The Sunshine State, Part 1: Everglades and Beaches
Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
30Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
The Boardwalk RV Park
On the way down to the Everglades, we stayed in Titusville, FL, at a campground called Manatee Hammock, famous for being the closest campground where you could watch shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center. While we were here, we toured the Brevard Zoo (my favorite part was getting to pet some armadillos - they don't feel like you think they would) and soaked up some sun on Cocoa Beach. We would eventually tour Kennedy Space Center, but not until our trip back north...so you will hear about that next time.
When we called to reserve a camping spot at the Board Walk RV Park in Homestead, Florida, the manager was a jovial sort with a heavy Canadian French accent
Our first full day of sightseeing took us right to Everglades National Park. We were expecting swampland and gators, but mostly what we saw was flooded grassland, a few gators, and all kinds of birds, including egrets, herons, and brown pelicans. We never saw any flamingos, and it wasn't until weeks later that we saw a white pelican (they are much larger than the brown ones). So the first full day was a lot of bird watching, some gator spotting, and a lot of driving (a little disappointing, really). The brightest part of this day was that we discovered a local fruit stand called Robert Is Here, pulled in by their ad promising Key Lime milkshakes. These shakes were SO good that we ended up going here five times for shakes during our three week stay. We also got to try some fresh fruits and delicacies, like raw tamarind, and buy a coconut monkey bank
-- A QUICK WORD ABOUT LIZARDS -- They are everywhere in Florida. They crawl up your arm and into your hair. Sometimes they have cockroach friends tagging along. Wren thinks they are cute, but they disturb me. NOW BACK TO THE STORY --
Our next trip out was to Big Cypress National Preserve. This turned out to be what we expected to see in the Everglades...huge cypress trees with their forked trunks, seemingly endless swamps, gators, turtles, birds, and moss growing on everything. We took a hike down a boardwalk trail and really got a good feeling for the terrain and wildlife. We even spotted two baby gators sunning themselves on a log. No mama around, thankfully.
On our next day trip, we decided to try the Everglades again, but we'd do it a little differently this time. We learned that you can't see much of the Everglades without taking an airboat tour. So we went to the Everglades Safari Park, took a half-hour boat tour, saw some gators, and literally flew through and over the flooded grasslands at high velocity. It was amazing. You keep feeling like you are going to run aground, because at times, you can only see grass as you float over it
After all this sightseeing, we took about 7-10 days where we stayed in camp, relaxed, and enjoyed the weather. Remember, this was late November. Coming from Seattle, we were used to cold, grey and wet. Florida is typically, warm, sunny, and...wet. We don't love the humidity, which was worst in the late mornings (I don't think we could stand it in the summer), but the warmth and sun in late Fall/Winter has been a real treat for us Pacific Rim folks.
-- A QUICK WORD ABOUT FERAL CATS: They are everywhere in Florida campgrounds. They are small but deceptively cute. They fight over tourist garbage. They keep the rat population down. Sometimes they let you pet them. We don't know what they want. NOW BACK TO OUR STORY --
The Board Walk RV Park, it turns out, is the winter home for about 200 "Canadian Snowbirds"
We met some great people during our stay, including Rob and Sue, a couple from B.C. who live in their RV full time and have traveled all over the world. We spent a few nights talking with them, drinking wine/beer, and after they heard that we were missing the pumpkin pie, they bought one as a surprise to bring when we had a BBQ with them. Super nice. Rob also helped me partially fix a broken stabilizer leg on our trailer, which was much appreciated.
We also met some pipe fitters/welders that had just been hired by a local nuclear plant and then laid off the same day they started
-- A QUICK WORD ABOUT GATORS AND CROCS: They used to be everywhere in Florida, but are now mostly in the rivers and Everglades areas, and are protected. They are huge and nasty (especially crocs). They don't move much at all (at least you won't notice it until it's too late!) They taste like rubbery, salty chicken. They want your blood. Ok? NOW BACK TO OUR STORY --
We spent a day or two here and there, checking out local flea markets / outdoor markets, where the girls found some beautiful/cheap dresses, Kat found an original newspaper from the day of the Kennedy Assassination, and I found a cool sword and some knockoff (but cool) soccer jerseys
Now back to Florida and sightseeing...
Next, we spent a day driving out to and exploring the Florida Keys. We drove across the famous Seven Mile Bridge (as seen in the movie True Lies), and stopped for some trinket shopping at Shell World in Key Largo, before making it all the way out to the end of the chain, Key West. Key West is a cool little town, where the buildings are all pastel-colored, there are pedestrians everywhere smiling and strolling around, and there are loose chickens running through the streets (it turns out this is a breed called Key West Chickens, and they are protected...you even find them walking through restaurants as you are eating). We grabbed some great Cuban chicken tacos before hitting a local beach, and then we stopped at a couple other places of note: a botanical garden built inside an old Army fort, and an animal rehabilitation center.
On the way back over the Overseas Highway, we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park, chased some tiny sea birds, played in the water, got friendly with a heron, and witnessed the most amazingly golden sunset we'd ever seen (see pics below). We topped off our trip to the Keys with dinner at the Shrimp Shack in Islamorada
-- A QUICK WORD ABOUT VULTURES: They are everywhere in Florida. They are huge. They damage your car. They stare you down and move in packs. They want your blood. NOW BACK TO OUR STORY --
Our next excursion was into Miami, where we spent the day on South Beach (one of those pristine white sand, blue water beaches I had only dreamed about before this). It was just as advertised. Very warm white sand and the bluest, clearest water, simply beautiful. As the sun started going down, we grabbed some pizza in town before heading back to the campground.
Our last sightseeing stop in Southern Florida was to Biscayne National Park. This park is 95% under water, and the only way you can see it is by glass-bottom boat or to snorkel/dive. Alas, the boats were out of order, so we walked along some trails on shore, hoping to see manatees, but no luck. (At the time of writing this, we just now saw some manatees, so you'll hear about it later).
Florida has held us captive with its uniqueness, adventure, and warmth. Stay tuned for part two, where you'll hear about Kennedy Space Center, Universal Studios, and more!