Friday, May 08, 2009

Part I, First Installment of Post Mexico Travels
March 1st-March 6th

Traveling in the USA is like no other!

I can communicate with almost everyone and I can definitely read all the signs. If I don’t know where what something is, I can simply ask, simply and plainly in English. And the real kicker is that I can understand the answer. Learning the template questions in a foreign language is small beans compared to understanding the answers! I blend in too! I never thought I would be overly excited about fitting in with the crowd but after sticking out like a pale ghost in Ghana and like a giant in Japan and like an ignorant American in a variety of other countries, I blend right in with the rainbow of individual color schemes in the US. As a result, I feel like less of an intruder, or perhaps a better way to put would be a taker-advantage-ofer. However in ma there as any ways, traveling around the USA is also more difficult, especially without a car or camping gear.

As you may recall, the first 1/3 of my trip was driving from Missoula to Miami with my mom and her trusty Subaru outback which was loaded heavy with camping gear. It was, I realize now, quite a luxury to be able to drive to remote State and National parks, trail heads, stores, and breweries. It was also a luxury because it was provided a very reliable and comforting safety net. It’s steel frame, sturdy windows, locking doors and reliable engine could always serve as Plan B in plan A didn’t work out. Not only could we go where we wanted but we could go when we wanted and proved to be one of the greatest luxuries of all. I found that I was at the mercy of Greyhound bus schedules more than once. I would arrive at seedy stations at 4 am (thank you Reno) with no one to pick me up or else I would have to hang out at a bus station until 11:30pm for a bus to depart because the last city bus from the hostel to the station arrives at 6:30 (thank you Salt Lake City). Moreover, as silly as it may sound, even with inflated gas prices, driving with two people is much cheaper. Having a car also means the ability to have as much stuff as you want with you, and I’ve never wanted more than a car load.

This final point, not being able to carry a variety of items for a variety of situations, forced me to decide exactly what I would need for the next 3 months and nothing extra. I had to choose things that would be carry-on airplane friendly and that would meet my varied weather and activity criteria. I was planning to be in very hot and cold climates as well as backpacking. My knife, stove, lighter, iodine and thermo rest, all crucial backpacking items, had to be left behind as well as a variety of books, my pillow, skirts, day pack, computer, winter coat, towel and pajama pants. I took running/hiking shoes, shorts, sleeping bag, first aid kit, one water bottle, coffee cup, camera, cell phone, mp3 player and respective chargers, notebook, 2 books (Fire on the Mountain by Edward Abbey and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson), hiking boots, Tevas, jeans, fleece pants, long underwear set, hat, gloves, undies and socks, 2 short sleeve shirts, fleece jacket and raingear. I managed to get all of this in one backpack but only if I wore my boots. In hindsight, I packed very well and the backpacking gear that I left behind was augmented by friends.

The Florida Keys, where I stayed for a couple days after returning from Mexico, was very windy and touristy. Those seem to be the notable things. A brief trip to Key West proved to be disappointing due to the tourist horde fresh off the cruise ships, toting cameras and licking gooey ice cream cones. I did get a glimpse of the southern most point in the United States where there was a brief clearing of the horde. I find myself basing my days around running. I ran nearly every day on the flat trails around Cudjoe Key. I read quite a bit and Mom, Jo and I cooked some tasty salads. I also studied the dynamic between young and old and young at heart. There are a lot of snow-bird retirees that flock to the Keys and they do it in several unique and creative ways. Dan and Jo, for example, live in a gated community called Venture Out and they have a swimming pool, tennis courts and organized Saturday dances, pinochle tournaments and pancake breakfasts. They had fancy rules about what the houses could look like and where cars could be parked.

Jo’s brother and sister in law, however, were camping in a camper and tent in a camp ground just down the road. The campground was filled with various tent/RV/Motor- home setup with varying levels of permanency. When we walked through for a visit there was a lively group of folks sitting in plastic camp chairs with beer cozies in their hands and smiles on their faces. They hollered at us, asking us who we were looking for (we must have looked lost). We told them and they responded, oh yeah, he’s right over there you go straight past that red RV and then you turn right and walk to the end of the lane and his place is on the right, on the water. Do you need a map? And then they asked us where we were from and if we wanted any grilled plantains. YES!!! We visited and it was low key and low stress, a little opposite from the other setting. Then as we were leaving we encountered another group of revelers in plastic chairs with beer cozies and a BBQ warming up. There were several people that we recognized from the previous gathering. They invited us over and we chatted some more. They were a very open group and we found out that there are several weekly get togethers throughout the campground. Sounds fun and I could see myself retiring to a snowbird setting like that, but certainly not the Venture Out one! I guess not all Floridian nomads are created equal.

I was relieved and sad to leave the Florida Keys and the car keys. I was relieved because the area seemed to suck my energy and motivation. The wind was upsetting. There seemed to be nothing to do. Actually there was a lot to do. Key West is full of tourist activities such as Hemingway’s House and the furthest southern point in the USA. More accurately, I didn’t have the motivation to do it. I also slept poorly and often was wide awake on the couch before Dan came into start the coffee at 6 am. I was relieved to get out “on my own.” My mom and I got along surprisingly well, but even if you love someone dearly 4 weeks in their constant company can be too much.

But leaving my mother and the comfort, and insight that she gave me was as much of a sad affair as it was happy. We really did do well together and I was only mildly mean and childish on a few occasions. My mom left the comfort of the Keys on the same day as I did. She had bought tickets to Italy and I was strangely and unfoundedly worried about her on her own. As I flew to Dallas to meet a good friend, she flew to Rome without any knowledge of Italian. However, we all know my mother is very intelligent and resourceful and we also know that any idiot can travel through Europe. So she would be and was, it turned out, fine.

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