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.
We’d lost all track of time or day by the end of our first week in The Florida Keys. Sugarloaf Key had proven to be a perfect landing spot for our little family; our old rig a welcome sight to practically everyone at Lazy Lakes. I had the feeling that most folks didn’t know quite what to make of the ‘Hippies’ in the classic Volkswagen Westfalia Van. I was proud of Peniki…beyond measure!
So we’d survived Publix Market that first trip to Key West; never to return again. Winn Dixie had proven to be our grocery store of choice on the island. As for short ‘beer runs’ and other necessities, we biked on over to Kickin’ Back Market a few miles up from Sugarloaf Key, or just made a quick jaunt over to the KOA Campground Store…right next door to Lazy Lakes.
We had fallen into a laid-back routine by our second week in the Keys: I fed the fish right behind our camp-home every morning, Nico had his regular visits from friends for guy talk out by the street or sittin’ around our little abode. And even though it had been our intention to ‘rough it’ while we were on this adventure, it seems the kindness of others had lavished us with a few of the ‘finer’ things of camp-life; furnishing us with a TV hooked up to cable, fans, and a few chairs we’d really needed, freshly caught Mahi Mahi steaks, and some of the best company I believe we’ve ever shared. I really was loving life in the Florida Keys. Still, in my deepest subconscience…I knew, we would soon be returning to the rat-race to welcome our first Grandson into this world. If only, I thought to myself often, we could have everyone we love in one place…this place, I would never have wanted to be land-locked…ever again.
All in all, we stayed a full 3 weeks in the Florida Keys, and loved every minute of it! After that night at T.J.’s barbecue, we were destined to sing our songs on Mallory Square, for all of Key West to hear at the Sunset Celebration. It was an entirely different gig for us; an unforgettable experience I’ll forever cherish. I met a man who made an impact on my life; a fellow, much more seasoned, street performer. His name was Dr. Zeaus (spelling?), though I cannot recall his real name. I hope someday I can remember. Either way, we had an interesting conversation about life and the way people aren’t allowed to live the way they wish anymore…in this day and age. How we both feel that folks are no longer really ‘free’. I’m sure our beliefs would be met with much opposition, but to each his own. Right?
Needless to say, Nico and I took Gypsy Vin Rose to the Sunset Celebration on Key West and the evening was truly magical! Just as the sun was setting, we sang our hearts out; one of our favorite original songs ‘Time’. The music…the moment…the bit of money we made from passersby…the memories made…the much-appreciated words of a stranger “You guys have great spirit.” I’ll never…ever forget such words of encouragement. Still, no one was ever more encouraging when it came to our music than our friend T.J. And even though the CD we left him with was still just a rough-cut, live and unedited, he loved it just the same as if it were our polished studio work. It was real! As we know GVR must always stay! To us, our songs need to flow like the water, remain free as the wind: that is the voice of Gypsy Vin Rose. To us…anyway.
As for our thoughts on Key West, besides that first bad experience at Publix, we took rather well to the island life and the Conchs thereabouts. Riding bikes, snapping pics, fishing, kicking back with friends, swimming, touring and lunching on Key West, and singing at the Sunset Celebration. So many things about our three weeks in The Florida Keys, not to mention the wonderful new friendships we’d formed, are memories I’ll always treasure. And because there is still so much to tell, I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one sitting. I invite you to keep posted. The adventure is just beginning!
Okay…! So we’d planned on heading on in to Key West today; check it out and see what it’s all about. Long-about noon time, we cruised over Cow Key Channel and there we were: In the Famed Key of Keys! I snapped pic after pic of anything…everything my shutter could capture.
It didn’t take us long to see that it was a very busy little island. Taking the right path where it splits (A1A goes left, Hwy 1 goes right) we ended up in traffic! Yuk…traffic!! Of all places in the world, I never expected such hustle and bustle on Key West. But there we were; one red light after another, waiting…waiting, to see what all the fuss is about. Still, we weren’t seeing it.
Finding our way to the Publix Market, there were bikes everywhere out front: That was different than anything we’d seen back in Texas or along the way. A nice change of pace, I thought to myself. We parked and went in for a few necessities, and plenty of libations for T.J.’s barbecue later that evening.
I must admit, the view across the street from Publix was like seeing night and day; Publix was ‘Blah’…the Gulf side Marina was very inviting. I saw houseboats everywhere! I wanted to go live on one of them. Nico and I dreamed of what it would be like to float around in our houseboat, without a care in the world; singing…playing music, writing songs all day or night. The vision was nice while it lasted; thanks to the hectic frenzy inside Publix.
