After getting everything together and very tear-filled good-byes with our neighbors and their girls, we headed to the Victor Hugo for one last lunch in Puerto Lopez and to meet our cab to take us to the airport in Manta. The horse that chases dogs on the beach came by to give us one last farewell. He was at our send-off lunch, too!
Our cabbie didn't take the coastal road, which would have given me one more opportunity to see the monkeys. Instead, he took the inland road, through Jipijapa, which gave me one last look at the creepy statue of the woman bending over with what appear to be a basked full of boobs! Since we were going to Manta instead of from Manta, we only got the back and side shot this time!
When I flew into Manta a few years ago, on my first visit in the country, I remembered the airport being a concrete building, like many of the buildings in Ecuador. Apparently, those buildings were damaged with the earthquake. Now, most of the buildings are tents or made from shipping containers. It's all very orderly and well put together, though. I was expecting a puddle hopper, but apparently, air traffic between Manta and Quito is pretty brisk. It was a full-sized airbus, and it was full! They didn't charge us for our extra bags, which was really cool!
When we arrived at Quito and checked in for our next flight, everything went smoothly again. I had difficulty getting the flight sequence I wanted booking the entire trip, so I booked them separately. Flying from Manta to Ft. Lauderdale as a package would have required we stay overnight in Quito. Booking separate flights, I was able to only have a 3 hour layover, plenty of time to retrieve our bags and recheck them. This was also my first time flying Jet Blue, so I was interested in how much room I would have for my extra leg. (Let me know if you don't get the reference. I'm not sure how long those commercials ran.) This flight was full, too, and since I didn't do online check in, they initially had Bruce and I seated apart from each other. We agreed to take the emergency row, though, so we could sit together. I do like Jet Blue. Lots of room to readjust my legs multiple times during the flight without kicking anyone. The seats were comfortable and roomy. When I had to go to the bathroom, it wasn't the normal exercise in contortionism that I've become accustomed to. (To you grammar nazis, I'm aware that I ended a sentence with a preposition. "To which I've become accustomed" just isn't very comfortable to me for informal speech, though.) They don't give you free alcohol like Copa (I think), but it's a pleasant enough flight that you don't need it!
We landed a little early in Ft. Lauderdale, even though our first approach had to be aborted. Apparently, there was a grounds crew out cutting grass around the runway we were supposed to land on. They didn't respond to the tower, and our pilot apparently wasn't comfortable doing his own mowing down of people that didn't belong on the runway at that time. So, we left the wheels down, but ascended again just before touching land. After circling, our second approach was successful. We gathered our bags, cleared customs and immigration without even a second look, and stepped outside. OH MY GOD! THE HEAT! THE HUMIDITY! IT WAS ONLY 5:30 A.M.! This would never have been tolerated in Ecuador!
The air conditioning was good in the rental car, though, so off we went in search of breakfast. We were looking forward to a real American breakfast, not desayuno Americana. In Ecuador (and much more of Central and South America), desayuno Americano consists of two eggs, a piece of toast or roll of some type, some butter and jam, instant coffee or tea, and juice. Folks, that is not an American breakfast. This is an American breakfast, courtesy of Denny's. Eggs, meat, potatoes, bread with butter and jam, juice, and brewed coffee. I like my eggs poached, please. The orange juice was Minute Maid, which doesn't even compare to Supermaxi, but the breakfast was heaven, otherwise!
After breakfast, we headed up to Silver Springs where we had a lead on a little trailer in a snowbird park inside the Ocala National Forest. It's less than we were used to in Ecuador for more money, but we plan to spend much of our time travelin', and we really just need a cheap place to crash when we're sitting still. This fits the bill. It's also in the forest, so there's nature. So far, I've seen several hawks, herons, and other water birds.
The lake is full of turtles. They tell me alligators, deer, and bear are common signs, but I haven't seen any of those yet. I'm hoping for a sight of the elusive Florida panther, but I'm not holding my breath. Once everything gets settled and we have more time to walk and stuff, I'll see more stuff. Bruce was just so happy not to have the rooster crowing in the wee hours of the morning. The Sandhill Crane Serenade comes after the sun has been up for a while.
Place to live. Check. We'll have to finish the paperwork, but it's found.
While looking at the trailer, I stepped in an anthill. The Florida fire ant isn't elusive, and they find me quite tasty, indeed! At the top of the shopping list - Ant killer dust! Them buddies have got to go!
On our way down to Lakeland the next day, where we had a lead on significant price cuts on a new car - buying new cheaper than we could get used - the temperature light came on on the rental car. We pulled over and let it cool down, and took off again. We got to the dealership without incident. There, we found the Geezermobile #3, a Nissan Versa SL with built-in navigation and a rear camera. Deep dealer discounts and financing incentives were in place, just as we had thought, so we drove out with it. A much bigger and better car than the Spark for close to the same as we paid for the Spark in Ecuador. I can still take pictures over the top of the car while Bruce drives, though!
