Smooth sailing most of the way. Only lost once per T.J.’s directions, so we stuck to the map from then on out. Stopped in Homestead, FL., for gas and rest-stop (diaper change, etc.) and quickly realized that it’s a BIG produce, vineyard, garden/greenhouse town. Agriculture everywhere!
Finally got on the right track on Hwy 41–Tamiami Trail–throught Miccosukee Indian Reservation Territory. *Neat adobe houses of bright ‘earth tone’ colors, with tiki style thatch roofing. They were hard to see because of the stockade fencing surrounding the villages. We wanted to stop and visit.*
Instead, stopped at a little wayside park for a bit of a rest and saw first Alligator on this entire trip. Many more swam up when Nico brought Baby up and she started to squeal a bit from excitement. I think the gators thought she was lunch; an injured animal or something. Lunch…either way! Talk about scary…freaky! It was eery to say the least! **SEE Video Below**
We quickly escaped ‘gator park’ and made our way to a Motel 6 in Fort Myers for the night. Exhaustion had set in, but it had been a good day trekking from the Keys…across Florida on the Tamiami Trail (Gator Ville, USA) back West to the Gulf Coast.
Take it from me. Keep Your Baby or Toddler AWAY from the Gators! Far…FAR away! We shot this from waaay up on a overlook, enclosed with fencing and thick gage protective barnyard wire-mesh fencing. Even though we were at least 8 feet above the water, this still sent chills up my spine just to see how these gators responded to our little girl’s screams. We high-tailed it outta there as fast as we could. I had seen enough of the gators to last me a lifetime!
Traveling Along Tamiami Trail
Wayside Swamp on Tamiami Trail
Us at ‘Gator Park’
Here Fishy Fishy! Can You Spot the Gator?
He’s Right There!!!
Gator Lake, just off Tamiami Trail (unofficial name we gave it)
The Fishies Have Started Back to ‘School’
This was a Huuuge Gator!
One Scary Experience
He had to be at least 15 feet long
Thatch Roof of Miccosukee Indian Village
Miccosukee Indian Village on Tamiami Trail
Hard to See Colorful Indian Village from Behind Fence
There are a few things I know I’ll never forget about our 3 weeks in the Florida Keys, and the Party we attended at Mangrove Mama’s on Sugarloaf Key is definitely one of them. We’d been invited by the owner earlier in the week, when Nico just happened to be introduced to him at the KOA Bar…in the campground next to LL. He’d gone to the store for something and, as luck would have it, ran into a few friends from LL, who were enjoying their 4 o’clock refreshments.
Needless to say, Nico and the owner of Mangrove’s hit it off and we were accepted into the rather tight-knit circle of friends/acquaintances on Sugarloaf Key. According to Nico, the party would be a benefit auction for a friend of Mangrove’s owner…who’d just-recently passed away. He was an artist…and so, they’d be auctioning off his works to raise cash for this, that, and the other. Either way, it was for a good cause, and the food and drinks were ‘on the house’. How could we refuse?
No…really! Since Mangrove Mama’s was classified more as a restaurant than a bar, we felt it was safe to take Baby, and lo-and-behold, she wasn’t the only kid there. I was a bit worried we might be walking into an environment not suited for our little one. But in the end, it all turned out to be a fun night…minus a few mis-haps and misgivings on the part of a few drunks and loud-mouths. It seems…there’s always one (or two) in every crowd.
All in all, we danced to a bongo band called the ‘Margarejects’…laughed with new-found friends, and made it safely home at a reasonable hour…across Overseas Highway and back to Lazy Lakes. In the end, Nico and I both had to admit “They really do know how to party in The Florida Keys!” What a blast we had with the local Conchs! I hope we can see them again…someday soon.
Okay, so we’d been lingering a lot on Sugarloaf Key and not had too much time for Key West until… Until we decided we had to know more of the island that our friend T.J. swore to us was ‘much better than we’d so far experienced’. *not word for word* We knew we’d have to make a day of it and, once and for all, see it for ourselves; Duval Street…Southernmost Point and everything in between.
In no time at all, Peniki was blaring down Overseas Highway at 55 mph and we were once again on Key West. This time, we’d left our bikes back at Lazy Lakes and opted to go afoot. We tried to think like the local Conchs and check out the ‘not so touristy’ spots where, in our opinions, the local-focal were likely to frequent. In our search, we ended up at a little outdoor bistro with a tropical setting like no other we’d seen anywhere near Duval…complete with talking birds. One Mango Daquiri later, I was sure we’d made the right decision by choosing to take a more intimate look at Key West and Duval Street. We were fast becoming friends with the Florida Keys.
