So we’ve got two full days left and we don’t particularly fancy doing any of the theme parks again.
This is nothing against the theme parks of course, it’s just that we fancy seeing some other things that Florida has to offer. As such, we connect to the internet using the PS3 (God that thing was hideous to use – I gather it’s hopefully a lot better now) and find… Lake Kissimmee State Park!
Quick statistic for you – the state of Florida is 65,755 square miles large and has 353.4 people per square mile, on average. England (not including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is a mere 50,346 square miles large and has 1,054.1 people per square mile.
So Florida has quite a bit of real estate. It’s also got a fair bit of greenery, which may surprise you because chances are, if you go to Florida to visit the theme parks, you’ll only really notice endless greenery and highways and everything looking generally flat. Which is what we’ve seen of Florida. But there are other things out there – nice rural areas apparently, hiding away from the main tourist strips. Yep, not even swamps – there are hills, mountains even (I think), hiking trails, forests and so on.
So we’ve got directions (rough directions) for Lake Kissimmee State Park, written down on a notepad. The Wikipedia entry doesn’t really tell you much about it so I’ll go through what I remember.
First off, we got lost. I can’t remember what we had for lunch, but I remember that we got lost. And I only remember we got lost because I had to ask directions in a small gas station / convenience store in a tiny town, where they kept “Willy Gone Wild” pills (yep, those were their names) behind the counter. The cashier didn’t know where we were going, but fortunately a guy who wandered in (who I believe was a regular – he and the cashier knew each other) gave us half-decent vague directions.
We get into the park, pay the admission fee and get a map. We continue driving along, me navigating (or at least trying to navigate – the maps weren’t that good) as we intend to get to the main bit, park up and do one or two of the trails. We think we’ve missed the main bit – we’ve been going a fair while along a road surrounded by dense trees, until we find people going around on segways.
Which is nice.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s good that people are out and about and so on, but on segways? Segways can’t be used off-road and you kind-of think “well, why can’t they walk?”. They weren’t fat people, it was just a segway-guided tour. That said, segways are always advertised as a toy, something that’s just enjoyable without having any benefits. I can’t even think that they’d require much less effort than walking – you’d be standing on something. I think I’d prefer to walk, but that’s just me. Maybe they are quite fun to use.
Eventually we find the main camp area and park up. Well, I say “main camp area”, it’s a small wooden toilet and shop by a pond, which I think has a river that runs to Lake Kissimmee itself. Indeed, you can launch boats from here. We park up, check out the shop (despite it being a rural “back to nature” campground you can actually rent Xbox 360’s and games from here), grab a can of pop each and head out on one of the nature trails which will lead us by Lake Kissimmee itself.
The first thing we come across though is some kind of deserted playground / campground which looked quite cool and made us make all sorts of horror movie references. I can’t quite remember how it went, but it was similar to this.
Years ago my wife and I attended a friend’s wedding. Okay, they’d gotten married the day before in secret but this was sort of a vows affirmation thing. It was in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere with literally only two ways in and out. The ceremony was held in the ruins of a cathedral (I think it was) and afterwards there were drinks and food to be had in the local village pub / hotel.
As night drew in rain came down, with lightning in the distance. It reminded me of trailers for the recent (okay, 2005 I think it was) War Of The Worlds, where the lightning signified the arrival of the Martians as they powered up their unstoppable death machines in the distant darkness, plotting to overthrow us. That and the shadows cast by the ruins didn’t fill my heart with hope.
As we tried to leave, we found one of the ways out flooded as a nearby river had broken it’s banks. Any car that tried to go through (and some foolishly tried) had their engines flooded and were unable to move. The other route, which we had taken in, was incredibly hilly and steep and would not have been a wise decision to take in the darkness.
