The Sunshine State, Part 1: Everglades and Beaches

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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What I did
Flea Markets
Cocoa Beach
South Beach, Miami
Big Cypress National Preserve
Key West
Key Largo
Key Biscayne
Everglades National Park
Robert Is Here Fruit Stand
Brevard Zoo

Flag of United States  , Florida
Monday, November 5, 2012

When we entered Florida, the plan was to hurry down to the Everglades, experience that, and then start jetting west again. weeks later (as of this writing), we are still in Florida, and are just now starting to move west. So there is a LOT to tell you about. The Florida blog will, therefore, be broken into multiple parts. Not sure how many parts there will be, but here is part one.

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 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. We asked to reserve three nights, and he predicted that we would stay much longer. We laughed about it, but he turned out to be right. We ended up staying for three weeks! Homestead isn't much of a town to fall in love with, but the location is great. It's parked right in the middle of a triangle between the Everglades, the Florida Keys, and Miami. It was a perfect place to use as a home base to see everything in the area. The only real downside was that it was noisy! It seemed like car alarms and sirens were a constant companion here.

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 the ride, we stopped in the cafe and ate some gator bites, frog legs, and catfish (I can now cross 'eating gator' off my bucket list!). We also got to see a little gator show, where some trained gators did some tricks and were rewarded with fish, and at the end, we all got to hold Snappy, the baby gator. for a donation, of course. It didn't feel at all like I was warm and soft underneath. Make a good wallet, I guess.

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". There was a large group from Montreal that apparently comes down every winter and meets up. After they all landed, we started to feel like a minority, between them and the Hispanic full-time residents of the park. I'll say this about the Canucks: they like to sun themselves with very little clothing (old men wearing speedos with bellies sticking out!), they love to play volleyball and shuffleboard, they chain smoke, and they are very friendly individually but tend to be snobbish/rude in groups. One thing I'll say in their favor is that they graciously invited us to a catered and free Thanksgiving dinner. And though the meal consisted of dry turkey, powdered potatoes, and contained no stuffing, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie (?), it was still a treat, since we had no other plans (and it was FREE).

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! One of the guys, Dave, needed help writing up a resume and submitting it online (he was a little computer phobic). I helped him out, and a few days later, he helped me finish repairing that broken trailer leg with his welder. His girlfriend Rosemary, and their friend Rannia, spent a lot of time with Kat and especially Wren, teaching her how to crochet and knit. I think they sort of adopted her as an honorary grandchild, since they were missing their own. At the end of our stay, all families got together and had a big BBQ. What a great time. It was fun to meet some people, especially with the holiday season starting, and all of us thinking about the friends/family we left behind to make this journey.

-- 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 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. The only downside to the day was that I had that Bertie Higgins song 'Key Largo' running through my head all day long.

-- 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!

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