Saturday, December 17, 2011

1,153 miles later...

December 17, 2011—We spent the last two days of our vacation at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, Fla., where we stayed in July. It’s really a nice state park—it even has sewer hookups.

This state park was home to the Army Signal Corps during WWII. It was turned over to the state at the end of the war, and opened as a park in 1950. Most people visit it to engage in hiking, fishing, canoeing, or boating on the Loxahatchee River. Jim and I did some fresh-water  fishing off the boat dock in the park, but we didn’t have any luck. It was restful, however, and I really want to go fishing more often.

We also took an auto tour of the park, guided by an audio CD. Interesting. This is the second time we've done this (Andersonville was the first); it's a nice way to learn about the sites.

One of the sites is Hobe Mountain. Yes, there is a "mountain" in Florida! The mountain rises to the elevation of 86 feet above sea level! It is actually the highest place south of Lake Okeechobee. The climb wasn't too bad; the park has a plank sidewalk and graduated steps to lead you up to the observation tower. From there it is possible to see for miles.
Jim, standing in the observation tower at the highest point south of Lake Okeechobee. 


I thought perhaps I would finally get to do some snorkeling at the Palm Beach County park where I used to go, several years ago. However, the weather still did not cooperate. It was less windy in Hobe Sound than in the Keys, but the seas were much too choppy. So, the one thing I really wanted to do on vacation, I couldn’t do.

Last night we had an early Christmas with Bo, Georgina, and Bowen. I can’t believe how much Bowen has grown! He’ll be 5 in February. It was good to see the family.
Bo, Bowen, Georgina, and Jim


We left about 10:30 this morning for the long drive home. When we stopped for lunch at a rest area, I discovered that we lost the door covering the heater. Somehow it had come unlatched and blew off. We also discovered, when Jim took the bikes down, that my bike has a damaged frame as well as a bent front wheel. I suspect both bikes will have to be replaced, along with the bus’s ladder. I hope Jim gets over his “thing” about palm trees.

The cats traveled better this time. Xena actually spent most of the time out of her hiding place. Charlie came out briefly while we were traveling, and at the last stop, he did not remain in hiding for very long before venturing out.

When we got home, however, Charlie stubbornly remained in the back of the kitchen cabinet. Somehow I managed to get hold of him and dragged him out. He was quite happy to be home.

We traveled 1,153 miles on this trip. It was a good vacation. I’d say the highlights were at Crystal River (it had the best campground and we saw the mermaids), followed by catching a fair-sized fish, and seeing Bo, Georgina, and Bowen. The Keys? Forget them. They don’t have any appeal to me. But now I can say that I’ve been to the southern-most part of the United States.

Until next time—which will be in January,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Uh, oh

December 15, 2011—It wouldn’t be a camping trip without a bit of trouble.

Actually, except for that little incident with the palm tree and bicycles (see an earlier blog), we’ve had very little trouble since our first real trip back in July. That’s when we hitched up the “toad” (our car) at the place where we store it and then literally dragged it about five miles before realizing that the wheels were locked up. We discovered the problem when a good Samaritan told us we had lost a wheel cover. We actually lost both front wheel covers. Made from plastic, they had melted off the wheels from the friction caused by the dragging. Since that experience, whenever we hitch up the car, I watch to make sure the wheels turn freely. (Incidentally, that learning experience was a bit costly: In addition to buying new tires, we also had to get new wheel bearings, and have some work done on the brakes. The cost? More than $800.)

The other bit of trouble we had encountered in August was a cracked windshield. Fortunately, it was covered 100% by our insurance.

Today’s troubles didn’t cost us anything, but they might have. We left the Florida Keys this morning and drove up to Hobe Sound, just north of West Palm Beach, where we had reservations at Jonathan Dickinson State Park (very nice). Jim pulled the bus in front of our campsite and unhitched the car. As he was doing that, I prepared the car for driving.

