25/9/16 – Rollin’ on the river

Up earlier this time in order to get the complimentary breakfast in and get to the Everglades fairly early. I was actually ready before anyone this time, so I did some reading before we went for breakfast. First place we’ve been to that actually has a waffle make, woo! Safe to say that went down a treat. We then headed off to the Everglades. I watched an episode of Psych on the way. We stopped off at a little information centre to figure out a bit more about what we wanted to do, since the Everglades is a seriously huge place.

When we actually got into the park, it was chucking it down. Feels like home when the weather’s that typical. We bought our ticket for the Stingray boat tour, which leaves from the bay, goes along the canal and out into the lakes. The shop backed right onto the dock. I saw the fin of a tarpin cut through the water a few times. It’s kinda freaky; they’re like mini sharks. Armed with my brolley, I wandered further down the dock to have a nosey in the bay to see if I could see anymore, looked sideways and had the shock of my life when I instead saw the head of a three-metre crocodile rising up out of the water and against the side of the dock. I mean whoa. Talk about scary. I kept my distance, because I’ve seen how high those things can push themselves out of the water. I was certainly ready to be back inside the shop if it looked even remotely like it was going to try and climb out.

The croc disappeared when the boat came back in to dock from its last trip, but we saw another couple swimming further down the bay before we got on the boat ourselves. Apparently, this is the only place where crocodiles and alligators share the same water. I’d seen plenty of alligators when I did a swamp tour the first time I went to Louisiana, so getting to see wild crocodiles was a new and interesting one. They’re also scarier looking than alligators. However, our biggest problem on the boat wasn’t the crocodiles, the alligators or the horrible giant banana spiders we saw underneath the bridge we drove through; it was the goddamn mosquitoes. The boat ride was certainly interesting, but I felt like I spent the whole time slapping bugs away.

We had our ride cut short by about twenty minutes when a big thunderstorm hit whilst we were out in the middle of the lake, so we had to turn around and come back. I was super hungry when we came back in to dock, but with the weather being so temperamental, we wanted to keep seeing stuff rather than sitting down for a proper lunch. Instead, lunch was a pink lemonade and a bag of Funyuns from the little shop. Whilst we were having a munch, we went over to the other side of the bay and got to watch some baby manatees surfacing and sticking their noises up out of the water, ahhh. I really love manatees and they’re actually not endangered anymore. Well done, world.

We had a wander around the park and tried to do one of the trails you can walk along to look for wildlife. However, it was super overgrown and you had to try and cut your own path – not only unappealing when you’re in shorts sandals and a low-cut top; there was also the possibility that there could be snakes and all sorts lurking in the grass (in America, a lot of their snakes are poisonous). And we’d barely got anywhere before we were getting fully eaten alive by the bugs. We hastily changed our mind on that idea and returned to the car to drive round to the other side of the park to find Shark Valley.

Unfortunately, that idea also fell through when the satnav went on another mad one. We drove a really roundabout way, didn’t find anything for ages, then realised that we’d somehow bypassed the entire park and were suddenly a lot closer back to our motel. Well, bloody hell, satnav. We didn’t really feel like trying again, so we hit the next Walmart we found to get more drinks and things. I found some cute little jester gloves that are blatantly Harley Quinn inspired and will go great with my costume.

Mom had had a taste for KFC for ages now. We knew there was one nearby and had planned to bring some into the room last night before we’d spotted the Applebees, so that was moved to our plan for tonight instead. However, like the Applebees, it was also disappointing. We asked for a regular twelve-piece bucket and when we got back to the motel, we realised the dopey server had given us boneless chicken strips. Still nice, but nowhere near as good as the proper Kentucky coated stuff and when that’s what you’re expecting, chicken strips are definitely disappointing. Homestead have really failed us in the food department.

At least the TV selection was more satisfying. Mom turned it on to find 22 Jump Street, so that had us occupied for the night. After that, we found more Impractical Jokers and I had a mad reading spree to finish off my Clive Cussler book. With more Seagrams on the go, of course. As nights in go, not half bad.

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Now this is what you call a holy crap moment.

