Five Days in the Newport, RI at an underrated Navy Campground

Nearly five years into full time RVing and on our third tour of the East Coast, we are focusing on, in addition to seeing family and friends, revisiting those regions and parks we really loved, skipping over those that were merely fine or just don’t work for this itinerary, and hopefully finding some new fantastic stops as well.  This can produce mixed results like it did in Savannah, a place we really enjoy, but with their revised visitor center rules we were forced to seek alternative accommodations.   We had great visits with Mom and Tim in Wilmington and with Linda and family in Chesapeake, where we stayed at our third military campground in as many visits.

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I am not sure we are even supposed to be on this road.

After our longer than expected Delaware stop we needed to pick up the pace to stay on our intended schedule, and so we skipped past New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut.  Such skipping was not without drama.  I planned a bit of a westward detour to avoid passing through New York City on I-95 and the egregious toll fee on the Goerge Washington bridge.   Despite my research and intentions our GPS kept trying to reroute us to a cars only parkway, which resulted in several last minute changes, some tight maneuvering in towns west of the Hudson River, and a good amount of stress.  Eventually we found a mostly legal route to the Tappanzee Bridge, and it was all smooth sailing after that.

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But we made it through and it’s all down here from here.

So eight hours into our drive, far longer than our preferred daily run, we finally made it to Carr Point Recreation Area in Portsmouth, managed by the Newport Naval Station across the bay.  A tiny park consisting of only six no frills sites in almost every way: no shower house, no playground, no trees, no concrete pads, no camp host, no wifi, no dump station, no almost anything except power, water, and unobstructed views of the Narraganset Bay a stones throw from every site.  That’s why we come here.

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Driving over the Clairborne Pell Newport Bridge

Unfortunately, this would be a bit of a lazy stop for us: the first day was shot due to the drive, we had a couple of days of foul weather, and started things off with a medical issue.  Rose has been having some upper abdominal pain that we generally attributed to a strain or cartilage inflammation, but it got worse over a couple of months, so we went to the local urgent care.  They were savvy enough to tell us that the type of tests they would need to run would entail going to the hospital, so we might as well just go straight to the ER.  Newport Hospital is not only in our TriCare insurance network, it was also one of the better ER visits either of us had experienced.  We got in quite quickly and with minimal fuss, and received excellent care and attention.  X-Rays and fluid test results revealed mostly normal readings, and the doctor assessed her as having a peptic ulcer.  Medication and diet change has made significant progress already, and here’s to more.

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Rose feeling better for an outing during a break in the rain.

Despite some bad weather we found the time for a few outings, and took advantage of being back on a base to visit the commissary and thrift store.  During a trip to downtown and historic Newport we stumbled across the B&B that we stayed at during a weekend visit from Rose while I was attending school in Newport while we were still dating!  We also did some casual geocaching in the area during breaks in the weather.

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A casual dozen geocaches found during our stay.

We met Roy and Theresa, our neighbors in the campground, and enjoyed a couple of evenings of cocktails and world problem solving conversations.  It turns out both of us are on RVillage, a social networking site specifically for RVers, and we are now keeping up with them as they enjoy a 49 day guided caravan tour of Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.   Since our plans take us to Eastern Canada around the same window, we hope to meet up with them again.

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Front page or our RVillage account.  Other than messages, it allows you to see other Villagers in your campground or those at your future stops. 

Catching up! We are only three weeks behind on the blog now, and will close that gap significantly with a couple of upcoming posts about our wonderful stay in Maine.  image-11

Delaware for longer than anticipated, but who can turn down a pirate festival?

After departing the Norfolk area we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, an experience in and of itself with a hefty $34 toll for our rig, and pulled into the family campground on Dover Air Force Base.  We stopped there last year for a couple of days, and remembered it to be quite decent.  Like almost all AFB campgrounds everything is in excellent condition and reasonably priced: we had 50 amp and full hook ups for $20 a night.  Sure, Dover is not exactly on everyone’s must see list, but it worked as a nice stopover after spending five days with family.

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The Dover AFB campground only has 15 serviced sites.

We planned for a two night stay, but then Rose learned of a Buccaneer Bash at nearby Bowers Beach, basically a pirate festival with a lot of people in full historical costume, and they accepted us as vendors, so we ended up staying a full five nights.  It had been ten weeks since our last sales event, which made it almost like starting over as we had to pull out all our racks and equipment and get everything ready.  Rose went gangbusters building our inventory back up and organizing the racks while I, um, supervised.  OK, I had to pull out all the tables, racks, displays, and canopy and load the car, but Rose did the lion’s share of the prep.

