Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter, Venice, and Big Cypress

Sunday April 20

Happy Easter!  Another fine morning with coffee on the lanai, and then I resumed ripping CDs from Mark’s collection.  I had done a quick survey of it and decided on my rough priorities, and I think I got all the “have to haves” and made a pretty good dent in the “like to haves.”  Mark made some excellent lox and cream cheese onion bagels for us, which tided us over until their German friend Helmtrude came over and we all settled down for a formal Easter breakfast.

Mimosas (Helmtrude brought the champagne), hard-boiled eggs, Pascal bread with fruits in it, nougats from Germany, chocolate-covered Peeps (which I declined), Lindt chocolates, and lots of orange juice made a fine Easter meal.

In the meantime, Sarah had been able to get in touch with her aunt Marilew, who we thought lived in Naples.  As it turned out she lived in Venice, a few miles away from where we were!  Who knew Italy was so small?!?

We re-packed and said sad farewells to Mark and Debbie, whom we hope to see in Massachusetts soon and hope to show just as good a time.  We loved visiting their home in Nokomis and at least making a stab at catching up with how we’d all changed since we used to spend so much time together with our young kids.

We saddled up, put the top down, and headed off down the shortcut to the real 41, passed into Venice, and then turned into Marilew’s neighborhood.  Again, it was fantastic to see someone we hadn’t seen in years!  She’s looking great, has a nice little house in Venice, and was starved for a visit from a family member.  Sarah’s Mom had visited her one time in the 10(?) years since she’s moved from the upstate NY area where the family all lives (except for us!), but besides that she’d been lost on a distant island to the relatives.

It was great to see her; we sat down in her living room and brought her up to date quickly on what Sarah’s generation and offspring has been up to in the last 10 years, including babies and marriages she had no idea about (communication is sometimes lacking).  Marilew’s friend Jan was visiting and we bored her back to sleep, but then we finally got motivated and set out for the shore.

We piled into the Mustang, Marilew and Sarah stuffed themselves into the back; they said it wasn’t too bad, though it looked like there was absolutely no legroom back there.  We headed over to Sharkey’s On the Pier, which is (surprisingly!) right on the pier in Venice.  We had to wait a bit for a table and this gave us a chance to walk out the pier and wish we had our bathing suits so we could play in the waves.  Got a table soon and were luckily seated back in the shady part of the restaurant.  Had a few Yuenglings and a pulled pork sandwich while we continued catching up with Marilew on family gossip.

We toured around Venice a bit after that on a sunny, sunny afternoon and then ended up back at Marilew’s.  We were going to go inside again but realized that it was already 4:00 and that we had many miles to go that day.  Said a quick goodbye … I hope other family visits her soon! … and then got coffee and gas at a nearby station and hit the road for the deep, deep South of Florida.

Quick jag to the Interstate, and then headed down 75 with the pack at 65MPH on yet another gorgeous late afternoon for the @100 miles to Naples.  Interstate 75 turns East there towards Miami and becomes the famous “Alligator Alley” across the Everglades, but we got off the highway and took State route 951 down to the alternate, more Southern way across the Everglades on route 41, the Tamiami Trail (this is a ubiquitous name).

We left the big roads and the big suburbs behind at that point and were soon out on the Florida road of our dreams.  We had the top down, the evening sun was turning shades of gold we’d never seen before in our rear-view mirrors, and the tunes were cranking on the powerful stereo.  The few cars who wanted to go really fast passed us, and we were soon pretty much all alone, watching an endless expanse of green and gold prairie stretching off to our left, spotted with hammocks and threads of oaks winding up into the wilderness.  To our right was a slightly more marshy endless expanse of green and gold, which we knew turned into more and more of a wetland before ending up in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay, miles and miles away.

This was the Big Cypress National Preserve, administered by the Park Service, and it was beautiful.  If we’d had more time we would have loved to hike there, but it was one of those places where you needed to go on a 20-mile hike if you were going to go off-road at all, and besides that we had to go as fast as we could to get to Florida City that night.

