A Travellerspoint blog

USA

It's Not A Swamp

It's a Wet Prairie

overcast 21 °C
View The planned itinerary, correct as of December 2008 on pendleton's travel map.

IT'S NOT A SWAMP

It's a wet prairie

Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to go on one of those big fan boat things that we saw cruising around the swamp on some rubbish TV serial . Today was the day to fulfil all those dreams, in the Everglades National Park.

We decided we needed a break from Miami's hecticness so we rented a car for a day and headed south to the Everglades. On the way, following the teachings of the Good Book (the Lonely Planet) as we do, we stopped at a food and drink shop called, amusingly, Robert Is Here for some tasty key lime-flavoured milkshakes and ickle tarts.

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Nummy. Tart and sweet, just how we like them.

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A little further (just outside the National Park itself in fact) we got to the park's slightly tacky little sister, the alligator farm. The main attraction there was a short ride on the airboat, which was honestly about the most exiting thing I have ever done. Look, we have evidence...

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Our driver James pootled us around the parts of the swamp where he knew we'd be able to spot gators and turtles and then turned the fan up to maximum and gave us a thrill ride through the flat, grassy, unoccupied parts of the park. It was fantastic, especially as he kept on doing donuts and getting us all excitingly splashed!

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After that we saw several reptile-related activities at the park (snake show, alligator feeding and an alligator show), all of which were pretty cool, as we got to hold the baby critters!

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For those that haven't had the pleasure, snakes feel very nice, firm and supple (and not cold and slimy at all), while baby gators have a similar texture but their skin is a bit looser.

After the shows were over we had a quick wander around the National Park itself, which was nice, but as with a lot of America's national parks you need to set a serious amount of time aside to really appreciate it as they all tend to be massive. We had a quick wander around it (the only temperate rainforest in the world, fun fact) and saw a gator eating another one. Yeah! Nature red in tooth and claw, that's what we like!

Jon

Posted by pendleton 17:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Bienvenida a Miami

Party in the city when the heat is on, all night on the beach til the break of dawn

sunny 23 °C

Our plan was to spend 6 days in the Miami environs to thoroughly explore the Everglades, drive down to the southernmost point of the US - Key West - via the famous 7-mile road over the sea (the one that's always blown up in films), kick-start our tans on the beach and dance through the night at the Winter Music Conference parties.

And what did we actually end up doing? Not much. The plan above would have been great if we had been going for a week-long holiday, but after nearly a month on the road we were pretty shattered. Hence, we now know we need to build in a rest break every so often. This is a good thing to discover fairly early on in our travels – and we also need to remember that a) we're not as energetic now as we were in our early twenties and b) our tastes have changed: our preferred habitat is now sitting in a nice restaurant where we can chat, eat good food and slowly sip well-made cocktails. Ah well!

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Instead, we hung out around South Beach for the entire time and made a brief half-day trip to the Everglades (which will be covered in our next post).

Miami's South Beach is exactly like you see on the TV – all pastel art deco architecture, turquoise/teal ocean, golden sands and palm trees. At the end of March the town hosts the annual Winter Music Conference so the place is crawling with clubbers, djs and partygoers of every stripe. The vibe is pretty similar to that of Ibiza Town: beach-side bars and restaurants pumping out the latest house choons at all hours, girls going clubbing in tiny bikinis and wedge platform heels, bronzed and buffed 'Marios' flexing their muscles on the beach and the ubiquitous 'Brits Abroad', easily identifiable by their lobster-like complexions and garish football shirts. In addition, it's the start of spring break so American college kids come down to South Beach in their droves to get waaaaasted, maaaan!!

We went to a Miami booty-bass night and a club girl taught me how to shake my tush: “you just throw your fat around”. Jon = happy.

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We also went to the 2-day Ultra Music Festival and saw a few good DJs/bands – Reprazent, the Ting Tings, the Freestylers, the Prodigy. On the plus side (for us, anyway), the British acts weren't very well known so we got right to the front of the crowd for every act we wanted to see. On the down side, everything was VERY expensive ($7 per can of Heineken, excl. tips! And bottles of water for $5! We also weren't very impressed by the cliques and tribes of American festival-goers, they didn't make for a very fun crowd. They were pretty self-conscious, with no sense of irony or silliness, so there was none of the tongue-in-cheek loony-ness that English festivals do so well (e.g. Bestival). And of course, we missed our friends – festivals just aren't the same without you guys! :(

Apart from that, we just chilled out on the beach and at our hotel, and ate a lot (quel surprise!). We found a whole new school of cooking - Nuevo Latino - which mostly involves really really good ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus or chilli or something else that slightly sears it). Very yummy.

Adios, Miami!

Posted by pendleton 09:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Rolling with our homies in the ATL

For a little spot of 'r&r' (Raj 'n' Rama??!)

sunny 22 °C

We arrive in the bosom of the Bholes late on Friday night, drop off our stuff at Ashleigh's and head to a local bar in Decatur where she's hosting a charity 'beer-pong' tournament (which we are too late to join), and we enjoy some 'March Madness' college basketball. A couple of beers after a long and tiring road-trip journey makes the world a much more just place, even making the basketball tournament bearable. Go Wisconsin! 'March Madness' is a huge thing in the US – you bet money on which of 64 teams are going to win their heats and rounds, and eventually win the whole tournament in early April. Even President Obama bets on this when he's not worrying about 'the economy' – when he released his picks a few weeks ago it caused a furore.