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Setting up on day 1

We were rewarded with an excellent result at this two day event, and had a great time doing it.  It is always fun to walk around and see the other vendors and purchase a few items.  For us this is usually food, and we enjoyed a breakfast sandwiches, fries, and craft beer from a local brewery.  This festival had some live music, plenty of cosplayers, and a “pirate camp” devoted to those in full period attire with 18th century and before style tents, producing goods and items in authentic style or at least authentic appearance) and giving demonstrations and reenactments.  We could have done without the periodic cannon fire, though.  img_20190526_123016

Despite brisk sales, we had to cut the first day short when the wind picked up considerably and threatened not just our racks but the entire canopy despite our tent weights.  Day two had considerably better weather but slower sales; it seemed like a third of the vendors didn’t bother coming for the second day. img_20190525_125144

We also visited the local Moose Lodge, Camden-Wyoming #203, for a drink on our last day in town.  This Moose is likely the second most welcoming (nothing will ever top our Ellsworth home lodge) of the 26 we have visited.  In addition to one of the generous members covering our first round, they gave us a license tag to take to our home lodge, and were generally interested in our travels and glad that we stopped in.  Of interest for the next time we get to Delaware: I asked the handful of members if there was something that they considered a specific regional food.  After some internal discussion, they came back with scrapple.  Yes, scrapple.

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All the Moose’s we have visited

We got to see a bit of drama during our stay in the park.  One of the campers, staying in on of those Class B camper vans, left his spot to run some errands, meaning he took the van since it was his only transportation.  While he was out, another camper in a big Class A with no reservations pulled into his spot, having failed to check with the front office about availability or check the board with posted reservations.  When van guy returned, Class A guy refused to give him back his spot!  The cops came, and after about an hour and apparently several phone calls, Class A guy was forced to move, and nearly kicked out of the entire campground.  Bizarre.  We actually ran into van guy at the festival, he had a sense of humor about it and gave us the full blow by blow.  image-2

Our only regret about our Delaware stop was not being able to see Stan and Marilyn, who were out of town during out stay.  Next time, guys! As for bringing the blog up to date: I was on a real streak for a while with 8 posts in 11 days, only to get lazy with a 9 day lapse.  With this and yesterday’s post, we are getting back on track, though still nearly four weeks behind. 7-sunset

 

Up to the Norfolk area for more family visits and an annual ALS fundraiser walk.

ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is the worstThose afflicted maintain all of their intellectual capability and senses as they observe their own body betraying them, relentlessly shutting down, system by system.  Over the course of a couple of years  they loose the ability to walk, then talk, then eat, then breath.  Along the way their family becomes ever more stressed by the ever increasing demands on them, physically and emotionally, as caretakers.  1-linda-jayson

And yet you see the heroic, and I do not use that world lightly, strength in both those with the disease and those caring for them.  The family that raised the most money and had the biggest representation at this particular Hampton Roads fundraising walk had already lost their loved one to ALS years before, and yet here they were, walking in his memory and in the hope of a cure for those still fighting.  The primary speaker, an elementary school teacher diagnosed before she was 30, spoke with hope, optimism, humor, and fearlessness to kick off the event.  2-eli-and-jude

This is supposed to be about hope and love, but I want to hit at something else, something that perhaps we have all encountered or struggled with: where does the support flow from and to in situations of tragedy?  I am not a Christian.  I don’t hold out hope for an afterlife.  But I have the greatest respect for certain Christian writers who have had significant effect on my perspectives and opinions. 4-rose

Specifically, Fred Clarke, writing at Patheos, nailed something important in his post on this subject: support flows inward.  Imagine a set of concentric circles, like a target, with the actual victim at the center, her immediate family in the first ring, her closest friends and other family in the next ring, etc and outward.  From where and to where does the support flow?  It must flow inward.  To the victim, to her family. No one should expect the victim or her family to provide you, somewhere on the outside, with some sort of support, or even thanks for you support.  It is not about you, it is about them.  5-linda-and-jayson

Enough of that.  We had a great visit; it’s always great to hang out with Linda’s big and growing family.  All three of her boys, Chris, Junior, and Nathaniel, are still in the Norfolk area, though Chris is soon to transfer to Illinois.  Between them Linda now has ten grandchildren, which certainly makes for an interesting house when a group of them come over.  The walk itself was a great and successful event.  Linda’s friends and family came from near and far to show support, and Amy, Chris’ wife, sang the national anthem.  Though we may be a bit biased, she did so a beautiful job.