We stopped for a quick bathroom break at the deserted Big Cypress Visitor Center, but then got back on the road for the miles and miles to the East, as the sun set behind us and the beautiful brown washes, green trees, and blue sky turned more and more intense colors.  We finally saw a few traces of civilization as engineered canals started up along the road, a few seedy tourist traps and billboards popped up, and then we were suddenly at the end of the wild preserve and turned South on 997 towards Homestead.

There were some aggressive drivers on the 15 miles or so into Homestead (and Florida City beyond that), and this may be a good time for my:

Digression on Traffic and Police
Driving in Florida was perhaps more hairy than any other place I’ve been.  As mentioned, some of the superhighways featured a lot of lanes, and some people used most of them.  There were more people driving at or well below the speed limit than you see in most places (I was among the former, didn’t want to stand out with a hot rental car), but the craziness of the other people more than made up for their proportional paucity.  Some cowboys didn’t hesitate to use the center left-turn lane to try to pass a pack of 15 cars on a “two”-lane road, and some made a habit of flooring it down the baseline on the highway and then edging between other cars when they wanted to get around.  All in all, you needed to keep your head on a swivel in a lot of situations.

And the craziest thing was that there were police everywhere and people still drove like lunatics.  Many people when giving directions warned me about where cops liked to hide out, and there they were … everyone knew they were there.  Cops were also cruising up and down the highways with lights flaring, hanging out in packs at fast food joints, and invading low-scale housing communities with flak jackets on.  I hesitate to mention that guns were for sale everywhere, but I couldn’t help but think there was a vicious circle at work here: more guns, more people misbehaving, more police, causing more tension, causing more guns, causing more police, etc.  Ooops, detoured into sociology there.

And two more things: tires and churches.

  • There were shreds of tires all over the place.  I don’t know if retreads last a shorter amount of time in that temperature, if more retreads were used than in other states, if they never cleaned their highways, or what.  But every road we saw, from superhighway to county road, was littered with mangled rubber.  There must be some explanation.
  • And there was an impossible number of churches!  Even if everybody there went to church 3 times a day there’s no way they could fill that many congregations.  Especially out in the country, it seemed that every tenth building was a church, some of them massive.  Needless to say, these were all Christian churches.

The city sprawl/congestion of Homestead started up very slowly; there were farms up until there weren’t and suddenly we were surrounded by nail salons, dentist offices, and small businesses.  We turned left, then turned right, then got lost, and then found route 1 South (duh!) and pulled into the Travelodge parking lot, which was (literally) shared by a gas station, a Subways, a Dunkin Donuts, a McDonalds, and a rival hotel.

By our research the Travelodge in Florida City (which is a near suburb of Homestead) got some of the best reviews around, but it was not a five-star hotel by any means … two maybe.  But it was clean, the South Asians running it were very courteous and efficient, they had shrines spotted throughout the small grounds (including an excellent shrine to Ganesh right by our door), and they had all the amenities (though on the cheap) and were very well located.  Fine with us!

We were a little hungry when we arrived, after two breakfasts and a very late lunch, and figured we needed to eat some dinner or we’d be sorry.  This was where the Subway came in, an excellent option for filling American stomachs!  We brought *everything* in (we were going to be there for three nights) and stowed it all in their weird furniture, then got subs and settled in front of the TV (which didn’t get many channels well but whatever) for another bit of NHL playoff hockey.  The Bruins weren’t televised there but another game was, and through the check-ins we learned that the Red Wings had been dominated and that everything was ok in the world.

Didn’t take long before we were settled into our new beds and sound asleep once more.


  1. We're going to the Keys for our 36th anniversary in August. I just hope it doesn't hurricane! Deb. G

  2. They warned us that they don't use the "H" word on the Keys! It's bad luck...