We spent the night in Perry, Florida, last night. If you’ve never heard of Perry, you are not alone. We found a clean little roadside motel there just before dark. I left Dawn to unwind from a long day of driving and hopped down to the Winn Dixie to pick up a couple of groceries for the Magical Mystery Bag. In reality, it’s just a heavy plastic tote that we picked up in Utah, with pictures of Arches National Park on the outside. Calling it the Magical Mystery Bag makes it so much more, though, as if we might open it and find an apple pie, instead of the trail mix that is actually there.
I hustled through the aisles of the Winn Dixie, picked up my few items and headed for checkout. A bored young woman said hello and asked me if I found everything all right. I said I had. The bored look slipped away, and she said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” Every time I come south of the Mason Dixon, my inherent Yankee-ness seems to roil off me in a cloud, so I’m used to that question.
“No, I’m not,” I answered.
She nodded wisely, then closed one eye and looked at me slant-wise. “Where you from?”
I knew that “Orting,” or “Enumclaw” would only result in a blank look, so I said, “Seattle.”
She knit her brow critically, and said, “Wait. You’re from Seattle, and you’re spending the night in Perry?” The name of her town dripped with negative energy.
“It was getting dark?”
“That’s the only reason I can think to stay in Perry if you don’t have to.”
Driving out of town this morning, we kind of had to agree with her. I felt like maybe we should run back and get her and take her on one leg of our trip just to bring her a little excitement.
As we drove south, I scanned all the resources I use to find interesting things to do – my Roadtrippers and Off the Beaten Path books, RoadsideAmerica.com, and AtlasObscura.com.
Not much showed up until I scanned down to Tampa, a few hours south. There, I found Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit shelter for, obviously, big cats. Scanning their website, BigCatRescue.org, I saw that the only way to walk through the facility was with a guided tour. It wasn’t free,or even cheap ($36 per person) but every dime you pay goes to the care of the big cats. We were in. We drove straight to Tampa and got there in time for a trip through the gift shop (have I mentioned Dawn’s obsession with magnets, yet?) and then our tour.
I am a fan of Big Cat Rescue. They take in pretty much every kind of big cat and take care of them. Forever. Big Cat Rescue is the forever home for these oversized kitties. There aren’t any other good options. Almost all of them have had difficult, abused lives and many of them have been declawed or otherwise damaged. They couldn’t be released into the wild, and they shouldn’t be in private homes. So, Big Cat Rescue it is. It may not be their wild environment, but it is as good as the rescue can possibly make it.
The cats of Big Cat Rescue come from many different sources – roadside zoos or attractions that have closed, other shelters that ran out of money, private homes that found that a 300 lb. kitty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, etc. One was found chained inside a crack house. As you walk through BCR, the guide plays the story of each cat and how it arrived at the rescue. Many of them will break your heart.
The walking tour is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with many big cats and take some amazing pictures, but one thing is certain: this is not a zoo. This is a rehab and rescue facility, and the needs of the cats come first. If they are feeling antisocial for any reason, there are places in their compounds where they can go. So, you won’t see every cat you walk by, but you will see plenty. I took a million pictures, but here are my favorite few:
How can you look at those faces and not love them?
Let me set the scene for you. We are in central Florida, so it is hot – probably 90 degrees. It is humid. There is thunder and lightning and intermittent rain coming down. Looking at the magnificent cats, strolling casually around just a few feet away, it is easy to imagine that you are standing on the African veldt. In fact, it very much put me in mind of the story, The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury (from his book The Illustrated Man.) Then, you look at this guy, so relaxed, and are glad there’s a secure barrier between you.
At least, I was.
Big Cat Rescue, in my opinion, is doing the work of the angels – taking care of those that would never find the same level of care anywhere else. The moral of the story is – big cats are not pets and should never be domesticated. As happy as these cats are, I know their lives would be fuller in the wild.
Our time in BCR complete, we tried to scoot out of Tampa before the Friday afternoon traffic hit. We almost made it. So close. As veterans of Seattle traffic, though, this was really a piece of cake – about the same as I-5 on a Wednesday midday.
We went over a number of long bridges, and the weather was pretty iffy. I tried to get a shot of the dramatic rainfall off to the side of the bridge, as we were moving.
We got our share of the rain before we escaped it, so the Silver Bullet is once again nice and clean.
Several hours south of Tampa, the sun went down and the sunset was spectacular.
Kind of looks like a postcard, doesn’t it. Man, I love that color.
By the time we got to our room, we were whipped. One thing about hotels and motels, though. Last Friday, we were in Galveston, Texas, and stayed in the worst motel of the entire trip. Yes, worse than The Clown Motel. That room was $90. Tonight, we are staying in the nicest hotel of the trip, once again in a resort area. This room is $90. I just can’t make any sense out of what these places charge.
Tomorrow, we head in the general direction of Miami, getting ready to make our final assault on Key West.
Cheers, and safe travels!