Photo: Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys.
Today is Sunday, October 24th. We left Brunswick, Georgia, via Highway 17 and headed south for Florida. We’re hoping we might be able to arrive in time for the last Space Shuttle launch, scheduled for November 1.
Photo: We entered Florida from Georgia, driving south along the east coast to Key West.
Within forty minutes of the time we left Brunswick we were at the Florida tourist info booth where we had a picnic lunch. Because it was Sunday we easily cruised through Jacksonville, notable for its rather austere, futuristic architecture. At Jacksonville we hooked up to Highway 1, in order to stay close to the coast.
An hour later we were setting up camp at Anastasia State Park near St. Augustine. We spent a couple of hours at the beautiful beach there, where a local was teaching us to body surf properly – dive into, but with the wave, just before it’s about to crash. We got rolled around for awhile and then had to stop and rinse the fine film of salt and sand from our skins as we left the beach. The waves here are the biggest so far and the water is the greenest yet, although there were a few jellyfish.
Photo: Anastasia Beach.
Later we took a quick tour of the campground, and to our surprise and delight, spotted Massachusetts Maureen’s motor home. She’s the retired school teacher we had met earlier at Myrtle Beach. She’s off to St. Petersburg in the morning so we enjoyed a few drinks around her campfire with her.
Our immediate neighbours at Anastasia Park turned out to be an interesting couple from just outside Toronto, Keith and Heather, who were on their way to Key West to celebrate their thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. They had two weeks to enjoy as much sunshine as they could so they had driven hard for two days to get here. It was their inaugural trip in their new-to-them motor home though, and it wasn’t going so well.
Earlier, when they first pulled into camp, I noticed Keith with his head under the hood. I went to introduce myself. He had determined where the problem was. It was electrical and resulted in stuff not working inside the unit, – and it was draining the battery. He unhooked a couple of wires that he saw had been Mickey Mouse’d, and it seemed to do the trick.
The next morning he and Heather were all smiles as they climbed into the motor home, ready to go to the beach. Then it wouldn’t start and the fob wouldn’t unlock the ignition or the steering. They were faced with having to make what seemed to be the inevitable call to the Automobile Association; likely having to have the unit towed somewhere to be fixed. Prospects were looking good for having their day pretty well ruined.
There was nothing we could do for them so we headed into St. Augustine, the oldest city in America. It’s a beautiful town with heavy Spanish influence in the architecture. Many of the narrow little side streets are closed to vehicular traffic, making it quiet and safe for roaming on foot. Janice and I decided to go our separate ways for an hour or so. She likes to follow the map and check out some of the shops. I prefer to wander aimlessly, taking pictures. We agreed to meet back at the truck in an hour.
Photo: Flagler College at downtown St. Augustine.
Photo: Downtown St. Augustine.
Photo: The oldest wooden school house in America at St. Augustine.
Photo: This house in St. Josephine reminded me that, when I think of Florida, I don’t think of it as the deep south – but it is.
When we got back to our RV Site I noticed a big ball of wiring and stuff sitting on Keith and Heather’s picnic table. It was the security wiring from their motor home. Apparently, after we had departed for St. Augustine, Keith had decided that he might be able to save himself some grief by just ripping it all out. It ended up not only saving him grief but probably a lot of time and money too. Everything worked fine for him after that, and for that reason, they arrived back at camp from the beach in a good mood, asking us over for a drink. We replied in the affirmative, we’d be there in a few minutes, after we showered.
In the meantime, while exiting her shower, Heather was startled by a squirrel darting across the floor of the motor home. She tried to shoo it out but it ran up and under the dash. She assumed that it must have come in that way too and returned to what she was doing. Then Keith noticed the hole chewed through the screen door.
We were all guffawing about the outrageous series of unfortunate incidents that had befallen them when Keith went in to get another beer. He discovered one of the blinds had been destroyed and another hole had been chewed in a window screen on the other side of the unit, through which the dastardly little critter had undoubtedly made its escape.
We sat around in the evening’s warmth, laughing a lot, mostly about their bad luck, and our good luck. We all drank too much before finally tucking into some burgers about ten o’clock.