Our car, a 2009 HHR, which looks like a miniature station wagon, requires going through a simple procedure to tow it: You turn the key to ACC, put the gear shift in neutral, and pull a specific fuse. Doing this disengages power. To prepare the car for driving, you put the fuse back in, put it in park, and then start it up. Easy. Except this time, when I put the fuse back in, we had no power. For some reason, the battery had discharged. (Taking out the fuse is supposed to alleviate this, and always has—until today). I managed to put the car into park, but could not start it.

Unfortunately, without power, we could not take the car out of park. That meant we could not push it out of the way. It was in front of our camping space, and it was blocking the road.

We hoped by jumping the battery the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, the battery is in the back of the cargo area (not under the hood, as in most cars). And the jumper cables were also in the stowage area in the cargo area—under two sets of golf clubs and miscellaneous other things. When Jim tried to open the “way-back” door, it wouldn’t open. All the other doors were unlocked, but that one wasn’t. And there is no lock on it; it unlocks electronically. What dodo engineer designed that?

I looked in the auto manual for help. We discovered that to jump-start an HHR, you don’t attach the jumpers to the battery, which is essentially inaccessible. The engineers put a special jump station under the hood. That solved one problem, but we still had to unpack the cargo area to get to the jumpers—an awkward process since we had to do this through the side doors.

I’m happy to say that jumping the battery solved the problem. Everything in the car works again.

That wasn’t the end to our troubles, however. We parked the bus. After Jim got the sewer hose, water, and electricity connected, he proceeded to lower the jacks to level the bus. More trouble. The blocks under the left rear jack were not centered under the jack. As the jack came down, it tilted, and the jack itself went askew. When we pulled the jacks up, the jack’s plate fell off. And then the jacks would not go up or down.
I’m very proud of my husband; he can fix anything. He showed off his skills again. It took a while, but he managed to fix the jack. The bus is level, and everything works just fine.

With all that done, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner out. I’d say we deserved it.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fish tales

December 14, 2011—The weather is not cooperating.

When you think “Florida Keys,” you automatically think sunshine, warm temperatures, and calm turquoise waters. Not necessarily so.

We’ve had sunshine (mostly), but the temperature has only been in the upper 70s. I know that sounds warm to anyone living in the now-cold northern climes, but to us who live in Florida (albeit northeastern Florida), the 70s, with a strong north wind, are anything less than warm. And the calm turquoise waters? The sea is beautiful, as you can see from the picture taken from our campsite, but the beach is strewn with seaweed, because the wind is coming out of the north. And it is very rough—much too rough to try to swim, even if you could get to the water through the seaweed trash.


So, my No. 1 objective—to snorkel—has not been achieved, and will not be today, either. Yesterday, the winds gusted up to 30 mph; I don’t think they will be any calmer today.

Since we could not snorkel, we decided to fish.

Our RV park is located just over 7 Mile Bridge. The Keys were first connected by a highway built by the railroad mogul Henry Flagler. Later a road was built. It has since been rebuilt, but parts of the old highway (and even part of the railroad bridge) remain. They are used as fishing bridges. Adjacent to either side of our RV park are two of these fishing bridges.

The day before yesterday, we decided to try our hand at fishing. We geared up, drove to the fishing bridge, and put our line in the water, baited with squid. A few hundred feet down from us were a group of Cubans. They were pulling fish out of the water right and left! These were not little fish; they were about two feet long and weighed several pounds.

We weren’t getting any bites, so I moved down closer to the Cubans. One of the men, who apparently spoke no English, motioned to give him my line. He pulled the squid off my hooks, rebaited them with live shrimp, and then I tossed the line back into the water.

Within five minutes I had a fish! It weighed about three pounds. We fed a lot of fish that day, and Jim caught a couple of little ones he had to throw back, but at least we had one.

Sort of.

We didn’t know what kind of fish it was. (Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera with us to take a picture of that catch.) Later, through a Web search, we decided it belong to the jack family.

According to research, jacks are a love/hate catch. They put up a good fight, but many people don’t like to eat them, claiming they are trash fish. Others, however, say that they are good to eat, provided you prepare them correctly. That includes soaking them in buttermilk for four to eight hours.

