It’s funny how scenes, places, conversations, and miles-traveled can all turn into one big blur after a full day on the road. Leaving Natchez Trace Parkway and Rocky Springs Campground was the highlight of this particular stretch for home. Booking it as fast as our old VW Van could travel; topping speeds of 60 mph at times, we made it across the Mississippi state line to Louisiana in one jaunt, and many miles and hours later we found ourselves once again on Texas soil…just barely.
After surrendering my former belief that folks just shouldn’t sleep at Travel Stops or Rest Stops, we bunkered down for the night in our camper van; exhausted and glad to be so close to home. Even if we hadn’t wanted to leave the Florida Keys, the one’s we’d left behind back home insured our return. One thing we know, looking back on it all, is that we knew the place to where we were returning…was surely not where we’d stay.
*Let your heart roam, let your spirit be…like the child you used to see*
It’s a beautiful Autumn morning here at the Sailing Club; I’ve been walking along the shore admiring all of nature’s bounty in the trees…filled with pinecones just waiting to fall; the shrubs brimming with berries of red…purple…blue.
I’ve already polished off my first cup o’ joe…and I’m hankering for another. Little Blanca, our bratty schnauzer, didn’t mind me sharing my cold tamale with her; we both like ’em that way.
I hear another dog—not qute as content as my little dog laying quietly beside my chair—barking off in the distance…over across the cove. I feel the breeze brushing my hair, the sun on my face. I hear the wind rustling the leaves on the half-bare trees, the waves lapping ashore. And all is right in my world.
Nico and Baby sleep soundly inside our old camper van, though I know I don’t have much longer to be alone with my thoughts. I think I hear a rustling inside…baby is now waking. My morning is fast-turning into day. I sigh a farewell to peaceful morning.
‘Pulled out of St. Joseph’s Peninsula at around 1:30 or so, headed West on Scenic 98 to 71 North. We’re planning to visit the Southern Tip of Georgia before we head home on El Camino 84 to Texas 287. That’s the plan anyway.
We ended up at a rest stop off of Interstate Highway 65 at 1 AM in the morning. Ugh! ‘Drove all night, but we didn’t want to pay the $$$ on a room for just a few hours of sleep. So…after stopping numerous times at various motels–and trekking out to the ONLY(what seemed like it) National Forest in Alabama, we settle for a nice…much safer, rest stop. It was the best choice, and one we should’vemade much earlier in the evening.
*What I Learned* Sleeping at rest stops isn’t half as bad as I suspected. Guess it pays to listen to Nico sometimes; as much as I hate to admit it. lol
‘Pulled out around 11 am and headed North on 301/27/441, we will take 441 N/W when we see it and hopefully hit 98. *Camped at St. Joe Peninsula last night. I met a nice Mother-Daughter (Rebecca & Nicole) camping team, set up right beside us in a Classic Serro Scotty Vintage Travel Trailer. I loved their rig as much as they loved ours!
We sat up ’til way into the early morning….laughing and talking, tossing back a few cold ones, just having girl time. Lucky for me, Nico is great with Baby….so I kinda had the night off. Come to find out, they are Florida ladies. I exchanged emails with Rebecca so we can keep in touch.
*About St. Joe*
Beautiful beach. Had Fun fun fun! Watched a show-stopping sunset! We hope to return someday soon. Loved the beach and company, though the sites are really close together and very hard to get. I’d definitely make reservations for out next visit.
Got out early for once and headed Northon 41. Somehow got all turned around and wasted a few hours weeding through traffic in St. Pertersburg and Tampa (Yuk Towns! Stear clear for your sanity!) Finally stopped at a lovely rest stop off Hwy 275 and sat a while to enjoy the breeze and ocean views.
Got turned around again somewhere betwen there and Hwy 19; laiden with traffic and chaos! Detoured as fast as we could out of city traffic and found Hwy 54 East to 301 North. A short time later, following a brief struggle through small-town traffic and road construction, we were enjoying a leisurely drive in the country…still on 301.
Found a quaint little roadside cottage style inn near Ocala called the Hill Top Motel, and paid for a night. We loved this place! The motel/Inn consists of about a dozen or so adorable little cottages. Nico and I were wishing we could live in a quaint little cottage just like the one we were housed in for the night; beautiful pine trees and green grass all around, peaceful country setting. Just lovely! We would definitely recommend this little out-of-the-way place to any road-weary traveler. We hope to return soon.
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
Three weeks had gone by like a blink of an eye, and our stay in the Florida Keys was coming to an end. It was time to start heading back to Tejas. Even though we would’ve loved to stay in the Keys forever, we had obligations with the coming of our first grandchild. Sometimes life just works out that way I guess.
