Lightning strikes twice

Poor weather for flying then?

After making a strong mental note of the “never again” variety a couple of years ago, the airline schedules (mis)aligned and the booking was made: Ryanair FR8245 home from Palma late on Friday night after a week.

BA from/to LHR was not an option due to the pilots industrial action. So to get work here on Mallorca, it was EasyJet out, Ryanair back.

The “never again” sentiment was from a cancelled flight from the Algarve. That was an arrive at the airport, ditch the rental car… inbetween doing that and walking to the terminal… poof, the flight vanished from the departure boards. With no flights available for a week we got a refund and rebooked via Munich which ended up costing a grand. In essence, Ryanair hid behind a technicality and left us stranded.

Of course, lightning never strikes twice right?

Mallorca on a September Friday it does. Seemingly the Mediterranean weather had plans for us. Delayed was the inbound flight by storminess, if only by around 30 minutes. Nary a drop of rain at Palma, but lots of nearby meteorological disturbance causing air traffic strife. We board, we push back, we edge out toward the runway and we wait with not a little frustration. So if sitting on the taxiway ready to go for 2 hours was a blow, imagine how driving back to the terminal in a bus from a remote stand was a kick in the teeth.

Hence an irritating delay becomes a bed-free-semi-sleep in the terminal. I write this from said terminal: 11h45m of “bad weather delay”. The concourse is littered with snoozing travelers on unforgiving benches. At least it’s not cold in here.

My last two Ryanair flights have been a mahousive bite in the arse. Expensive, inconvenient, unaccountable. The scant information we have is that our arrival in Bristol is 10.45 this morning. Luggage? Who knows.

I am fairly clear that this time “never again” might well be for keeps.

Oh look, I’ve written an ode.

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An ode to O’Leary’s budget airline

Ryanair exist for what purpose exactly?

Yet people queue up and pay their coin to travel.

Anyone would think that we are all fools.

No one seems to be able to make sense of why they keep coming back.

A mystery and no mistake

Indulge yourself in some travel

Remain at the airport for 14 hours

Anyone can play

Roll the dice

Enlist by simply buying a ticket.

Can I go home now?

Undo your spell and release us from this misery

No drama now

Transport us home

Show us you have the ability to fulfill the simple promise of a valid boarding pass.


Written after spending the night on an airport bench at Palma Aeroporto.
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Oh Balearics: we’re grounded

People come to the Balearic Isles for a spot of sun. Not me, I’ve come to Mallorca for work and after a grueling week – theatrical wink, it’s been spectacular – am really rather ready to go home. A 21.45 Friday night flight is on the unpleasant side of tolerable after an 05.30 start. Should’ve got me home to the ‘Shire for 01.00. Good planning. Well, reasonable. Ish.

Should’ve.

A spaniel has been thrown into the works. Instead of crusing through the night sky, we are back in the terminal building after a 2 hour Ryanair/Palma Aeroporto taxiway tour courtesy of a batch of, allegedly, spectacular thunderstorms. I say allegedly as they are missing in action. Simply, it ain’t raining here: no dramas, no flashy-flashy, no rumbles. Well, other than the deep dissatisfaction of a Boeing 737-800 full of tired people. V grumbly rumbly.

A bus tour from an apron stand in Azerbaijan and I am back to the gate we departed (45 minutes late) from yesterday, Friday 13th, now Saturday 14th. The cafe is dark, but it has tables. All the outlets are closed, yet the concourse is remarkably busy with all the other cancelled/grounded/delayed flights, their passengers milling, queuing, ruminating, snoozing and grumbling. It is an opaque situation with the departure boards telling porkies, the internet saying we left hours ago, the ground crew refusing to refuel aircraft (due to the storms) – contrary to the Cap’n’s reassurances – and air traffic control doing some form of manyana drill.

Massive information deficit. Another Ryanair fail.

