Wednesday, November 23, 2016

As south as we can get.

Eventually we caught up, made promises for next year, emptied the cooler, had one last meal together at a nice steak house and departed on our next adventure.

Destination? The Keys.

We have been in the Keys before in the past (The accepted slang for the Florida Keys, a chain of islands leading to Key West the Southern most point of the USA).
Barbara outside Disney World 40 years ago

Me looking cool on Daytona Beach back then
The DISTANT past! Last time we were here was almost 40 years ago in November 1977. I had been working in Brazil for 6 months on a bachelor status contract and Barbara had been patiently setting up the house we bought before I promptly vanished from the scene.

There aren't many things in my life that I'd change, but that 6 months away from Barbara would be one of them.

But enough of regrets. Barbara and I met up in Miami and rented a camper van for a couple of weeks. We toured Florida and enjoyed our first visit to the USA and our first time in a motorized RV.

The Pontiac Trans Van we rented.
After filling the thing with mosquitoes in the Everglades we came down to the Keys and explored. It was a little less developed than it is now! Still we enjoyed the Mel Fischer Treasure Museum when it was still funding Mel's search for the Atocha treasure ( and we rode the Conch Train around Key West with stops at the Hemingway House and various bars and restaurants.
You have to ride the Conch Train in Key West.
It's funny but we can't remember how we went about finding places to camp back then. I suppose we just saw a sign for a campground and pulled in. It was November so it wasn't quite the peak of “Snowbird” season which starts December in Florida.
Another compulsory stop
The Pontiac TransVan we had didn't have any hookups so we didn't need much. I don't even think it had a power hookup as the house battery kept dying after a day or so. Good job we didn't know any better or we might not have been so happy! As it was it became our second honeymoon and after this moment we were more determined than ever not to be separated for so long again.

This of course was all BC – BEFORE CHILDREN! We'd been married for 6 years by this point and Sally didn't arrive for another 5 years, Fred for 8.

And now we're back, we're staying at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier at the top end of the Keys for 5 days, followed by another 5 in Key West. That should give us lots of time to explore the whole chain.

Being an Elks Lodge we were instantly welcomed and made to feel at home. Dinner would be provided Thursday and Friday, there was a Rummage Sale Saturday and they had a waterfront Tiki Hut under the palm trees and a fishing pier.

A local guy, (also a Brian) took me under his wing down at the fishing pier and introduced me to the intricacies of saltwater fishing there. Soon we had enough Mangrove Snappers for supper and I caught a Needle Fish and Puffer Fish too for a little variety (but put them back). There are Barracuda here too which bite clean thru regular fishing line.
A Mangrove Snapper

Sunset from the Elks Lodge beach.
Barbara seemed to be either :-

A. In a very good mood or
B. Sick of the sight of me!

Anyway she suggested I just hang out at the pier all day and fish while she did some baking and cleaning. I knew I married her for some good reason! We both enjoyed ourselves and when I got back to the rig it smelled so good from all the baking she'd done.
We finished the day with the Lodge's Meatloaf Dinner and their monthly special drink, Parrot Bay Coconut punch.

Well camouflaged Iguana on Marathon Key
Over the next couple of days we explored the Upper Keys and I fished. We ended up with quite a lot of Snappers, so Barbara decided a fish pie was in order. I wish I'd taken pictures of it but it was too delicious and a picture of an empty plate wouldn't do it justice!
Day on the beach at Sombrero Beach Marathon Key
We said farewell to our new friends at the Lodge and moved on the Key West at the southern tip of Florida. “Closer to Havana than it is to Miami” is the local claim. Unfortunately in the 40 years since we were last here, this pleasant little town has turned into a nightmare of people, traffic and pay to park areas.

Famous now for Duval Street where anything apparently goes, we found the atmosphere overwhelming and the sense of being tourists ready to be ripped off by high prices and poor quality not to our taste at all.

The campground we picked based on being the lowest price in Key West turned out to be small, dirty, noisy and EXPENSIVE! At $75 a night plus tax it is the highest price we've ever paid for camping. At the same time it IS the cheapest in Key West with the rest of them being over $125 a night, about the same as the cheapest motels in the area.
That's us jammed up against the Laundry/Bathrooms in Leo's

The picturesque view from Leo's front door.
So a lesson learned for us, things change over the years and not always for the better. But still we came and experienced the area.

Key West Harbor
A sunset dinner cruise was offered and we sailed out on a catamaran with a dinner and free open bar. The sunset was spectacular with sailboats passing by and a Caribbean singer adding to the atmosphere. We met a couple from Finland Ria and ?? who were really enjoying the trip. Several well spent hours then a cab home.
Ria (r) and ?(l) from Finland.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ocean Isle, Myrtle Beach and Orlando

One last breakfast with the Elks then we set off South again. Now we're in Myrtle Beach SC to meet Barbara's cousin Helen and our old Maryland friend Barry.