In the ATL we have a succession of lunches, dinners and and lazy days, spending some lovely time catching up with all the (ear-piercingly loud) Bhole clan. Many thanks to everyone for looking after us so well – especially Ashleigh, Sunil, Adriana, Raj, Rama and Suneeta kaku for hosting us and to Sonya and Sarina for running around after us making us feel as welcome as ever. Unsurprisingly, Aaron has grown more than ever and now towers over both of us, and the little kids are growing up fast too.

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Most of 'Cousins Club'. From l-r: (top) Neena, Sonya, new inductee Jon, Angi, Ashleigh, Sarina. (bottom) Derrick, Claire.
Missing Aaron & Isabella :(

Posted by pendleton 16:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

48 hrs in the Big Easy

semi-overcast 25 °C

We finally arrived in New Orleans at about 9am on a sunny morning, but absolutely shattered after our <30min kip on the floor of Houston airport. Into tropical climes - the air was humid and heavy, a welcome change from the arid desert we'd been in. We made a quick trip to a former colleague of Angi's charter school, which was great to see – it was a challenging urban school that had been in a total mess but was starting to be turned around by solid leadership and proper pupil discipline and was getting to be a model of order. It had its own vegetable garden that the kids tended to and from which they ate their school lunches – although we were in a bit of a tired, travel-rumpled state to really appreciate it (or have much contact with the kids!); then we checked into our hotel and slept 'til mid afternoon.

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Got up then and had a wander around town. It's another very interesting, very distinct place – one description in the Lonely Planet (or 'The Book' as we refer to it) is that it's the northernmost Caribbean city, which makes a lot of sense – it definitely feels more non-1st world in the way of the pace of life, the infrastructure and the division between locals and tourists. We are staying smack in the middle of the French Quarter which is the major touristy concentration of bars, music places and voodoo shops. We quickly start to fall in love with the town as we realise that everyone is obsessed with music and food – our kind of place!

We gorge ourselves on Creole and Cajun cuisine, eating (deep breath): Fried oyster po'boys; A 'muffalletta' – ham, provolone and olive salad in a bun; turtle soup (no, really! A bit like the EAT chilli soup but much tastier) served with a dash of sherry; jambalaya (chicken, sliced sausage and rice in a spicy tomato sauce); gumbo (similar but saucier and with more stuff thrown in); chicory flavoured coffee and beignets (gorgeous little flat rectangular doughy doughnuts dipped in masses of powdered sugar); fried alligator chunky bits; fried green tomato and crawfish au gratin; and finally some fantastic pig preparations at a place called Cochon: hogshead cheese (like a soft pate made of the head flesh, all made on-site), a ham hock cooked on (and falling off) the bone and the cochon itself – a delicious pie-shaped serving of the shredded rib flesh.

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We decide that we could easily stay here for a fortnight, eating massive meals out every lunch and dinner. There really are so many world-class restaurants that it wouldn't be difficult to do at all. We also had a quick wander around the Garden District and Magazine Street, ogling the beautiful Southern houses, visited a bizarre art gallery full of saucy pictures a lesbian artist had drawn of Hillary Clinton, and (of course) caught some great live jazz. We went out to see some music both nights, both nights half way through the band's set they were joined by some wrinkled old crooner with a dodgy backstory but with the voice of an angel.

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On Friday we got up early for the long drive to ATL and the Bhole clan. To be honest we were a bit hungover and unprepared for the gruelling 500-mile drive that we had ahead of us so it was a tough day. The highlights was getting stopped for (and then let off from) speeding in Alabama. Thank you English accent! We drove through four states: impressions are Louisiana (flat/swampy), Mississippi (flat/river delta), Alabama (roadside greenery like England but very very rednecky), Georgia (can't remember, too tired).

Jon

P.S. As a footnote, I also ate breaded snake goujons in Arizone, meaning I've eaten I think my first three reptiles within the space of one week! Turtle is the best so far. [Don't worry, I checked it wasn't endangered first]

Posted by pendleton 11:23 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Go West Young Man

Life is peaceful there

sunny

From Vegas we headed to the Grand Canyon, or to be precise to Tusayan which is the one-horse town closest to it.

The big crack itself was.. very big. And very difficult to figure out the scale of (most of it is around 10 miles wide and a mile deep down to the river) as your eyes just lose focus as you look across it. We had an excellent walk/talk with Ranger Pat and a bunch of kids, explaining that the rangers have to protect the Indiana Jones-style top-secret archeological relics that actually exist down in the Canyon and also telling us about different ways to look at time. The rocks at the bottom are about 2bn years old - half the age of the earth!

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From there we drove to Phoenix, missed our flights, managed to send our luggage to NOLA on a second flight which we then also missed (as we didn't have enough time to get to it, honest), eventually caught a third flight to Houston, TX later that evening, spent a marvellous night sleeping in the airport, and finally caught our flight to New Orleans at 6am, looking and feeling like death warmed over.

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Jon

Posted by pendleton 23:40 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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