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22/9/16 – Doing as the locals do

Got up semi-early to get ready and pack the last few things before leaving our nice Miami apartment. A friend of Lydia’s picked us up and took us to the Alamo to fetch our car and didn’t even want to charge us for the ride! We still tipped him, of course. Our car wasn’t ready yet, but the man behind the desk upgraded us to a bigger one free of charge to save us spending our vacation sitting in the Alamo. I do love Americans. There was also the Latino double of Oliver Hudson working on the desk. I genuinely thought it was really him (and that he’d super downgraded his career somehow) until I heard him speak.

Our car was a big Dodge Journey that I quickly dubbed Harry (Hazza if you’re feeling casual). It’s so good to have a car to just pile everything into, rather than having to lug around various bags and cases, particularly the box that’s filled with alcohol. Both the Alamo guy and our unofficial taxi driver commented on how it was the most important piece of luggage we were carrying. Not untrue. We only drove about an hour out of Miami before we had to stop off at a Burger King. Hunger is real, people, even if Burger King is pretty unsatisfying when you consider the wide variety of eating options here.

Back on the road again. Watched an episode of Psych and then we were distracted by a Walmart. Actually the first one we’ve seen. Finally got my big box of Seagrams, as well as more Red Bull, Sunny D, Milk Duds and a giant bag of popcorn. Then I discovered the clothes section and got very distracted indeed. I ended up picking out a stripy jumper dress of all things, but it was just too nice to pass up and as Mom pointed out, it was very me. Everyone knows black and red is my colour scheme. Even better, I also got various pairs of boxers with Deadpool, Batman and Wonder Woman on them. There were some lovely Harley Quinn ones, but sadly, they only had them in massive sizes.

By the time we were leaving, it was pouring with rain, so we had to wait it out a little before we were brave enough to make a run for it to the car. Thankfully, we didn’t have anymore distraction stops. I’d planned on using the driving time to write, but the drive was so nice that I ended up just watching through the window instead and taking the odd photo. Definitely some lovely views driving into the Keys. We booked into our very cute hotel in Key Largo and had a mill around in the room for a while. Had a little read and then Skyped Kel for a bit. I don’t think she’s enjoying hamster-sitting for Wilson, since he managed to get out of his ball. Yes, I named my hamster after a ball and yes, it’s ironic that he’s tried to make his grand escape from it on a few occasions.

Headed on out after that and had a little wander around the area. We walked down the waterfront first and found some lovely red and blue wrasse, stripy little Angelfish looking Sergeant Majors and some teeny, teeny jellyfish. We then went inwards and onto the street that ran parallel to the water. It was so freaking adorable. It was like being in a proper little fishing village, which I guess technically, we were. All of the houses were built up above the first storey with open patios underneath, besides the garages, clearly prepared for any potential flooding. They all looked really nice and cute though and everyone had their own unique mailboxes, like ones that were being held up by a manatee or alligator statue.

After exploring everything there pretty much was to explore – which really was only a little – we went to a restaurant called Sharkey’s, where we got to sit upstairs out on the balcony, overlooking the waterfront. Now this was just the most perfect night. I had a literal bucketful of a cocktail called Sharkbite Punch, which was mango and passionfruit rum, pineapple and orange juice and grenadine. To go with that, I decided to be adventurous and went with the beer battered fresh shrimp and sea fries. I’m really fussy with seafood and had to ask for them to be served without the tails on, so it was a brave step for me, but god, it was such a good choice. It was so fresh and so tasty and I felt so pleased that I’d chose to be adventurous. As well as the food and drink being delicious, there was a musician playing an acoustic set of great covers of songs I love like Three Doors Down, Oasis and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then we even got to sit and watch an electrical storm out over the river where the lightning made the clouds light up pink and blue. Talk about the most incredible atmosphere. Everything was just perfect.

Suitably stuffed and with Mom certainly not wanting any more cocktails after our buckets, we headed back to the room. I had a few of my Mike’s Hard Lemonade and read, then planned to watch the rest of Sahara and then do some writing. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it – Dad discovered Impractical Jokers on the telly, so I had no choice but to watch that after only watching a little more of Sahara. Guess we’ll try again tomorrow.

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Now that’s entertainment.

27/10/13 – We’re going on a bear hunt

Got up super early so that we could get our next car and then make the most out of zoo times. Very quickly Skyped the oldies before leaving and even managed a speedy waffle too! The idiot driving the shuttle left early without us and tried to blame US for being late, though we were bang on time, and then he sent us off the wrong way for our Alamo pick-up (our guess was on purpose). We got a small choice of cars, including more Elvises and more Codys. I went for one of the Versas, primarily for the better fuel consumption. So we now have Elvis’s brother Klaus!