We left the rental parked at a friend's house since the temperature light came on again while we were driving there. We rented this care from EZ Rental Car. When I called them, they told me that if they pick it up and take it to the dealer, and the dealer says there's nothing wrong with it, I would be responsible for the fees for towing, etc. So, I made sure they were aware that if I drove it, and the engine blew on my way there, I would just be leaving it on the side of the interstate, calling them to let them know the nearest mile marker. I would not be staying with it in the heat, and I would not be responsible for any damage that happened to the car for driving it after the temperature light had come on. They accepted that risk and waived the drop fee for me to deliver it to Tampa instead of Ft. Lauderdale since the car was currently in Plant City, and Tampa was the closest place for it. The light came on and went off a couple of more times while I was driving down I-4, but the engine didn't blow up, so I kept going until it was delivered to their Tampa location.
For reasons known only to my right foot, it decided to start swelling and hurting and bruising around the big toe. It got to the point that I couldn't walk. I iced it and put it up, and the next morning it was somewhat better, so we went out again. By mid-morning, it was starting to go again, and I was afraid it was going to get really bad again. So we headed to the local VA clinic, where the doctor didn't think it was gout because there was no heat, but he didn't know what it was. He sent me to The Villages for an x-ray. We set the navigation system to the address, and what did we find?
A dirt road!! I can do it everywhere! Bruce said this one was okay, though, because it wasn't on the side of a mountain with half of it falling off a sheer cliff. Also, he had good visibility because we weren't in a cloud forest. I'll have to see what I can do about that!
Anyway, the doc said neither my labs nor my x-rays explained my foot, though it did show a deformity that could potentially be causing some problems. The problem went away on its own, though, and I'm up and going again. Apparently, this is snowbird central here. The doctor actually suggested that we get our records transferred and get our intake/annual appointments done "before the rush" when the snowbirds come down! We actually have things that are closed for the season right now. Living in Tampa before, we never experienced that. Tampa had snowbirds, but it also had a constant population. That doesn't seem to be the case up here. It's pretty dead right now, which suits us just fine. It's a sleepy little place.
The closest post office is inside the local hardware store. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Mr. Drucker appear!
There are "fresh egg" signs at the ends of several driveways. We haven't gotten any yet, but we will. There are dirt roads. You should be careful to dodge the squirrels, raccoons, and opossums as they cross the road. The signs say to watch for deer and bear, too. The population is a little on the elderly side and electronic mobility scooters can be treated like vehicles.
Yesterday, we even scoped out the local mercado/cholo mall, also known as the farmer's market/flea market. This one's bigger than the one we went to in Tampa and has more things. We spent a few hours wandering around it. Prices on vegetables are better than in the stores. We can get a basket of peppers for $1.50, with about 5 peppers in it, and other produce is similarly priced. Even the cubano peppers that we got 3 for a quarter in Puerto Lopez are also in the basket for $1.50. There will tend to be 6 or 7 in those baskets, though, because they're smaller than the normal bell peppers. Local honey with the comb is priced about the same as in Ecuador, buying it on the way to Montecristi. There's a farmer's market closer to us, in Silver Springs. We'll check it out, but it's sponsored by Whole Foods and has many non-local vendors, so we expect the prices to be higher. Regardless, we'll be buying our vegetables on Saturdays, hoping they'll last a week.
Looking at meat prices, we were pleasantly surprised. At Save-A-Lot, we could get a rack of pork ribs for $3.25/lb, just a quarter a pound more than we paid in Ecuador, and they have various deals on mixed cuts of meat for $20. At Sam's Club, we found lean ground beef for $2.75/lb and many reasonably priced cuts. Some things were more, and some were less, but if we're careful, we shouldn't spend much more on meat. Seafood is a different story, though! Good thing I like bass since that's what's mainly in these lakes! We picked up a couple of nice T-bones at Save-A-Lot for $7. Nice and tender! Not as flavorful as in Ecuador, but much easier to chew!
We're still getting settled in and haven't had a chance to see many of our stateside friends yet. We haven't even let some of them know we're in town yet because we know we aren't going to be able to see them before we scoot out again for a little while. The newness of being back is beginning to wear off, and we're starting to settle in. The basic needs have been met, and I now have time to write. I've seen several places that I want to explore more and take some time to get some good pictures. We haven't found the trail heads and the awesome springs that are supposed to be here, but we haven't had the opportunity to look for those yet. To busy getting set up for living back in the US.
The park we're in is kind of run down, but it keeps the wildlife coming in, and the view from the porch is awesome!
As we explore more, both close and far, we'll post more!