Posted by: wheelsandfeet | February 14, 2011

Fun in the Florida Sun!!!

Let me try to help catch up on our status – while Patrick is dealing with a recent credit card fraud issue, getting the van fixing, and just catching up on stuff since we have internet access now…… 

So more than a month late, we have arrived and explored parts of the sunny state of Florida.  Initially we planned on being in the Keys for New Years and paddling the Everglades with Pats friends The Kobak brothers, but one thing led to another and we ended up in Florida at the end of January, starting in St. Augustine (Pat details below).  Then to Cocoa Beach to hang out with Pat’s friend Chris Hamm.  We had an awesome time – Thanks Chris for all your hospitability.  In Cocoa Beach we visited the famous Ron Jon’s Surf shop, on the way out of the store, they asked us if we wanted a free night at the Ron Jon’s resort,

Ron Jon's Resort - Cocoa Beach, FL

all we had to do was listen to a 90 minute time share presentation; so without a place to stay that night, we said – of course!  We got there, checked in, played a game of mini golf, ate at the restaurant, hit the hot tub and pool. The next morning we headed to our 90 minute presentation (ended up being 3 hours), the gal that was trying to sell it to us did a great job, we walked out of there thinking….it is not a bad deal – for someone else.  They allowed us to use the facilities the day of our presentation, so I hit the gym, Pat the pool and hot tub.  Because of tornado warnings (and free entertainment) we stay in Ron Jon’s as long as possible.  We ate at the restaurant, watched a movie or two in the theater, ended up staying until all the fun closed at 11 pm.  Then off to the parking lot to boon dock it for the night.  Thanks Ron Jon’s for two night stay – for free :).  We had plans to head to Orlando to see Disney World, MGM Studios, or any of the famed parks, but……we got to Orlando, looked at the hype and the cost to mingle among the hundreds of happy vacationers and quickly decided – no way are we up for that!  See ya later Mickey may be next time!  Then we kept heading west to Crystal River – place suggested by Hamm. 

There we got the chance to snorkel with the Manatees!  So cool, we got to see hundreds of Manatees just doing their thing, they nibble on ya, they give you kisses, follow you – just neat – they make you feel so small, but they are just sweetest sea creatures.  Check out the video Pat took our snorkel with the Manatees on flicker

Rainbow River near Crystal River, FL

 (link under the Photos tab above) this video shows the number and size of them!  The next day we kayaked the crystal clear waters of Rainbow River – also really neat – good lead – thanks again Hamm.
 
Next stop, Tampa for some Gasparella fun with Pat’s friend Tori….pirates, beer, and beads – oh my!  On our way to Tampa we stopped at the City of Homosassa to witness the Money Island and The Freezer – both with good/weird reviews from people we have met.  After traveling down a couple of unmarked roads and stopping to ask for directions, we found Monkey Island. This place is disturbing. 

I guess quite some time ago a guy bought this island and thought it would be a good idea to place three spider monkeys on it.  The bar that neighbors it – The Monkey Island Bar – lets you view them and contemplate what you’re looking at over a beer or two – we skipped the beer and contemplation part cause we quickly came to the conclusion it was disturbing and headed out to find The Freezer.  Down another fishing village-ish back road, we stopped to ask directions at a fresh fish market.  Along with getting the directions we were looking for, we bought a quarter of a bushel of oysters, a red snapper and salmon fillet for a BQ we were go to that night at Tori’s cousins house. With the directions, we found the Freezer – an old fishing freezer warehouse turned into a restaurant.  As soon as you stepped thought the plastic streamer freezer door – you knew it was a real local place to go.  You could get a beer for a $1.50 and a basket of steamed mussels and shrimp for about $7 each – so good!  But the word on the street is the freezer is operating not up to local code……the restaurant gets fined for a number of violations, then just pays of the fines and keeps operating, The Freezer is to be shut down, but until the city does, this place will be hopp’n with locals- good for people watching 🙂
 
That night we finally made it to Tampa. The BQ at Tori’s cousin’s house was great!  Pat and I learned from the Floridians how to shuck and grill oysters.  No shuckers tools, so a couple of screw drivers helped open those tasty little guys open.

Tori and Us..... GASPARILLA!!!!!

We ate them raw, steamed on the gill and with all sorts of yummy garlic, butter and more.  So good.  And the fresh fish was to die for!  The next day GASPARILLA!!!  Tori showed us the ropes; she made us a morning drink to get us started right, packed a cooler of beer and we headed down to the parade.  It was hot day, but all worth it once the floats with pirates throwing beads got the crowds all fired up!  So many pirates in an eyes view!  What a blast – thanks Tori!!!!
 
