June 2003

Highlight further down: Orlando, Florida.

Doris writes:

Niagara Falls was everything we expected it to be.  We crossed the border to Canada and stayed there for 2 nights, in one of the hotels that overlooks the falls.  The Canadians have certainly done a lot of work to make their side attractive to tourists, while maintaining a balance with the natural beauty of the area.  At one of the sites, you go down a lift (sorry, elevator) and through a tunnel in the rock, to come out at the river in the gorge below the falls, then walk along a boardwalk on the bank.  Having nearly drowned in a Grade 3 rapid, Rod really appreciated seeing a Grade 6 one from the safety of dry land.  The Maid of the Mist boat really is all that it’s touted as – it charges right up into the base of the main falls – the power of all that water just takes your breath away and that’s while you’re been drenched.  There is also a walk that takes you behind the Falls, so that you come out at the base on one part and actually behind the water, down a further tunnel — fan-bloody-tastic!!!!!

We explored over to the US side of the Falls – to find a tired looking area with many shops and stores shut, it looked very sad.  Especially when you go back – thru customs … yes, you guessed it, more uniforms asking questions in that abrupt voice – back to the vibrant Canadian side.

Our next stop was to the city of Orlando in Florida.  What a difference, from jumpers to hot and humid.  We got in at midnight, got our rental car and did not get lost on the way to the hotel.  How come? – Because the car had one of those little boxes with a nice lady trapped inside that told you that “in 0.5 miles you are turning left”.  What a blessing the GPS system turned out to be.  Got us down to Daytona Beach, Coco Beach and a drive thru the Florida swamps without getting lost.  Only one thing though, did you know they don’t work in a gale force thunderstorm?  We found out the fun way – in winds that almost blew the road signs over.

We came to Orlando to play, and that we did.  We chose not to go to Disneyland this trip (that’s for California).  We went to Universal Studios – what a blast, the rides are fantastic.  Rod and Stew did the Rollercoasters (seats were size challenged for me J). The Men In Black and Terminator 3 rides where thrilling.  It was so hot that you didn’t mind the “getting wet” rides like Jurassic Park.  Again we learnt that getting there early means less time in long lines that can take 75 mins before you are on.

We also went to Seaworld, where Doris could have stayed almost forever. We spent ages at the baby dolphin pool and saw the Orca show. Doris was awe stuck to see these wonderful whales at such a close range, but was torn about it as well. She felt that after seeing them in the wild, that was where these whales should also be. It is a bit of a payoff – at least here they can help to teach people about our world and all its blessings and treasures.

A short drive to Kennedy Space Centre was Rod’s choice. The amount of resources that go into the space program is thing that actually gets to you after a while. Of course you don’t get to go NEAR anything, but it’s nice to at least see the good stuff from a distance.

Daytona Beach was “interesting”. Stewie’s rally navigator description of the speedway is, “Go fast, turn left, repeat”. We did at least get to drive on the beach on the other side of the continent and rescue some damsels in distress who had driven off the “road” a bit too far. We had only just pushed them out when a Beach Inspector came along (capitals included to denote importance). Instead of simply admitting that they had made a error in judgement, he came the heavy with them first, babbling on about it being a felony to drive on the turtle eggs, then backed off to a warning. They were just glad to get out of there and get their feet wet.

Volunteering has proved to be much harder that any of us could have imagined.  You seem to need to be prepared to go through the bullshit processes before you can do anything. Maybe it’s to prove that you REALLY want to help them.  It’s certainly given Doris a lot of thinking material on how to treat people when they walk through that door. Have we mentioned yet that Americans in general find it hard to think outside the square? Combine that with up to 4 levels of government, Federal, State, County and City, and you finish up with enough bureaucratic crap that it’s no wonder they have to go to war to feel good about themselves.  Did we say that, out loud? Oops.

So far, Doris has helped out a few times at the local Thrift Shop and managed to be treated like a piece of furniture, Stewart has played for a local High School Rugby team and not made any new friends out of it, and trains with another Rugby team who have even less regard for him.  There are, however, a couple of faint glimmers of hope.  Stewart is about to start as a volunteer Gym administrator, helper, type person at the local YMCA and both have started the 4-week training program to become Zoo Ambassadors at the Woodland Park Zoo, which is one of the best that we have seen.

And Rod continues to go to work 9 days a fortnight and can’t tell you any more than that or he’ll have to arrange to have you shot, because he can’t do that himself.