D’you know what? I just want m’bed. Having rushed around all day – all week, doing cool stuff to be fair – I am stinky-weary in my work gear. Yet my clothes are in a case somewhere in the airport perimeter, presumably still aboard the Ryanair crate.

Don’t let anyone tell you business travel is glamorous.

It’s not as if this is the first time (on a job for this client to boot).

See you on the other side. Whenever, wherever that might be.

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Beyond the Fringe: Edinburgh ParkRun

An intimate affair for 796.

Running is really not my thing and yet… And yet it’s Saturday morning and here I am on the promenade at Cramond. This wee village tucked into the shore betwixt Leith and the Forth Bridges is bathed in glorious sunshine and the is nary a breath of wind: distinctly un-Scottish weather. Glorious.

If your not familiar with ParkRun, then a) where TF have you been and b) allow me to explain. Saturday mornings across the globe, 5K on foot, not a race (but you do get a time). I’ve done a few of these now and they are a lovely – free – volunteer run run. (Volunteering is particularly lovely too if you don’t/can’t/won’t/shouldn’t exercise.) You’re alongside auld and young, dogs (on leads), kids – running and being pushed in buggies – walkers and the elite runners.

(IMHO the latter should – big smiles and hugs all round – buggah off to an athletics club because instead of providing a goal/aspiration/inspiration/role modelling and what not, they just piss this shambling stumbler off. Fun is a word barely tenuously associated with running at the best of times. I find any residual good cheer evaporates instantaneously when being lapped by a gazelle.)

Anyhoo, pre-run there’s a sensible H&S briefing for “tourists and first timers”. A friendly welcome, but also a reading of the rules. [Serious face.] We are <4 miles from the annual global centre for comedy – aka The Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – but on another planet. Yet, I am party to a “show” which is surely a contender for an award (I have just invented): Best Instructional Comedy.

Our host is local legend Dave – yes, like the TV channel – and he is awesome.

In case the fun police are reading: in less than 5 minutes we get the full health and safety briefing, the rules, the emergency procedures. What we get in addition are brutal piss takes out of the “soap dodgers” – hello readers from Glasgae! – ribbing of runners with “hydration vessels” – aka water bottles. YOu’re out there “fae twuntae sex minoots! THROW THUM AHhhh-WAAYYYY.” [Pauses proceedings – awkward silence – until assembled bottle holders shamefacedly throw – no, really – their bottles over the barbed wire fence* into the pasture. Definite pause to underline the error of their ways. Briefing restarts.] I get given a pearl necklace. (Yes, you read that right.) We also get strict – “STRUCT!” – instruction on how to make the event flow smoothly.

It’s a deep fried slice of instructional masterclass served with a breakfast pint o’heavy sarcasm.

GOLD.

The volunteers give their time every Saturday and every event is free. Whilst it’s oh-so-British and polite when you get to a certain mass – even of the middle classes – then the notion of crowd control becomes mission critical. Dave smashes a Venn of information, having “a wee banter” and yelling at us to do exactly as we’re told. I’m an immediate member of his fan club. Sadly, for his next gig – 09.15, every Saturday, venue Cramond promenade – I’m in Wiltshire.

So if you’re in Edinburgh, drop by and get berated: you might even get to try the handcuffs and be recipient of a pearl necklace.


*individual audience members were seeded with props – quietly and expertly – seconds before the briefing. So the wanton littering** of plastic bottles was a stunt to harmlessly and comedically shame fun-runners with water bottles. 5K does not equal Iron Man. Get a grip.

**They were retrieved as were all the props.


Here are some Parkrun stats (as of 29th August 2019):

Number of events: 147,805
Number of runners: 2,152,621
Number of runs: 30,368,572
Number of locations: 647
Average runs per event: 205.5
Average number of runs per runner: 14.1
Average run time: 00:28:43
Total hours run: 1,659Years 81Days 12Hrs 30Min 31Secs
Total distance run: 151,842,860km
Female record holder: Charlotte ARTER – 15:50 – Event 578 (05/01/19)
Male record holder: Andrew BADDELEY – 13:48 – Event 422 (11/08/12)
Age graded record holder: Fauja SINGH – 179.04 % – 38:34 – Event 59 (31/03/12)

From this we can distill that I am 1 minute below average pace but 6 runs above runs/runner run. Run. Runner. Running. Ugh.