Having this picture taken then distracted me from locking the car… I realised a few hours later. Oops!

We then spent the rest of the day at San Diego zoo. The place is huge! Obviously we’ve seen a lot of the main animals at other places but we got to see gorillas, tigers, lions, etc. much more close up. We even got to see polar bears and hippos underwater, both of which were new experiences. Pandas were also new. And we even got to see bears! I’ve never seen bears before! Exactly three weeks too late. Typical. Funnily though, one of my favourites was a husky-lab cross called Miley. They use a buddy system where they pair big cats or wolves with domesticated dogs from a young age. So Miley shared the exhibit with her best friend, a cheetah! We also did a 4D Ice Age experience, where you watch clips of the film and they just turn all the special effects on you. I was sat at the front and pretty much got drowned in bubbles. It was rather amusing.

Smiley Miley – forget the exotic animals; I just want her!

This genuinely scared the bejeesus out of me. Princess Mononoke, anyone?

After the zoo we made a Walmart stop and then went back to the hotel. We were more interested in food by this point, so we swiftly headed back out to Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern. I had tomato bisque, then buttermilk fried chicken with garlic mash, along with some very lovely sangria. We had a joint Miranda recall over some of our favourite parts and both ended up crying through laughing just thinking about it! Simple minds, eh? Spent the rest of the night watching Big Bang Theory and drinking Hard Mike’s Cranberry Lemonade. Such fun!

After three weeks on the dot I finally got my belated birthday wish of seeing a bear!

21/10/13 – Marine encounters

Up and packed, Skyped Mom, then went for a nice waffle-y breakfast. Headed straight out to the Texas State Aquarium. Less than twenty dollars admission and it was easily better than Seaworld the other day! We looked round some of the tanks (including a variety of jellyfish and also some teeny tiny seahorses!) and listened to some info on sharks. After that was more tanks and then a dolphin show! The two dolphins were called Shadow and Kai. After the show we went down a level so we could watch them underwater. They were so adorable – they looked like they were trying to play basketball underwater!

Upsidedown, underwater basketball! It's all the rage in the ocean...

We found more animals outside in other exhibits, including giant sea turtles, an otter called Merlin, various birds of prey (one was called Gus!) and a fat alligator. Best of all was still the ray pool for us. We just love those friendly little kites. I stroked quite a lot of them – a much better improvement on last year – mostly because they actually seemed to want the fuss! Too cute! There was a similar pool under the canopy, though this time I got to stroke a horn shark! Most of the sharks had hid in the middle and out of reach, but I found this guy kipping in the corner. He felt so strange – kinda like a living, breathing rock.

After that was another show. Mostly of birds, but there was also a mammal apparently from the raccoon family and a tall wildcat that I think was called a serval. It was very cute – I wanted to hug it. We got to touch a ball python at the swamp encounters talk (I felt proud that through my snakey knowledge I knew they were one of the most popular for pets) and then watched the people feed the rays. We opted out of doing it ourselves – partly because you had to pay and mostly because they ate small dead fish. Urgh. I’ve decided as well that fish eyes are terrifying and I don’t like them.

We wanted to find a Walmart before our next long drive and guess what was next to the first Walmart we found? An Ihop! I’d been dying to go back to one and had exactly what I had that time last year – country omelette (cheese, ham, onion and hash brownies) and a side of pancakes with lots of strawberry syrup. So good! We then did our Walmart shop and got back on the road itself. The drive itself took around four hours; it was a killer. We discovered that Cody is very greedy too. We had to do our first petrol stop, which was a complete faff, but at least we get the idea of how it works now. We got to our hotel then around half eight.

By this point we didn’t want to do anything. I’d felt crappy for most of the drive too, so I didn’t even want anything to eat (shock horror!) So instead I showered and then we watched bits of This Is 40. It was weird but actually quite funny. Especially Billie Joe’s random-ass cameo line of “Shut the fuck up, Tom Selleck” to a beardy Chris O’Dowd. Honestly though, I was just happy to sit somewhere that wasn’t a driver’s seat and unwind. We have another three-plus-hours drive tomorrow as well, just for a change. Yay.

