Miami and Florida

Four weeks ago me and my girlfriend were on a crusade for some
sunshine. After a cloudy winter and spring in the Netherlands we
decided to fly to Miami and soak up some sun. Our first stay was in the
nice hotel Circa 39 on North Miami Beach, close to the beach.

beach at North Miami Beach across the street from Circa 39

After 4 days in Miami, visiting Little Havana and some windsurfing at the Rickenbacker causeway, we headed north along the beautifull A1A highway in a rented Dodge
Charger to Kennedy Space Center. First stop was Fort Lauderdale were we
slept one night in the Alhambra Beach Resort.
In the evening we drove with the car through the million dollar homes
build along the many canals in Fort Lauderdale. The houses were big and
nice, but also very lonely. After getting a bit lost there we ended up
in some private residence area where a security guard told us we should
go back.

The next day we drove to Cocoa Beach which is a
village next to Kennedy Space Center.The motels there were not very
good, so we decided to stay in one of the big hotels there. Big
mistake. The hotel was massive and felt like a prison and breakfast was
even worse. Breakfast was fat, served on plastic plates, cups and
cutlery. On the wall was a big screen with an episode of ‘Who wants to
be a Millionare’ which everybody was watching instead of sitting
outside in the sun with a view on the ocean.

rocket garden Kennedy Space Center

For the ‘I dream of Jeannie’ fans among us, we visited the ‘I dream of
Jeannie’ lane in Cocoa beach and then went to the Kennedy Space Center.
It was a mix of a rocket launch base and an infotainement park. We did
a bus tour along facility’s for the shuttle and from a watchtower saw
two shuttles ready for launch. It appears there is always a backup
shuttle for each planned launch. Then the tour brought us to the
command center were amongst other missions the mars mission was
monitored. Between the big, ancient computers we saw chairs and
consoles and a couple of them were reserved for the IBM guys for
probably on the spot support. I wonder what they have could done in the
case of a bug in a program. Resetting the computer was probably not an
option. After visiting the rocket garden and the highly recommendable
Shuttle Launch experecience the Space center close and we headed for a
hotel called Casa Coquina in Titusville. This hotel was thankfully very nice and had a remarkable interior. The rooms were beautifull.

hallway of Casa Coquina

The next day we visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to spot
some manatees in the morning. It was beautifull to see these seagrass
eating creatures swim gracefully to the water.

After that we returned to Miami for the last days of our vacation. We ended up in hotel Circa 39 again, the hotels on South Miami Beach where too hip for me and too expensive for my girlfriend. We visited Coconut Groves and Key Biscayne to see Miami and went to the beach to relax and get some more sun to brace ourselves for the cloudy weather in The Netherlands. Fortunately, on our return the weather was also beautifull in Amsterdam. We flew back with a transfer in Memphis were people spoke with the nice southern accent. A friendly airport security guard promised us to post some postcards we had given him, we had such a busy vacation that we were not able to post them earlier.

On our flight back to Amsterdam i thought about the pros and cons of the USA. The people are lovely, the weather is nice and the nature is awesome. Drawbacks are the lousy food and money is the measure. Good place to visit, but to live there ?

The Pantanal

Full off expectations about seeing wildlife we arrived in Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso, the northern entrace to the Pantanal. The Pantanal is next to the Amazon the largest ecosystem in Brazil and the world’s most dense flora and fauna ecosystem. It is the largest wetland in the world where there is a dry and a wet season. We visited it in the middle of the dry season with temperatures up to 40º celsius.

After a night in a very basic hotel we started our tour driving to Poconé to follow the ‘Transpantaneira’, a mad project from the military junta during their control from 1964 – 1985. The idea was to create a road right through the Pantanal. But they did not take in account that the Pantanal is half a year completely flooded in the wet season. After a few years, coming to their senses, they stopped building the road having reached 147 km of road and bridges. Today it is an excellent way for tourists to explore the Pantanal.

