Day 21 – 16 March – Across the highlands to Orlando and LHR

We strolled the area around Hutchinson Island this morning and walked through the golf course that forms part of the Marriott Hutchinson Island Resort, where we stayed overnight. The location is superb, on the Atlantic Coast but separated from Stuart by the Lucie Inlet. The beach is white, long and steep and the Atlantic breakers were dramatic in a cold, north-easterly wind. The weather held, too, with clear skies and some high cloud. There were Gannets and Frigatebirds fishing offshore and areas set aside for turtles to breed.

The region is less manic than the south near Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach. It’s less crowded and we felt less exploited; local folks actually do seem more friendly and happier. The guy who prepared our Tuna salad bagels at Big Apple Bagels had all the time in the world and spoke fondly of Stuart and the ‘Old Florida’ feel that it exudes. I’m not sure what ‘Old Florida’ really means aside from a commonly-held and ill-defined nostalgia for a place that maybe wasn’t quite as wonderful as people would have liked. The only definition I’ve been able to find describes ‘Old Florida’ as ‘the way it was at least two generations ago. The 1950’s and earlier with roadside attractions, hamburger stands and other reminders of a yesteryear that are quickly vanishing’, although there are other obscure references to the 1920s and a land before development, which more or less makes my point. The place we know as Florida was probably first settled about 12,000-10,000 years ago but wasn’t put on the map – according to Europeans anyway – until 1513 when that guy Juan Ponce de León [the same one who discovered Sanibel] landed near what is now St Augustine. He named it La Florida in honour of Spain’s Easter flower festival. On a subsequent visit, this time to the southwest part, he and his settlers were given a bloody nose by the natives so an enduring settlement wasn’t established until 1565, in St. Augustine. The Spanish had little trouble with the natives after that, settling into a sort of comfortable, armed stand-off. But while they were looking the other way in 1586 Sir Francis Drake looted and burned what was then still only a small village. We Brits finally got our hands on Florida in 1763, when we swapped it with Spain for Havana – wasn’t life so much more simple then? [I wish we could swap Lincolnshire for Andalusia] That only lasted for about twenty years and then, what with Spanish interests growing again and some typical French duplicity Florida was lost to us forever, despite its continued loyalty, at the end of the War of Independence. Having resolved issues of colonialism the settled Europeans, mostly Spanish by that time but rapidly becoming what we now know as Americans, turned their attention to ridding the place of the Native Creek and Miccosukee people. It wasn’t until around the 1840s that white Floridians had clearly established supremacy. Statehood was achieved in 1845 so I guess whimsical references to ‘Old Florida’ relate to the period subsequent to that. Interestingly, I haven’t heard any nostalgic references being made to the Native American and Seminole heritage that appears to exist only in names on the landscape today. Those that are left [and not all are native Floridians] live on reservation lands, fishing, farming, hunting and running gambling or tourist-related businesses. None of it very ‘Old Florida’, eh? But the bagels were superb.

We drove to Orlando along the Florida Turnpike – clear, fast and providing superb views of the Martin County landscape. It is mightily impressive and open and we’ll come back for a more detailed look. It was also a thrill to count armadillos – at least 15 – along the roadside and see Sandhill Cranes and Crested Caracara.

Virgin Atlantic is a good airline to fly with and, to be fair, we’ve never had a bad experience with them but we’ve just had exposure to their all-new call centre in India. Yep, as well as it being almost impossible to understand the accents of the eager-to-please operators [OK, I accept that we don’t speak Hindi but then we don’t aspire to provide a service to Indians either] the telephone connections were bad and they managed to screw up the seat allocation. Why is it almost always like that with these guys? Despite knowing that the people on the service desk at Orlando would be so helpful and good at what they do and that it would all be sorted out I scratch my head and wonder why it has to be that way as soon as you pass the 68E parallel. I received an e-mail in my inbox confirming that Anna was travelling alone and was checked-in. But neither of us had checked-in and where was my booking? Well, when we arrived at check-in our booking was, as expected, screwed, but also as expected the staff were great. We had a good flight that was a lot more comfortable than we’d expected, aided by the plane being only half-full. Virgin is suffering from the general financial malaise though – the food really was piss-poor.


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