We decided to try it. I found a recipe that sounded OK. We didn’t have any buttermilk, nor (at that time) did we have any lemon juice to make a substitute buttermilk. We did have mojo marinade, which has lemon and lime juices in it, so we improved.


Last night I prepared the fish. And it was good!

Yesterday, too, we went fishing again. Although I hauled in a small fish (in the picture), we did nothing more than make sure a lot of fish went to bed last night with a full tummy. We’ll see if we can do better today.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Been there, done that

December 10, 2011—I’ve lived in Florida since April 1998. The first year I moved here, I visited the Everglades, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I went snorkeling several times while I lived in Palm Beach County. I’ve visited several state parks. And I’ve done the Disney/Universal “thing.”

7-mile bridge to the Key West
Now I can add Key West to my list of “been there, done that.” That’s how I feel about the town. As we were walking down one of the main streets toward the waterfront square, Jim described it best, “Key West is the New Orleans of Florida.”

Tourists were everywhere, wall to wall. And so were the tourist traps—t-shirt shops, bars, restaurants, and more bars. On the wharf street entertainers begged people to watch their antics—juggling, unicycling, guitar playing—(and pay afterwards, I’m sure). It’s kind of fun to people watch, but I’m not into the Key West scene.

Actually I knew very little about Key West. I knew Ernest Hemingway spent time there, and his house has a lot of resident cats (44 to be exact), about half of which have six toes. I knew that on Halloween Key West has a big gay parade. And I knew that Key West is the farthest south you can go and remain in the United States.

A 6-toed cat at the Hemingway House
We toured the Hemingway House and saw the cats, as well as the office where Hemingway wrote much of his work. That was interesting. The rest of the town is ho-hum.
Hemingway House
Hemingway's Key West study


Mallory Square, waterfront, in the Keys. A ship was in port. So was Jim.
I think the rest of our time here in the Keys will be restful and good, assuming the weather cooperates. We arrived here about noon today, after making a short stop at John Pennecamp State Park, which boasts the nation’s first (and only?) underwater coral reef park, on our way down to the RV resort.

The coral reef is about six miles offshore. To get to it and enjoy it, you can take a glass-bottom boat ride, or you can sign up for snorkeling or scuba diving. I wanted to go on the glass-bottom boat excursion, but we missed the boat by a half hour, and the next one didn’t leave for two hours. Also, the seas were very rough, so we passed on the boat ride. Perhaps on the way back. Or not.

The RV resort is very big and very nice. It is directly on the water and adjacent to a fishing bridge. Our spot faces north to the bay, which is only a few hundred yards away. Tomorrow I intend to see if there are any fish in the sea. I hope the water will be warm. I think we may also try our hands at fishing, something we have been promising ourselves for a long time. We just haven’t gotten around to doing it. You know, it is true: Retired people are the busiest ones!

All in all, it was a good day, even though I wouldn’t be tempted to go to Key West again.
Linda at the end of the road...U.S. 1, that is


Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A castle made of coral

December 9, 2011—The Jacksonville PBS TV station has aired a program called “Weird Florida.” In it an old “cracker” (native Floridian, who in this case is an aging hippie), takes off in a convertible accompanied by his faithful dog to see oddities off the beaten track throughout Florida. It’s fun to watch.

One of the episodes showed the Coral Castle in Homestead, just southwest of Miami.

A 5 foot, 100 pound man by the name of Edward Leedskalnin, an immigrant from Latvia, spent 20 years building this castle, from 1920 to 1940. Everything in the castle is honed from native coral, which he himself quarried without the use of mechanized tools. It is amazing.

It is also very odd, to say the least.

Ed built the edifice to honor a love he never had. On the eve of his wedding, his bride-to-be, Agnes, told him she would not marry him. He left Latvia and eventually found his way to south Florida. He began building his castle in Florida City, but when civilization encroached on his privacy, he moved all of his creations—literally tons of them—to 10 acres he purchased in Homestead, 10 miles away.

