When friends buy a reposesssion in Delray Beach and say, sure, come on down, well, it's too hard to resist. Just about an hour's drive north up the Atlantic coastline from Miami, and far less city-like, Delray feels suburban and it's so flat that you start to navigate by which giant stores are at which intersection. That said, when there's this much sunshine and warmth, you find yourself forgiving everything.
We stayed in the bird neighborhood, at least, that's what it should be called. There was Heron, Curlew, Ibis and Albatross Drives, plus plenty more of that ilk and heaps of folk in Delray have taken the local wildlife, if not to their hearts, then certainly to their mailboxes.
It's not far from the Everglades, again, about an hour's drive and excitement was high on the drive down. Southern Florida is the only place in the world where you can see both crocodiles and aligators in the wild. There's also a ton of bird life and we saw egrets, anhinga, storks, ibises and a surprisingly relaxed grey heron who let us get very close.
The Everglades weren't what I was expecting. That is, we didn't get in a flat-bottomed skiff and scoot across the water, missing aligator jaws by inches. Instead, we took a very civilised stroll along a boardwalk through a mangrove jungle. It was at the hottest point of the day, but even so we saw a few crocs and a turtle and watched an anhinga do its feather-drying thing in the sunshine. This is when they find a perch and spread out their oily looking wings to dry.
I learned a few things while I was down there (Florida is 'down' from just about everywhere I've ever been, hence the directional description), like it has only two seasons: wet and dry. We were there in the beginning of the wet season and it did rain on last day, but it never stopped being hot and frankly, in November, that's no bad thing. In fact, it was almost too hot to be out walking in the full sun – hard to believe now that I'm back here in northern Europe, shivering in front of an empty grate...
Another first for me was seeing Spanish moss. It's amazing stuff. There's a lot of interesting tree stuff in Florida, like strangler fig, which grows up around a host tree and eventually kills it, but wow, does it look incredible.
From the Everglades we shot off down to Key Largo, the first of the little islands that tail off the bottom of Florida. We hired a boat from John Pennekamp and took off for Molassas reef, about seven miles off the coast. I'm going to say that again: Seven. Miles. Off. The. Coast. That's a long way! And, when you pull on the flippers, adjust your mask and snorkel, and slip into the water off the boat, it's an eerie feeling to be so far from land, out in open water, but, hey! What was that fish? And that one? And–– ouch! Was that a jellyfish sting? And how come the guys are just using hand signals? Have they spotted a... shark?!
OK, I'm getting back on the boat. That was great fun and all, but it's nice just to chill.
You're never too far from food in the USA and after a full day of sun, sea and snorkels, we were very happy to get taken to Alabama Jacks (58000 Card Sound Rd, Homestead, FL 33030), where they specialize in things like conch fritters and fried shrimp. The menu also featured grilled dolphin, but there's no need to be alarmed – it's just snapper.
It's an interesting place. There are no walls, as such. It's more of a big shack with a kitchen at one end, a bar at the other and some rough and ready bathrooms. Just as we were leaving, I nipped into the ladies and heard someone kicking off in the men's. No idea what was going on in there and think maybe we'll just leave it like that.
So, as the sun set over the keys and the mangroves, we headed back up to Delray full of fried seafood and plenty of good memories.
Like I said, it's hard to believe I was there so recently. The world already feels like a different place, for lots of reasons. So it was nice to have a little ray of Florida sunshine on my desk this week: Key Lime Salt Water Taffy. Not Americans getting toffee wrong, as some of my office mates thought until they popped one in their mouths – just a nice, soft, chew...