Zolfo Springs is about two hours and a thousand light years away from the razzle dazzle and big dippers of theme-park Orlando. The multi-coloured arc lights faded to sodium yellow, then to the occasional illuminated window of a road-side diner or drive-through pharmacy, and then dwindled almost to nothing but the moon and the stars as we pushed our way south and west across Florida that first night.
Our hosts had warned us that the intern house had been empty for a month or so and that there'd not be any food there for us when we arrived. I used our one stop, at a McDonald's, to buy a small bottle of milk. When we arrived, the little house was cold and its emptiness seemed to somehow be emphasised by the artificial Christmas tree that still stood rather rejectedly in the corner of the living room. Tea bags, milk and a packet of cigarettes has been for many years my own personal survival kit. I made us a cup of tea before jet lag overwhelmed us and we fell into our bunk beds.
Waking early the next morning, I tip toed to the kitchen as quietly as I could so as not to wake Tatiana. She was Brazilian, and at 21 very much younger than me - the same age as my own daughter in fact. But we'd got on well the previous evening in the back of the car on the long drive down here and was optimistic that the age gap would not be a problem; I'm pleased to say that it never was.
Cup of tea in hand and cigarettes in my pocket, I wandered out into the cold Florida sunshine that first morning. There was frost on the grass and a hazy mist hung over the fields that surrounded the intern house. My breath puffed little white clouds into the bright blue sky. I sipped my drink and felt immensely happy and relieved. Whatever lay ahead, whatever the next four weeks had to offer, I was here and determined to make the most of it. I went back in, made some more tea, and sat down on the frosty steps to watch and wait as the first morning of my Florida adventure unfolded.
Photo of the intern house