It was like the plot of a horror movie. Eventually we’d all have to take shelter in the pub / hotel, book rooms or simply sleep in cars or on tables. An axe murdered would emerge from the ruins of the cathedral and hunt us down one by one, forcing us to flee into the night, into his domain. There, in the forboding, crumbling remnants of the cathedral he would have his way, taking an axe to us and leaving us to die slowly.
A whole group of us met around a table under the tent that the food had been served under. A map was found and another route was planned. A procession of us – about seven or eight cars in total – slowly advanced out, going through one tiny farming community after another, water running down the roads like tiny streams – until we eventually found our way to an A-road, and freedom!
This was sort of similar – a place which was straight out of a horror movie. We imagined we’d get locked in, the park gates would shut and we’d have to spend the night in the park all alone. We’d take refuge at the camp site only to find ourselves stalked by a lone, evil, sadistic murderer. And even worse, they’d be American! They’d have guns and everything, we’d be doomed!
We soon forgot about our bleak fantasy as we walked along and tried to get photos of the local insect wildlife – we hadn’t spotted much else. Okay, there’s lots of trees and stuff. We’re also finishing off our drinks. We do take some pictures of ourselves too, in probably a very early selfie (no, I’m not going to show it here – I know most of you are crazy stalkers who would track me down and plant sheep in my office or something).
Eventually we manage to find the lake and… it’s a lake. From a distance. A good deal of the land is privately owned and we can’t get down to the lake itself, but it’s there. Yay and all.
On the way back we decide to go to the playground at the deserted campground and have a go on the swings and such – fun enough. But perhaps we were angering the evil spirits, so we decide to call it quits.
We get back to the car and decide to check out the nearby Cow Camp, a short drive away. As we park up and make our way to the Cow Camp itself, my wife (who is ahead of me) nearly treads on a snake of some variety, which is a bit of a shock. Needless to say, the snake slithers away into the bushes, though we just manage to see it go.
Now, the Cow Camp is made up as… a cow camp. It’s best to explain what one of these is.
Back in the 19th century, a lot of people in America drove cattle about the country. I think these were wranglers. I think they’d find the cattle in another state and move it down to Florida or wherever to meet it’s ultimate fate – leather, meat, whatever. Now, it’s a pretty big distance and these people would need somewhere to stay. Hence, cow camps were formed.
A cow camp was basically a small shelter and a few holding pens for the cattle. A few people could park up here, in a wagon, and get some supplies left by previous occupants, use beds and whatnot, as well as put the cattle in the pens overnight.
This cow camp has been remarkably preserved, mainly by some guy who seems convinced it’s 1876. He comes along each day, along with some cattle, and basically pretends he’s a cattle wrangler or whatnot and tells us tourists anything we want to know. As I say, maybe he really is convinced it’s 1876 – I don’t see any car in the car park (other than the group that are there before us). He doesn’t seem to have any modern trappings on him and talks about all the things that the 1876 people would do as things he does in the present tense. Perhaps he has some strange form of amnesia – not only is he convinced it’s 1876, but also maybe he keeps meaning to leave the cow camp the next day, only to forget and keep thinking the next day is the day he’ll leave.
Okay, a bit tenuous I know.
I think we didn’t want to do another trail after this – we’d done a reasonably short trail and all the others are several more miles long and more off-the-beaten-track. Not that we couldn’t do these trails, but that we didn’t really have the time, inclination, supplies (we’d have needed more drinks than a can of Minute Maid between us, that went warm quite quickly) or the clothes (shorts, t-shirts, canvas shoes and sun hats).
So we headed back, and got lost again. We did come across a Wendy’s, almost perfect timing as it was getting close to dinner time, went in and had a meal and asked for directions. Again, got some good vague directions and the cashier was quite surprised, saying that he doesn’t normally get any Brits out there and I think we were the first he’d seen. I think he actually asked us what we were out there to see, not thinking the state park would get many visitors – certainly none from overseas.
Now, I was going to use this section to review the non-theme-park bits of Florida, but I’ll leave that to the next day when we go back to Clearwater Beach again.