Friday, June 30, 2017

The Everglades part II

We hit the road after 3 days and started our roadtrip through Florida by driving to the Mexico Bay via Highway 41 which crossed more of the Everglades and a National Reserve.  It's a long straight highway on a dike along a canal that has now and then some bridges to allow the waterflow from northern Florida further into the Everglades.

We stopped at the Shark Valley Visitor Center of the National Park.  Similarly as the other visitor Centers we had seen, it was extremely calm with very few other visitors at all. The famous tram ride at Shark Valley didn't seem to ride at all but we weren't going to trap Beertje on a 2h (30km) tram ride anyway so that was fine.
This time all of us dressed with long trousers, closed shoes and sleeved shirts and all fully sprayed with mosquito repellent, we started a walk along the principal walkway.  We could hear the mating call from alligators all around us, but they remained hidden under the trees invisible to our eyes.  Brown herons were on the other hand tanning and posing for us everywhere and other preying birds gave some demonstration flights above our heads.   Turtles were also tanning on some logs or in the grass side.

We were baking in the hot sun and I started to miss the rain already :D. After a while we turned around and returned and just at the point when I feared we would not have seen any alligator at all, we saw 2 babies crawling on the side of the road. Yeayy.

After our visit to Shark Valley we pulled over only a few kms further at the Miccosukee Indian Village. Centrally in the village there is a bassin full of alligators that you can watch close-up in a way that is (in wet season?) impossible to do in the wild. They also have a show where a native alligator wrestler shows how the tribe wrestles and captures alligators in the wild traditionally.  The native didn't quite look native at all and the "show" element felt a bit like some bad tourist entertainment.

But the rest of the village felt much more authentic and interesting with nice displays on cloth making, basket waving, cooking etc...and an interesting museum on the Miccosukee tribe history.

We continued our trip to the other side of the state, checking for wildlife that we saw along the road as road kills  but I swear we didn't hit this buddy.  We didn't spot the Florida panther although there were plenty of warning signs along the road.

By the time we approached the other coast again, the storms were building up again. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Count your blessings - June 2017

  1. The solidarity, funny pictures sent, candles burning, ... for a colleague that is fighting cancer and has been absent for over 9 months already at work , on a day that she has to undergo an important surgery is heart warming.   No out of sight, out of heart among my colleagues. 
  2. A surprise "thank you" reception at work thrown by the team of whom I was 3 months interim manager. 
  3. Good medical news: I can cut back on the insuline regulating medication and might be possible to stop entirely in 3 months.
  4. A very good mid-year evaluation for the past months where I have pulled off combining 2 jobs at the same time.
  5. 3 weeks entirely disconnected from work
  6. Stewardesses that play endlessly with cups and your baby on their kitchen floor
  7. Beaches, sun, swimming pools  and the smell of sun screen
  8. Fresh seafood
  9. A good medical assistance insurance on vacation
  10. Friends that take care of your house in your absence and clean out your fridge from forgotten food that will turn bad and fill it with fresh fruit upon your retour.
  11. Friend's fun parties
  12. A baby that starts communicating more and more
  13. Coffee...lots of coffee

This is a monthly list of simple things in my life that make me happy or that make me smile.  
As the world often seems full of negativity and disaster, I want to pay attention to these small things that make me happy in my daily life and be grateful for them. You can find all of them via this link

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Everglades part I

Miami is the only city in the world, bordered by 2 national parks. And since I prefer nature over highway connectors, toll roads and skylines, we headed to the Everglades for the first time on our second day. The Ernest F. Coe visitor Center was only 40 min drive away from our hotel.

As soon as we opened the car doors, we were welcomed by dozens of mosquito's. Clearly we were still not well adapted and prepared for the Florida climate, dressed in shorts and tops while visiting a swamp and our mild European repellent usefully laying idle in the hotel room.  Fortunately these visitor centers are all equipped to welcome ignorant tourists selling strong DEET repellent products in their gift shops.   So we sprayed ourselves generously and also Beertje's clothes and headed further to the Royal Palm stop a bit further in the park where we could join a park ranger walking tour along the Aningha Trail

Right away we spotted an alligator drawing a V-mark at the distance in the water but he didn't want to show himself close-up. Further on in the walk however we did spot some alligators closer-by despite the fact that there aren't many around in the wet season as they have an abundance of place to go to (in contrast to the dry season why they all group around the remaining water spots).
On the other hand it was practically impossible not to step on the huge colorful grasshoppers that were everywhere.
With the ranger, we learned about plants, wildlife and history of the park, while smacking the mosquito's from our body, while preventing Beertje from running off into the wilderness constantly, while dripping from sweat until it started to rain again. 