For us…this morning was a new beginning. The light of day had brought with it a better view of Lazy Lakes Campground and the clear water lake beside us. More of our new neighbors stopped for a friendly ‘hello’ and to tell a few tales of their younger days when they either owned or knew someone who’d owned a Hippie Van like Peniki. Still, we seemed to be frowned-down-upon by the more ‘uppity’ clan of big-riggers; the ‘old codgers’ I call them.
All in all, the folks at LL are turning out to be a pretty warm bunch of retirees, part time beach bums, or full time ‘conchs’ as they so lovingly refer to native residents or transplant natives of The Florida Keys. Again, our new friend T.J. happened by on his bicycle…on his way down to a little store called Kickin Back, a mile or so down Overseas Highway. Being the nice person he is, he asked if we needed anything while he was there. Lucky for us, we were well packed, and at that time only needed to buy more ice for our ice box. The campground office sells ice and is really laid back on when campers pay. Like I said, Lazy Lakes is just the place to go for a relaxing vaca in the Keys.
For most of our first full day on Sugarloaf Key, we’ve lolly-gagged about on our bikes with baby in tow, met a few more nice locals, and relaxed for the first time in days; got a little fishin’ in too. We ended our day with a few brewskies by our trusty old VW Van, overlooking the myriad of fish from the ‘backyard’ of our new place in the Keys; however temporary it might be.
Tomorrow will be a busy day when, in addition to the barbecue we’ve been invited to at T.J.’s, we will head in to check out Key West, pick up a few more groceries and supplies…and see how the local ‘Conchs’ live. I can hardly wait!
Woke up….packed up a partially set-up camp, deciding to leave and explore Key Largo. Gotta find a WiFi signal soon. A little while later, stopped at a little sandwhich shop near the Publix Market and used the internet there. We met a few nice folks–Kim the shop clerk and Brent the owner of the shop. I got Kim’s FB info and we decided to keep in touch.
Had initially planned on heading to Big Pine Key to camp for a few days; at least until we went and checked the only available spot at Breezy Pines RV Campground. It was a ‘no go’ there! Bad energy and too many shady looking characters. We ventured further down…closer to Key West, even though it was late in the day. I’m glad to say, after much fear we would end up w/o a spot for the night, we landed at Lazy Lakes on Sugarloaf Key. This is a happy and peaceful place to be. Love it here!
Day 21: Leaving Sebastian Inlet, Headin’ to the Florida Keys–
Up by 8:30 or 9ish, ‘did laundry and packed up the van for the final stretch of our Peniki adventure road trip. ‘Got on the road late b/c we had hot dogs and good conversation with our neighbors Eddy and Suzanne. Nice People! We’ll have to keep in touch.
‘Thinking we’d head straight for Key Largo today; per a tip from Eddy, we decided to take the Toll Road straight on down and by-pass Miami this time around. I had really had my heart set on seeing Hollywood Florida, but our new friend Eddy said it’s just a lot of hype, souvenir shops and the like. Still, I want to see it…someday.
Visited the ATM, bought diapers and wipes, fueled up the van and we went in search of Florida’s Toll Road. In the end, the toll road proved to be way too fast-paced for our old classic VW. I was a mess when it came to nerves, but Captain Nic kept it steady and calm; even when we thought we might get mowed down by the crazy drivers who aren’t still stuck in the 70’s…goin’ 55 mph. : ) The left side service station exits, right off the ‘fast lane’ really didn’t help our case any at all. At one point, some flaming idiot came past in a fury, yelling some stupid shit! I wanted to catch up to him and put the Whoopass on him….but the van never could catch the maniac. LMAO
Finally, after hours and many miles of chaos on the toll road, we rolled in to Key Largo at about 9 pm or so, quickly found a campsite (as fast as we possibly could anyway), and ended up at The Key Largo Campground and Marina…just off Overseas Highway and within walking distance to Publix. We paid WAY too much for the lot w/ a water view, but at last….we had arrived. A BIG sigh of relief fell over our camp and ourselves as we went about constructing a partial set-up for the night.
Camp was finally put together and we were more than ready for bed by about midnight. Luckily, the baby slept through it all. ‘Will see tomorrow what this place looks like; if it is worth the $$$ we spent, though I doubt it is.
All in all, it had been a pretty good day’s travels. Peniki had taken us all the way to the Florida Keys and God had blessed us in so many ways.
*Remembering* Nico met a nice man from Haiti who was working at the Key Largo Burger King. I remember thinking of how much farther he had traveled to a new land, by comparison to our own travels. I thought to myself: If this brave man can come all this way and make it work, we should be able to as well. I dared to dream.