Despite Keith having many physical maladies, some of which are quite debilitating, he is incredibly cavalier about it all. They are both easy, and funny, to be around. I asked Keith if he wanted to try some marijuana for his pain but he declined. He’s already taking several kinds of prescription drugs for his conditions.
They were booked into Tomoka State Park near Daytona Beach for the next night, just an hour or so down the road, so we decided to rendezvous there.
Photo: Keith and Heather.
The next morning was sunny and hot so Janice and I took a bike ride around the park before packing up and hitting the road. We stopped at a Starbucks for iced coffee, and to check emails, stopping again for lunch on the roadside at Beverly Beach before carrying on to our destination.
Photo: Beverly Beach.
After getting set up at Tomoka State Park we gave Keith and Heather a ride to the beach, which was about three miles away from camp. We paid the $3 entrance fee so that we could drive onto and along the beach for about ten miles. That arrangement is nice because there’s hardly any parking on the streets and you get to have all your gear with you – the truck provided shade and shelter from the wind. We all took a stroll down the beach and then Janice and I decided to get wet. It was Daytona Beach after all. The water was shallow though and the waves were big. We didn’t want to get pounded so our swim turned into more of a dunk.
As it was Janice’s birthday, she and I had planned to go out for dinner. We invited our new friends to join us but that’s when we found out that Keith doesn’t like a lot of different foods. He doesn’t like any kind of seafood. He doesn’t like stew, or anything else mixed together. If you mention Shepherd’s Pie, for example, his face curls up like an old shoe and you can actually see his gag reflex. We learned to have fun with that in a hurry! We knew he would have been stuck for anything he might enjoy eating at a restaurant of our choosing so Janice and I set out alone to cruise the strip.
We ended up settling on Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese joint just off the strip in Daytona Beach. It had little ambience, which is usually a sign of mediocrity to me, but it was Janice’s birthday so she got to choose. The food turned out to be excellent and the menu offered some items that we’d never tried. Before we were done, Janice had wrangled the recipe for Banh Xeo from the waiter. No doubt she’ll be trying it on some unsuspecting souls in the near future – you know who you are.
Photo: Janice at the Vietnamese restaurant on her 52nd birthday, or, as she likes to say, “Twenty-six, on both sides.” Later, back at the park, Janice and I sat outside and enjoyed a bottle of our favourite red wine.
Keith and Heather decided to take a motel room in Daytona Beach for the next night so that they could walk to one of their favourite old haunts, Crabby Jack’s, on the pier. We agreed to meet them there the next day.
In the morning I unintentionally ran over a monstrous snake on the paved road about ten minutes from our campsite. The speed limit was 45 mph and the road was mottled with shade so I was on top of the snake before I even knew what it was. It had still been alive when I thump-thumped it because I saw it wriggling in the rearview mirror. Later I described it to The Ranger as being at least six feet long and light-ish in colour. He said that, because it’s been dry here for so long, it would definitely be a rattle snake looking for water. It creeped me out all day – the thing was so big, and I had done it in.
Later, we met Keith and Heather at Crabby Jack’s as agreed. It’s a no-frills bar that occupies what has to be one of the most desirable locations for a drinking establishment anywhere. It’s so rustic that, if you were to drop your credit card on the floor, it could easily slip between the cracks to the ocean thirty feet below. Pitchers of beer were only $6.50 and the pound of spicy garlic shrimp was also inexpensive, and delicious. Keith insisted on paying for the shrimp but he wouldn’t get anywhere near eating one.
We gave Keith and Heather a ride back to their motel room and bid them farewell. We had a lot of fun with them. Back at the park we watched a movie Massachusetts Maureen had given us and tucked into one of Janice’s Thai pizzas.
Photo: Crabby Jack’s at Daytona Beach.
Photo: The view of Daytona Beach, north, from Crabby Jack’s.
Today is the 28th of October. The shuttle launch is scheduled for just three days from now. We have actually planned ahead and booked ourselves into a park near Cape Canaveral for November 1. It would be very cool to see that last shuttle go off.
