as the first Key - Key Largo when it dawned on us that after driving all the way out we'd have to drive all the way back again and the novelty would definitely have worn off by then. So we quickly took stock, replanned and turned around. From the far south east of the state we'd drive to the far north west - Tallahassee. And Key Largo? Well, it wasn't worth singing about!
Our route took us right across the centre of Florida. There is nothing in the centre of Florida. We drove across a flat and featureless landscape, the route barely broken by a town or even a hamlet. Night fell - total blackness. Late that night arrived in a junction town called Clewiston, pulled into a motel and crashed.
The next morning we were up and away early - there was nothing to stay in Clewiston for. We still had a full 8 hours drive ahead to reach Tallahassee. Towards midday another storm swept over us, more violent even that those of previous days. Hurricane Irene had by now made landfall in North Carolina, in the Outer Banks, and was creating its own wave of destruction. But that was now far from us. We attempted a detour to Silver Springs - the oldest tourist attraction in Florida - but we got lost and gave up and kept going north.
We arrived in Tallahassee about 6pm, found a motel and visited the Capitol. Tallahassee is the capital of Florida, which seems an odd choice. It was chosen as it was approximately half way between the old capital, St Augustine, and Pensacola in the east. It feels like southern city, not at all Floridian. It's also fairly non-descript, like other 'artificial' capital cities, such as Canberra. It was Sunday and very quiet so we had an early night.
The next morning we were up bright and early as I had conditional approval to visit the Tallahassee Auto Museum - if we were out by 8am! We were knocking at the museum door at 8.15 - which is pretty damned good for us. The museum is the work of one family and is extensive and varied. Cars are the major part of the collection but it also included guns, cash registers, boats and trains. We spent almost and hour there and were the only people in the place.
Then it was all west. We drove through Pensacola, crossed into Alabama at Mobile Bay - scene of another massive Civil War battle - across Missisippi and finally arrived in Louisiana. just for a bit of excitement, about 45 miles out of New Orleans, I went a bit wonky on the road and attracted the attention of the highway patrol. The officer was very polite and I was very apologetic and he let us on our way. Thank God for Lee our GPS who navigated us through the very scary greater New Orleans to the French Quarter. We dropped off our gear and then I drove out to the airport and dropped off the car. It was a stressful drive through some very dicy neighbourhoods but I made it safe and sound. We could not have been happier to say goodbye to that awful car - the Ford Focus. Goodbye and good riddance! A new phase of our holiday was beginning.