Barry and Barbara spending time.
Barry is a good friend from our motorcycling days back in Maryland. We had a great group of friends in Maryland Chapter J of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) and we were continually going out for ice cream, breakfast or dinner somewhere. Barry has been a wonderful source of jokes and good humor. About the time we moved to California, Barry moved to Myrtle Beach SC.
Drunken Jacks for lunch
After touring his house and admiring his new motorcycle he kindly got us in his minivan and showed us the sights around Myrtle Beach. We bought him lunch at Drunken Jacks as a thank you then continued our tour. The next evening he showed us the local Brewery and introduced us to some of his local Gold Wing friends Frankie and Mike. We had a great time. Thanks Barry!
Lesser known spots in South Carolina
Barbara's cousin Helen lives in North Carolina just ½ an hour North of Myrtle Beach. She had been looking after her grandson Jimmy for a couple of days but when she got home we went up to visit. She lives in a beautiful house on a lake and a golf course and we stayed the night and caught up on family news from UK, US and Canada. Thanks Helen!
Barbara and Helen relax on the patio
We had just got back when friends from 30 years ago contacted us on Face Book and said they were in Florida so how about getting together. What an opportunity to catch up on more news! Jacky and Sharon live in UK but have a place near Orlando too. They thought they would be able to fit our RV in their drive so we changed some plans and decided to make it happen.

On and on! We next found out that more friends from UK were in Florida. Ron and Sue were in Orlando doing Disney World but unfortunately they leave the day we arrive so we probably won't get to see them. Maybe next year when we go to Europe?

There are always choices when you pick routes. Going to Florida the most obvious is I95, but that's just not for us. A much nicer (if slower) alternative is Rt17 which parallels 95 and is for the most part 4 lanes. The occasional town and stoplight don't bother us, and I've learned to keep fairly close to the posted speed limit on these rural roads where the town's Police department pay their salaries with speeding tickets.

The rig has been in dire need of a wash after 6 months without one, and the car is pretty crusty too. Truck washes are the place to wash RV's also. We saw one along the way but after ½ hour of waiting we discovered that they were using the same brushes to scrub all the trucks and the same bucket of soapy water too! They didn't even empty the bucket between vehicles either. So that and the fact they wanted about $75 to wash and wax just the rig had us leaving unwashed.
Blue Beacon truck wash, we're next!
We've used Blue Beacon truck washes several times around the country and been very satisfied with their service. Looking on their app we found there was one 60 miles further south and right on Rt 17! Off we went and got both the car and rig washed and waxed for $63 using pressure washers and an overhead roof sprayer. The wash bay was next to Love's so we filled up, had a bathroom break and then made sandwiches for lunch on the road. Doing everything in one stop is an old long distance driving trick that keeps average speeds up by eliminating several individual stops.

To make up some lost time and avoid traffic in Savannah and Jacksonville we got on I95 (Alright we caved in!). As soon as we could we got on to US1 thru St Augustine to our stop for a couple of night at the Compass RV Park about 4 miles from St Augustine. A nice quiet place that the owners are obviously spending a lot of money on but $60 a night after our Good Sam discount was too rich to stay long.
St Augustine Beach
Near Kissimee we found a Thousand Trails park we could stay at for FREE! Lots of amenities including no license fishing and they are spending like crazy on new water and electrical supplies in the park. Better yet, when we looked up Jacky and Sharon's address it was only 4 miles from them and we were soon catching up on 30 years of news.
Jackie and Sharon
We first met Jacky and Sharon in Holland were Jacky and I worked in the same office designing ships for the Dutch Navy. Jackie was an apprentice in a shipyard in Scotland then hit the trail, freelancing around the globe like myself. In Baltimore Jackie and Sharon were expecting their first child and we were all eating at Bo Brookes Crab House when she went into labor! We share many friends and acquaintances and we've worked in the same places though not always at the same time.
Nice night at the RV Park
We had lots of catching up to do. To help they invited us too stay at their place near Orlando which they rent out to vacationing guests, ( It's a really nice place with a pool, hot tub, multiple bedrooms and a screened in back yard to keep the mosquitoes away. After a few libations to lubricate our vocal cords we were deep into reminiscences.

We reminisced until 1am!
Hanging out at their pool
Next day we spent touring the sights, bars and restaurants nearby, then they came over to our place and we barbecued and reminisced some more. Eventually we caught up, made promises for next year, emptied the cooler, had one last meal together at a nice steak house and departed on our next adventure.