(Day 940 on the road)
How do you even begin writing the final blog entry after over 2 1/2 years of travelling? I am struggling. Writing my blogs along the way over the last 31 months has always been something I was looking forward to. It gave me the time to pause and reflect, to address issues that have been on my mind, to choose the best and most meaningful pictures, to consider what has been really important to me.
Not this time. I have been dreading this entry for a while now, but there is no way around it; I might as well get it over and done with. So here it is, my feeble attempt to hide the sentimentality that has taken hold of me over the last weeks, and which grew stronger the closer the inevitable end of my trip drew on October 31st. I realising that it might sound pathetic, but the last week was not easy at all for me.
For this final leg of my journey, a ten-day stint in Southern Florida, I flew up to Fort Lauderdale from Panama. Leaving Central America behind was fairly easy; towards the end things had started
to become repetitive (another jungle, another beach, another cloud forest, another chicken bus). I was ready for a change of scenery, and Florida seemed like just the place for that. And I wasn't to be disappointed. Although, having said that, it didn't blow me away either, and had I come over all the way from Europe just for a week of holiday in Florida, I might have been somewhat gutted. It proved to be neither spectacular nor boring, but certainly a nice enough place to end a long journey in.
Immigration to the US was a breeze this time (the officer actually said "Welcome to the US" - definitely a first!) and I spent a few days on Hollywood Beach in Fort Lauderdale, jaywalking as much as I could
and generally enjoying the relaxing life that a hostel right on the beach, with free bikes, super-fast Internet and great like-minded people had to offer, before heading down to Miami airport to pick up my sister Britta, who was joining me for my very last week. It was to be a very nice week indeed, and travelling with Britta certainly kept me from sulking and being depressed too much.
With no public transport to
speak of (how exactly do people in the US live that cannot afford to or don't want a car?), we opted for a rental car. A complimentary upgrade soon saw us cruising in style in a massive eight-seater SUV through downtown Miami, and with petrol prices about a third of the costs in Europe, it was rather affordable as well. Except for parking I should add, which often cost more for a night than two beds in a dorm hostel. Crazy.
For the next week we did pretty much what most first-timers in Florida do I would imagine: Drive down the Florida Keys all the way to Key West, then spend a few days in the Everglades, and finally round it off with a couple of days of beach-and-art-cure in Miami before heading home.
Cruising along the endless stretch of single road for hours and hours that lead down to Key West, my sister and I had ample time to catch up. We hadn't seen each other since I left home in April 2008, and correspondingly we had lots to talk about. The scenery was pretty, there was country music on the radio, and cruise control made driving
almost too easy with these low maximum US speed limits.
Due to outrageous hotel prices in Key West (dorm beds starting at 44 US$) we visited Key West on a day trip from one of the upper Keys, and it was pleasant enough but nothing special really. Essentially, Key West seemed like a town geared 100% towards tourists, and the main street is literally door-upon-door of cheap souvenir shops and overpriced bars. It was alright for a lazy afternoon stroll, but no place really to spend any length of time in. It was however the beginning of the Fantasy Festival, which peaked at Halloween a few days later, and already there were some pretty funky characters around. Check out the picture of the woman with the nice body-painted bra in this blog - priceless!
Up next for us were the Everglades, the huge national park in southern Florida that is famous for its rich wild life, including, of course, alligators and crocodiles. And hordes and hordes of giant blood-sucking mosquitoes, for which the swamps and wetlands of the Everglades proved to be the perfect habitat. We did a number of short walks, literally covered head-to-toe in insect repellent,
and also visited an alligator farm, complete with a thrilling air boat tour (environmentally controversial, I know I know) of the surrounding swamps.
Back in Miami, we sampled the art scene with a visit to the amazing Vazcaya villa museum (the obsessed owner brought entire ceilings over from Europe to build his mansion here) and the intimate Bass museum before it was time to hit Ocean Drive and South Beach. Both were pretty funky and great for just looking around and taking pictures. Tanned and sexy bodies on the beach, fit skaters and body-builders on Ocean Drive, vintage cars cruising around, people dressed up in costumes for Halloween on the streets, and of course tourists everywhere. It was an eclectic mix. Unfortunately my great indigenous Panamanian body tattoo
had mostly worn off by now; I would have fit in nicely!
South Beach itself was packed with people and surprisingly wide (I wonder if they have widened it artificially). And, this being the US, it was also heavily over-regulated and patrolled at all times. I can't remember ever being on a beach (and I have been to a few in my life now) that actually "closes" at night, which was impossible not to
gather due to the high number of large do-and-don't-do signs that were posted at every access point to the beach. It seems that the various rules and regulations were enforced as well, judging by the countless patrols and police that were driving up and down the beach at all times, both in cars and beach buggies. Police in cars and buggies on the beach? "Beach Code Patrol" on buggies? Life guards constantly blowing their annoying whistles because somebody did something that they weren't supposed to? Really?
And then, before I knew it, the last day of my travels had arrived. I was beginning to feel pretty sad and down, especially once I realised how many "last things" I was doing at the time. The last night in a hotel, the last morning, the last breakfast, the last time on a beach, the last everything. Britta and I spent the final few hours on the beach, had a final swim and then drove out to airport, arriving there still with sand on our feet and with wet seats in our rental cars from our dripping swimming costumes.
A few hours later, it was time to board my final plane,
this one not carrying me off to another exiting destination, but home, where my parents were awaiting me at Düsseldorf airport. After more than 2 1/2 years on the road, my travels were coming to an end. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what's up next for me. In fact, for the first time in my life, I am at a complete loss what to do.
But of course all this doesn't matter - regardless of what happens next, my travels were worth it all, and I enjoyed every single moment of it. What lies behind me? Everything I could have possibly hoped for. What's up next? I don't know. What remains to be said? A lot, but at the same time, nothing at all.
Next and final stop: Home (Germany). Also have a look at my pictures at .
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