In Pocone we transferred to a small VW-van with our tour guide Marcos behind the wheels and a lovely German couple, Knut and Regine in the back. We slowly drove along the Transpantaneira to see the wildlife and picked up a japanese, Mari, who was brougth from the airport of Cuiaba by a speeding car. Following the Tranpantaneira we saw very beautifull trees with only flowers, no leaves. They had a very bright yellow, purple or white flowers.

purple flowers

 

Further down the road we saw a lot of different birds, caymans and very lucky, an yellow anaconda crossing the road. After three hours driving we reached our destination were we would spent the first night, Pousada Canto do Arancuã.

The pousada had basic comfort, but the people were hospitable and we enjoyed our delicious ‘suco da limaõ’ during a good dinner buffet. After dinner we went with the van for a night tour. We drove along the road with a very bright light lighting up the eyes of animals who where nocturnal. The red eyes of the caymans were particurly easy to see, they lay still in the river and small ponds on the edge of the water waiting to catch an animal who wanted a sip of water after a hot day. Other animals we saw were crab eating foxes and an ant-eater between the numerous termite-hills.

The next morning I woke up early before daybreak for a quiet river tour in a canoo. The german couple, the japanese and I went with Marcos to a river near the pousada. Peddling quietly along the river we saw beautifull birds, an otter and ofcourse caymans. Marcos let us taste a few chunks of bark of a river growing tree which contains quinine. This was very bitter. After breakfast we headed up with the van along the Transpantaneira to our next destination, Pousada Piuval.

Here we started in the afternoon with a boat tour on the nearby lake. We joined an other group and went with three motorized boats on the lake. We stopped near a tree full with birds. Here our tour guide decided we should have a closer look at a cayman, so he held a stick with a fish at the end close to our boat. A cayman, probably used to be fed this way, approached our boat and jumped to catch the fish. I nearly wet my pants, because the cayman missed the fish and almost ended up in our boat. The third time, to our relief, he finally took the fish. After that we went to another part of the lake for piraña fishing. We all catched a piraña and my vegetarian girlfriend loved it so much she was hard to persuade to stop fishing. Our guide showed us the menacing looking teeth of the piraña, a dentist would be proud off it.

The next day we went for three hours of horse riding. On very tame horses the whole group rode through the surrounding area, occassionally through low water ponds. Most of the group including me had their first horse riding experience and I loved it. We stopped after an hour to see caymans, which again were fed by our guide. We all had our Kodak moment to be on a photo with the caymans and then headed back for lunch.

Our guide Marcos left for a well deserved couple off days off, he was already working for 26 days non-stop. A new guide, Ciago, a biology student who was born in Mato Grosso and studied in the USA, would guide us. In the afternoon we did a hike with Ciago to a high platform where we could see the beautifull surroundings. After that we went to a pond where a giant otter mother was guarding her nest. The giant otter was very vigilant which made it easy to see her. The sun set and we headed back to the pousada. On the way back we unfortenately experienced the other side of the Pantanal. We were stung by a lot of mosquito’s. At the pousada we discovered our total of mosquito bites had tripled.

Nonetheless, the next day we woke up early for our last hike through nature. My girlfriend had catched a cold, so the enthousiasm was a bit tempered and after a three hour hike we were glad it was over. A van took us and the japanese girl back to Cuiaba. Because we had it with the heat and the itching mosquito bites, we decided to go back a day earlier then scheduled to spent our last days on the beach in Pipa.

Pictures of Salvador

Pictures of the streets of Pelourinho in Salvador:

largo do pelourinho

Largo do Pelourinho, here were the slaves sold.

elevador lacerda

Art-deco elevator, connecting Cidade Baixa with Cidade Alta.

terreiro de jesus

Terreiro de Jesus.
Igreja da terceira ordem de sao francisco

Igreja da terceira ordem de Sao Francisco.