To kill time we’ve decided to head for Blue Springs near Warren, an hour or so inland, where the water is supposed to be crystal clear, apparently offering excellent swimming and snorkeling. If we’re lucky we may get to see some manatees – yes, those gentle, gelatinous, giants of the sea.
We booked into Blue Springs State Park for two nights. It’s not quite as humid here because its fifty miles inland, but it’s still hot. The water at Blue Springs, on the St. John River, truly is crystal clear and so very inviting. The water’s temperature, because it is spring fed, is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, all year.
The snorkeling was good but the 72 degree water did become chilly after half an hour or so. We saw several fish species and a big dark snake that some kids had spotted under the wharf.
A thunder storm cooled the air off later but the bugs were too bad to sit outside.
The morning was sunny and warm so we went for a six-mile bike ride around the park trails before snorkeling the springs again. Later we cancelled the RV Park that we’d booked near Cape Canaveral because the shuttle has been delayed, again.
When we left Blue Springs State Park we headed for Kissimmee, near Orlando, ending up at the Aloha Campground, where several elders were hanging around in the shade near the front of the park. As we were setting up camp several of them came by, eager to introduce themselves; letting us know that there would be a community campfire at sundown. We said we’d see them there.
By late afternoon it was hot so we took our books to the pool. For me, a good read called The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. For Janice, Spanish Made Simple. There had been a solar cover on the pool when we arrived but it had been removed for us after we’d enquired about pool use. No doubt, for those ‘Crazy Canucks’ who’ll swim under any conditions.’ When we entered the pool we looked at each other incredulously – the water was actually warmer than the air, which was about eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.
The oldsters were still gathered, watching, perhaps wondering if we were really going to go through with getting wet under such chilly conditions. We did get wet, but it wasn’t worth the time, so we went back to the RV and had cold showers.
There’s an abundance of yellow and pink grapefruits growing on the trees in the park. Apparently they won’t be ripe until January, but that didn’t stop one of those watching us in the pool to offer up a couple of them.
We had a really good Crockpot rib dinner before heading for the communal fire. Along the way we noticed that the solar cover had been put back in place over the pool/soup pit. Unbelievable!
Everyone at the fire, but us, had been coming to the park for the past twelve or fourteen winters. Originally, most had been attracted to the reasonable rates. Now, having found themselves in a weird kind of time warp, they have come together and formed a loose sort of family, where they hang out together and look out for each other.
A guy named Ward continuously fed the fire as Bill, Sylvia, Janice, Gill and I were swapping ‘How you got here stories.’ It didn’t take long for the talk to turn to health, and these people’s general lack of it. Some of them were younger than me, but to a person, they all moved so slowly. The same people that I described earlier as elders were the same age as me!
Surely it didn’t help that most of them had golf carts to get around the RV Park, which was level and no more than a couple of blocks square. When they weren’t riding in those carts, and actually had to walk a few feet, they moved like true geriatrics.
In the morning, after eating one of the green grapefruits, which was actually quite juicy and delicious, we took off and ended up at the conveniently located Lucky Clover RV Park in Melbourne, back at the coast. It has a well-maintained pool that is about seventy-four degrees – just right. Cape Canaveral is only ten miles up the coast, and we got a great view of where they launch the shuttles when we took a drive to Cocoa Beach. We may or may not wait on the shuttle – it keeps getting pushed back and, anyway, people say you can see it from just about anywhere on the coast.
The pool has been providing a nice respite in the afternoon. When we first checked in I asked the caretaker why there was nobody in the pool. He said, “Because we’re Floridians. If it gets below eighty degrees, I put my sweater on.” He pointed to his sweater hanging over the seat of his golf cart just to show me that he wasn’t kidding.
We’ve found the Lucky Clover RV Park to be central to lots of stuff so we decided to book another couple of days there. Today is Tuesday and the count-down to the launch has begun for 3:52pm tomorrow so, hopefully, we’ll catch it after all.
