As manager of Bayview RV Camp in Destin, Kent Chamberlain meets all sorts of characters.
But perhaps the one with the most interesting story is Koichi Tezuka from Tokyo.
For the past two months, Tezuka, 31, has been exploring the United States by bike. Starting from New York City, he's making his way to Mexico, and then Ushuaia, Argentina, which is considered the southernmost city in the world. He basically saw a spot on the map and chose it without a specific travel itinerary.
“I just go. I want to go there and learn everything. Learn the culture," said Tezuka, who speaks some English, but absolutely no Spanish.
His past journeys include Saigon, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand — all by bike.
WATCH A VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH TEZUKA, Click here.
After surviving the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Tohoku, Japan, and witnessing the horrors of the natural disaster that killed more than 18,000, Tezuka said he decided to not wait for any of the adventures he wanted to do. South America is just one place on the map he can cross off.
From Argentina, he wants to take a boat — or yacht as he said — across the Atlantic Ocean to explore Africa before making his way back home to Tokyo.
"When I head south I hope there is fun and warm weather," he said.
A chilly reception
Tezuka's journey began with a plane ride to New York City. When crossing the United States to make his way to Mexico, he had originally planned to head west. But with the cold weather, he changed his plans and made his way south to the Sunshine State.
"It was very cold," he said of biking up north. "My jacket was frozen. My water was so frozen I couldn't drink it."
He was surprised to find Northwest Florida wasn't as warm as he hoped. Coming east from Panama City, Tezuka found the Bayview RV Camp by searching the internet and decided to make a rest stop.
"We usually take tenters on a special basis," Chamberlain said. "And this was certainly a special person."
Most of his trip so far, he's stayed in the woods to keep his trip inexpensive. His bike is expertly packed with helpful gadgets, a tent and several duffel bags holding his clothes, camera and even a violin, which has suffered some damage along the way. Thanks to technology, language barriers have not been a huge problem. He uses his tablet computer to help translate, which is how The Log interviewed him Thursday morning.
Strapped to a large pole on the back of his bike is a Flip camcorder to record some of his cycling. At the top of the pole are American and Japanese flags.
"I have respect for this country," he said.
To keep the costs low, the Japanese traveler has been surviving mainly on ham and cheese sandwiches.
"It's a cheap meal," he said. "Each sandwich costs about $1.50."
Reheating a piece of Winn-Dixie fried chicken over a homemade fire, Tezuka enjoyed what he said was his first hot meal of this year. One of his last hot meals did not end so well. While in line at McDonald's last month in New Jersey, he was mugged. The robber only got away with $14, but that's almost two weeks of food for Tezuka. In Georgia, he had another bit of bad luck when his laptop was stolen.
Hearing these stories, Chamberlain walked back to office and returned with cash in his hands. He gave Tezuka the camping fees back, about $40. Tezuka bowed gently and said "Arigato."
The course ahead
Looking at the pictures of his trip so far, you get to see America through Tezuka's eyes. This isn't his first trip — he visited New York City about five years ago — but you get the sense that Tezuka likes to experience everything as if it's his first time. He took pictures of the scales inside Publix, the guns inside Wal-Mart, the New York City skyline, the stairs from "Rocky" in Philadelphia, and friends he made along the road. Perhaps one of his favorite photo-ops was inside the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum "the museums are free, very cool," he said. He bought a NASA baseball cap and got a photo with the Discovery Space Shuttle.
Tezuka created a Facebook page specially to capture this trip. Some of his latest status updates comment on the cheap cost of food and the abundance of free Wi-Fi in the U.S.
As a salesman in Tokyo, Tezuka said he comes in contact with people from many different countries, which inspires him to see the world. The Middle East, specifically Syria and Jerusalem, are on his bucket list.
"I wanted to go this year, but The Middle East is not in good condition," he explained. "It's too dangerous."
Not to be deterred, Tezuka has set his sights on an even loftier goal.
"I would love to go to Mars," he said.