Travel around the big continent ( 1 )

We leave the Everglades National Park by driving road 41 east toward Miami. We say farewell ( and no regret ) to alligators and thousands of mosquitoes. The last part of the road is so typical for US roads: straight as an arrow section stretching for thirty miles. Both sides of the road have dull and monotonous views: only swamps and sea of grass. We pass the Miccosukee Indian Reservation and three Indian small towns: Tamiami Trail, Alligator Alley and Krome Avenue, which are hermetically separated from the road and protected by high fences. "No stopping at any times" are everywhere. Behind the fences one can be seen, however, some Indian homes. They are quite well cared for, hidden in the green trees from the hot sun. How different are these settlements from Indian reservations in Arizona! There the majority of Indian homes are squalid caravan parked in the middle of the semidesert with a multitude of trash scattered around helplessly.
What makes the relative wealth of Miccosukee Indians? First, the Everglades N.P. is frequently visited by thousands of tourists from near Miami. Close to the border of the park there is a huge Indian casino&hotel in no way inferior to the size of casinos from Las Vegas: 350 rooms, five restaurants and a casino with more than 1700 "one hand bandits". We pass the casino. It is enormous, the parking lot is stretching for half a mile. Indian casinos exist in almost all U.S. states. They are don´t pay many taxes. The idea was to help poor Indians get some money. Unfortunately this all went wrong. In 2002 Time magazine wrote: "Look who is cashing at Indian Casinos. Hint: It's not the people who are supposed to benefit. Indian Casinos are making millions for their investors and providing little to the poor".
The term "Indian Casinos" is a synonym for corruption.

The Everglades N.P. ends and we approach Miami. We turn south from US41 to US997. When I looked at the photos of this US41-977 junction at site, someone has named one of the pictures: Back to Civilization. This is exactly how we felt on entering the intersection. After more than 150 kilometers of swamp and grass you suddenly are back to civilization: dozens of bars, gas stations, restaurants, shopping and .... Indian casino - they all apppeal suddenly before our eyes.

We continue US997 south. It seems like the road separates two different worlds: to the left there are suburbs of Miami, to the right vast plantations of fruits and vegetables with roadside vendors every few miles. Traffic lights are everywhere, and of course, the speed limit is a miserable 45. For lunch we stop at the Cracker Barrel. The restaurant is full. After several minutes, smiling waitress leads us to the table. "How're you guys doing?" he asks. The food is, as usual in such restaurants, delicious. The menu is mainly based on excellent beefs, ham and pork with tons of vegetables. We're also order a fried catfish, which is quite good. Portions, as usually in all the family restaurants, are huge.

We hit the road again. Our 997 joins the US1. This is the oldest interstate in the U.S. It stretches from the border with Canada, passing all the major cities of the east coast to Key West. It is 3200 kilometers long. Built in the twenties of the last century, US1 was the main north-south route until 1950 when the highway 95 was built. Prior to 1950 along US1 lived 1/3 of all U.S. residents.

The landscape again becomes more fierce. More and more shallow lakes and swamps appear along US1. Funny road signs warn: "Crocodile crossing next 5 miles". It almost feels like Everglades Park again.

US1 soon leaves the mainland. Passing several interconnected bridges, we enter tropical islands called Keys. The climate begins to improve slightly. It is no longer so hot and humid as Florida mainland. Keys is a group of approximately 1,700 islands stretching from the southern coast of Florida towards Cuba.

Larger islands were connected with the mainland by rail in 1920. In 1935 one of the biggest hurricanes in U.S. history completely destroyed the existing railroad. The motorway was opened only in 1982.

The first island, Key Largo, as seen from the main road, is just ugly. By several kilometers on both sides of US1 we pass hundreds of bars, real estate agencies, petrol stations, souvenirs shops, escort agencies, fortune-tellers and travel agents who offer all possible beach and sea attractions. All this has no style and is simply ugly. This is the American trading culture at its worst.
We drive south from island to island, hopping from one bridge to another. On the left there is Atlantic Ocean, on the right shallow and turquoise waters of Gulf of Mexico. The farther away from Florida, there is less people, less hotels, less roadside bar, the views are getting better and better. This is begging to feel like Caribbean.
It takes us long minutes to cross the Seven Miles Bridge connecting the islands of Marathon and Big Pine Key. Here some scenes from movies like
True Lies, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and James Bond - License to Kill were shot.
After leaving the town of Marathon the landscapes are beautiful. We pass the Bahia Honda ( Deep Bay) Beach, which was elected the most beautiful beach in the USA.

The last of the large islands, Key West is located only 90 miles from Cuba.
We have been to Key West twice, but still this island fascinates us. And suddenly here it is: Key West with its fine wooden houses and cozy atmosphere.

2B cont.