My sister, Lisa’s, husband BJ has a sister in Vero Beach, about an hour south of here. We’ll probably stop there and visit them before heading for The Keys, where an old friend of mine from North Van, Robyn Rands (MacMillan), has been generous enough to invite us to stay a day or two at her boutique hotel in Key West. She’s even found a place for us to drop the trailer while we’re there.
We’ve been going for bike rides in the morning, scoping out the lay of the land and seeing what else is about. Today we were exploring a bit of the Intra Coastal Waterway. Basically it’s an inland waterway that extends all the way fromMiamitoMaine. From there boaters navigate the Saint Lawrence Seaway, The Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River, back to The Gulf of Mexico. It’s navigable by large yachts and, man, are there a lot of them down here in theSunshineState. Most people here mistakenly call it the Inter Coastal Waterway. That would mean it went coast-to-coast – so they’re just plain wrong.
We drove to Sebastian Inlet State Park, checking out the over-saturated real estate market along the way. A really nice 3bd 2bth condo with a water view is about $150,000.00. Probably 20% of the recreational real estate here is for sale. We saw one condo advertised for $39,500. The temperature of the ocean here is currently eighty degrees and Vero Beach, about thirty miles down the coast is said to be the official start of the tropics.
Our bike ride on Wednesday morning took us to the Atlantic Ocean side of Melbourne where they’ve done a great job of keeping public beach access between almost every hotel or condo development. Where there are houses there is a path between every half dozen or so properties.
The damn space shuttle has been put off again. Apparently there is some kind of fuel problem. We can’t wait any longer so we’re taking off tomorrow. From the beach here you can see Cape Canaveral in the distance and people tell us that you can feel the ground rumble during the launch. It would have been fantastic weather for it too.
Janice made a delicious prawn salad for dinner. I was doing the dishes when a familiar smell drifted over from the trailer next to us. Janice suggested that I enquire of them if I might make a purchase. I said I still had a bit left from my encounter with Johnsee. She said, “Yes, but it may be presenting itself right here. We’re probably not leaving the States for months now, so you might as well ask.” The neighbour turned out to be very welcoming and was happy to be of help. The stuff here is not nearly the same quality as that in BC, which is kind of a pleasant change; like drinking wine instead of whiskey.
On our last day at Melbourne we awoke to pouring rain, which we haven’t seen for weeks because Florida never got one drop in October. No rain for a month is very uncommon, because it usually pours every day for half an hour or so. Of course this delays the Space Shuttle so I guess we’re just not destined to see it at all.
Janice made crab cakes and we sat out late enjoying the warmth of the tropical breeze that had blown the rain clouds away.
We made it to Southgate Village RV Park in Vero Beach about noon the next day. We should have been there an hour earlier but, we had lost the park owner’s cell phone number and then we got lost because our GPS (Susan) couldn‘t cough up the address. We also encountered some wayfaring walkers getting drenched by rain. They were flagging us down for directions so we picked them up and delivered them to where they needed to go.
Judy and Ed, (BJ’s sister and her husband) have a spacious and modern condo on a private golf course in Vero Beach. The weather had turned cold and rainy so, rather than golf, we sat on their covered deck for a couple of hours and swapped stories, mostly about Lisa and BJ.
We did lots of walking around Vero Beach, and then drove to Fort Pierce, killing time in the crappy weather, still holding out faint hope that the launch might go off on Friday. But, no, they had to hold it back for another crummy electrical problem. I’m starting to think they do this stuff on purpose. There are thousands of people who come to the area for the launch and, the more delays that NASA announces, the more the tourists hang around, continuing to spend their money. Just a theory.
Today is Saturday, sunny but cool. We’ll follow Highway A1A, along the coast, heading for somewhere more southerly. Now I know why they claim thatVero Beachis the official start to the tropics. No sooner had we hit the road then, when I looked to my left, the ocean had turned all those beautiful shades of turquoise and green, making it undeniably tropical.
From West Palm Beach through Miami Beach the mansions are truly incredible. Many of them have the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Intra Coastal Waterway on the other – double waterfront, if you will. Fifty to one-hundred-fifty-foot yachts grace almost every slip in the front of each mansion, or is that the back? I never truly realized until now just how much money I don’t have. The West Vancouver waterfront, in comparison to what we’ve just seen, would be the weak, crippled, little sister.