Edinburgh specifics:
Number of events: 510
Number of runners: 29,448
Number of runs: 206,806
Number of first finishers: 381
Average number of runners per week: 405.5
Average number of runs per runner: 7.0
Biggest Attendance: 867
Average run time: 00:26:32 – that’s FAST!
Total hours run: 10Years 162Days 6Hrs 24Min 29Secs
Total distance run: 1,034,030km
Female record holder: Lauren REID – 16:17 – Event 510 (24/08/19) – I saw her… she was a blur
Male record holder: Ross TOOLE – 14:31 – Event 17 (13/02/10)
Age graded record holder: Fiona MATHESON – 100.93 % – 17:56 – Event 413 (23/09/17)

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Keys? Found them. In a tent in Wales.

The title is something of a spoiler for this post I’m afraid.

With respect to some of the gentler readers who don’t need stress, shock and, er, more stress this entry is classified as sub-nerve jangling. (Hat Tip to Douglas Adams.)

That said, f you are able to keep a bucket of empathy nearby it may be useful to dip in as the story unfolds, if only to get a sense of the roller-coaster traveled. However, keep a wee lifeguard on duty to dive in and pull you to the shores of the pail as I go beyond it.

Regular readers – Mum – will recall the lost key (mini) drama from late July: where are my keys. One avid reader even suggested that I would find them, perhaps in a infrequently worn shoe some months hence. I smiled politely, nodded and made a note to look up the website of the local home for those of dumbass ideas.

Three weeks later… I may need to check in myself.

Scene: we are at the magnificent Hillend campsite on the peerless Gower peninsula. (You’d hate it, never go. IE: We like it to ourselves.) The youngest offspring is having a camping festival for his birthday and us parents are camped at a distance. Natch the youngsters have the festival marquee whilst the oldies get the pop-up bivvy bag.

Proceedings have been excellent and on the final morn in the absence of life at the teen-big-top I pack away everything I can ready for the migration back across the Severn Bridge. Kit from the par-tay tent has been surreptitiously gathered over the previous period and assorted detritus has already been square away. (I do so enjoy the 3D jigsaw challenge of packing metric tonnes of crap into a VW Up! No, I do. That exclamation mark belongs to VW by the way, yet is strangely relevant to the excitement I derive from a good pack.)

[Aside: Does anything else have this kind of built it exclamation? Aside from the diminutive VeeDub, I can only think of Westward Ho!]

Back to scene, zoom in: an unused by me – crucial plot detail – cagoule is one of a number of clothing items retrieved from the blast zone of the rave area. I have an Ikea bag filling with neatly rolled/folded household weather gear/footwear. Cagoule close up: It’s midnight blue, unbranded, a flimsy shower cheater of a garment, the contradictory kind of coat that makes you instantly sweaty if you have a pulse. I fold an arm, the other, the hood and roll tightly. Hmm, that’s not right: it has a slightly spiky, unbending feel at odds with the precision executed.

[Aren’t you glad you know what’s coming next? Now locate your empathy bucket and scoop out a handful.]

I reach into the pocket and there they are.

Keys.

[Now I don’t want to be overly dramatic here, but I’ll call upon the following clip – worth 2 minutes of your time – and the bit that’s relevant is from 1.19: Wide angle: panning up and back. Picture Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes. The intensity of feeling and personal weightiness is spot on only it’s a pudgy bald Welshman in a tiny tent who’s found a front door key.]

Damn you, Damn you all to hell.

