Crossing the border into Florida it suddenly hits me: it’s warm enough to camp! But it turns out I’m the last to get the memo; the campgrounds are packed. Fortunately my fellow campers are 90% retirees in RV’s so the place is quiet all day and dead by 9 pm. Just how I like it.
I worry, as I always do, about finding a place to stay for the night, especially during the weekends. This is “the” tourist season in Florida and the campgrounds are booked and the hotels are more expensive than I’m willing to pay. So it’s foolish of me, but I’m counting on last minute cancellations at campgrounds - and so far, I’ve been lucky. At Sebastian Inlet State Park I get a spot just a short walk away from the beach. I spend as long as I can lying on the beach reading and walking down the sandy shore, almost stepping on dead puffer fish. It’s always extremely jarring when I realize that had I not left I would be in a cubicle, working until past sunset, never seeing the light of day. How can I go back? Maybe I can sell dried puffer fish for a living.
The next day I’m at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. I spend the day hanging out at the beach again [insert your own jealous comment here]. And I also take a tour of Jupiter Lighthouse: a very pretty one with a great view. For dinner I eat blackened shrimp and key lime pie for dessert.
Each of the beach towns I’ve driven through have their own vibe. Some are more resort-orientated, some cater to surfer-type casual tourists. It’s funny how quickly you can tell what kind of beach you've come across. And all you have to do is keep driving to find a place more to your liking.
Further south, I drive straight through Palm Beach and Boca Raton. Too many topiaries and badly done garden sculptures. The mansions are in the drug lord architectural style: opulent arrogance at the peak of gaudiness. When I get to South Beach I can’t find a place to park - there are already lots of events here for Super Bowl week. So instead I follow my guidebook inland into Little Havana to a Cuban restaurant called Versailles. It's a huge place with a constant influx of new customers waiting to be seated. I get the Cuban sandwich, which I had always thought was pulled pork, but turns out to be ham. It’s good - but I was expecting something worthy of the reputation that preceeds this sandwich - it’s pretty much just ham with pickle and cheese. But I've stuck with my plan of eating as much regional food as I can. I even do so at the grocery store: stocking up on plaintain chips, guava filled pastries, gumbo soup and canned okra.