Theres not a lot to say about the drive from Raleigh to Naples besides it was long. Oh so very long. Not that there wasn’t scenery worth seeing but the problem was that you couldn’t see any of it. From the moment we started the car at 9:30 in the morning in North Carolina until we actually entered Florida we faced torrential downpour. Some of it heavy, the kind were you have your windshield wipers on full and you were fine where other times so thick that the entirety of traffic slowed to 30mph with the faint glimpse of ruby red doing it’s best to cut through the wall of rain every time the driver ahead tapped their brakes.
There was of course a brief stop somewhere in Georgia, I believe around Savannah where hunger became a thing and luckily found a fancy looking rest area with a covered picnic area we could dine at. With the rain still falling heavily, we gathered the food and spice necessities, our plastic dining wear, collapsable cups and of course our handy bluetooth speaker and set out to make the best of the experience. With our last of our potatoes and our final new york strip, a ten minute Mexican rice box and coffee of course we put together the best of the best. A hot meal safe and dry with steel drum tropicana covers playing through the speaker, the percolator pumping cup after cup of coffee we set our selves up for the next seven or so hours.
As we entered Florida the rains stopped and sunset had just set in. The blood red sky to the west clear and about the first real clear day we’d seen in weeks brought a sense of calming and warmth. Now only about the full length of Florida’s pan handle left and we’d be golden. At some point silence was too still and music had become monotonous so we listened to an hour or so segment of Hasan Minhaj driving about eighty into the darkness creeping closer and closer to Naples.
The final stop light in Naples startled Bia as she came out of her deep slumber. Pulling in around 12:40 in the morning, I wasn’t sure if my other dad, (biological) Luis would be awake as this was where we were to be staying. The car that was once filled from floor to roof in the back seats with the trunk barely able to shut now only held our big backpacks and bits and pieces of nic-nacs lying around. We grabbed our bags and made way towards his unit in hopes of some much needed sleep. To our luck he had been waiting up for us in which he graciously gave us his bedroom for our stay. Without unpacking we lied down and before we could blink the dawn had begun.
Breakfast brought a common Venezuelan set with scrambled eggs, arepas, queso fresco and hominy. Fresh coffee which had been our staple throughout the whole trip and good conversation filled the table. My biological father’s side of the family came from northern South America mostly Caracas, Venezuela but others through Colombia and Equador. He had lived in the states for over 30 years predominantly on the south eastern coast of the states though. With such a big family all around Bia through this journey was able to come across just about all of my family through the states. Not everyone, as timing wasn’t perfect but as of recently more family had moved north to Florida and some visiting during our stay. My youngest brother Philipe lived at the house where my youngest sister Isabela lived with her mother just a mile or so away.
Our first day in, we made haste after breakfast to bury our feet in the sand with the first
bit of true warmth (weather-wise) in a while. With direction from Philipe we found ourselves at a hidden, quite beach, filled with very fine grained white sand, warm water yet a strong breeze which still hindered the possibility of swimming. Not saying we weren’t able but both shied away from the idea of being cold again. Playing in the sand, setting up arrays of seashells and photographing the kite-boarders flying around in the wind with their hydrofoils lifting them high about the surf made a good reunion with our love for being on the beach.
With only a few days in Naples we made best as we could organizing our stuff. We still had too much altogether. We still had our car, more stuff than could fit in our backpacks combined and even just with the bags way too much weight. It was coming down to the final cut, what was absolutely necessary and what we could do without. Some things seemed necessary but the practicality of actually hauling the extra size and weight wasn’t going to be easy by any means. The single burner grill that had so faithfully cooked our food was put in a bag we were most thankfully able to save behind (who knows what we’ll even remember down the road to be honest) and even after cutting down to a handful of clothing we still cut that in half. Our bags were stacked, still quite heavy but everything that we needed fit inside at least besides our sleeping pads that we strapped to the outside and a bag strapped to Bia’s pack.
Before leaving my Tio and Tia Luis Eloy and Inma held a big family dinner that brought as many of us together in the house that they recently built by hand. Cousins, extended family, siblings and all sat together for quite the feast of steaks, yucca, corn, salad, salsas, flan, wine and so much more. My tio Fernando also offered to sell our car as he has an auto shop in Fort Myers which became a huge weight off our shoulders. All we had to do was bring it the thirty minutes north before we took off. After a fun photo opt we all, holding our bellies and with hugs and kisses departed into our last day in Naples.