Learning points:

  • Keys are not found in shoes. (That’d be ridonculous.)
  • Keys are found in tents in West Wales.
  • They are magic keys because no one in the house has ever worn that cagoule so how could they have ever have like ever got there?
  • They are extra special magical keys because when everyone in the house searched for them and looked through every pocket of every garment – whilst Dad frantically turned over his own office in the hunt – they “weren’t there”.
  • Don’t lose your $hit over lost keys. They’ll turn up eventually. (Either that or you change all the locks as a precaution at great expense.)

 

 

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Where are my keys?

It strikes me – thanks, self-awareness – that I might be having senior moments. Apologies to those of a sensitive nature: perhaps folk could enlighten me as to the correct term these days for being a dumbass?

Of course, the disappearance of a set of keys is a frequent, fleeting affair:

“Where are my keys?”

[Rummaging noises.]

“Found them.”

[Carries on with day.]

On this occasion they are remaining stubbornly absent. So much so that I have retraced steps and whatnot. Having turned the house upside down and drawn a breadcrumb following blank, the next move is to ask in nearby facilities who might receive hand-ins of this nature. Favourite caff? Nope. Supermarket? Likewise. FaceBook Noticeboard? Nada. Then the more offline world.

[Cut to scene at the library. Set is charming rural English small-town fayre, with staff straight from central casting.]

[To librarian] “Hello, do you nice people have any keys that the public might hand in?”

“We don’t do lost property.”

“oh…”

“Except large sums of money, valuable single items…

… and firearms.”

“Firearms?”

“Firearms.”

“Get many of them do you?”

“Never received one. Although someone put a knife in our book-return letterbox during an amnesty once.

The police station is open on Wednesday morning, you could try them.”

Blinking, slightly boggled I emerge from the illegal deadly weapon depository and realise it is indeed a Wednesday morning.

[Thin Blue Line set, bulletproof glass partition, WPC seated.]

“Good morning officer.”

“Hello.”

“I don’t suppose you have any keys handed in?”

“We don’t do lost property.”

“Oh..”

“Let me have a look.”

[Disappears backstage with loud rummaging sounds, looking for the lost property they don’t deal with.]

“Sorry.

You could try Waitrose, they are very good with lost property.”

“Thanks. Bye.”

“Cheerio.”

Back to square one.

Key Learnings:

  • Nice customer experience at the cop shop on a Wednesday morning in Marlborough if you’re passing.
  • Waitrose are the new (4th? 5th? Xth) emergency service.
  • Any hot items/laundered cash/dirty hand cannons? You know where to go.
  • Key [ahem] learning? Keep an eye on your darned keys Beer!

PS: You haven’t seen my keys perchance?

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The most beautiful words ever spoken…

Folks, put aside your existential angst, environmental woes, earthly struggles and daily grind by joining me in savoring that moment upon the blissful utterance:

“…sir, you’ve been upgraded.”

As the departure board showed an ever increasing delay hours before we even knew which gate, I bought another ruinously expensive coffee and hunkered down for a grumpy wait. Having checked in via an app’ – so 21st C’ dahling – the updates in the airport proper were arriving more slowly than the ones direct to my pocket. I noted a seat row/letter discrepancy betwixt static downloaded ‘pass and live flight status’. Hmm.

Whence the gate was announced I nipped along smartly. Stealthily moving to the front I politely mithered the gate staff (who were busily avoiding eye contact with a hoard of irked travelers). I gently explained my confused data and offered the phone to illustrate. Cue audible sigh with oh-so-nearly-out-loud eye roll to match. Then the flatly delivered:

“…sir, you’ve been upgraded. And you’ll need to join Group 2. Here’s a new boarding pass.”

[Excited squeak]

Group 5 was my preassigned lot. An enormous snake of fight wearied, delay scarred long haul cabin warriors who board their flights last and hard. Group 2? Ah, that’ll be the panama hats and flowing dresses in the bijou queue-ette who board after the dusting of royals in Group 1. Group 3 & 4? Pah! Tsk. Wannabes, the lot of ’em.

