Sorry for the radio silence the past week and a half. I have been slowly writing these as I go along but I've only just put it all together for all you lovely people to read :)
Gainesville "The big family party", NASA and a 2 day journey to New Orleans, 20th - 25th May 2010
Oh my god this place is crazy!!!
Aunty Sharon came and collected us from the Train Station which is a couple of hours outside of Orlando as we'll be staying with them whilst we are here. Two of Selena's uncle's are celebrating their 50th and 60th Birthdays, so they are having the mother of all parties. As I write this there are 16 people staying in the house - this will explain the pictures of fighting over places to sleep. And more peeps are arriving tomorrow!
Everyone has been given a job to help prepare for the party, and everything is made from scratch. They've been boiling fruit plants to make the juice for the fruit punch, Grandad is cutting the heads off of about 50 Red Snappers in the garden and there's a chain of people Marinating & BBQ-ing them. Aunty Sharon has baked 6 cakes that I can see which are placed anywhere there is room and is about the start icing them, Big Al has just finished making a chicken curry for everyone for dinner. Uncle Norman has just left the house again to go and collect more people from the airport, the jerk chicken is being slowly smoked on a stack of wood, Aunty Pat, Selena & I are helping make the corsages for the party guests, Christine is making icing leaves to decorate the cakes with and that's just what's been going on in the last half hour!
By Saturday (the day of the party) the whole house was full of Jamaicans. It was always funny if I'd been out and I'd come back to the house and there were people there I hadn't been introduced to, as they would look at me like 'are you in the wrong house or something?' :) One morning I picked up the party invitation which had been written in Patois (a Jamaican dialect) and they were all in hysterics as I attempted to read it. I got there in the end though, with a lot of coaching in between them all rolling around on the floor laughing.
Whilst helping with the party arrangements and decorating the hall I quickly learnt that actual time and Jamaican time are two very different things (anything from 3 to 5 hours difference). Now I know some of you have said I need to stop mentioning the food as it's making you all hungry - but seriously if you'd been there you'd wanna give it a mention too! They had Jamaican Patties, smoked jerk chicken (cooked by smoking it in little wooden huts), fried chicken, BBQ ribs, dahl, goat soup, curried goat, oxtail & dumplings, rice and peas (actually kidney beans but they call them peas), Red snapper, spicy potatoes, potato salads, fruit cakes, sponge cakes and a fruit juice they made by from Jamaican flowers. Mix all of that in with a load of Reggae music and strange line dancing, and you've got yourself quite a party!
The thing that has taken the most getting use to whilst in Florida is the difference in wildlife from Britain. Don't worry I've not turned into a bird watcher or anything, it's more that you can't even think of going for a walk by a lake or through a wooded area due to the amount of Alligators and Snakes around, and if you don't cover yourself in the strongest mosquito repellent then you're going to make a tasty snack for the 30 breeds of mozzies out here. The party lodge was a 2 mile drive off the main road through woodland and there was a really pretty lake out the back. We saw the sign saying 'Danger Alligators, No swimming or feeding" but we honestly didn't think there would be any in there. Within 5 minutes we saw our first one, aptly resting near the warning sign. The next few encounters occurred at night. The first time Selena and I went outside there was no one else around, other than something making the loudest and most blood chilling growl, one after the other. We told a few people inside and they said it wouldn't have been a gator as they hiss. Later that evening there was a group of us outside chatting on the decking when all of a sudden it did it again from right under us!I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Yep it was a gator, and it was not happy with us being there, so we pretty quickly departed back into the lodge.
So we were promised by Aunty Sharon and Big Al (Selena's dad) that they would take us to the best Ice Cream Parlour ever. The first night we were there they took us to Haagen Daz, and OMG this ice cream is like nothing I had ever tasted. I had a deep chocolate peanut butter, which was like a Snickers bar, just richer, creamier and with chocolate sheets in it. However, Selena's cousins weren't happy that we hadn't been to the best one, so on Sunday night we all piled into a car and drove to what shall be referred to as "The best ice cream parlour on the face on the planet". Oh yes, welcome to Cold Stone. If they had these in England I would be destined to be the size of a house for the rest of my life, so thankfully they don't :) You pick the ice cream you want, then the 'candy' you want, biscuits and toppings. They then mix it all up on cold stone slab and put it in your choice of edible container.
On our last day we hired a car and drove down to Orlando with Selena's Mum & Dad to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. We went on a space shuttle simulation launch - absolutely brilliant, saw engineers working on the International Space Station which is going to be taken up in the next 2 shuttle launches, went inside the shuttle discovery, saw a moon rocket and the command module that landed on the moon, touched a piece of moon rock (it actually looks like a small flat piece of shiny, black granite), walked around the Rocket Garden and saw the 2 launch pads. It was a great day, although very long as it took 3 hours to get there, and 5.5 hours back. The 'Scenic route' home had virtually no sign posts, there were entire motorways missing from the map, and no road names. We therefore had anger (Selena threatening the map with a lighter and Big Al suddenly announcing 'I wish all these f*cking cars would get off the road so we could see where we're going' they then miraciously cleared), this then developed into hysteria as we all sat there laughing for about an hour as we drove around what felt like the whole of Florida watching a thunder storm, and talking about the car being picked up in a tornado and windscreens smashed with ice balls. This will not make sense to most people, but we were laughing so hard because we had become so hysterical I had to put it in here. If any of you have driven in America you will be able to feel our pain or maybe able to shed some light on the randomness with their road system. How I haven't been arrested for a traffic violation yet I have no idea!
So American road wierdness - sometimes they go through red lights if turning and sometimes not, they have flashing orange lights (no other colours, just orange) hanging in the middle of highways, stop signs are about 15 foot from the end of the road so you can't see what's coming, the need for instant decisions and swerving across lanes is very important as they don't show sign posts until you are on top of the junction (200 yards if you're lucky), oh and most importantly, they don't show road names or even entire motorways on their maps. No that's just a girls impression, before all you lads start laughing - Big Al couldn't find them either!
As I'm on the subject of randomness, here are some specific to Florida; they have an insect called love bugs. Rumour has it that the University of Florida created them and they accidently escaped into the wild. However, talk to anyone from that university and they say it's an old folks tale. Anyway these things are horrible. They are only seen during their mating season in May and September, and are like our flying ants. They are constantly mating so fly around stuck to each other they are attracted to anything that is white metal i.e. cars, lorries, buses, signs etc - and they then eat through the paint work. The amount of white buses we saw which were black on the front cos these things flew into them was amazing.
The other thing that is strange is the weather. Hey, I'm English, I have to talk about the weather! ;) I went out for a jog one evening and apart from nearly dying from the heat, it was still bright and sunny but it was also heavily raining, and as the roads were so hot the ground was actually steaming. A very strange sight.
So we're leaving Florida and heading west to New Orleans. :) I'm very excited as this is one of the main cities I wanted to visit in the states along with San Francisco, and it has something there that I've wanted to do since I was a kid - sail on a Paddle Boat on the Mississippi river.
If we were making this journey a few years ago it would have been a lot quicker and easier but due to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused, a lot of the tracks into New Orleans are still closed. Because of this we have to go half way back up the east coast, then across, and then down. It will take 2 car rides, 3 trains, a shuttle bus, about 55 hours and a lot of sitting around in between. We did consider flying but it's free on our Amtrak pass, will save us at least $250 each and it's not like we're short on time in the States.
We've also just moved into Central Time so we are -6hrs behind GMT.