I had a long journey from Gibraltar, flying in the evening to Gatwick airport in London, where my brother Martin, and Rachel, came to meet me and drop off my larger rucksac, which I hadn’t needed for my trip to Spain.
They suggested we head to a nearby pub for a few beers, which sounded like a great idea to me. They had also brought along an emergency food parcel for me, having read my latest blogs about how my Euro-finances were thin, and they had imagined me living on one baguette and water for the last couple of days. I was very grateful.
Eventually they headed for home, dropping me back off at the airport again, where I looked for a bench to sleep on. There were a lot of others overnighting at Gatwick, so eventually I settled for a bit of floor space in a quiet corner, and slept surprisingly well for a few hours.
Although my flight to Florida was not scheduled to take off until after 9am, the ticket I had indicated that check-in was required before 6.15am, so by 5.30 I had checked my big bag, and gone through security. I think such early check-in was suggested because I was on a holiday charter flight, and many others were families, and people who had obviously never flown before. It had been cheaper for me to book a Florida fly-drive holiday than a single, one way flight to Florida was going to cost me, so I happily accepted the early check-in.
The nine-hour flight dragged, and I slept lightly on and off, but eventually it was over and I arrived at Sanford near Orlando. At border control I was taken to a small interview room, and began once again the process of trying to explain why I didn’t have a job, why I had entered the States several times over the past year, how I had a US bank account, and a US address associated with that. Where would I be staying, and who with, they wanted to know? My answers: in an underwater hotel, and with strangers who had contacted me via the internet did not help my cause! Eventually, after looking at my website the agents seemed to believe I was neither a terrorist, or planning to stay in America longer than I should, and I got my passport stamped again.
Cari lives in Tampa, and had been in touch with me for some time via email, and had offered to join me for the road trip part of my Florida journey. She had come across to Orlando to meet me at the airport, and had been patiently waiting in the oppresive heat, with a welcome sign. It is the first time I have ever been met at an airport by someone with a sign for me!
I joined the queue for car rental, and added Cari as a second driver, upgrading to a slightly larger model. I was offered the choice of any car from the mid-size row. I was tempted by an economical (and boring) Toyota, but just behind that was an orange estate car that attracted me. I still have no idea what it is, but I had to choose that one – it looked so much more like a Florida road trip vehicle.
First stop was for coffee at a 7-eleven, and on to the luxurious hotel Cari had booked for the evening. I soon had both bags unpacked and spread everywhere – I had some serious re-organising to do after two chaotic weeks in Spain. We had a few drinks and a meal, but by 10pm I was exhausted, it being the equivalent of 4am to me by then, and I headed for my room. I was wide awake at 3.30am, and again at 6am, as my body tries to adjust to the 6-hour change in timezone.
The next morning Cari had treated me to a fantastically relaxing Swedish massage at the luxurious spa at the hotel resort, and and afterward we headed to SeaWorld, where the big new rollorcoaster ride Manta was the attraction for the morning. Unfortunately it was having “technical difficulties”, but we enjoyed a couple of the shows, and the awesome Kraken rollercoaster.
A couple of hours on the road took us to Fort Lauderdale, where Cari went to stay with her family, and I found Nancy’s apartment. Nancy is Linda’s mum. Linda very kindly looked after me in New Jersey when I was first in America back in October last year, and her mum was very kind to offer me support on my way down through Florida. I had a wonderful evening with her and her cousin Arlene, and friends Tom and Kathy.
Also living with Nancy is the highly amusing combination of both the fattest and thinnest cats I have ever seen – Sergio (fat) and Buster (thin)!
So today I am up early again, wide awake by 5.30am this morning. I am really looking forward to goal 51, and will be sleeping underwater this evening if all goes to plan.
Many thanks to Cari, who has been the perfect Florida hostess, and also to Nancy and friends for a wonderfully warm welcome back to the States.