Trying hard to wipe the brand new grin, no, smirk off my chops was tricky as I sauntered to the appropriate line. One must appear as if this is one’s place in life right? Delay? What delay? It just doesn’t matter anymore. Four words have taken away my stress, the tension in my shoulders has gone as I await patiently the sweet embrace.

Club World: Business Class.

Until this point it was a grim coming to terms with a lost weekend on a long haul flight. Not to mention delivering a challenging week’s work in a far off land. Now? Right now I’m wondering what Champagnes they serve these days?

Not wanting to forgo this golden chance for opportunism, be advised that I really caned the in-flight service with gusto. (If not some style.) By the time we arrived – still 45 minutes behind what was expected – I was well fed and comprehensively versed in the Champoo, Cognac, Vino Tinto, G&T and even water – hydration baby – that was generously offered. It didn’t seem to matter that we were late. anymore. Luggage, taxi, check-in, bed: I can still manage these tasks pickled.

Beforehand, 100% sober, back at Heathrow, I plonked down in my rear facing – most odd – deluxe seat and started chatting to my neighbours. Naturally, they were horrified. One of the great paradoxes in travel is that those whose carriage terms come under the banner “super-lucky-to-be-here” – as far as the 99.9% of other humans might see it – also have the demeanour of folk whose collective dog has just died. Where is it written that when you are in pamper-class you have to be all miserable like? Perhaps it was the lightheadedness brought on by my luck, but there was a temptation to shout “smile dammit.” Are there classes at crushingly expensive private schools where one learns to look decidedly unimpressed when one must have an instinct to punch the air?

Then I was handed my first glass of booze and the feeling passed. I pretty much necked it. [Classy.] I got a refill. And repeat.

Ooh, this glass isn’t chilled properly my brain automatically thought. Moments later: there’s not much storage space is there? You see: that’s what happens. Passing through a new level of expectation and you are not automatically delighted. It’s merely the next level that beckons.

But being upgraded. It’s all about the feeling and emotion that the very whiff of indulgence gives. A touch more space and (quite a lot) more booze is really not worth £000s more than a boggo cattle class seat that gets you there at precisely the same speed. And yet…

Then there’s the naked truth: I shouldn’t be flying at all. None of us should. And yet… to be upgraded. Wow, how about that!

It doesn’t make sense does it? What contrary, frivolous creatures we all are.

(You can add downright childish in my case if you like. I was sooo excited.)

On a practical, selfish level, it also helps to join the loyalty scheme and travel alone on a busy flight: it makes you ripe for being squeezed up a class. (Or off the flight altogether perhaps?)

Next flight is Friday 19th. Does lightning strike twice?

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Space cadets look up and go oooh.

Dear Elon,

Should I call you Mr Musk? No, too formal. Anyhow, stop changing the subject.

Now look here my man. I’m really quite irritated, possibly slightly cross with you and your SpaceX people.

The boy and I planned our trip to Florida months ago. Months! And we were deliberately pretty baggy in the itinerary department apart from one date: 22nd June. IE: The date you said they would be sending a fat Falcon rocket – whoosh! – out into space. So we booked a hotel in why-the-hell-else-would-you-stay-there-ville, NW Florida on the “Space Coast” with the primary intent of watching an enormous firework go fizzing into the sky (and – pinkies crossed – not going bang) at midnight or thereabouts.

Here’s the trip:

  • Arrive in Florida? Check
  • Drive a free-wheeling 1,200 mile road-trip? Check
  • Avoid getting comprehensively sunburned? Check.
  • Get bitten half-to-death by bugs? Check. (Click here.)
  • Gators? Theme Park? Manatees? Dolphins? Rays? Burgers? Thunderstorms? Clear Blue Skies? Check, check, checky, checkedy-check check-arama.
  • An amazing day at the Kennedy Space Centre on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo program? Big fat check.
  • T minus a few days for the night-time Falcon Heavy launch? Er, Elon, we have a problem.