Since neither the Ernest Coe Visitor Center or the Palm Tree stop had any food services and since we wanted to see more of the park, we drove to the end of the park road to the Flamingo Visitor Center at the Bay. The different stops and trails on our way there had been declared mosquito horror and very wet by the park officials so we didn't take any of the other potential stops. During the trip, we were a few times surprised by an amazing downpour which lasted exactly 1 minute and then magically disappeared again. 

The view at Flamingo over the bay was magnificent...but the mosquito's were a pest. We couldn't stop spraying repellent, all in vain.   To mock us, the sign in the visitor center marked the level of mosquito's at "unpleasant" (level 3 out of 5...level 1 being nice, level 5 being absurd). Well at least I could agree that they were rather "unpleasant".
The visitor center was empty and dead and the food service turned out to be a fridge with sandwiches in a little store next to the marina.  We decided it would be unsafe to take Beertje on the flat bottom boat rides for 90 minutes out in the bay, so all we did was buy a sandwich and chips and pick-nick in the car with closed doors. 

We enjoyed a smooth relax drive back along the same landscapes of marshes, pine-trees, grass wetlands next to us with hunting birds of prey flying over our heads with hardly any traffic on the road. The kids missed their promised ice-cream stop as they were sound asleep. Back in the hotel there was sufficient time left for swimming, going out for dinner....and for the missed ice-cream :).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Miami in the (rain) clouds

We left Europe in a big storm only to arrive in Miami in the midst of storms as well. Fortunately the pilot managed to avoid the predicted turbulence (pheewww my stomac!).  

The days before our arrival the amount of rainfall equalled that of a normal month and it seemed to continue that way so we had to drive to the restaurant at 300m of the hotel, only to get soaked while crossing the 3 meters from door to door. 

After a good night's sleep, we drove to downtown Miami to go out and explore...all under dark clouds.  That wasn't exactly how I had pictured it to be honest.  I knew May was the end of the dry season and June the start of the wet season but apparently that doesn't happen with a gradual transition. In fact April, May and June have more rain than September , October and November and June is in fact the wettest month of the year.  So why they divide the dry season from October until May beats me. Ugh.

But we made the best of it and jumped on a hop on hop off bus to get a first impression of the Magic City. We got a glimpse of the Art Decaux hotels at Miami but it was hard to take any (decent) pictures with an escaping baby on your lap who was also determined to unplug my headset constantly to ensure I'd not hear any of the tour guide explanations.
We decided to get off the bus and go for a walk along the beach and hurray...we got some blue sky!!  And it was HOT HOT HOT.  Humid and hot, so despite the lack of rain we were soaking wet anyway. And we were not dressed unfortunately for a refreshing jump into the sea.

After some much needed refreshing drinks, we returned downtown on the bus tour - even though I had the feeling I had not properly visited Miami Beach yet - and we had lunch in the harbour . 
Then we hopped on the boat for some touring along the islands filled with millionaires villa's.  We gasped at the villa's of Gloria Estefan, the Beckhams, Puff Daddy, Al Capone, ... until a hail thunderstorm chased me and Beertje and a lot of other passengers downstairs amidst the damped windows while the most customer unfriendly tour guide mocked us through the microphone "it's just water people, welcome to Miami". That was after she had already given a lecture through the microphone for all to hear to Kabouter who wasn't sitting straight and still enough in his chair.  Grr Island Queen Cruises, maybe you should advertise you hate your customers, families in particular and prevent them from boarding?

A Beckhams property

We ended the day with a walk along the waterfront parks until it started to rain again and we drove with some sleeping kids in the back at ease taking the long road through little Havana, Coconut Grove and some nice suburbs of Miami back to the hotel. This time we took the risk of walking to a nearby restaurant and we made it there and back dry :)

spoiler alert: there will also be a post on Miami in the sun

Sunday, June 25, 2017

We're back

You may or you may not have noticed but I was absent for 3 weeks :p.   (the early Father day was a hint.)

In a big storm we drove to Amsterdam, carefully avoiding all major traffic jams all around thanks to Waze. Pheww. The evening before we flew out, we checked in in our hotel nearby Schiphol where we started to relax and celebrate the start of our vacation with bubbles and m/cocktails.

After an early start we were ready for a day of sitting on airplanes to go to the land of alligators, swamps, beaches and Mickey Mouse.

As soon as I'm recovered from the jetlag, I'll start posting our stories