And while the anticipation of a baby is usually a happy time, our’s was bitter-sweet, as our grand baby’s father had been murdered when my daughter was just two months pregnant. It was a traumatic experience for her, to say the least. So, while we’d been gone for almost two months, we had known all along that we would have to be there for her in her last trimester. She had been spending time with her dad and brother in the time we’d been gone. She was safe–of this we were sure.
So…the morning came when we sorted through the belongings we’d somehow accumulated in three weeks’ time, and begun to rid our ourselves of the things we knew we couldn’t carry and were sure one of our new friends could use. T.J. was glad to take the small TV we’d been using for Baby.
We said our good-byes after the van was packed to the gills, and headed back up Overseas Highway; hoping to make it past Homestead by nightfall. I sat quietly in my ‘copilot’s’ seat until the tears began to fall. I could not contain my sadness for leaving this place we’d called home for almost a month. To me…it felt more like home than the place to where we were returning. I was overcome with grief. Nico held my hand, comforting me from where he sat.
The scene was always like a dream: the endless miles of beautiful aqua blue water, the historic railroad bridge beside Bahia Honda State Park, the old abandoned Overseas Highway that is now used more for a footbridge or for bicyclists. I was in love with this place for its quiet calmness, peaceful waters, even the ‘sometimes stinky’ mangrove swamp.
We had bonded with Key West the evening we sang at the Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square. I remember, as we walked to our first gig as Street Performers, looking down at the well-worn and weathered brick streets in Old Towne…thinking how I’d love to walk barefoot on them. The pirates who’d come to Key West hundreds of years before had walked those same streets. I was fascinated by the idea of walking in their same steps. Hopeless romantic…I am!
One thing I know for sure — I will always treasure our time in The Florida Keys and the nice people we met, the friendships we formed. There is a special place in my heart reserved just for Key West and Sugarloaf Key. To me….they will always feel like home. I pray someday…soon, the wind will catch our sails and we will find ourselves there once again. A girl can dream…a girl can pray.
So…we’d set-up to play the Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square there in Key West. We’d never done the ‘street performer’ gig before, so we had no idea what to expect. After being directed into a nice spot near the water’s edge, we began belting out a few of our tunes; not sure if anyone was listening at the time.
I have to admit, without any sort of amplifier or speakers, it was all I could do not to strain a vocal chord to two. But we managed to get through it all just fine. In fact, Nico did wonderfully and seemed to fit right into that sort of scene. With my soft voice, I can’t be so sure anyone ever even heard me, much less have an opinion.
But there was one man who did seem to have something to say, and a few folks stood close by listening as best they could while we sang the sun into the ocean. The nice man told us “You have great spirit.” We took it as a compliment since he and his wife had been listening to our show for quite some time. Click on link below to see hightlights from our performance on Mallory Square.
All in all, we had a great time–it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world! And the next time we head back down to Key West and the Florida Keys, I look forward to going back out to Mallory Spuare and singing my heart out…once again. After all, I have nothing to fear…and nothing to lose.
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.
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!
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.
Day 20–Mother’s Day: Flagler Beach to Sebastian Inlet SP
Mother’s Day today! Woke up around 9:00 or so to a beautiful sunny day on Florida’s East Coast. Lovely ocean waves in the distance; I can barely hear them from our campsite at Flagler Beach’ Gamble Rogers State Rec Area. We really do like it here. The facilities are nice, with clean restrooms right across from us, and a laundry facility as well. I can see the Atlantic Ocean from our temporary front yard. ; )
Nico cooked breakfast, made some coffee and fed Baby too. Flagler is a very inviting place, but I think we’ve decided to press onward. We were up and gone by noon, but in our travels, we’ve discovered that A1A Highway along the Atlantic Coastline, is NOT a friendly road! We were going the speed limit of 55 mph, but cars were still idiotically passing on the wrong side of a skinny two lane road…with no shoulder to pull over if needed. Crazy Drivers! We escaped A1A as quickly as possible, and opted to take Highway 1 on down from Ormond Beach. The SP there was nice, but still not the best we’ve seen.
Stopped near Daytona for drinks/ice/gas, and decided to head for Sabastian Inlet SRA. [Note to Self: Daytona…YUK! No Go There Again!] A little while later, there we were at a nice campsite across from the Gulf side of Florida, watching the sun set over the water. ‘Met a nice couple from Jacksonville–Eddy and Suzanne Shores–camped out next to us at Sebastian Inlet. But we quickly realized that the Park Hosts really ‘STINK’ there!
We travel for up to 6 months out of the year, and more often if we’re lucky. Part-time living/traveling with our little one in Peniki, our Vintage VW Westfalia, is what life is all about for our family. For us…it’s the way to go!
Here’s a little story that was recently published on Green RV Living, about how we roll…and live PT Off the Grid. God Bless and Happy Travels!