Yes, yes, yes, I know safety, getting it right, leaving nowt to chance and whatnot is critical/no laughing matter, but delaying the launch by two days? Er, hell-oh? That’s only the 24th. Aka the night we fly back to Blighty on a blummin’ non-refundable-amendable BA flight.

Do you see my problem? We turned up on time. And your rocket was where exactly? Hmm? No, no, I’ll wait… _______? Precisely.

Not on my good man. Not. On.

The chances of me being on the Space Coast with my son for a launch again are more remote than Cape Canaveral is from civilisation. (Although I’ll grant you the vast coastal wilderness location makes it an amazing accidental nature reserve. Plus a generous oops-there-goes-m’rocket blast zone… c’mon you are fooling no-one: it was envisaged/zoned off  so the Reds-under-the-beds of the cold war USofA couldn’t peek at your tech’. America was a by-word for paranoia back then hey? These days that’s a thing of the pas… oh.)

And we missed the Apollo 11 Duran Duran gig.*

Seriously, to borrow your former-colony parlance, duuude.

NB: I’ve used italics and bold by way of emphasis in this letter which is as close to pure rage for us buttoned-up Brits let-me-tell-you. If I don’t get a handwritten reply within 10 days I might just write to The Times (“of London” as you Americans insist on saying as if there might be another “The Times”). Don’t underestimate how bothered we are here: we are talking DEFCON somewhat peeved.

Yours really rather miffed-ly

Ian & Mog

PS: Well done SpaceX on a successful mission.

*  Duran Duran? Is it me or is that a slightly random band choice?

Notwithstanding “Concert tickets are $300 and include parking. Ticket offers admission to the concert only and does not permit early admission to the visitor complex.”

Crikey.

 

 

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Dear Ambassador, I’ve been eaten alive!

“Dear Ambassador,

can I call you Ambo for short? Good.

Now look here, when we booked tickets to Florida for travel in June we did so in good faith and are quite cross about a couple of things. Now you seem like a reasonable chap in the pictures on the website and I am sure it’s not your fault about this frightful Brexit omnishambles and all, but could you at least have a word with the Federal Reserve about the exchange rate. America is meant to be a cheap destination and it just isn’t at £1 buying $1.27. This is unacceptable: how am I going to buy branded gaudy golf clothing at discount prices when it’s not at discount prices? How?

My first complaint is that it rained a lot for the first few days of our tour in the afternoons. Now my son is a big fan of thunderstorms, but I had left the brolly at home because hell-oh:  summer holiday. If I want rain I’ll go to Wales. All the brochures show sunkissed beaches, not a bally deluge. All the car number-plates – that are not the right size and shape by the way – say “Sunshine State” on them. Quite simply it shouldn’t rain on summer hols. My shoes got wet and we have wasted money on a convertible.

One of your advisors on the phone was impertinent in tone, tenor and tack. But it took the biscuit when they pointed out that this is the “wet season”. How ridiculous. It’s summer and that’s that.

My second complaint is about biting insects.

The Everglades is billed as a PARK. I ask you Ambo, do you get eaten alive at a park? No, no you don’t. You eat ice-creams and sit by the band-stand like a sensible person. And there weren’t any of those either. On our fifteen mile bicycle route there were no park benches, no concession stands, only one loo and lots of buzzy bugs.

It is now the next day and I am covered in insect bites. I am all itchy and cross, I look foolish and all blotchy. It is no laughing matter.

I know my rights and demand you mobilise the Consular Crisis Team to come here and make it all better. But not right away as we are going to Universal Studios tomorrow. About tea time will be fine.

Oh and that’s another thing. Tell them to bring proper tea because I’ve asked for it twice now and it’s been served COLD. They think I’m an idiot for pointing this out. Cold!

Savages.

Love to Mrs Ambo by the way.

Ian & Mog”

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Everglades National Park by bike

In a fresh instalment of what is only loosely described as an occasional series of blog posts from US national parks, we turn to the Everglades and the Shark Valley visitor centre.

