A Sunshine State of Mind (Florida)


I lasted about twenty minutes in Miami. 

That isn’t even time to work up a decent CSI pun.

Passing though Florida on the way to Peru, I thought South Beach would be the perfect place to relax for a couple of days in between flights. Instead, I found Miami's seafront strip to be a teeming mess of drunken tourists, lurching in packs between tacky bars, or else leering out from the gated confines of their ugly multi-story hotels.

South Beach is like Ibiza or Magaluf; the kind of place great throngs of tourists come to drink and sun themselves, drowning out much sense of anything else. In this case, things were made worse by the impending Memorial Day celebrations. Streets were cordoned off and public transport was rerouted along strange and winding paths, making navigation a nightmare.

I decided to skip the whole place, and visit Sarasota instead.


Siesta Key, Sarasota- one of the world's finest beaches, made of white sugar sand.

Sarasota is located across the state from Miami, on Florida’s opposite coast; a few hours drive from Orlando.  A popular holiday destination for the rich, Sarasota is full of beachfront condos that are only occupied for about half of the year, by tourists coming in from far up north

‘We call them Snowbunnies, because they only come for winter,’ I was told by a local resident named Shannon; a perky, ebullient Sarasota housewife whose family was kind enough to invite me into their home for a couple of days. It was a rare opportunity for someone on my budget to see the area, and Shannon's family--a P.E. teacher husband and a precocious son with a Star Wars obsession--were eager for me to enjoy their state. 

Nearby Orlando is also home to Disney World--a weird selection of themed rides and hotels that looks like it should house an evil cult in a 1960s science fiction movie.

Shannon showed me around Sarasota Country in an enormous black land rover. Car is really the only way to explore the area (and indeed most of Florida); Americans like to spread themselves out over large spaces, and Sarasota is made up of chilled beachfronts linked by teaming highways,  abuzz with giant jeeps and SUVs. The roadsides are liberally sprinkled with fast-food eateries, convenience stores, and billboards advertising some very shifty looking medical practitioners. In the grand spirit of Americana, doctors hawk their services through roadside advertisement. 

When I made a comment on the impressive size of Shannon’s vehicle, she explained that driving big cars had become something of a defence mechanism among locals. Apparently, Florida’s impressive population of senior citizens has a predilection for SUVs, not to mention dodgy driving. ‘If somebody hits you,’ Shannon explained, ‘you don’t want to be driving something smaller.’


Life's a beach.

‘Florida mountains,’ is a nickname for Florida’s impressive cloud formations; billowy, looming white towers of fluff, apt to turn dark and thundery in a hot heartbeat. Like many local homes, Shannon’s house has storm shutters. This is a state that has been prey to more than its fair share of hurricanes, after all.

In general, Florida’s residents have a curious relationship with the weather. Every house, every shop, every car in the state swears by the need for air conditioning, to fend off Florida’s brutal sunshine. Often, the temperature inside are cool to the point of feeling freezing, while temperatures outside are sweltering hot. This creates a strange situation where people endure the summer haze in sweaters and hoodies, to avoid being caught out by the cold next time they go into an air conditioned space.

It's funny, the lengths people will go to in order to be somewhere warm and beach adjacent, like Miami or Sarasota. Deadly old people, hurricanes, shifting temperatures and of course the numerous alligators; Florida's residents put up with them all year round, for the sake of living bright and near the sand. Visitors flock here in droves for extended periods, courting sunburn, for much the same reason. 

That sounds just like human beings, really.

Pick a sunny spot, and work out the details later.