We spent the night at a below average, parking-lot style RV Park at Pompano Beach. Earlier in the afternoon we’d heard music playing in the distance so we got on our bikes and rode in that direction. It turned out to be a big Christian fall festival that covered ten acres or more. We had a quick ride around, listened briefly to the Christian rock band, but split within minutes, lest somebody attempted to engage us.
The next day, we proceeded south, through Fort Lauderdale, where traffic became heavy as we approached that shiniest of cities, Miami. The traffic snarl at Miami Beach turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed us to spend half an hour inching along the main drag, where there was absolutely nowhere to park the rig. We gawked, guffawed and rubber-necked our way through the outlandish, freakish slice of humanity parading by. People-watching at Miami Beach is nothing short of eye-popping.
We reached Homestead, at the head of the Florida Keys, just after lunch. After setting up we decided to explore Key Biscayne National Park, about ten minutes away.
Driving to the park we noticed people pulled over to the side of the road and were trying to figure out why when suddenly a screaming roar ripped the air above, coming from our right. We barely had time to duck when one of the Flying Blue Angels shot by, three feet overhead – okay, maybe three hundred feet. We pulled over and were treated to the complete Flying Blue Angels show. Incredible. We hadn’t known that the Homestead Air Show was being held that day, and our perfect seats were free.
Photos: A few moves provided by the Flying Blue Angels, that were the finale of a two-day air show at Homestead.
Photo: Miami, from Key Biscayne National Park, where there wasn’t really that much to see, unless you’re a scuba diver.
The next day we arrived in The Keys in less than ideal conditions because, while we could tell that the colours of the water would have been breathtaking under sunny skies, the cloud cover dulled the effect. Still, it is beautiful, if a little unearthly here. The waters are very shallow for miles around and there is no height of land over five or six feet.
We set up camp at Curry Hammock State Park, which has twice won The Best State Park in America award. We were very lucky to get our spot right on the water because the park is usually booked months ahead. We had gone online and been able to book it less than a week ahead due to a cancellation. Last night at a campfire on the beach we heard people complaining that they’d been coming here for seven years and had never been able to score a waterfront campsite.
In the evening we took a drive to the much photographed Seven-Mile-Bridge and then returned to the communal campfire at Curry Hammock.
Photo: The sunset from The Seven-Mile-Bridge near our campsite.
Cuba is just ninety miles from here. That fact raised the ire of one of the Floridians at the campfire, a retired dentist from Sarasota, when Janice asked about the ‘Wet Foot/Dry Foot’ rule that some people at the Seven-MileBridge had mentioned. Apparently this rule applies to the Cubans seeking refugee status. If they’re caught with one foot in the water or on one of the bridges here, they can be deported. If they have both feet on terra firma, they’re then treated as refugees.
The dentist replied aggressively, “Cuba is where all our problems come from. You let one in and pretty soon they have all their family here too.”
Janice replied, “Well, it must be terrible to hate the place you live in so much that you’d risk your life to get away from it, leaving your family behind and getting onto a piece of plywood or an old car hood to attempt crossing such dangerous waters.” The dentist’s wife replied, “They don’t hate it where they live, they just want a better life.”
Surmising that they might still be cranky because we upstart Canadians had snatched their waterfront campsite, I shot back, “Duh!” and kicked sand in their faces.
Luckily for us, one of the other Floridians, who had been to Cuba in 1999, interjected, “North Americans need to go there to witness the complete and abstract poverty the Cubans are subjected to.” While we appreciated his coming to our defense, I’m pretty sure the ‘abstract’ instead of ‘abject’ part, which he repeated a couple of times, kind of tore a hole in his argument as far as the dentist was concerned. It was effective enough though because it seemed to shut down the argument. Luckily, nobody wanted to challenge somebody who‘d actually been there.
