Florida, USA :Orlando to Key West

The continuation of my travels was to continue in the country they started, the United States. It was going to be a sun drenched Christmas in the family holiday heaven of Florida. But Christmas is not a good time to fly anywhere, let alone a holiday destination. Phoning around to get the best price wasn’t applicable, phoning around to get any flight at all was my mission. I phoned approximately 30 companies, I couldn’t find flight availability to anywhere in Florida leaving anytime before Christmas. All there was, was a fight leaving Christmas Day morning, which would mean Christmas on an aeroplane, but if I wanted to go it would have to be. I was going with Jon, my brother, for 8 days, he would then return home and I would travel alone for 8 days. 8 days before flying we booked 2 seats to Orlando via Washington.

Christmas Day : a cold and wet morning as we left for Heathrow. As a Christmas treat we were upgraded to Business class, big seats, champagne before take-off and numerous meals served on real china with a ‘frilly’ table cloth !. The food was exquisite, on the menu was quails eggs, tiger prawns and Dover sole. After the 8 hour flight we jumped in a cab, stuffed and drunk, which took us to our hostel in Kissimmee. The weather was in stark contrast to that at our origin 8 hours ago, it was hot and humid. The time difference had made Christmas day 29 hours !.

We spent Boxing day lying in the sun by the pool getting a tan while bird watching !.and drinking special Pepsi – the ‘special’ ingredient being vodka. On our return to the Liquor store the manager must have decided we where police because he refused to sell me alcohol, although I was legally entitled, Jon was too young to drink. Across the street they didn’t abide by this stupid law.

The hostel and shops were on different sides of a very busy highway, we looked right then left to check it was clear, it was, so Jon pushed me at full pace. But as we got to the second carriageway a car going at lightning speed from the right very nearly sent me into orbit !. We had forgotten that in America the cars travel on the opposite side of the road to England, therefore we should have looked left then right, not right then left.

We went to bed early with sun-stroke !.

Orlando is all about Disney World, we would firstly visit the Epcot Centre and we didn’t know what to expect. The Epcot Centre is split into 2 sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future world is demonstrations, shows and exhibits about science and technology in the past, present and future. Basically a glorified museum. Me and Jon were not in the slightest impressed and after 4 hours were going to leave, We decided to go for a quick walk around World Showcase. World Showcase is made up of about 20 areas, each representing a country, each area has food, costumes, architecture, exhibits and shows which are representative of that country. It was terrific, we stayed till 11pm when the park closed.

The following day was Disney World again, but this time Magic Kingdom, and with premixed ‘special’ Pepsi. Magic Kingdom is made up of 5 ‘worlds’, 4 for families and kids but Future world had impressive shows and white-knuckle rides. Again, we left as the park closed at midnight

We left the Disney orientated Orlando and headed west on the Greyhound bus to the ocean at Clearwater. Clearwater is a small town where beach-life rules, it has a Californian feel and the ‘surf is always up !. The hoste4l was listed as an official type hostel but far from it, it was a party hostel where alcohol is an integral part of guests lives. And yes, cockroaches were abundant.

The following day was spent ‘bird watching’ on the beach. Back at the hostel the one responsible guest had made spaghetti bolognaise which we shared before going out to party with everyone else. I didn’t feel well so returned to bed early at 11pm I through-up covering my pillow and sheet.

New years eve and I spent the day in bed, I through-up twice more – presumably due to the previous nights gift of spaghetti bolognaise.

A new-day and a new year – I felt fine. We hired a canoe and went down a creek for 3 hours – admittedly Jon did most of the paddling !. On Jon’s last afternoon in Florida we increased our tans and relaxed on the beach with more ‘special’ Pepsi.

An early start so Jon could get an early Greyhound bus back to Orlando and his flight home and I took a Greyhound down to Miami. I had booked a bed in nice looking hostel but when I arrived it was on the second floor they told me of a new hostel with ground floor rooms, called Banana Bungalow. My favourite hostel chain with a new branch in Miami, excitement alone could have got me, the mile, to the new Banana Bungalow. Again, it was once a hotel with all the rooms facing the central pool. Each room had 4 or 6 beds, its own cable TV, its own bathroom and no cockroaches !.

The next day I went on a mission of discovery, Miami is the place to be and be seen. The number of attractive women and beach babes is unsurpassed. I wheeled for miles – through the Art Deco district, down the wooden beach promenade, across the Beach Walk and up Ocean Drive, the hundreds of sidewalk cafes near Beach Walk gave it a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.

