South Florida

Traveling filled the entire past week, making it feel much longer. The first stop is Florida.

It’s Tuesday night. I check in at LAX for a red-eye flight to Orlando. After boarding, I take an Ambien and drifted off, to be awakened upon landing at MCO. The transit is painful—both because it is a long layover of three hours, but also because I had to traverse the airport, leaving and re-entering secure areas. Breakfast consisted of three scrambled eggs from McDonalds, and I then drifted off on a nap while completely supine on a wooden bench in the atrium. Pastor Whitsett calls me regarding giving the sermon this coming Sabbath, and I said I’ll tell him after getting into Fort Myers.

The next flight is uneventful. I get the car from Avis, then head off on a driving tour of Bonita Springs and Estero Beach. Hasan calls from the conference, and we decide to meet up for lunch. Eating lunch outside becomes oppressive—the restaurant service and the humid atmosphere. After dropping Hasan off, I check in to the Trianon, which turns out to be much nicer than I had expected. I clean up and change, then I call Pastor Whitsett while heading to the American Orthopaedic Association’s opening ceremony. I get my gown, Camille helps us line up, and we march in. The reception takes place in the pools area, where the humidity and temperature creeps upward, only to be interrupted by a torrential downpour.

I enjoy the meetings over the next two days—meetings interspersed with excursions, that is. At the conclusion of Thursday’s lectures, I drive down to Everglades City and the park entrance, stopping at Sushi Thai for dinner. I order Tofu Delight, and the waitresses are delighted to see someone that speaks Thai; they concoct a special deep-fried dessert for me. The most relevant session, the inaugural event of the Council of Orthopaedic Residency Programs, takes place on Friday. Afterwards, I pay the $6 toll and tour Sanibel Island and Captiva, spending some time at road’s end to take in the sun slowly disappearing beneath the horizon, looking for the green flash that I never really see. On this remote stretch, I walk into Sunset Grill, only to meet three orthopaedists from Iowa. The restaurant is empty except for the four of us. It’s good to have company.

Sabbath morning, I find my way to Fort Myers Seventh-day Adventist Church. The church is very friendly, and I’m impressed with the musical talent being exhibited by various church members. After the service, I’m treated to the visitors’ luncheon. I take a plastic disposable table cover to be used as a groundsheet later this evening. In the parking lot, I change into shorts and flip flops. My GPS guides to across Alligator Alley to Miami, where I make a stop at the beach before heading to Everglades National Park. I pull in just before sunset. Pa-ha-okee Overlook sounds like a good place to view the setting sun, so I pull in and step out, only to be greeted by swarms and swarms of mosquitoes. I brave them and make my way around the boardwalk. Earlier in the day, I had decided to stay in the Flamingo campground. I arrive there after dark. There is no one else. One lightbulb illuminates the bathroom entrance. I get out my headlamp, step out to another swarm of mosquitoes, flip on the lights, and look in the bathroom. “Cold shower only.” A giant spider hugs the corner across from the shower head. I step back outside, into the mosquito swarm, and quickly into the car, bringing many mosquitoes with me. At this point, I drive back toward Homestead, calling 411 to get the Days Inn number. They give me a special rate of $59 and I take it. I get a spinach mushroom tomato omelette dinner at the IHOP next door.

To make the sunrise, I get up very early and drive back to the park. I am out of water and without food. Anyhow, I manage to revisit Pa-ha-okee Overlook as the sun rises. An anhinga gracefully cranes and stretches in the morning glow. At the deserted Royal Palm area, vultures take in the sun’s warmth. I brave mosquitoes along the boardwalk. Back at the motel, I count 37 bites on my front torso alone.

I take highway 41 back to Fort Myers. Shark Valley has a lot less mosquitoes. After a grits-toast-scrambled-eggs lunch at the Miccosukee restaurant on the reservation, I take a nap on a picnic table at the Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center. An alligator pond lines the front lawn. I take the scenic route through Fort Myers Beach to get to the airport.

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