Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Real Florida

So many Americans visit Disneyland and think they have visited Florida. Disneyland, and the huge shopping mall that is Orlando is about as close to the real Florida as skiing down an artificial hill in Dubai is to really skiing.

There is a real Florida. You can go there. You’ll need sunscreen, you will need beach shoes, and you will need mosquito repellent.

One of the first places to go is the Florida Everglades. Take a boat ride back into the swamps, take a whole day, or even two. And take your camera. There are alligators, and a million species of water birds. When the motor cuts off, just use your ears and listen . . .the Everglades is an amazing place, beautiful, even a little eerie, with the Ahingas and herons and water birds.

The Florida Keys are a blast. Key West is like it’s own country, a little off-beat – no, WAAAAYYY off beat. Stay in a bed and breakfast, leave your car and just walk around. Take one of the dive boats, if you dive, or the snorkle boat trips if you don’t dive. They provide all the equipment and will take you out to a reef where you can snorkle for a few hours, and see more glorious and gorgeous fish than you would see in a lifetime of searching, in bath-water warm water. It’s like God’s great aquarium, it’s a mystical experience, seeing all the life underwater. Head for the wharf at sundown, for the “green flash” as the sun dips into the water and the reggae plays and humanity in all it’s diversity gathers to send the sun to bed.

Cocoa Beach, where the space shuttles launch, is a totally cool and very funky place. It gets really crowded when the shuttles are about to launch, but there are some very fun and very relaxed restaurants there, and some great surf when a storm is brewing.

Sanibel Island, off season, where you find miraculous sea shells by just strolling the beaches as the tide goes back out, and watch the most amazing sunsets.

Take the family to Crystal Springs, “just north of Tampa” but I remember it being a LONG drive! You get there, pick out the size innertube or raft you want (I prefer the ones with the sealed center, because your bottom can get REALLY cold hanging in the spring waters) and head for the source of Crystal Springs on a bus. You can choose a short route or the long route – you will know your own children, and what they can handle. We like the long route.

You get into your tube, into the water, and . . . you float! You float for two or three hours, and the water is so clear you can see the fish just feet below you. You float through areas of vine covered trees and tannin stained waters, you see what Florida looked like before man. It is WILD and beautiful. At the end, you are pretty cold, but oh, what a grand adventure.

Wakulla Springs is the deepest freshwater spring in Florida, and they have glass bottomed boats you can go on to see all the life underwater. We especially love the old fashioned lodge there, just a few miles south of Tallahassee. Wakulla Springs Lodge

And I am only now getting to the very best part. For a great adventure, we love Myakka River State Park. It is one of the oldest recreational parks in Florida, with excellent hiking trails, over 1000 alligators in the lake, and a boat trip – on a boat driven by a giant fan – around the lake. Adventure Man has always said that if he ever thinks about retiring, he wants to be the park ranger driving this boat and showing people all the alligators. It is a thrillingly beautiful place. It is near Venice beach, famous for fossilized shark tooth hunting.

But we go just a little bit further south, to a little beachside community called Englewood Beach. We have collected thousands of fossilized shark’s teeth on Englewood Beach – it is a treasure trove. We stay at the Weston Resort which is really a conglomeration of properties near the southernmost tip of the barriar island on which Englewood Beach exists, and from which you walk right into the state park where you can’t drive.

I see that they now have parking for like 25 cents an hour – it used to be free, but you only got a parking spot if you got there by around 8 in the morning, there were so few parking places. But you always have a place to park if you are staying at the “resort”. The resort isn’t really a resort, it is a very beachy place, and most people rent by the week, or even, during winter, by the month. They have their favorite units and their favorite buildings. The units all have kitchens, some even with ovens and all with coffee makers and microwaves. It’s a very old time-y Florida kind of place to stay. We love it. We dream of Englewood Beach!

There are still a few other funky Florida places. You have to rent a car, and you have to be willing to go off the beaten track. Take some of the backroads, drive along the Gulf Coast – Florida is a LONG state, and it is really a two day drive – or more – if you start in the Keys and drive to the Alabama border, near Pensacola. The real Florida has its own beauty, you just have to take the time and effort to find it. Once you do – you will be hooked on Florida.


July 18, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Community, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Photos, Travel | 8 Comments