Now down to the Keys for some fun in the sun.  We had to dropped Malto off at the kennel for this one – dogs are not real welcome in the Keys – Malto gets to hang out at The Dog Motel with a number of his furry friends.  First stop – Key Largo.  We made our home at the Key Largo Kampground – nice place. From the campground we kayaked the mangroves,

Key Largo, FL

then the next day; with our campground neighbors, we attempted to scuba dive.  We had three tank dives and were only able to complete one of them, due to the waves, the wrong weights, and the chill in the air made all of us cut out early.  The first dive was about an hour at the Molasses Reef, what we saw was beautiful, but the surf shifted us around, the lack of weight brought us to the top and the shallow waters made our dive,

Key Largo, FL - The African Queen

we will say, uncomfortable.  I was sea sick before I got in the water and remained  until I got out.  Disappointing but we learned a lot.  After the dive, we grabbed a bit of lunch and checked out The African Queen.  Then we just bummed around Key Largo and soaked up the sun for a couple days.
 
What a life…. now off to Key West.  We stayed at Leo’s campground, about 4.5 miles north of the heart to Key West.  Our camp site was right long the mangroves so we could launch our kayaks from our campsite to explore the Mangroves.  These were real mangroves, tight and smelly.  This was an interesting paddle, we were lucky on other couples used the small mangrove “water way” earlier that day so we did not need to sweep it of its cobwebs.  This mangrove led us to a busy channel with power boats and more mangroves.  It was a good, interesting paddle. Just about daily we rode our bikes the 4.5 miles to check out the heart of Key West – Key West was Key West for us – we had a good time.  We checked out the southernmost point of the U.S. – got the must have picture.  Walked down Duval Street, had a number of good meals, checked out the sunset festival to see the sword swallower, the guy on a unicycle juggling torches and knives – just sick!  Also scored a couple tickets to a reggae festival, very fun.  We were also able to successful completed two reef dives, just awesome!

Key Largo - Scuba

We had a great time in the Key West area – spendy but fun.  We were minutes from leaving the campground and discovered that the van had bit of an issue, the bushing or something with the vans shifter needed work.  So Pat and the friendly campground neighbors temporary fixed it so we could make it to Miami to have it fixed.  In order to have it fixed, we needed to have a place to store all or stuff, so we rented a storage unit in Key Largo.  Then popped into Miami to have the VW guy look at the van and order the necessary parts.  The VW dude told us to drop the van off the next Monday. So a perfect time for us to explore the Everglades. 

The first night in the Everglades we stayed at the campground (free of charge). The next morning got up early to get our back country permit for camping and headed out to the Roberts River Chickee (see pictures if you are wondering what a chickee is 🙂 – about 14 miles from Flamingo (one of the boat lunches). 

Chickee

The wind was pretty much to our back but it was windy enough to make the open waters challenging – the comfort of the chickee was great!  The next morning we traveled to our next stop – the Hells Bay Chickee – this spot was great, we were awoken by flocks of American Coots traveling up and down the bay – these little guys actually run on top of the water – so funny to watch.  When you get 50 to 100 of them together it sounds like a gunshot when they take off – spectacular. A larger splash got us out of the tent to find 4-6 dolphins swimming nearby in the shallow water – yet again – spectacular.  As we contemplated how gentle these waters felt, we spotted a gator swimming off the next key – he was meandering around in the waters, but birds were swimming within a foot of him without a care in the world.   The colder water and air (defiantly not cold) must have kept the gators on land and out of our sight – so bitter sweet. We only saw 4 gators the entire 3 day trek.  But got to see number of shore bird – herons, sandpipers, cormorants, egrets and more.

After a fine morning at the hells bay chickee, we paddled back to Flamingo.  The winds treated us pretty good as we traveled through the water ways of the mangroves and open water back to our base.  And by the way, something we learned is that the Everglades Nation Park System accessible to humans is largely consists mainly of mangroves and open water, not the grassy swampy areas that is thought of, will at least I use to think of.  Once we made it back to Flamingo, we rested that night (free of charge again) at the campground – love the euro van. The next morning it was raining and windy – up to gusts of 20 mph – so we hung out in the van while the rain slowed and contemplated braving our next plan paddle along the coast of the everglades in Florida bay.  Once it hit 11:30 am we knew that we need to get paddling because we would not feel complete if we left without doing it.  Re-packed the kayaks, grabbed some food and started out into the bay.  The Florida bay is only 1 to 5 feet along the shore which makes it tricky.  The winds gave us a good 10 mile paddle, but totally worth it.  We arrived at East Cape Beach Campsite

East Cape

 in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset, have a fire on the beach, and spot a couple dolphins feeding within 20 feet from shore.  After a decent night sleep we packed everything up and headed back to Flamingo.  The paddle back was not too bad considering there was a small boat warning out due to high winds. 

With our weary, but strong bodies we packed the van up we headed back to Key Largo with plans to store our kayaking gear in our rented storage unit, camp at the Key Largo Kampground for the night, to get up early to get the van to Miami to get fixed. Now we are waiting at a Star Bucks to in Florida City for the word if the van parts arrived at the shop – three calls later – no word yet.  We may be in Miami a little longer then we planned, but fortunately, Patrick knows some great folks here (believe it or not 🙂 so we have some fun to be had other than just waiting. 

Alright, back to trying to find a flight back to MN to get my driver licenses renewed by mid March, can’t believe I forgot to do that………….. Hope all is well on your end, whoever may be reading this!

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Responses

  1. Sounds like the adventure of a lifetime. Keep us informed and have safe travels to NM!


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