After our adventures in Louisiana, we happily arrived in Florida. We had made plans with my family and Ivan’s friends in South Florida (Naples & Miami) so from the Pensacola state border, we drove all the way to Naples.
We have two gas tanks in our Van so when one finishes we have to switch to the other one with a lever switch. Nobody was able to explain to us why, but that is how they build this lovely Ford Econoline. What happened was that Ivan was driving slow due to heavy traffic next to Tampa when a tank ran out. It was a 4 lanes high way full of cars, we were in the middle, on the 3rd lane, and our van just stalled on us. We thought we would switch the tank and the van would start again. Unfortunately, it didn’t. We were powerless standing in the middle of the high way thinking what to do, while cars were passing us from both sides. It took a few seconds and some good soul stopped and started waving at us offering help to push the van. He was then followed by other good Samaritans willing to help. I jumped behind the steering wheel while Ivan and the other guys were pushing our heavy machine. The van started to speed up so Ivan screamed to me “Baby, baby you have to use the handbrake!” when another lady, who was pushing the van replied, “Baby baby yes don’t hit my car”. We looked at each other thinking, “this can’t be happening AGAIN!”. We checked the battery and other things when magically the van started again. Yuhuu… we can hit the road again. Unfortunately, after a while, we started running low on gas so we had to stop at the gas station and we knew that if we stop the car it might not start again. Well, what can we do? Indeed we switched the car off and the whole electricity went dead. Ivan was mangling with the cables when I managed to start the van again. We knew there was nothing wrong with the battery, therefore, it had to be some other electrical problem, but we decided to check it when we arrived at my family in Naples. That was the day we decided not to drive more than 5h a day anymore. Neither we like it nor our Vanper Valentino aka Stan the Van.
After an endless drive in heat and sun, we arrived at my aunt’s Kathy house in Estero, Florida. At our arrival, a beautiful rainbow appears in the sky. I finally met my lovely family who welcomed us with warm hearts. Yes, we didn’t really know each other before. My uncle visited Poland once when I was 3 years old or so. My father came to Florida in 1979. It is a distant family as they are children and grandchildren of my grandmother cousin. I am really glad I could meet all of them.
We spend a wonderful family time together. Watched old pictures, figured out family stories and analyzed the family tree.
The next morning Andrew took us kayaking around mangrove channels in Naples. We made it all the way to the beach and back in 2 hours. Lovely workout with a wonderful landscape. We needed it after days of driving 12h a day.
In the evening we went to see the most beautiful sunset on the beach in Naples. It was a magical and fun time. Well, the reunion could not happen without sharing the family recipes. We finished the day by preparing pierogi, fried beans and egg rolls, multicultural specialties exchange. Luckily there were lots of hands to help to prepare the pierogi. So we made a manufacturing line 😀
Although the van seemed to be starting without problems now, we decided to check it with the mechanic. It turned out that the starter coil (note: it is not the same as the ignition coil) overheated because it wasn’t properly grounded to chassis. The part got replaced and correctly mounted. Whats more, the spare wheel got finally installed behind the car. We hadn’t had enough time to fix it in Colorado, so we were driving around with that huge monster inside the van. Thank you Kathy and Randy for taking care of that.
We had a wonderful and unforgettable time. We think of you guys and our time together every day and hope to see you soon!
The van got fixed and ready to hit the road again! Next stop: Miami.
Day 1: Downtown
What? no cheap parking in Miami downtown for a 10ft high van? What a bummer! It took us like 30 min to find a spot to go visit Juan Fernando, a friend of a friend. We arrived at his apartment at dawn an just in time for a cold beer and the owed introduction. So Juan is a friend of Allan from his college years in Tallahassee. Allan is a loud and funny very good Panamanian friend of ours. He has a very rare and great talent: he is always surrounded by great people. To put it in perspective, I trust more an Allan’s friend that I do not know, than Allan himself =). So here we were with Juan Fernando who without knowing us before, offered us his couch and got us a cheap parking for the night at his family’s residence. That night we walked a bit around downtown and went to Lagniappe where we invited him his deserved beers and hopefully started a long-lasting friendship. Thank you Juan!
Day 2: Virginia Key, Miami Springs and Wynwood 1
In the morning Juan had to go to work and we had a mission: repark the van at Aliosha’s office and Uber to Brittany’s house in Miami Springs. Brittany and her fiance Lucas have a lovely, simple and cozy home in Miami Springs where we met with Brittany (a childhood friend) to go to Virginia Key for stand up paddling (SUP). I always said that SUP was the bastard brother of other more adrenaline-rich water board-sports such as surf, wake, or kite, but ate my own words and had an awesome time with Olga and Brittany. To keep up the adrenaline rush, a 7ft shark rocked me off my paddle board! Just kidding, that’s just my way of saying that I managed to fall off.
After all the SUP adventure we went back home to chill, shower and wait for Lucas to come back from work. In the evening we went out to Wynwood all four of us and met there with Juan and a friend of him. We had some drinks, Juan and Lucas got along very well (probably some kind of Colombian connection), and then went to see the Wynwood Walls. We finished off the night at this new-for-us Asian food nightclub. It was like a mall food court with a live DJ and a small patio. We had a good Wok between drunk people and loud music.
Day 3: South Beach, SuViche, Wynwood 2
We woke up early this morning to go to south beach VIP style with our friends and hosts. Yes, they are lifeguards at the beach and know everything about Miami beach. The highlights of the beach time were:
- Visiting the lifeguard towers
- Hearing epic rescue stories and beach anecdotes
- Free cold water =)
- Some random small lemon sharks that forgot to emigrate and live in South Beach and are now 5ft long
- A couple of little loggerhead turtles hatching
- An epic delicious nap under a beach umbrella
Brittany and Lucas, thank you so much!
In the evening we met with another high school friend of mine Aliosha and his girlfriend Jenny at this amazing Peruvian-Fusion restaurant called SuViche in Wynwood. They specialize in Peruvian ceviche and sushi, and the restaurant walls are murals painted by Wynwood Walls artists. From there we took another walk through the Wynwood Walls, only this time calmer with more time. We finished the night having beers in a local bar and remembering the good ol’ high school times.
Day 4: Congratulations France! and Brickell
The last day in Miami was the World Cup final and we had made arrangements to watch at Novecento in Brickell with Aliosha and the rest of his family. This is an Argentinian style steaks restaurant with a great brunch menu. We went there and had an amazing brunch while watching France win his 2nd WC title against Croatia in a very high-quality game. Congratulations France! The place was full of France supporters and had a great atmosphere.
We spent the rest of the day with Aliosha and Jenny around Brickell and crashed in their apartment overnight. The next morning we woke up early to pick up Valentino/Stan the Van and hit the road towards Rainbow Springs. Thank you so much guys!