Florida and more Florida

Sent on June 4, 2015

Hi all!!

You ready for another big update? No? You wish I’d stop? Well, tough.

So let’s see. A lot has happened since my last email from Kissimmee, Florida. We went to Universal Studios with T, my nephew, who got us in for free. Milo went to the kennel there while Youngest and I were at the park. He was very much not happy about it. Then T wasn’t feeling well, so we ended up cutting the day short after four hours or so, which – honestly – was plenty for us. We rode some rides, we visited the Harry Potter area (though we didn’t get to take the Hogwarts Express train to the other Universal Park, because did I mention it was SO HOT?). We also took a ton of photos.

At the back of the RV park we were in, there was a fenced in marshy pond, and a cormorant, who sat every day overlooking the pond from a cement piling. The first time I saw it, I actually raced back to the RV for my zoom lens, and snuck up all quietly to take photos….and then the next morning it was there again. And that afternoon. And…pretty much every time I walked Milo. That is the perfect analogy for our photography on this entire trip. We start with the first lizard, then we get the good photos of the cool lizards, and then we strive for the perfect shot with the sun just right and the planets aligned just so…and yeah. You get the idea. The residents of the RV park absolutely loved Milo – everyone commented on him and they all wanted to pet him, so he enjoyed his time there. A woman told me, at one stage, that an alligator lived in the pond in the back, and I wondered if she was pulling my leg. But every time I went past it, I now looked for the gator, even as I suspected I was being made a fool of, because what if it was true? I’m a sucker, what can I say. On the last day, DH was home, and we walked past, and there, in all its glory, was an alligator tootling around on the edge of the pond. Cue the “ALLIGATOR! TAKE A PHOTO!” noise…. This, of course, would be the first alligator shot, and it didn’t turn out very well. But no worries, because we have seen more. Lots more.

After Kissimmee, which was the land of the first night geckos, the first alligator, and the first cormorant who stood still for photos…we went on to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. Milo once again was kenneled while we went into the Space Center, and once again I felt terribly guilty, but I listened to DH, who said, “Come on, Sarah, he was once a street dog! He can sit in an air conditioned kennel for a few hours!” The Space Center was very (very) cool, which surprised me. I was expecting this to be DH’s thing, primarily – it’s all that engineering, and space exploration, and rockets and shuttles and so on. But when we watched the video about space exploration, and then the entire back wall lifted to reveal the Atlantis hanging behind it in a huge hallway, I will confess to getting goosebumps. We took a shuttle through the wildlife reserve on Cape Canaveral (where we saw a very large gator from the safety of the bus) to see the Saturn V, but I ended up ducking out of that and heading back to Milo on the very next shuttle, because I’m a wuss, and I couldn’t stop seeing the puppy eyes he gave us when we left him in the kennel. Youngest came with me – the heat was getting to him, and we picked up a VERY HAPPY DOG, and then sat at little picnic type tables out by the parking lot to wait for DH. The lot was full of buses, and there were a lot of tourists milling around, and one strange little man sat down near us and proceeded to pluck hairs out of his chin for a good half an hour, with the aid of some tweezers and a small compact mirror. It just goes to show – even after you leave the park, there is always something entertaining to watch!

We drove down the A1A to Vero Beach, and stayed two nights. The RV park had a lovely pool, and lizards EVERYWHERE. The wireless was only free in the clubhouse, so DH and I spent a lot of time sitting down there and catching up on our laptops – uploading photos, mapping the next leg of the trip, booking sites, etc. Outside of the clubhouse was a lovely area with trees, palms, etc, ringed by old logs, and it was literally teeming with lizards, so I took to calling it lizard city. I spent a good amount of time crouching around brown anole lizards, trying to get a good shot with my zoom lens. We swam a lot, there, as well, but we’ve learned to only swim in the late afternoons and evenings, when the Florida sun is not quite as murderous.

From Vero we moved on to Pompano Beach, to see DH’s friend C, who has a workshop there. He’d kindly offered to let us use power at his shop for the weekend, and then gave us his wife’s Audi to use, which made us feel like normal people for a few days. DH was loving driving an actual car again, after steering this 36 foot thing around for several weeks. Because it was a Friday when we turned up, DH had a few beers with the guys, and then C gave him the key to the shop and we had the place to ourselves all weekend. Which doesn’t sound like much, except that the shop was full of gorgeous cars – Ginetta race cars, Lotuses, a few Porsches, and a Ferrari right in the center that DH said was a $350k car. We also had Milo bathed and shaved at PetSmart, because he was getting way too hot and he was full of sand and such. While he was groomed, we took the opportunity to visit a Wetlands park nearby, where we saw our first baby alligator, who was posing on a rock for us (on the other side of a fence). I took so many photos of herons, egrets, and well…pretty much every bird I could find.

