This post is long due. By long, I mean its more than a month late. Early last month, I took off on a fun weekend to Florida, my first visit to the Orange State. Apart from a super fun road trip that lasted 7 hours with a break at a mexican restaurant where I was so fraught with laughter, that I dont remember what I ate at all, I got a chance to explore my favorites – animals and space exploration. ( NASA was a dream once upon a time). Now, I hadn’t been to a beach in the east coast of US till now. I wont say Atlantic coast since I spent my summer of 2006 basking in the Bahamas beaches. I drove past Gainesville (where a lot of BITS-Pilani, Goa is) but didnt make a trip down there for lack of time. Only 2 days and so much ahead!
If the road trip wasnt fun enough, the night got even better as we got tickets to the IMAX screening of Endhiran. It was the day of the release and my! the movie brought the entire tamil community of south florida together!. Such a large crowd with no space to walk and all tamil words floating around prominent among those being “Thalai!” Now, call me a traitor if you will but im not exactly a Rajnikanth fan. Infact, Im not a fan of anyone in particular with the exception of Kajol and Johnny Depp but again that is because they deliver such consistent performances. I like performances, movies not the people. In short, in my opinion, the movie was an utter waste of time and money and when the super-awfulmax climax began, I was only squinting at my watch to calculate how much time remained. Shee! What choice man!
But I think the movie was the low point of the trip. After hardly sleeping for 3 hours, all groggy eyed but full of excitement we headed from Tampa to Orlando’s Sea World. It was my choice to go here instead of DisneyWorld because of obvious reasons. Once into the park, it was a delight of sorts. I saw all sea animals I had been wanting to watch. The first one and my favourites (I made the folks go around it twice) was the penguin enclosure. It was amazing. There were two huge enclosures – Puffins and Penguins. The penguins HAVE to be the cutest little birds out there. I saw all varieties and was trying hard to match images with Happy Feet (movie). It was fun to watch them do what they do. We went to the Clyde and Semour show which was performed by Sea Lions.I saw all the possible sea animals – Manatee, Sharks, jelly fishes, smaller fishes, fed dolphins and also caught a lot of shows that day, the best being the Dolphins, the Cats and Dogs and the obvious spectacle – The Shamu Show performed by Killer Whales or Orcas. It was infact the same shamu that had killed the trainer a few months ago. It was amazing to see their size and marvel at nature. Really. Only when you are sitting feet away from a full grown Killer Whale which is the largest predator in the entire biosphere, do you realize how small we are. The interaction between the trainers and the orcas was significantly reduced because of the accident but it was spectacular nevertheless. And then my favorite exhibit – The Arctic circle animals. I thought this was wonderfully done with the lighting and temperature inside the dome mimicked to match the Polar regions. My favorite since childhood was the Polar Bear and I saw it! Beluga Whales, Polar Bear and the Walrus. Polar bears are HUGE. Period. They are really bigger than what you imagine them to be. The Walruses! WHOOOOOAAA..that is the reaction. They are SO HUGE. Almost everyone there is awestruck by its size! They are mammoth creatures, fat and one can only ogle and the zeros describing their weight. After a tiring day, we headed to cocoa beach which was our next destination. Space coast!
Cape Canaveral is the spot where NASA has its launching pad. It is the same place that shuttles land after their missions. Being a big space enthusiast we headed to the Space Coast , an hour and a half drive from Orlando. We dumped our belongings in the hotel, bought tickets to the Kennedy Space Center for the next day and headed to Cocoa beach where we ate Thai food like pigs. (Dont ask me why Thai, it was not my decision). The next halt was the Ron-Jon Surf Shop. It is the surfing mecca of the world being the biggest and most famous. It was a lot of fun to go around the store and invest in some nice beach towels! We also made it to Cocoa Beach Pier, which extends half a mile into the ocean and it was enchanting to sit at the very edge and listen to the waves. Without any energy left and sleep forcing our eyelids shut, we crashed at the hotel for a good night’s sleep knowing the next day was going to be longer with the whole return drive before us.
If Sea World was a humbling experience in terms of marveling at nature, Space Center makes you applaud and revel in the magnitude of human achievements. The most striking was the fact that we sent man to the moon using a slide rule! I saw the launching pads and the Discovery strapped on one of the pads( the launch was held on Nov 1st) and also saw the gigantic NASA crawler. Everything there is an engineering marvel. To watch the exact spots where the Apollo missions launched, to the marshy greenery filled with alligators, it was a wonderful experience. I saw the control room where people actually worked to control the missions and the reams of design papers and slide rules that designed the machines where there was zero tolerance of error. There was also one of the real Apollo mission rockets which had parts of it recovered and assembled kept as an exhibit. You wonder how they propel such humongous stuff into space! Moving it would be an achievement! More than anything, that place is inspirational. Infact, the motto that keeps them going forward is that Nothing is impossible. The last thing we did was enjoy a flight simulator which simulated the launching experience. In reality, you experience close to 15-g. They simulated only 3 g. It was not scary but the build up was! Overall an amazing amazing day!
The rest was all routine with dinner at Udipi, Tampa and a beautiful night drive back home. It was unusually cold at 5 degrees in Atlanta when we reached and that kept us awake for a while.
It was back to work on Monday but the memories of this trip are definitely here to stay for a long long time.