Today, Tuesday, we awoke to sunny skies and temperatures that were forecasted to reach back into the 80‘s so we decided to rent kayaks from the park office. The cost was reasonable enough at $21.00 for a two-person kayak for two hours. The water is shallow just about everywhere around here and the mangrove forests grow right to the water’s edge, which makes for interesting critter watching. As we rounded the last little island, headed for home, we ran into a lot of pelicans, cormorants and a heron all perched within fifty feet of each other.
Photo: Tim about to get launched at Curry Hammock State Park.
Photo: Janice finding the end of the mangrove tunnel.
Later we went to Sombrero Beach at Marathon, where the swimming and snorkeling are excellent due to the firm sand and calm, clear water. It is somewhat cooler though than what we’ve been spoiled with lately, due to the Gulf Stream mixing with the cooler water of the Gulf of Mexico.
Back at camp we witnessed one of the most idyllic scenes we’ve encountered yet. The pastel sky, combined with the becalmed, mirrored the calm surface of the Atlantic. The atmosphere became imbued with the most peaceful light. It was like one might imagine heaven to be like. It wouldn’t have surprised us if, in that moment, we were to hear angels softly singing. Later, Janice and I stayed at the campfire, stargazing, after the others had left.
Photo: Sombrero Beach.
Photo: Sunset at the beach right out front of our campsite at Curry Hammock State Park.
It was sunny in the morning so we went for a bike ride, checking out all the unaffordable real estate.
Thanks to my computer crashing we lost the blog from the next few days but I can say with confidence that they were some of the best days of our entire trip.
Robyn Rands, an old school friend that I hadn’t seen for at least 30 years, along with her husband, Dale, owns the Southernmost Beachfront Hotel in Key West. They generously put us up in a deluxe waterfront room at the hotel, which occupies on the of the most spectacular settings imaginable. They even had the perfect spot for us to park the trailer.
Photo: The Southermost Beachfront Hotel in Key West.
After arriving at the hotel Dale took us all to an excellent lunch at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant where he wouldn’t let us pay for anything. After lunch, while Dale went back to work, Robyn took us for a walking tour of Key West. There are world championship power boat races being conducted around the peninsula so there was lots of excitement around town. On the way back down the strip we stopped at The Blue Heaven Bar, a famous haunt of Ernest Hemingway’s and, reportedly, where he would often get into a not-so-friendly boxing match with anyone who opposed his opinions.
Photo: The Blue Heaven Bar, often frequented by Ernest Hemingway.
Photo: The private beach at the Southernmost Beachfront Hotel.
Photo: The pool at the Southernmost Beachfront Hotel.
That evening we met Dale and Robyn at the pool bar and then went again to the hotel restaurant for dinner where, again, Dale wouldn’t let us pay.
Photo: The sunset from our room at the Southernmost Beachfront Hotel.
The next day Janice and I went for a bike ride around Key West.
Photo: The Southernmost Beachfront Hotel property viewed from the north.
In the afternoon Robyn took us paddle boarding.
Photo: Tim and Robyn take some paddle boarding tips from hotel employee, Jaun, before hitting the water. We never even fell in!
In the evening Robyn and Dale cooked us dinner in their suite, along with a friend from New York, Eddie.
Photo: Dale and Eddie, who play championship bridge in their spare time.
Photo: Janice and Robyn enjoying each others’ company.
Photo: We had lobster and stone crab for dinner. The stone crab was a first for us and is now our favourite kind of crab. They’re harvested by taking one claw and throwing them back. A new claw regenerates.
After dinner Janice and I hit the strip where I got to play cajon along with Kevin Bowes at a really cool little juke joint along the strip. A couple of titles of Kevin’s tunes are Rasta Pasta and You Make the Money, which might give you an idea of the originality of his music. You can catch Kevin’s music at www.kevinthomasbowes.com
The next morning we said our goodbyes to Dale and Robyn and then hit the road for Bahia Honda State Park, a place richly deserving of its title, Best State Park In America. Thank you so much Robyn and Dale. It was a fantastic stay and we would highly recommend the facilities there to anyone visiting The Keys.
Photo: The Beach at Bahia Honda State Park.
After frolicking for a few hours at Bahia Honda we left the Florida Keys behind, spending the night at Homestead again, heading for Alligator Alley the next day…