We’re getting smarter about this whole thing. Knowing where to stop and what sorts of places to avoid, setting up the RV in an organized manner each time we dock in, and knowing how to organize the cabinets so they don’t drive us mad with rattling noises all the way down the road. While we are living on a shoestring budget, every now and then we decide we need a nice sit down meal, and Florida has a lot of dog friendly restaurants with outdoor seating and beautiful views, so it works out well. Due to the size of the RV, we use satellite view a lot on the maps to ensure we can manage to park the beast at places, if we need to stop. I’m also really enjoying getting to know people along the way. I think I’ve also become a lot more social than I used to be.

Youngest’s grandma sent him a camera as a gift when we were in Kissimmee, so now my 17 year old son has a better camera than I do! She sent him a Canon Digital Rebel T5i, which came with a zoom lens (Costco deal!) and a camera bag, and he’s been progressing rapidly with photography. The kid who would never leave his Xbox is now taking breaks at least to run around outside on trails and even getting up at sunrise to capture it all.

While in Pompano, we discussed the Florida keys again. Should we go? Would it be worth it? Could we afford the sites, or would they all be too pricy? C advised DH to at least get to Key Largo, so we pencilled it into the evolving plan. May 25th we booked at Riptide RV Resort for a staggering 65 dollars a night, in Key Largo, and we stayed two nights. It was a gorgeous drive, and quite a run down resort, but the people were just lovely, and the sea was warm and inviting, and met an older couple who are still scuba diving in their 80’s. We learned about the jellyfish that look like anemones, and that we had “just missed” a few dolphins and some manatees, as well as a waffle party some others threw for the couple for their anniversary in the little pavilion down by the water. We saw nurse sharks, some breath taking sunsets, and a lot more lizards, but no manatees and no dolphins. We grabbed dinner one night at a restaurant on the water, where Milo was treated to a bowl of water and a shady spot under our table while we ate. DH had Mahi Mahi, Youngest had buffalo shrimp, and we all had key lime pie. While we were waiting for our dessert, the clouds rolled through, and a sudden rainstorm hit. The wait staff rushed to bring down tarps around the side of the patio area, and we grabbed our phones and moved to shelter. But for the most part, I think people just went, “Eh, this is normal.” As it likely is.

Leaving Key Largo took us through a Crocodile reserve, but we saw not a one from the road. We drove through the Everglades, which I was thrilled about, and we stopped at one spot and viewed Alligators from a raised walkway near a river full of them. We tried to stop at the Miccosuckee Indian Village, but no dogs allowed, so we just spent a little time in front, taking photos of a big alligator in a creek under a bridge. We put in one night at Lake San Marino RV park, near Naples, then up to the Little Manatee River State Park.

The Little Manatee River State Park was a proper outdoorsy place, and I found several cardinals, who refused to let me take their photos. Every time I tried, they would fly away. Little jerks. But if I left my camera in the RV and walked, say, to the restrooms, there would be half a dozen cardinals doing acrobatics in the air all around me. Seriously, it became a bit of an obsession. We used the showers there (with our flip flops for feet protection, because ew), and after I took my shower I heard DH from the men’s side yell out, “What the BLEEP!” Apparently a very large huntsman spider was sitting in his shower cubicle on an egg sac. It was so big, and the sac was so big, he thought someone had glued a fake spider up. Until it moved. We were outside the bathrooms talking about it when the ranger happened by, and DH took her in to show it to her. She was also surprised at its size. She brought back reinforcements, and when they killed the spider…the egg sac hatched, and the babies went *everywhere*. Needless to say, I did not use the camp showers again there. The RV one was just fine, thank you, even with my long hair.