For the departure breakfast we had another traditional feast with a friendly face, Ninoska another friend from Venezuela joining to wish us off. Now just with our heavy bags in the back seat, the car as clean as could be, it was the bittersweet end of our companionship. Sandy the 2000 dark green Honda Accord with now 265,000 miles yet who drove as if it was shy of her first 100k was off to the market and to her next owner. Driving up to Fort Myers was a breeze. It was bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Before dropping the car off we swung into the South Florida International airport to pick up the $12 economy car we’d rented the prior evening as to make it to Miami. Bia took over driving and without finding the entrance after two loops dropped me off on the side of the road before heading towards my Tio Fernando’s shop.
After zig-zagging through the parking lots and making it to the car rental area I finally found the Alamo counter. As I was filling out the little bit of paperwork the young lady behind the counter inquired if I’d like to upgrade to a sports car for an additional twenty dollars. As with my experience with car rentals, I was used to paying seventy dollars and up per day for an economy car, so upgrading wasn’t even a thought. She handed me the paperwork and sent me off in the direction back towards the car parking lot. Passing the paperwork to the attendant at the Alamo booth he gave me a choice of either this years Mustang or Camaro convertible, a black and candy apple red choice for either. Having never driven a Camaro chose the sparkling red, lost the top immediately and with the baby blue skies made way the couple miles to Bia and my Tio.
They were all waiting for me, me kind of bashful as I felt guilty spending any additional money as we had a strict budget coming up to make our trip happen. Either or, Bia, my Tio and Tia Magdalena and the Honda stood. Sandy still holding pride as I drove up like a cheater in a different car. Sheepishly I snuck into the shop, signed over the oh so wonderful Sandy Honda, shared a few more stories and hugs and with farewells sped towards Miami.
The most brilliant day ever felt as if Bia and I were heading on vacation. In fact we were but with stringent guidelines as to make everything work. Twenty-four hours from now we would both be on a plane headed towards CDMX or Mexico City as we say it in the states with the real beginning of our fifty dollar a day budget for the both of us that would carry us into the next year and beyond. As we closed in on Miami, the sun at about 3 o’clock we decided to pass-by the city and catch sunset in the keys instead. Neither of us had been and it’d be a great opportunity to pass through before taking off. A little longer than expected getting into the keys we finally made it to Key Largo. With the sun still not set we continued on until the sun was nearly about to touchdown on the horizon in Islamorada, not quite halfway to Key West but a good last minute adventure. We watched what we could of the sunset but the after sky was even more eventful. With sundown we turned around and cruised back towards Miami where a close friend Devin whom I’d worked with for some time back in Chicago as well as adventured all throughout the city with now lived with her fiancé on the north-side on Hollywood beach.
Pulling in to their grand hotel towering over the beach stood Devin, patiently waiting. She had our car valeted and brought us up towards the top of the building. Stepping into their condo sat floor to ceiling windows facing east towards the ocean with frightening balconies looking onto the movements of the ant-like people walking below. It now being late was quiet for the most part. We set our stuff in their guest room and proceeded down to the pool/lounge area just steps from the beach. With some banter and another fine walk on the beach we brought the evening to an end. An extraordinary way to end our trek from San Diego, from a beautiful rooftop outlook facing the Pacific to the west, now with a beautiful balcony facing the Atlantic to the east.
The next morning Devin treated us to one of her regular breakfast spots. Our last moments in the states comprised of fresh baked bagels, hand cut lox, an açaí-bowl and fresh fruit powering us up for what was becoming our next big adventure, the other America’s. Bia’s home area and more. Once again another goodbye to a good friend and off to drop off the rental. With spirits high and the clock ticking, just another few hours and we’d be a mile high headed south.
Now behind in all of the blogging that was meant to be, let’s say our journey was to be towards Mexico now and the blog was still in Denver I dug into typing away. Still more and more to type as Bia seated four rows ahead of me against the window, and me in front of a crying baby made best of our Volaris flight. With some wine and a plastic cup, ten fingers pounding away and a few hours ahead of us we parted ways, me more-so of what was the U.S. life and into a vibrant, exciting new way of living. On the road, day to day, jobless, homeless but with the most wonderful Beatriz Guth at my side…