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 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.
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
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.
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!
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…
Met a nice couple from Gainesville, FL this morning who bought a copy of our CD (First one sold!! Yay!!!). Huck told us that he’s a native of New York State and his wife Leah is from Colorado. They had two sons, and they were there at Grayton Beach SP on a family camping trip. Nice people! I hope they keep in touch.
We finally hit the road at around 2 PM (Ugh!!), leaving Grayton Beach headed East on 98. It was a nice drive with no complications. Yay!! ‘Arrived at St. George Island State Park after passing over a three-mile-long bridge and snapping a few pics of the lighthouse there on St. George. While we were stopped at the Ice Machine, an older couple pulled up in a golf cart wanting to snap a pic of us; the Hippies in the VW Van. Too Kewl!
Arriving at SGI SP, we paid for a couple nights and set to work on camp. ‘Met camp-host Rob West from Pennsylvania while buying firewood for our campfire-to-be. Settled in for the night after setting up rig and cooked a bit on the fire. Turned in at a reasonable time…for a change, but didn’t get much sleep (for a good reason, this time). Nico and I made up for lost time. Yayah!
Not bad for a day’s work! We were lovin’ St. George Island so far.
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.
‘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.