Spoilers: it’s hardly a valley and it’s got no sharks in it.

Peril alert: it does have gators. And a least seven million biting insects by the look of my normally pristine – ha! – skin this morning.

Yesterday.

Dragging a teen out of bed for early breakfast is eased by the temptation of sugary calories in the US. Using this tooth rotting momentum we bundled into the car and presently – 45 miles later – are first to arrive at the ‘Park entrance and first to hire bikes. By now the teen was almost awake.

Asked to sign a disclaimer by the bike hire attendant I cheerily quip “does it matter if the teen gets eaten by a gator?”

“You’ll be lucky to see anything.”

Oh.

Let’s recap.

  • We’ve come to the famous Everglades National Park from a land far across the sea.
  • We’re at the visitor centre festooned with pictures of dramatic local wildlife.
  • We have been charged $30 entrance fee.
  • We’re hiring bicycles for a 15 mile wilderness trail which is best tackled early when animals “are more active”.
  • We’ll likely not see anything (delivered with a world weary sub-sigh).

My experience of US Park Rangers is they are fit to burst with childlike enthusiasm*. However, the park ancillary staff…? This one had the demeanour of someone who works for Dudley council answering the stoopid questions hotline and was having a worse-than-usual morning in ill fitting shoes. It’s almost a dark-superpower to have a day job at a world famous park and simultaneously make it the worst one in the world. (The job, not the park. In fairness, she was super hot on the finer points of the un-funny disclaimer form. Yay bureaucracy!)

Unbowed, we pedal off along the path. Whilst we are intrepid of spirit our riskiest encounter is likely to be a tourist trolley ambling toward us. Once per hour.

The stakes were low.

To up the ante, a $10 cash reward was offered – bank of Dad – to the first person to spot a gator. We’d been in Florida for 5 days by now and nothing more reptilian than an iguana spied. I was beginning to calm my fiscal nerves and keep the bounty. We stopped off at a point of interest – hardwood hammocks and otter caves, which were underwhelming -when he everso quietly intones “dad.”

I freeze and turn. I am $10 poorer.

We are being watched. (Shades of the late Bob Peck in Jurrasic Park: “No, we’re being hunted.”) All but submerged with slowly blinking assassin’s eyes was our first gator. The first of 10 of these ancient beasts it turns out ranging from (I estimate) 6 feet to over 10. Personally, I shudder when encountering them: this is their manor, they blend in perfectly and strike at will. Himself? A little more cavalier until the big one basking on the trail dead ahead spooked and bolted for the water: when they want to they move like lightning. Impressive.

img_20190619_094951

It ain’t no airboat

img_20190619_094958

“I’ve seen a gator”

img_20190619_102634

There is a gator in this picture.

img_20190619_102838

Here he is. (Gator #3)

The concrete observation tower at the southernmost point of the trail was deserted and surely a semi-ruin from a dystopian sci-fi movie. It gave great views of the expanse, while Turkey Vultures circled above. Our early start was worth it. On the whole 15 mile loop we met two trams, four cyclists. It was hot, humid, peaceful and gave a real sense of wilderness. Contrary to grumpykins of Shark Valley bike rentals, besides our magnificent gators, we saw heaps of wildlife in this epic slow moving river of grass. Fish, turtles and an impressive array of birds.

Writing this I am imagining all the gators we didn’t see, silently concealed alongside the trail. As we drove to our next destination – Naples beach for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico – we passed mile-upon-mile of Everglade containing deer, otters, panthers even. Didn’t see one. Bloody mammals. Fickle.

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Gator tacos to celebrate

* Ranger enthusiasm: On the Big Island of Hawaii we encountered Ranger Travis who took us on an accidentally exclusive walking tour regaled us with tails of Pele: Goddess of Fire and Volcanos. He played traditional nose flute to accompany his epic story. Utterly priceless for fans of Little Britain.

(Did you spot it? I smuggled in exercise in the form of the bike ride. $10 poorer but still winning at parenting.)

 

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