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Florida - Part Two
updated: Nov 27, 2010, 9:52 AM
"We're on our way ... to Appalachicola, F-L-A . . ." Film buffs and readers older than 65 will recognize these lyrics as those sung by Bob Hope in "The Road to Rio," one of his "Road" pictures with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. (Appalachicola is on the very southernmost tip of Florida, and since we'd enjoyed the Florida Keys years ago, we had no need to go there.) I have the impression that Miami lost its allure a long time ago. Maybe I'm wrong about that?
"We're on our way out of Epcot" just doesn't have the ring to it, so let's hit the road to the Atlantic coast of Florida, beginning with St. Augustine, a small city that's a very worthy stop of the touristy variety.
But first a word about Epcot and other Florida Disneyana: The word is "over-rated." My dominant impressions were that $84 per person per day was too expensive (small discounts if you bought for more days); the theme parks resembled plain old amusement parks with dizzying, neck-wrenching rides, extremely loud music and third-rate fast food -- in short, a great place for kids. There were some apparently "nice" restaurants, but we didn't feel motivated to try them.
There wasn't enough real Hollywood lore, Disney movie sets and so on, but mainly silly stuff like an explosive segment of "Shrek," however it's spelled, with deafening sound effects.
Disney's ability to erect stunning fake buildings was still in evidence, I must say. And yet I was less than thrilled with the round-the-world walking tour at Epcot (one of several parks; this all takes some study). Then we realized something of interest: If you've seen the REAL Alhambra or the real Manhattan, and so on, you won't be blown away by the imitations, no matter how cleverly done.
I was amused that the Moroccan girl at Epcot's Morocco Alhambra section had never heard of either the Alhambra or Granada, Spain. Oh well ... We've seen them and prefer the originals.
And yet ... a 44-year-old friend had the time of her life at these parks. So Go! Explore and enjoy.
Then check out the reality of Florida: Driving in a new environment is fun (especially in a brand-new Chrysler, which gave us a much-needed bit of appreciation for American-born autos), and Florida is very new to someone who's spent decades in the semi-arid to arid Southwest. This eastern place is GREEN, despite a couple of months of drought.
"A couple of months?" I told a local about our years of less than average to almost no rain. Our mountain rainfall has saved us. But then, deserts are like that. Florida's greenery, on the other hand, demands WATER -- lots of it.)
The countryside is very flat, leading me to get "turned around" frequently, with neither mountain nor ocean orientations. It's grassy, but liberally sprinkled with several varieties of native pine, some oaks and numerous cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto), a bushy, medium-sized variety that is the state tree of Florida. There are occasional tall palms shaped like our Washingtonia robusta skyscrapers along Cabrillo Boulevard, and the tall fan palms all around the Mesa, but in Florida, they're not nearly as tall.
St. Augustine was a hoot. America started here, a guide said in his interesting spiel. He gave us a drink from Juan Ponce de Leon's original "Fountain of Youth" and pointed to some children over yonder, saying, "They're actually 65, but look what happens when you drink this." We each drank a small cup, which smelled of hydrogen sulfide. Nothing happened.
Seems that John Ponce came ashore at Easter time in 1513, as did numerous Spaniards. He looked east, spread his arms and called this newfound land, "Pascua Florida," or Flowery Easter, after the annual celebration in Spain. He of course didn't know about California, Mexico, Alaska and points between, but for a while there, the entire continent belonged to Indians but was called Florida.
Young guys dressed like old Spaniards told us about the Indians and their cleverness in using the abundant alligators: They pushed spreading spears down the gators' throats and, when the poor gator couldn't function, they flipped it over on its back and had their way with it. Alligator shoes, steaks, the whole shmear.
Another Indian stunt was to construct a sturdy, funnel-shaped gateway and entice a gator into it with some food way at the end. They knew - but evidently the gators didn't think about it - that gators can't back up. So there they lay, confused but perhaps happy with their last meal, while the Indians speared them for more shoes, belts and gator jerky.
There's more of interest to St. Augustine, a fine little tourist city, but the beaches awaited us. It's an interesting area. The remains of the old fort, El Castillo de San Marcos, instrumental in many battles involving the Spaniards and later arrivals, was built of coquina, a strange soil made up of minute sea shells. It is said that cannonballs sank into its walls instead of knocking them down.
The shells are more visible than those in the whitish, diatomaceous earth around Lompoc, also formed over centuries by microorganisms from the sea.
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"Spanish moss" is so called because Florida Indians were amused by its resemblance to the beards of Spanish explorers.
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