Interestingly, no one ever saw Ed work on his castle. No one ever saw how he quarried the coral, how he moved it, and how he lifted these pieces, which weigh thousands of pounds. He did most of his work at night, by lantern. He claimed he could move the tons of coral by himself because he understood how to leverage weight. Incidentally, this man only had a fourth-grade education.

The castle has walls, rooms, and furniture. The sculpted the chairs, which are actually very comfortable, to rock. He made beds, tables, and even a bathtub, which he filled from a well he dug in the compound. He would fill the tub in the morning and by the afternoon, the sun would warm the water enough to bathe in. He even built a telescope similar to the ones created by the Incas and Mayas

.

I thought possibly I had seen this castle when I was a child, but when I asked my mother, she did not recall visiting it.. (Incidentally, in an earlier blog, I wrote that I had toured Florida with my family when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My mother told me today that the vacation occurred in 1953, when I was 8 years old.) 

Jim also took a tour of Florida in 1953, but he said he had never been to the Coral Castle. It was on his list of things to do. So, we did it.

Whether Edward Leedskalnin had been eccentric or truly crazy, the tour of his castle was worth the time. No one will ever know for sure how he managed to do the fantastic things he did. Jim has a theory, however: It was aliens.

We’ll never know.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seashells

December 9, 2011—We drove around the Fort Myers area today. Can’t say I was terribly impressed, except for the seashells.
Our intention was to visit the Ford/Edison Winter Homes and then to go shelling on Sanibel Island. We found the estates easily enough, but we weren’t impressed enough with them to spend the asking fee of $20/person. The houses are big, to be sure, but they are not the opulent mansions I thought we would find.

Recently on Wealth TV (a channel recently added to our U-verse lineup), we’ve watched tours of estates of the rich and famous who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sarasota, for instance, boasts the Ringling “castle.” According to what we viewed on the TV program, it is a site to behold, with all the extravagance that wealth could buy. But the winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are humble, compared to Ringling’s (which we will go through when we “hit” the Tampa/Sarasota area, probably in the spring).

The banyan trees were huge, old, and beautiful. And the grounds, overlooking the river, were immaculately groomed. Edison also had a winter laboratory here; genius apparently does not stop working just because he left New Jersey. Neither of us was that interested, though, so we got back into our car and went off looking for Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

We drove the length of Sanibel, then Captiva. We had lunch at a little restaurant in Captiva, then we found beach parking and walked on the white sand.

Because of their location, the two barrier islands are the repository of all types of shells. Jim said that after a storm, the shores are literally covered with them. I picked up a number of pretty shells, none rare, but pretty nevertheless. There was not an overabundance of them, however.

We moved on to another beachfront. After hiking about a half mile, we finally found the shore and no shells! By this time, I was getting tired, so we headed back home.

I think (no, I know) I would prefer this west coast of Florida over the east coast (Palm Beach), because more Midwesterners migrate here, and I am not partial to the New York mentality of those who immigrate to the east coast. However, I don’t find anything particularly attractive about it. If we were to stay in Florida, I would stay put in Jacksonville.
Tomorrow we had farther south. We will probably stay in the Everglades tomorrow night and finally hit the keys on Sunday. I hope it continues to warm up, and that the waters will be clear, calm, and warm when I go snorkeling.
Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mermaids

December 7, 2011—About 60 years ago (maybe a little more), I made my first trip to Florida. At the age of 5 or 6, I don’t remember a lot about that trip; I only have snippets of memories.

I remember, for instance, that we were traveling by car (quite possibly a 1948 Ford), my dad driving. Our entourage consisted of dad, mom, my older sister Judy, me, and my brother John, who must have been less than 2 years old. I distinctly remember that he was sitting in a car seat, wedged between mom and dad. (of course, my memory may be bad; mom might correct me. As a sidenote: It has only been in the last 20 years or so that car seats became high tech and kids were forbidden to ride in the front. Both of my children survived front-seat car seats, without safety belts no less.)

