Morning came entirely too early after the late bedtime on Monday. Our late arrival the evening before, however, did mean that getting ready and packing up again took little time. We enjoyed a hasty breakfast and were soon on our way to St. Augustine. We found parking easily and walked up to the Castillo de San Marcos, an imposing structure outlined against the backdrop of palm trees and ocean.
We could see rain clouds gathering, so we tackled the top of the fort first, wandering along the battlements and looking at old cannons. The view was absolutely lovely and revealed lots of interesting lines and angles for the eye to follow, sighting from the crevices along stone lines of defense.
We got about two-thirds of the way around the top before the rain became heavy enough to force us downstairs and into the rooms of the fort. I was surprised by how little there was to see in the rooms. Some of them had been filled with reconstructions of how they might have looked, but there were several rooms that were just empty. Of course, there was no pass-through for most of the rooms, so we had to hurry through the pouring rain to get from place to place.
The Castillo does have an interesting history, touching the stories of black Americans, Native Americans, English and Spanish and American—and probably others as well.
At last, our clothes completely dampened and chilly, we walked back to the car. The rain actually began to let up as we drove to a Village Inn for lunch. It was cold inside, and Andy was shivering, poor thing. The hot coffee I ordered was fabulous in my chilled state. I had a chicken sandwich and Chris had a turkey Manhattan, while the boys enjoyed hamburgers—Andy’s with no bun. The boys built towers and forts with the jam packets.
After lunch, we drove to the “Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.” We had seen this listed in a few books as an attraction, but hadn’t been able to find out much about it. We bought our tickets and were immediately shuffled along to follow a tour guide into the “Discovery Dome.” It was beginning to look hokier by the second!
The guide stepped to the stage and the thought that immediately leapt to mind was “she has gone to the experimental substance well one too many times.” Which may or may not be strictly true, but she certainly had a lot of the signs. The first pronunciation she made was, “I’m going to be the strangest tour guide you’ve ever seen, because I like to have FUN.” From this point, she began to ramble about how people came to the park for two reasons: to drink the water and to see the peacocks (few people seemed to have had any prior knowledge that there were, in fact, peacocks on the premise).
She went on an on abut the peacocks and then finally meandered on to talking about why we were in this particular musty building: we were going to see…a GIANT GLOBE! Two stories high! And walk through history from the BEGINNING OF TIME to the birth of the New World!
Of course—of COURSE—they played the theme from “2001: a Space Odyssey” as they prepared to open the curtains. I was already starting to snort with the exertion of not laughing out loud. The curtains opened to show a big old black-lit blue globe representing the earth. A deep voice said, “In the beginning, the earth was without form and void…” and then went on to talk about how gradually, life appeared and eventually man appeared…and then somehow they basically condensed thousands of years of history into two or three sentences before they showed the routes the various explorers took to reach the New World.
Part of their spiel seemed to be that Columbus didn’t discover America. Now, I was fine with that, thinking that their point was that he wasn’t the first to discover it (thinking of the Lief Erickson story, for example); I was wrong. They have somehow decided that “discovering America” should mean that the explorer in question should have landed on the area that became the United States. Thus, they elevate Ponce de Leon to the TRUE discoverer of America. Two words: What. Ever.
Anyway. From the Discovery Dome, we walked to the Planetarium, which is the only manual planetarium left in the United States. This is pretty cool. It was a lot more realistic than I expected, but it too had its many moments of hilarity. For one thing, our guide got more and more caricatured as the tour went on. For another, the voiceover of the planetarium program was a guy’s voice and kept saying things like, “You can see the instrument I’m holding,” at which point a light would glow behind our guide who was unmistakable a woman. And then, of course, to make the program longer, the voice-over repeated LOTS of things twice for drama.
Towards the beginning of the program, there was a simulated storm which was totally lame. As the “storm” faded away, the voice-over said, “As we recover from this terrible storm…” It was just so cheesy that it was all I could to hold my laughter in.
From the planetarium, we wandered out into the grounds proper and the guide had another little talk, beginning with, “I get asked one question a lot—it’s the question I get asked most. I don’t know why, but I do, so I’m going to answer it before you ask it!” Now, you have to bear in mind that her whole manner is hyper in the extreme. She goes on to say, “And that question is, ‘Where are the restrooms? So they’re across the parking lot. You do have to leave the park to get to them. Can you come back? Sure! I don’t care! Come on back! Now, in the enclosure over there you’ll see a bird. She’s not an ostrich. So don’t even call her an ostrich. She’s a Rhea, named after the Greek Goddess of Brazil.” Now, if you think about it, you realize that she means that the Rhea is from Brazil, not the goddess. But it was still hilarious.
I can’t even begin to describe how extremely awesomely cheesy the rest of the park was. It’s only tangentially connected with archaeology and there appears to be a LOT of embroidery on whatever facts they possess. It was, in its way, as insane as the Coral Castle. It was totally worth the price of admission just for the cheese factor.
I decided to try to Jump Off Things solo, so I finally found a place that wasn’t too crowded and got Chris to take a picture. Unfortunately, not only was it a totally lame jump (I am not, apparently, terribly aerodynamic), but I landed in loose wood chips, slid, and fell on my back onto the ground—in front of a totally amused tourist who said, “Oh, I know you did that on purpose!” It was awesome.
After we had plumbed the depths of the gift shop (featuring the Worst Tourist Gift Ever: Aunt Jemima salt and pepper sets and the like), we fell into the car and drove straight to the KOA in Kingsland, GA.
We had discovered the night before that Kingsland was within ten minutes of where my friend Ruth would be staying with her sister—how serendipitous! We called her and she ended up meeting us at Cracker Barrel and we chatted over coffee and dinner. From there, we drove over to Wal-Mart. Nothing totally untoward happened except that Chris made a random comment that made Ruth and I double over laughing in the produce department and Steven stabbed Ruth with a tin-foil dagger and she made him hold hands with her.
We bid her goodbye for the second time in two days and drove back to camp, where the mosquitoes tried to eat us as we dashed from the car to the cabin. This wasn’t one of the nicer KOA campgrounds of our trip—it was definitely worn and there was trash all over outside. We also couldn’t connect to the Internet. Still, it was warm and dry and had beds. We unloaded our pictures from our cameras and looked through them, laughing and laughing. What a great end to a silly day.