Ive always had a soft spot for America, in many ways it feels like it could be home. Absolutely it is completely non sensical and zero common sense is applied to anything. But see past the fact that any American not in for a tip is pissed off with you, and you’ll be fine. Fair enough, the occasional patronising customer facing representative will annoy you, airlines are still in the 70’s, the police are all offspring of Robocop, driving skills are non existent and there is no such thing as false advertising – But stick with it and you will find yourself amongst a populous who believe the world stops on the shores of North America and whose every belief is drenched in a Star-Spangled Banner of self righteousness surrounded by some of the best scenery and modern history on earth. Oddly enough I don’t include beaches in that since the USA is not known for its world class beaches, more-so the stunning national parks which include behemoths such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellow stone and hundreds of others. But for me what makes the USA so amazing is that you can be in some hedonistic playground at night, then hiking some canyon by the morning. It really is a special country and though not quite the land of the free the media would have you believe, we never bore of coming here.
I mentioned beaches and how for a country having such a massive coastline the beaches are nothing special – Florida is an exception as it is home to some of the best beaches in the country. And so when we rocked up I had one plan, and that plan was beaches and food.
Gemma (Jack and Toby’s mum) was in Canada. I asked if she could meet us in Florida so we could see Toby before heading to Central America. She agreed and made her way to Cincinnati, then on to Atlanta where she had hired a car. Now let me tell you this, the drive from Atlanta to Orlando can be done in about 5 hours. I have done it. So when she got to Atlanta the Friday evening (the same day we got to Miami) I was thinking that Saturday morning I would go to her hotel and see Toby. Turns out Gemma had decided to attempt to break the world record for the longest ever time taken to get from Atlanta to Orlando and it took her some 10 hours.
Naturally it was someone else’s fault and I had arranged that at 6pm on the Saturday to meet friends at a steakhouse nearby.
John and Lisa have two children: Roman and Athena and are much like myself in that they love to travel and always seem to be somewhere or other around the globe. But it turned out we were all in Orlando at the same time and so it would have been rude not to knock back the beers and munch down on steak, and it was great. The kids played cards, we chilled out. Eventually Gemma turned up with Toby and my little Wilson’s were complete and in the presence of some excellent company.
We only really had one full day with Toby and we decided to head to Clearwater, which is easily one of the best beaches in the USA. White sand, turquoise waters, grilled seafood and dolphins swimming in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was red hot and I completely failed with the sun tan lotion missing seemingly most of everyone, which has resulted in some hard core sun burn. But it was great to swim in the sea with Charlie hunting for starfish, Abi and Jack building a sand castle and me with Toby jumping waves. At just two years old he still has that cute, infectious laugh where everything makes him smile. Everything lights up his face and everything is approached with intrigue and fascination. It was just one of those days that you know you’ll look back on and smile.
Our final night in Orlando and we met up with John, Lisa and the kids again. The idea was to chill at Joes Crab House where we could nosh on seafood and throw back 22oz Bud Light’s whilst the kids all played in a play area. But as we made our way back along the I-4 from Clearwater the skies opened and it began raining. And it rained, rained, rained and then rained some more. And I’m not talking about tiddy little raindrops, this was like the hulk hogan of rain. The play area was off and so was Joes since he had no highchairs for Toby and Athena. We ended up in a steak house/Chicago Pizza place and chatted the evening away whilst the kids played top trumps and played on some funky little tech things.
Knowing we were headed to Costa Rica I had naturally been keeping my eye on the weather down there and it wasn’t good. Thunderstorms all day every day, heavy rain and mosquitoes awaited us. I was speaking with John outside UNO where we had been for dinner and I explained how I was beginning to dread the summer ahead. It’s difficult to convey just how hard travelling with kids is, you have all your bags, are constantly being ripped off and it is red hot and raining. It can feel impossible and completely demoralising at times. But, we had a plan and we had to stick to it.
On the final day in Orlando I asked Gemma if she would come to Miami with us so that we could spend one last day with Toby. She was reluctant, she wasn’t keen on driving and for her to drive there and back would’ve been a long day. Since we were in two cars and she would be following me I explained I’d drive slow and she agreed. And so off we went. Within no time I was in cruise at 80mph and headed south.
We got to Miami later than I had hoped and was on South Beach for around 2pm. The kids and I were in the ocean and I saw them all laughing together, having fun and being kids. I smiled with them, knowing that in a few hours things would change as we carried over 40kg of bags, took dodgy buses and dripped in sweat every step of the way through Central America in the rain.
In the warm turquoise sea I had Toby in my arms, it was just us whilst Charlie, Abi and Jack jumped waves nearby. Toby looked at me and playfully bit my nose whilst saying “shark mmmm”. I pretended I was seriously injured and he grabbed my head, turned it to him and kissed me with a huge smile; “daddy better now” he giggled.
Our flight to San Jose was from Fort Lauderdale some 40 minutes out of Miami and we set off around 6pm for our flight at 23.30. Whilst en route to the airport the kids thanked me for a great few days in Florida, they were laughing and playing and looked like kids on holiday. I thought back to Morocco, to the long flights, early mornings and difficulty. I thought about India, Nepal, SE Asia and everything in between. I considered things which most adults would struggle with and asked a quick question “Would you rather stay in America, or go to Central America”. Charlie replied “I’ve never been to Central America so don’t know”. Both Jack and Abi replied they’d rather stay in the US.
I felt like going to Central America was doing something for the sake of it. That I could perhaps stay in the US and give the kids a holiday rather than a summer of difficulty. Thought I wasn’t convinced, I figured I ought to speak to my airline, who assured me changing my flights wasn’t an issue. The decision was made for me and all three kids bounced around in pure joy when they heard we would in fact be staying in North America for at least the interim.
Driving back north through Florida I wondered if I had done the right thing, and when I stopped for a coffee en route I looked at the weather in San Jose – Thunderstorms every day. I looked at the news for the region and it was nothing but murders and personal crime. A stark reminder that that region is one of the most dangerous in the world. I post this a couple of days after and there are still thunderstorms daily and I have not a single regret. We fly to the Yucutan next week, but in the meantime we head north up to South Carolina with a few bits inbetween 🙂
A huge thanks has to go to Gemma for bringing Toby down to see us even though it means we’ve had to say good bye all over again. But we have spent some real quality time as a five-some and having my kids together has been amazing.
To John, Lisa, Roman and Athena – It’s been great seeing you guys, enjoy New York and we’ll see you again some time soon.
As a final note I would like to congratulate Bekkie; Charlie and Abi’s mum on her amazing journey to Everest Base camp. She trained for months so that she could do the entire trek in just 12 days rather than the 18 – 21 it takes most people. In the end it took her just 9 days which is a phenominal achievement and practically unheard of. Please read her blog for just what she did and how she did it: http://thelongwalktoeverest.wordpress.com