Valentines day in the Everglades

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
In a synagogue in Downtown Manhatten

Flag of United States  , Florida
Monday, February 14, 2011

We woke up at 04:20 to the sound of the alarm and as usual very heavy rain. I got out of bed for the second time in the night, the first time I had vaulted out of bed, turned the light on and packed my bag, when I woke Erica she nearly murdered me, it was 11pm, I have no idea what was going on but I was clearly paranoid about oversleeping. I wished her a Happy Valentines day and got a blurry eyed response. We wandered through the dark and wet courtyard to find the man from the front desk who we found asleep on a couch in another room. We paid our bill and he ordered us a taxi to get us to the airport.  There were two private security guards at the door and it was like escaping through Fort Knox, firstly the opening sliding peep hole, then about 4 horizontal wooden barriers lifted from their mounts, we then had a series of locks to be undone before the two guards stepped into the street ready to pull their battens on anything that moved, the cab had arrived and we left on a rather unremarkable early morning journey to Bogata Airport, our last destination in South America.

This leg of the trip has provoked more "where next" questions than any other, but we struggled to fit the time cost calculation to get out of South America, Panama by boat took 4 or 5 days and cost about $450 still leaving us with a long overland trip to Mexico, Panama by plane cost about $650, San Salvador by plane cost around $500 still with a significant journey to Mexico, so we opted to take Aires direct flight to Fort Lauderdale for $69 and have Valentines day at the Everglades national park. The flights to Cancun are cheap from both Fort Lauderdale and from New York, so by spending another 30 quid each we could also have a day in New York.... bonkers, the world is a strange place when you go to Mexico via New York from Colombia.

We boarded our budget airline completely knackered and unfortunately failed to get any sleep on the way there. When we landed we were ushered into the immigration queue ready to sit and face the notorious hours of waiting to clear USA immigration. Through a combination of running and luck we ended up near the front of the queue for foreigners. It was a little bizarre as we just stood in a queue and not a person attended the immigration desks, only about 3 people for the USA queue. The system was, wait until the USA queue is empty then squeeze in a couple of foreigners. We had an announcement in Spanish then a really nice guy translated for us, basically saying this is one of the high risk drug trafficking routes, and you are to check your baggage for signs of tampering and make sure the luggage is all your own before proceeding to customs, he then told us a quick story about a guy only last week who picked up the wrong bag by mistake which was found to be loaded with cocaine and he is now looking at life imprisonment. After finding Erica's side pocket had been opened at some point we had started to get very nervous at customs. It was most definitely squeeky bum time.... at least it would have been had I not had my buttocks clenched so tightly at the thought of my first cavity search, oh and the condoms full of cocaine that were up there.

After answering all the questions of where we had been, why and for how long, having our fingerprints taken, photographs taken and god know what else we were put in a special queue. Thankfully this wasnt the fingers in the bum queue but a simple scan of your bags, for agricultural things etc. We left the guy behind us arguing about keeping his oranges and gladly walked into the main airport free of life sentences and everything else.

(Excuse the briefness of this blog from this point but this is now the third time I have written it, gosh I am missing a laptop which made this so much easier, and the lady now that the pressurre is on (i.e. we are miles behind and may not get another opportunity to catch up for ages) to get this bloody blog done is predictably on strike.. ie. spent two hours looking for a place to stay just to get out of doing anything, lazy bloody sod, this dowry best be good Ian).  Umm - it was never my idea to write the blog every bloody day of our entire trip !!!!!  Im sure sane people write one once a week or so.

We tried to check in for our next flight to New York but you could only do it 4 hours before, thanklfully we managed to dump the bags at a storage place. We jumped a taxi to the Everglades which was a fortune but we couldnt find another way of getting there it cost about $60 dollars and the guy wanted to wait for us, leaving the meter on... ahem I dont think so.

We were soon on an airboat whizzing through the park, I have been here sometime a few years ago but the lady hadnt and it was a great place to stop for Valentines day. We saw lots of eagles, vultures and ospreys, an orange turtle, quite a few alligators up to about 14 feet long and some amazing little birds than ran across the lillys. It was a great trip and lasted almost an hour which isnt bad for $20 each. We then went to an Alligator show included in the ticket, we were a little dubious about the ethics of this but were soon put at ease when the guy explained this was a charity which rescued alligators found were they shouldnt be (primarily in peoples swimming pools) and housed them doing some shows before releasing them back into the wild. At one point the guy held the alligators mouth open with his chin. The show was free but you were asked to help the charity by holding a small alligator for a photo and give a donation for the priveledge, I wasnt sure as this is so often a terrible thing to do .... but did it anyway, this isnt a snatch from the wild for private profiteering so what the hell.

After a bit of stalking and scaring a few nice old people, we managed to get a lift back to the airport with a tour group, who for $20 agreed a back hander much to the annoyance of his tour group. We got back to the airport checked in our bags and found the flight continued to get delayed due to high winds in New York (our last visit here on route from our San Francisco to LA and Las Vegas trip was a disaster as we ended up in a hurricane being locked indoors our entire time there, that was 10 years ago, how time flies). The flight kept on being delayed further and further and in the end was 3 hours late. This put paid to getting up the Rockafeller centre at night and Brooklyn bridge however we sat in an overpriced airport bar, with four tvs showing Obamas budget, amercian football draft, ice hockey, basketball and the grammies, all in English, it was great. It was even better to sit and look at the variety of human beings before us unlike anything we have seen in ages, from the fattest people you can imagine to the thinnest, Orthadox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and god knows what else, black people, white people, asian people, tattooed people, plastic surgery people, old people, young people it sounds obvious but we didnt realise that we just hadnt seen this variety of people in along long time. We absolutely loved every minute of it, I think we really needed a break from South America, although we didnt realise at the time, perhaps its that and overhype as to why we havent rated Colombia as highly as a lot of other people.

The flight was amazing, a budget airline but with more legroom than any flight I have ever taken, tvs in the back of the seats, and choices of food and drinks for free you couldnt imagine, I had a virgin mary with blue potato chips, check me out.

It was 1am by the time we arrived at the hostel and after 21 hours on the go we were knackered, not too much time for sleeping though as we only had a day in New York and we had to try and get the laptop fixed. Our hostel was part of a synagogue but was in the centre of the financial distict just off Broadway and we got a private room for $40 that is surely very rare in New York.
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