Strokey strokey Sharky

18/10/13 – Antonio, nooooo!

Got up and got ready and packed in a very relaxed manner this morning, even though my stupid dreams still haven’t stopped. We even got to watch some South Park in between. We then got everything packed into the car and set off for San Antonio. It was just over an hour drive and I actually relaxed much more this time. Driving along the interstate is really simple, just a bit dull after a while. We were still ahead of check-in time so we went to the Japanese tea gardens first to kill some time. They were really lovely – they looked so old and authentic. There was a waterfall and several koi ponds, as well as lots of cute little paths and stone stairways.

Up for a game of Where’s Weirdo?

After checking into our hotel we headed back out to downtown San Antonio. Had a bit of a game with parking, but eventually managed to find a solution for it. We had a wander around, saw the Alamo, then went to the Rainforest Café for tea. We both had steak and chicken with garlic mash and Caribbean rice. The chicken was a bit weird, but everything else was lovely. We were also sat next to the tropical fish tank, which certainly kept us entertained. My favourite was a perpetually happy fish with goofy teeth – I genuinely laughed every time I looked at him. Kel reckoned it was like the nerdy, brace-y schoolkid fish in Finding Nemo.

We did a Walmart stop on the way home, which ended up taking longer than anticipated because Sam decided to play us up. Got some Seagrams and some more Kool-Aid though (the last six-pack didn’t even last me twenty-four hours). They also had the most awesome long Batman and Robin tees with attached capes! Sadly though they were only in kid’s sizes and Kel was sure that none would fit her. I was actually gutted – we could have been Batman and Robin on Halloween!

Came back to the room, had a few drinks, some popcorn and watched Friends and bits of Role Models. I discovered that the comedian we’d listened to in the van during the tour is actually in a show called King of Queens, which we also saw a bit of. And then to top everything else I learnt that James Roday was born, guess where? That’s right – San Antonio! Thank you for spawning a man of such comic genius and perfect hair.

My fine-finned friend – “oh my goshth, Nemo’s shwimming out to sthea!”

 

17/10/13 – Forget everything you know

Bit more of a relaxed wake-up today, though I still made sure we had time for breakfast. I had a waffle (which got drowned in syrup when the top came off the bottle), sausage and scrambled eggs. Felt very fat afterwards but it was totally better than last night! We got packed up, checked out and got the shuttle back to the airport to pick up our car. It’s a black Nissan Versa. Still trying to think of a name for him (I’m hovering over Elvis). Not only do I have the whole driving on the other side of the road thing, it’s a lot bigger than what I’d used to driving AND I also have to get used to the whole no clutch or gearbox fandango. It took me forever to actually get it into drive!

Come on then Elvis, break me into this American way of driving!

The first part of the day was iffy and I felt very uncomfortable. I felt like I was trying to watch a million things at once. We stopped at a Walmart for some drinks and snacks (I got a six-pack of blue Kool-Aid, two thirds of which is now gone) and a Radio Shack to get a cheap emergency phone and a satnav. Samantha is much more articulate than Dirty Debby. It’s very sad. Though once we had her we were able to find our hotel no problem. We munched on some popcorn whilst we Skyped Mom and Dad and then later ordered and ate takeout pizza and buffalo wings whilst Skyping Sid.

We then headed into the main stretch of Austin. We went to Congress Bridge first, which is famous for sheltering one and a half million bats who all go out on the hunt every day at dusk. They clearly waited for us too, because we’d only just got down there when they all chose to venture out. It really was an unbelievable sight (and quite an unbelievable smell too!) After most of the bats had sodded off we went down onto Sixth Street, the city’s main hub. We had a wander up and down and then went into Bat Bar for a drink. Because it was called Bat Bar. Since I was driving and America has a zero alcohol tolerance, I had to settle for a can of Red Bull. Oh sorry, did I say settle? We all know how energy drinks are never settling. There was a live musician playing, who was actually amazing. It was just a shame that the bar was so empty and he wasn’t getting the huge audience that he blatantly deserved.

Though we went back to the hotel afterwards and had a chilled night, we still went to bed quite late. Kel watched Magic Mike and I created a new original character. Good times all round! (Though more geeky and less naked men involved on my part. Oh well).

The sights tonight involved a couple of supercars and more than a million bats. Call me Bruce Wayne.