We had driven all the way down to Miami Beach and had swum in the ocean. I remember seeing alligators and buying souvenirs. One of the souvenirs was a coconut shell carved to look like a monkey’s face, and it apparently was my brother’s. I remember this because I asked my mother, “Please give me Johnny’s head.” Mom was startled; she took my request literally for a few moments before she realized I wanted to see the coconut head.

Strange memory.

Another vague memory is visiting Weeki Wachee Springs and seeing the mermaids perform underwater. The mermaid show was “the” entertainment in Florida in those days, long before Mickey Mouse moved to Orlando. (I don’t think he had even taken up residence in California yet.) It was opened in 1947 with a small underwater seating area. After a few years, the seating area, which is 16 feet below the surface of the springs, was enlarged to hold 500 people. I imagine when my family visited the springs back in 1950 or 1951, it was quite crowded—a real tourist attraction.






We went back to Weeki Wachee Springs today. Crowds were not a problem. There were perhaps two dozen people at the mermaid show, and the same number who took the 25-minute boat ride on the Weeki Wachee River, a seven-mile long river of crystal clear water that is 97% pure.

A few years ago, Weeki Wachee went bankrupt, and the state took over the park. Visitors pay a relatively modest fee ($13 for an adult). The fee gives you access to a reptile show (educational), a boat ride, two mermaid shows, and a water park. The water slide did not look to be in commission today, and no one was swimming either. Of course, today was a rather ugly day here. It started out partly cloudy, and reached a high of about 75 degrees around noon. Then a front came in; the temperature dropped; and it started raining by the time we left the park around 2:30 p.m. On a hot summer day, the water would have been appealing, with its cool 72 degrees and its clarity, but not today.

Jim, who is “almost” a native of Florida, since he has lived here for so many years, had never been to Weeki Wachee, so the mermaids were a first for him. We watched their second show (they perform three times a day), but didn’t stay for the third. They were nice to see, but not nice enough to wait an hour with nothing else to do at the park, since we had already been on the boat ride and seen the snakes.

I didn’t swim with the manatees today, nor did we see any on the boat tour, but the day was fun, despite the weather.

Because we had a late breakfast and skipped lunch, we are now going to participate in another of retirement Florida’s traditions—an early bird dinner.

Tomorrow it is on to Fort Meyers/Sanibel Island, where we’ll go shelling and who knows what else?

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Palm trees

December 6, 2011

My husband has a “thing” about palm trees.

A couple of years ago, we traveled down to West Palm Beach, Fla., to attend a holiday party put on a social group with which he has been involved for more than 25 years. At that time, his friend Elaine invited us to stay at her house.

Our car at that time was a crossover Murano. (I miss that car! It was sexy.) Elaine had instructed us to park in her large back yard, which backs up to a canal. We had plenty of room; a hurricane the year before had taken out all of her large trees—all except one very tall palm tree. It was that one lonely tree that Jim hit—quite a feat, considering the size of the yard, that it was broad daylight, and that the Murano was equipped with a backup camera!

Today, we started on our trip to the Florida Keys. Our first stop is in Crystal River, Fla., an area near the Gulf, about mid-way down the west coast. The area is well known for access to manatees during the winter. In fact, it is possible to go on a snorkeling tour and swim with the manatees, something we are considering to do tomorrow.

The RV park management gave us a choice of spots—one on a canal or one more centralized in the park. We decided on the canal.

Jim unhitched the car before traversing the road to the RV site. When we got to it, I parked the car and got out to direct him as he backed up the motor home (also equipped with a backup camera). He has told me to stand on either side of the bus, as long as I was within his eyesight in the side mirrors. I was standing on the right side and directed him to back up. I also was telling him, via hand signals, to turn a bit to the right, and then to stop.

He didn’t stop. He backed into a nice, tall, palm tree.

The damage? Well, this was the first time we had carried our bicycles, which were hanging on a rack on the ladder on the back on Baby. We won’t be riding the bikes, though. Mine looks to be OK, but Jim’s (which was on the inside), has a scrunched front wheel. The ladder is also bent. (Both are most likely fixable.)

Oh, well.

Like I said, Jim has a thing for palm trees. I guess we’ll walk instead of ride.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda