This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Crossing Continents via Florida

Editor's Note: It is hard to believe that I left Asia almost one month ago and that I am writing from a hostel in Bogota, Columbia. But the vacation (I use that term very loosely) is over and now it is time again to get serious (I also use that term loosely) and caught up on my blogging.

Our plan all along has been to leave Asia in November and to be in Florida for my Grandmother's 95th birthday party. We missed her 90th birthday because we were living in Tokyo at the time, so I told myself that when 95 rolls around we will definitely be there for her two different birthday festivities. And I figured that there is no sense in returning to Asia from Miami, Florida so we planned to go to Columbia.

But first we have to cross continents. We take a short flight from Bali to Singapore and spend the near the airport. I do not even bother to leave the hotel while Mika steps out for about 15 minutes. The next morning we fly to Narita airport.. After landing in Japan the plane has some problem with the steering column and we miss our connection sitting in the airplane waiting for a tow truck and then bus to get us to the terminal. The good thing about having no responsibilities is that instead of having to run to Haneda (Tokyo's other airport) for a midnight flight to San Francisco we can opt for the free hotel with a lovely Japanese dinner and buffet breakfast included -- about a MSRP of US $300. Furthermore, we receive complimentary passes (JPY 5000 per person = US $60) to the ANA airport lounge with its cornucopia of chocolates, mini-Japanese snacks and coffee and beer vending machines and an upgrade to Premier Economy with its extra five inches of legroom and wider armrests than given to the legions of plebeians behind us.

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Our first stop is Denver, Colorado. We spend our few days there getting over jet lag, hanging out with my family in Denver and shopping for the essentials on our "before we get to Columbia" list. The next stop is Florida for the big fiesta. My uncle has arranged rooms for us on the beach in Hollywood, Florida and some activities in the area. Hollywood is situated south of Fort Lauderdale and North of North Miami. The beach here is long clean and busy with locals and visitors. This part of Florida is a bit cheesy (or dare I say, tacky). Our hotel, for example, has an outdoor tiki bar and a musician is playing hours on end repeating the same classic rock songs and obligatory Jimmy Buffet songs over and over.

It just wouldn't be Florida without life-sized plaster pirates 
For us this is not really traveling yet. It is a family visit. I have been to South Florida countless times since my childhood and we have just spent lots of time on beaches in South East Asia, so my International Rambler persona is internally shelved while my camera sits in its bag. I must admit, feeling a bit blase about being in sunny Florida probably means that Mika and I are quite spoiled. We have a great weekend with family that I have not seen for a while and fun toasting the only 95 year old that I know with the same last name as I do.

With the weekend over Mika and I relocate from Hollywood to North Miami Beach. On Wednesday we make our first official US blog worthy excursion to Everglades National Park. This beautiful expanse of swampland is just an easy one hour or so drive from the immense sprawl of what is South Florida. The major reason I want to go here is to see alligators in the wild, especially since we had no luck spotting crocodiles in Indonesian Borneo just a few short weeks ago.

What are you looking at?
US national parks are very well organized. Trails are marked and safe and there is no guide mafia which forces tourists to hire an escort. We first take the Anhinga trail, and it is our highlight. It is an easy jaunt on boardwalks built over the water. The ranger tells us that it is the dry season and we should see lots of the giant reptiles. On this short trail we see numerous birds of various sizes, a bathing turtle, a swimming tortoise and lots and lots of gators. Alligators from a safe distance. We take one more hike through a jungle in America's only subtropic region, but it cannot compare to what we have seen in South East Asia just recently. Did I mention how spoiled we are this year?

And just like in the peatlands of Indonesia, the ecosystem and natural balance of the Everglades has been completely upturned by human activity. (click link to see my post from Indonesia swamps)The flora and fauna cannot compete with the millions of residents and tourists for water. Decades of canal and levee systems have blocked the natural flow of rainwater to the Everglades, agriculture runoff alters natural vegetation patterns, and high levels of mercury has been found in all links of the food chain. Many animals are at risk. The number of wading birds nesting in the Everglades has decreased 93% since the 1930's and there are thought to be less than ten panthers in the entire park. These are not just problems of the third world. In 1989 the US Congress initiated a 30 year plan to restore the natural distribution of water to the region. Let's hope it works.

The next day we leave North Miami and go down to my cousins' apartment in the world famous South Beach. For the record, it is great to have a cousin with a comfortable sofa bed in South Beach a short walk from the ocean and Art Deco district. This weekend also happens to be Art Basel. A huge event where art galleries and art buyers from all over the planet arrive to buy and sell ridiculously expensive pieces of art.

The city seems to be very excited for the event. Outdoor art is everywhere and there are numerous satellite events and exhibitions all over. We spend an entire morning and afternoon filled with enough free stuff that we do not even have time for the actual Art Basel and its $32 entrance fee.

Any installation that uses Star Wars' Stormtroopers is high art in my book 
The weekend goes quickly and that includes two more large family dinners to honor my grandmother's 95th birthday. And before we know it it is time once again to organize our suitcases, pull out our passports and money belts and fly to the unknown.

Happy Birthday Grandma!!!


  1. How long're you guys going to be in SA?

  2. Not quite sure, but at least until the end of May.

    Is "long're" a real contraction?