From there it was off to Crystal River, where we intended, initially, to take a “Swim with Manatees” tour for 50 dollars a person. I knew we couldn’t afford it, but MANATEES! HELLO! We stayed at the Crystal Isles RV resort, which we swung through Coast to Coast for 20 bucks a night or so. We were warned that it isn’t really manatee season – the winter is better – but “there are a few stragglers out there!” The first night there we met a woman at the pool from Texas, who gave us instructions to kayak to the manatee areas, and I tentatively agreed we should just kayak out. I fell asleep worrying about how muscular that woman’s arms had been, and how her instructions had contained the words, “then just keep going for a really long time, it’ll feel like forever….” The next morning when we went to get the kayaks we discovered they also rented PONTOON BOATS! Milo was not kenneled this time, but he also did not go with us. He sat in the luxury of the air conditioned RV with a kong toy full of peanut butter and broken up dog treats. The pontoon was awesome (and cost much less than the planned swim tour!), and DH grudgingly agreed I’d been right to push for it. He drove while Youngest and I sat on the edge and hung our feet in the water…you know, once we got out of alligator infested side canals. We tooled around for a good couple of hours without seeing a one, and we were getting a bit discouraged. Then…we noticed a “Swim with Manatees” boat…and three people in the water with masks, clustered around something…and holy crap, it was a manatee! It was awesome. I’ve seen them at Sea World and other places, and you just don’t get how amazing they are until you see one in the wild. They’re glorious. I was half tempted to get in and swim closer, but the water was cold near the springs, and you need to stay still to avoid spooking them off (the people on the tour had wetsuits on and floaty noodles under them), so I figured it was best to just enjoy it from the boat. The manatee swam all around us, very curious, and so graceful. You could see a prop scar on its side from a boat – not everyone follows the speed limits in those waters, which pissed me off a bit.

How do I top the manatee story now? What else is there to say?

Well. As the pontoon boat went around the first turn in the first canal from the RV park, I pointed and said, “Hey look! An alligator!” It was such a perfect specimen, maybe 4-5 feet long, on the grassy bank, in a pose with his mouth open, that I was sure it was a statue. Youngest said, “WHERE!” And I said, “Nah, just kidding, its a statue.” Then DH said, “You dumb arse, that’s BREATHING! It’s real!” And Youngest and I scrambled for our cameras….

After bidding a regretful farewell to Crystal River, we moved to the Ochlockonee River State Park for just a night. We did not know that this is the home of the white squirrels. Google it! People have traveled to Ochlockonee just to see them, and we had no idea. The folklore around it is that the couple who ran the place, years ago, brought two white squirrels to the park with them as pets. But they bred, and the people let them out, and they continued to breed with eastern gray squirrels, and next thing you know…the recessive gene causing this rarest of rare coat colors in squirrels took over. They’re not albino – they have dark eyes and little gray marks on their heads, and they are the cutest damn things I’ve ever seen. Ochlockonee had a lot of trails, so we made the best of our time there, hiking to a “Reflection pond” where we spied a freaking WATER MOCCASIN on the shore in some reeds and mud. I held Milo by his leash back on the dirt road while DH finished photographing the snake with my zoom lens. We saw deer like mad, too – just chilling in groups, poking around off the trails in the high grass. Which we avoided, because no – we don’t want more ticks. Even with sticking to the paths we’ve done several tick checks on Milo just in case. The river was lovely, and right when we got to it, the clouds opened up and we had a sudden torrent of rain on our heads. We headed for the youth camp area, because we were hoping there would be shelter, but no such luck. We ended up crouching under some canoes while the worst of it passed, though I braved the rain a few times to photograph deer. After that it was a white squirrel, woodpeckers, a giant grasshopper (an eastern lubber), and a hurried walk back through the rain, which kept slowing down and then picking up again. Youngest and I had cocoa, DH had tea, and we were all soaked through so we all got in pajamas (except for Milo, who INSISTED on staying naked!). Our water resistant camera bags kept the electronics dry at least.

I hated leaving the Ochlockonee place, but leave we did, and now we’re in Avalon Landing RV Park, about 5 miles off of Pensacola. Looks like we’ll be getting some more “Welcome to…” State signs on our next drive, and we haven’t even booked the next park yet. DH has flown away to Virginia for an event, and it’s just Youngest and I at Avalon for the next six days. But don’t worry, folks, because I have already ordered Dominos pizza, and this RV park provides somewhat decent wifi and CABLE TV OMG. Plus, I’ve been getting up at sunrise too much lately – with DH gone we can all sleep in a little bit. Shhh, don’t tell him I said so. It’s a small RV park, with the smallest pool I have ever seen, but we have a view of a conservation easement, with birds galore, and I have my zoom lens at the ready. We’ll have fun here.

Whew. Now you are all up to speed. I should start blogging this. Please write back to me when you can, because I miss you all! Let me know how YOU are for a change! 🙂

Sending you all hugs and well wishes.


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