I returned to Banana Bungalow totally exhausted. Which is why the sign I read made my heart sink “Tonight – Keg Party – Free”, the keg parties I love so much, tonight and free, but I was too exhausted to participate.

I had one beer and collapsed into bed, I was awoken at 4am with the party in full swing and people were being thrown in pool – and I missed it all !.

The central swimming pool at Banana Bungalow was a ‘major hangout’, many guests spent the day sitting in the sun by the pool. On my third day in Miami I decided to join the majority and spend the day relaxing round the pool admiring the view – topless girls !.

After watching hours of sitcoms in the big screen TV room, I learn of many more topless girls who spend the day at the beach – which then immediately became the plan for the following day !.

My intended final day in Miami was spent in the manner in which I had planned, I went down to the enormous beach. The problem being is, thin wheelchair tyres just sink in sand, with no mats or other boat access, I appeared to be destined not to experience Miami beach life. As if from nowhere, A friendly life guard appeared in his pick-up truck, he through the wheelchair in the back and took me down the beach. Unfortunately, there was only one female topless sunbather and I was stuck there, cooking in the sun, until 4pm when the lifeguard came back in his pick-up truck.

The evening was spent in the company of my roommates, this is the greatest thing about staying in hostels, you are put in a room full of new faces but with a common goal – having fun on a travellers meagre budget. We watched a beauty contest in our room then went out for a cheap Burger King. I tried to sleep early but drunken shouting and laughing from the pool side bar made sound sleep difficult.

I decided I needed to get on my ‘travelling way’ again. I decided to get a Greyhound bus to the most southerly point in Florida, in fact the entire United States – Key West. I checked-out of Banana Bungalow and caught the bus for the Greyhound station but after a while deduced that I had got the bus going in wrong direction it was coming from not going to the Greyhound station !. By this time I had missed the Greyhound so returned to the Banana Bungalow for a retry the following day

Checked-out of Banana Bungalow, again. This time taking a taxi to the Greyhound station. The bus trip was amazing, from island to island, down to Key West. The ocean so clear and blue, the bright sun shone as we travelled over the long bridges.

After checking into the hostel made my way to the Southernmost point marker for the United States, unfortunately I had just missed the-multi-coloured sunset.

Key West appeared to be the home of many tramps and beggars, many of who wanted to share the contents of my wallet. Explored Key West, the shops, market and the actual Key. I had seen many adverts for a strip club so on my return to the hostel went to view the strip club. This was my first encounter of such an establishment. I got there and at first didn’t dare enter, I said to myself “am I a man or a mouse”. Using all my courage I entered the ‘den of sin’, once inside I headed past the stage and straight to the bar, with-out even glancing at the stage. I was petrified. I order a beer and only then took a peek at the naked female on stage. After a few beers I began to enjoyed my peek at the unclothed bodies of these fair maidens !.

Little did I know that this type of occupation would become a regular feature of my travels !.

Key West was too expensive and too touristy, the only hostel in town was not a friendly place. I checked-out of the hostel and as I made my way to the Greyhound station where I was hit by a car reversing out of its drive-way. I think the car came off worse than me as I put a nice scratch on the rear while I had only been shocked.

Key West was a beautiful town with nice colonial style wooden buildings and a good atmosphere but the tourists had over-run the town and the cost of everything was ridiculous. The best deal for the budget traveller is the Burger King nationwide policy of free refills, so I sat their drinking refill after refill of my small Coke.

Before catching my Greyhound, a quick restroom visit was a near disaster as I managed to get my wheelchair stuck in the cubicle, I caught the bus with seconds to spare. The Greyhound to Miami, then overnight to Orlando (with no sleep) and a shuttle to the airport was my last experience of America before a return flight home.

I had a morning flight to Washington then a 10 hour wait in Washington airport before my flight home. I was still in shorts and t-shirt, my Florida attire, so the fact there was snow in Washington made me suffer the cold and boredom. The boredom was over-come with trips back and forth on the free inter-terminal shuttle and wheeling in the opposite direction down the moving walkways. Then my flight home arriving at 7am – still not of had sleep !.

My two and a half week trip to Florida, again, made me realise my love for travelling and my travelling experiences were not over just on hold. I would continue my travels during my next break from University.