Saturday 6th December. Fort Myers, Florida -> Naples, Florida USA
"Hi, my name's Steve, this is Steve, and our friend's name is Steve."
What the hell am I talking about? Well, nine years ago I moved from Brisbane to start a new life in North Quensland. It didn't work out, but nevertheless.... while I was in a backpackers hostel in Airlie Beach, I befriended a Scottish guy and an American, both named Steve. In fact the owner of the hostel must have been showing his quirky sense of humour, because he housed the three of us together in the same cabin. We were all travelling independently, and shared similar interests *beer and girls* so we teamed up for a few days and made ourselves known around the pubs and clubs of Airlie Beach.. and on the charter boats!
*you can see a couple of photographs from Whitsunday Island in North Queensland- and other shots from my hometown- if you scroll to near the bottom of the 'about me' page, and click on the romantic pic of myself and Sara on the beach*
"Steve, that's your most boring story yet", you're saying. But wait. There's more! American Steve came from Naples, Florida- just forty miles south from Fort Myers. With the help of www.anywho.com I came up with half a dozen people in Naples with Steve's surname, and when I saw the addresses, one of them sparked a memory. Steve and I had swapped Christmas cards for a few years after we'd met, but as with most such things, life ends up getting too 'busy'. I phoned the number and left a message, in my strongest Australian accent, looking for a "good-for-nothin' bludger named Steve ******* who ran afoul of the law in a small town in Australia nine years ago." The reply came last night, while I was still at Alice's place.
Steve wouldn't hear of me hitching to Naples He said he'd drive up and get me in the morning. Okay by me, cause the weather has turned shitty all of a sudden. There's a huge cold front crossing the whole eastern half of America. It's chucking down snow all over the northwest, and the northeast. It's even snowing down as ar south as North Carolina. Here in Florida, you can still get away with a sweater. After breakast this morning, Alice took me to the Edison house, former residence of Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb. The house itself smacked too much of 'museum' for my liking, but in the gardens stood a remarkable tree, the second largest Banyan tree in the world. "Where's the largest?" is always my question, when something is lauded as being the second largest. The answer is India, but this sprawling tree didn't look like it would take second place to anything. Its branches spread almost two hundred feet.
Alice dropped me at a shopping mall, where I'd arranged to meet Steve. I should've asked him on the phone, what sort of vehicle he'd be driving. Could that be him in the Cadillac? Minivan? Pickup? Ford Pinto? Half an hour later, when a red Mustang convertible rumbled into the carpark, I wondered if that might be Steve. Sure enough, although he's obviously been eating well over the last nine years, it was obviously him. I squashed my backpack into the Mustang's tiny trunk, and the two Steve's rolled on back to Naples, chatting furiously all the way.
When I'd met Steve, he was at the beginning of his Australian vacation. After he left Airlie Beach, he continued down the coast as far as Melbourne over the next three months. As we looked through his photos, it occurred to me that his experiences in Oz weren't that different to mine in his country. Unlike most tourists- particularly American tourists- Steve really got in amongst the local people, and sampled Australia from the inside, not as a spectator looking in, but as a participant. Travelling alone on a long bus trip, he would introduce himself to other passengers- usually hot girls- and ask if he could join them for a meal when the bus stopped. Next thing, he's staying with two girls from the bus, and ends up spending a week on one girl's parents' sheep station! How many 'tourists' get to have an experience like that?
Steve's girlfriend Rowena was headed out for lunch with friends. Steve and I opted for a boat ride instead. We grabbed his friend Pattie's boat and took off. There was a small craft warning for the open waters, but we just scooted around the bay, checking out the multi-million dollar waterfront mansions, and winding our way through the mangroves. I felt completely safe until Steve told me that the last time he took Pattie's boat out, he sank it to the bottom and had to swim for shore. This boat is a replacement! Crikey!
But we didn't have any such adventures today. We saw a couple of small dolphins, an osprey nest, and even got a brief glimpse of an elusive manatee. Instead of returning the boat to his friend's dock, we moored at the waterfront restaurant where Rowena, Pattie and Wilbur another of their friends, were having lunch. They were still there, so we joined them for a snack. The daylight was coming to an end so Steve, Rowena and I jumped into the boat and returned it to Pattie's place. There's something about being out on the water that just drags the energy out of you. We drove to a nearby bar where Pattie and Wilbur were, but after an hour or so, we were all tired and called it a night. It was only about ten o'clock when I hit the sack, but I couldn't have stayed awake any longer.