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.
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!