The energy in there was all bad! The people were as crazy as back home; the vibes I felt from one woman were barely short of evil. She was in a very bad mood and didn’t do much to hide it. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there! We decided to avoid Publix after that. I was rather taken-aback by the ‘feel’ of the place and the people in it. Publix is definitely a place I’d NOT recommend in Key West.
So…after that ‘experience’ at Publix, we decided to check out the other side of the island before heading back to Sugarloaf Key. It was a very refreshing change from the commerce side of Key West: hotels, seawall, beaches, miles of sidewalks for riding…running…walking. I loved the other side of Key West! Now this…I definitely would recommend. When you visit Key West, take the left turn…not the right. You’ll be glad you did!
After a brief tour of the ‘lighter’ side of life on Key West, we spent the rest of our day back on Sugarloaf; kicking back a few brewskies and prepping to mosy down to T.J.’s for some laid-back fun on Lazy Lakes’ peaceful freshwater lake.
The evening was filled with fun, good food, singing and playing our music. I do believe, after that night, T.J. is our biggest fan! He shared a lot of insider secrets to entertaining on Key West. To hear him tell it, we needed to share our songs at the Sunset Celebration that goes on nightly over on KW. It was fun to imagine, but we weren’t quite sure we were ready to join the ranks of street performers. But, time would tell! If it was left up to our new friend, I knew we’d soon be braving the crowds on Mallory Square. It was an exciting thought!
Day 18: Econfina River State Park from St. George Island
Pulled out of St. George at around 12:30 PM on Friday. We said goodbye to Rob West; our nice camphost from Pennsylvania. ‘Found an island grocery market and a ATM, then stopped-off at a little roadside seafood stand and bought the day’s catch directly from the fisherman who’d caught it that morning. What we bought:
1 lb shrimp, 2 lbs red snapper filets, 2 crab cakes. Yum! I’d be cooking the cakes later on down the road, along with the shrimp, and the fish I planned to save and cook the next day since it was frozen.
While at the seafood stand, we met a nice man, a retired college professor. He loved the van! : )) We love St. George Island! …hate to leave. We both agree we could live quite happily on Saint George Island. Never know…maybe some day!
*Beautiful drive along coastal 98 headed East, as we were leaving the long bridge to/from St. George.*
We stopped at an IGA in Carrabelle, FL for groceries and stuff. The ladies at the store were really nice and helpful. You don’t see that everyday! *Cute little town, that Carrabelle! I took pics of a kewl wooden boat-bar. Love it!! We wanted to stop, but we had to forge ahead.
Refueled in Pancea while down the road, and had every intention of going on to our desired destination, but considering the time-of-day and how tired we were, we decided to camp for the night at Econfina River State Park. Come to find out, there were no campsites at the park, so we found a rural spot at a private compground up the road and secured a spot for $17. Not too bad! And the primitive site was very secluded and lush with Palmettos and Palms…and that scary Spagnum Moss hanging from the trees. It reminds me of the Scooby-Doo mysteries every time I see it. Lol This trip, we’ve seen it a lot too.
*Nice old bald man (The ‘old bald man’ part…his words, not mine. lol) named Ron, who we met back at Econfina while asking for directions, loaned me some sunblock/bug repellent called ‘Cactus Juice’. It comes from Texas! hahaha Good stuff! We used a little then returned it to the store nearby, per his request, the next day before we pulled out. He said he knew the folks there at the store and they’d hold it til he came in the next fishin trip…that next weekend more than likely. : )
We cooked the shrimp from St. George on the open fire-pit that night. It was delicious! Once we turned in, we had a bit of a scare when we heard some goings-on outside our camp. Blanca had been fixated by something out in the woods all day since we’d arrived. Nico went out (I begged him not to, but…you know men) to see what it was, but seemed rather spooked when he came back in. He said what ever it was, it was circling our campsite, was very heavy…and very fast. Needless to say, he stayed in after that. ; )
Obviously we made it through the night, or I guess you wouldn’t be reading this. Haha It had been a good day…all in all. Many…many Blessings!
Had breakfast and got ready for a nice day at St. George Island Beach. ‘Loaded up the bike trailer to the limit, and we were off! Fun…fun day! ‘Found a Pirate’s Booty of seashells! Yayahhhh!!!
Headed back to camp and started a campfire to grill Bratwurst sausages. While the fire was stoking, I headed out to buy ice from the camp-hosts and ended up meeting Rob’s wife Anne. Nice lady! We ended up chatting for over an hour and meeting other passersby out walking their dogs.
