Thursday 4th December. Fort Myers, Florida, USA

Yesterday was my longest Greyhound bus ride so far, from Gainesville to Fort Myers. Once again, I decided against hitching on the grounds that my remaining time in the States is so limited. Also, the mysterious pain in my shoulder seems to have taken on a personality of its own, randomly moving to the bottom of my shoulder blade, or down the length of my upper arm, or up the side of my neck. The thought of having to drag my backpack miles along the highway just wasn't worth considering. According to my map, Gainesville to foprt Myers is a four hour trip. Greyhound, with the aid of modern technology, manages to convert this into an eight and a half hour expedition, by scheduling this route through Orlando in central Florida, and by stopping for a half hour convenience break at every outhouse along the way.

As much as I'd been dreading the marathon bus ride, it wasn't all that bad. With the help of a big bottle of Ibuprofen, my strange pains disappeared for a while and I managed to doze a little along the way. I didn't embarass myself this time by having any strange or noisy dreams, which is always a relief. Besides, I was having a better day than the two Mexicans who were dragged off the bus in handcuffs by a couple of stern US Immigration officers. Sitting alone in the bus, watching the small Florida towns drift by was actually a pleasant break from the norm. I've met so many great people on this trip, but sometimes it gets exhausting answering the same questions over and over again. Once more time, I realized how much I'm looking forward to England, on so many levels. Stage one of the trip will be behind me, and even greater adventures lay in wait, but not until I've had a couple of months to refresh and rejuvinate in London.

I phoned my host as soon as the bus pulled into balmy Fort Myers. At last here was the weather I'd come to Florida for. It must've been almost eighty degrees, and it was after four o'clock in the afternoon. There was no answer on Alice's home number or cell phone. I left a message and said I'd call back a little later. Alice knew I'd be arriving at four. Maybe she was on her way. As usual, I had no idea what my host looks like, how old they are, or anything else about them. A lady appeared in front of me and asked me if I was Steve from Australia. Either I'm famous in Florida, or this was Alice. It was Alice. As we walked to her car, she told me I was the second person she'd approached at the Greyhound station. The first guy, when asked the same question, said "I am from Australia, but my name's not Steve!" Ha, reminded me of what happenned when I was waiting for my host in Surrey, British Columbia.

Alice suggested I might like to freshen up before we go out for dinner. I've learnt to take a hint, so I showered and applied liberal amounts of deoderant. We met a couple of her friends at a waterfront restaurant. Her friend Mark lives on a boat just a short walk from the restaurant. He's planning to retire soon and sail around the Carribean and maybe down to the South Pacific. Alice's other friend Connie turned up later. She runs guided kayaking tours, and said she had a spare place on her tour the next afternoon. Now, I've got a couple of days work at Alice's place, and we all know I need the money. But on the other hand, I don't often get the chance to go kayaking, not since Juneau, Alaska and Vancouver Island in August. Hmmm. Tough decision. First I said no, on account of my sore shoulder, but Alice and Connie assured me it'd be very gentle paddling. "We have two paces" Connie said, "slow and real slow". Well, I guess I could always do some of Alice's jobs in the evening, while she's at the 'Matchbox 20' concert. Okay, count me in!

Myself, Alice and Mark, enjoying the nachos, the mango mahi-mahi sandwich, and a scotch on the rocks, respectively. The bookcases that I built and stained for Alice. Click to see some of the furniture that I made in Australia.

In an effort to still get in a full day's work, I got up a lot earlier than my body wanted to.

Alice took off to work. She works in a hospice, and after a recent change in her job description, has a degree of flexibility in her schedule. She'd be back at lunchtime to shuttle me over to Connie's for the kayak trip. The first hour or two of the morning were a struggle. I pruned the bushes in the front yard, shifted a pile of dirt in the backyard, and scrubbed the vinyl siding on the house. The day was warm and even a little humid. I'm not complaining, mind you, but it did make me want to lie down for a sleep. Time flew by, and before I knew it Alice was home and it was time to go paddling. Connie had four 'passengers' today, two retired couples from Minnessota, escaping the cold like so many others from the northern states do, if they can afford to.

Kayaking through the mangrove islands. The Hawaiian shirt makes another comeback! Click on photo for story and pics of mangrove kayaking in New Zealand eleven years ago.

The paddling was certainly gentle, the pace more or less determined by the ability of my fellow kayakers. It was a perfect day to be out on the water. Not hot enough to make paddling a chore, but warm enough that the occasional splash from my paddle was refreshing. The mangroves are home to a plethora of wildlife. At some times of year, even the shy manatees can be seen in these waters, but the waters are a bit cool for them at the moment. We saw a host of seabirds; ibis, terns, osprey, herons, and pelicans. The pelicans and osprey were busy diving for fish right near our kayaks. It was impressive to sea an osprey catch a fish. On the flight back to its nest, fish tightly clutched in its talons, the bird shakes itself like a wet dog would, to get rid of the excess water in its feathers.

White Ibis in the mangroves Connie educating us on the sealife of the mangroves.

The water was reasonably clear, and shallow enough that we could easily see the bottom. I was more interested in the mangroves, but the older couples were intent on spotting shells on the grassy bottom. Connie found one huge shell, but the mollusc inside was still alive, so it had to be returned, much to the disappointment of the folk from Minnnessota. I guess we paddled around for a couple of hours, and by the time we headed back to shore, my shoulder was starting to burn.

Alice picked me up from Connie's place, and dropped me home before heading out to her concert. After a bowl of chilli for dinner, I set about building the three bookcases that Alice had requested. They didn't take as long as I'd expected, and turned out great. Tomorrow, I'll stain them and they should look like a million bucks.

If you're in the Fort Myers area of Florida, and fancy a spot of paddling, phone Connie on 239-694-5513 or toll free on 1-866-256-6388. Check out www.gaeaguides.com to see what Connie's got going on. She does sunset kayak tours, full moon kayak tours *that's where you flash your bum at passing vessels* and seasonal manatee tours. Tell her The Savage sent ya!

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