It’s been a while since my last post, and I’ve really missed sharing my experiences and thoughts with you all. This past year has been a learning experience, to say the least: some good…some I could have done without. As you can see, the Peniki Bus has undergone some changes; thanks to my sudden urge to paint flowers on her. She needed some color! She needed some love!
So…one day, I just got creative and started brushing away; first having blotched her all up with spray paint. I discovered then and there– I am not a spray painter. I guess I can’t really call myself a painter of flowers either, but I love the way my newly tiki’d Peniki bus looks. I also painted a very fire-y Sol on the front, bought a new VW badge and painted it aqua blue; the same as the flowers…the same as the interior.
About the interior– I didn’t like the faded wood-look, all mismatched inside. So…I painted it, too. I also sewed some new curtains; which I really love! As for the cab seats’ re-upholstery DIY I shared a few posts back– and nearly two years ago –I still haven’t finished them, due to lack of funds, and a lot of ‘stuff’ going on to distract me. The Peniki has seen much better mechanical days, so we’ve mostly had to focus on repairs under the hatch, just to keep her put-putting around. A new engine is in-the-works, so we can once again hit the open road. It’s what I love to do. It’s what I live to do!
Anyways… If you’re reading this– thank you. If you follow our meager adventures– thanks again. And if you choose to leave a comment (or support our dreams and buy one of my two books: Sophi’s Shoe Fetish or Monday…Super-Fun Day, available on Amazon or at http://www.pennyespinoza.com), then I send to you the Merriest of Holiday wishes. May you and your camping family have a very Merry Bus’mas, and a truly Blessed Camping Christmas Holiday!
New String Lights, Curtains, and Interior Paint
Snooz’n and’a Groovin’ in my Nomadic State of Mind Sandals
Sharing the latest reviews of my debut children’s book Monday… Super-Fun Day. On Sale Now at various online book sellers such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Lybrary.com (ebook). Pick up your copy today, and help your young reader learn the days of the week with fun and adventure!
So…we went inland for the Easter holiday, to see family in La Porte. Funny how we’ve blended into the weave of fellow IBC’s (Islanders by Choice) here on our Gulf Coastal Island home. Even still, we long for the water, the rocking back and forth of our sailboat, the clinking of the masts in the wind. We visited with a local marina the day after Easter, after we got back to the island from a second trip to La Porte in two days because Nico left his phone at his Mom’s the day before. I have to admit, that day was a good one: lunching with Nico’s dad (the baby’s only living Grandpa), the lolly-gag-of-a-drive back to the island, the visit to the marina…and the smell of the water…down along the slips.
My wanderlust is really getting to me these days, and I miss our sailboat more and more. If not this year, since we just can’t bring ourselves to sell our old girl, I think next year we’ll certainly be bringing our boat to her new island home. For now, Nico and I are still working on new tunes for Gypsy Vin Rose, and getting ready to start touring…again. Gigs…? Well, that’s another story. If only we could get around the little problem of ‘no sitter’ and no room for another passenger (Grandma) in the Peniki van, we’d be good to go.
For now, I continue to write songs, and work on getting my voice back after a long battle with the crud. Honing my mandolin skills, while continuing to remodel our old Gypsy Caravan and Island home Mermaid Mansion is the way I’ve been spending my days lately. That…and going to the beach almost every day, if we’re not biking to Nixi’s favorite play park, has become our Island way-of-life. I can’t complain, though I sure do miss the smell of our boat, and the cold spray of water splashing up onto the deck as we cut through the waves…sailing into the sunset.
I guess you could say I’m kind of ‘sea sick’, though in an entirely different way. I miss the water, instead of being sick from it. : ) So for now, I’ll just remember-when, and continue to work on decorating Mermaid Mansion. This week…I’m sewing new couch cushions. And I must admit, I am so very proud of the way our old caravan is ‘coming about’! Next up…sewing a custom quilt for Nixi. I have the kewlest Hippie Van fabric I bought from Ebay, which I’ll pair with a flower child sort-of print. I can hardly wait to see how it turns out! I’ll post pics for anyone who wants to see how it all comes together.
For now, I think I’ll get back to my stitch-witchery, and making my vintage trailer a comfortable island home. Cheers to all who read my scribblings, and Blessings to those of you who comment. : ) And…Fair Winds to all you salty Sailors and deep-sea Pirates out there. May you find true happiness…just over the horizon.
‘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!