Later that night, Nico played guitar for Nixi and we settled in…after showers. It had been a good…good day. Lovin’ every minute of St. George Isle! No words to describe…
Up by 8 AM, I fed Nixi and put on a Dora DVD. Nico took down the drive-away tent while I made an Italian Omelet and some coffee. We enjoyed our breakfast, packed it all up and were on the road by noon. We’re getting better at this! I realized.
Quite a few hours and miles later, we decided to stop-short of our intended destination and camp for the night at Grayton Beach State Park. And while we weren’t quite sure we liked our spot when we pulled in, we settled in for the night in the very last spot they had (last-minute cancellation), right by the bathrooms/showers. We’d explore the next day, and see what discoveries lay in store.
The park was quiet, even with neighbors close-by. So far…at that point, it was looking like a good place. We started a campfire and cooked some ‘dogs’…sat back and relaxed. It had been a long…hot day, but a good one still.
Had brekkie on Dauphin Island, picked up camp and was gone by noon. We had to catch the Ferry across the bay. Sitting in line to load the boat, we figured it would take forever, but were pleasantly surprised after waiting only 5 to 10 minutes. Lucky for us, we were the last one’s allowed onboard.
So, there we were…cutting through the waves on The Mobile Bay Ferry. I had decided to stand upfront to take pics while Nico sat in the van with baby. Little could I have known that I’d end up soaked all down the front from the splashes of the boat ripping through the tide. I loved it! Nice and refreshing; much-needed on such a hot day.
As we pulled off the ferry, my heart anticipated our next stop–we were closing in on Florida. I could hardly wait! A little while later and a few miles down the road, we crossed into Florabama (Party Town!! Jimmy Buffett style!) and over the state line. It was around 2 pm and we were ready to sink our toes in the Florida sand. After passing through Florabama, we stopped at Perdido Key State Park day use area, for some fun-in-the-sun, a pit-stop and a picnic (not necessarily in that order).
After munching down some lunch, we headed down to the lofty white-sand beach and played in the crystal clear…aqua green-blue water. Love it! We splashed around like children and never wanted to leave, though we knew we must. There was a campsite calling our names a little ways down the road at Big Lagoon State Rec Area. It was getting late…we were tired…Peniki was tired, so we parted with the lovely beach and headed out.
A short bit later, we were settling in at Big Lagoon and quickly making friends with the campground hosts Butch and Ronnie; brothers with great hospitality and a bucket of laughs. What wonderful people to know! We enjoyed every minute of conversation with our new friends. Super nice people!
At that point, we’d already decided to stay another night…having already been made to feel so welcome there. So…we settled in and relaxed to the music of Bob Marley on the player while I fried some yummy fish and enjoyed a bit of refreshment. I tell ya–It just doesn’t get much better than that! No siree!!!
‘Woke up early and got down to the matter at hand. Breakfast! While we were leisurely eating our grub, ‘decided to go for a nice ride around the island. I had seen miles of bike trails on the way in that night before, and I could hardly wait to venture out.
We headed in the direction we had yet to travel and soon discovered Historic Fort Gaines, right on the waters’ edge. Then…we rolled down to the beach nearby and saw Dolphins leaping and dancing in the water. What a sight! I only wish I had been able to snap the pic in time.
Baby had fallen fast-asleep; soothed by the motion of the bicycle and the cool ocean breeze on her face. So…after enjoying the breeze and introducing our toes to Alabama sand, we headed back towards the campground…but didn’t stop there. Our destination? The Fish Market! I was gonna cook some shrimp on the Bar B later. Yum!!
A little while later, we were pullin’ out of the market with a couple ‘pounds of freshly caught shrimp, a few pounds of catfish, and some crab-stuffed jalapeno pepper-poppers. Needless to say, by the time we left the only grocery store on the island to pick up some other groceries and libations, I couldn’t pedal fast enough…just thinkin’ of getting back to cook those peppers.
Fast-forward a few hours later: In our efforts to work off the crab-peppers, we set out to explore Dauphin Island Campground and get to know our immediate surrounding a bit better. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered a shade riddled trail into the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Treasure!!! A long walk later, and a gazillion pics too, we made it back to camp to ready the skewers and get an early start on dinner.
Later that night, we sparked the campfire and grilled mango/chipotle marinated shrimp & pineapple skewers. Man…! I really out-did myself this time! *patting myself on the back* This….was what posh-camping was meant to be. Simple pleasures by the sea, and good company.