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House of Chaos

As for the usual: we stayed one night at Twin Lakes RV Resort on the way to Norfolk. It was a perfectly serviceable park on the Passport-America list that provided full hook ups and a pull through site for $30.  We then stayed five nights at the Little Creek Joint Expeditionary Base Campground, one of five military parks in the area.  Of the three at which we have stayed, this is so far our top choice.  6-back-roads-to-va

If you are of a mind to donate to ALS research, treatment, and palliative care, you have many options: Team Linda is one of them. 7-the-walk-crew

On to Wilmington, NC for Mother’s Day

We left Savannah better informed about the RV situation there, and with two solid options for staying there in the future, and headed North towards Wilmington.  In keeping with our drive distance preferences we made a one night stop just before the North Carolina boarder on I-95.  I played with the idea of staying at the RV park associated with the South of the Border theme park, but thought it might be too noisy and filled with rowdy kids hyped up on cotton candy and adrenaline, so we opted for Bass Lake RV Park, a Passport-America participant.  It was ideal for a one nighter: quite, full hook ups, and a pull through site for $20.

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Yes, that is the South of the Border water tower, and it is indeed designed to look like a sombrero.

The next morning we dropped Serenity off at Jack’s RV Storage, the same place we left him last year.  The place is really a granite counter top specialist, but the owner, who lives on site, runs several side business off his property, including boat and RV storage.  It’s cheap, secure, and situated close enough to Wilmington to be convenient for our needs.

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That sub heading under the Welcome to North Carolina sign: “Nations most military friendly state” is an easy claim to make, can you back it up?

Our timing this trip is working out quite well; we arrived in Wilmington the day before Mother’s Day and stayed for five days of work and play with Mom and Tim.    Wilmington took a direct hit from Hurricane Florence in September of last year, and like many other residents, they are still in the process of getting there house back in shape, a process made even more urgent by their desire to put the house on the market.

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Stone crab claws, quiche, fruit, cheese, prosecco, and acacia honey for Mother’s Day brunch.  If you have not had Acacia honey, do yourself a favor and try it. You won’t go back.

So in between outings to farmers markets, restaurants, wine tastings, and music lessons we pitched in where we could, making minor repairs and helping with the removal of a lot of vines overgrowing into the tree line in the back yard.  We made a lot of progress, though they still have some work for actual professionals to do before the place is 100%.

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Wielding various implements of destruction, we made huge inroads into taking down the vast array of vines strangling the trees between Mom and Tim’s house and the neighbor’s.

After discovering the wine tasting event at Sweet and Savory last year, it will be a priority for our visits to Wilmington.  This time around they paired five wines with five modest dishes, and so as not to be too glutinous, the four of us shared two orders of this special.  Almost everything was fantastic, and with the associated wine sale we left full and toting a couple of bottles as well.

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I have honestly never seen this before.  So apparently NC can make the boast with at least this bit of evidence.  To be honest, I am not sure why this should be a thing any more than “First Responders’, Nurses’, or Teachers'” reserved parking.

Perhaps the highlight of our visit was the music lessons Tim provided both of us.  Having purchased Rosemarie’s ukulele we had not made much headway on our own, but under Tim’s guidance we made significant progress!  As much as learning some basic chords and being able to switch between them, it was the assistance in strumming that we both really needed.

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Rex does not wish to play tug-o-war, but is just a bit suspicious about handing me his favorite stuffed toy to throw for fetch.

Next up: Norfolk region of Virginia.  Only 26 days behind on the blog now, catching up!

 

A short stop in Savannah to see old friends. Also: things have changed.

Of the Southern East Coast cities, Savannah is probably our favorite, and we try to put it on the route whenever we pass through Georgia.  We would cruise into town, park the rig at the downtown visitor center for $7 a night, and maybe treat ourselves to a hotel.  Either way we would be within walking distance of the river front area and several points of interest.  We would pay an additional $7 a day for Loki’s parking, but that gave us a pass good at any of the municipal lots in town.

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As you can see, it is love bug season in Florida.

So that was the plan this year as well.  We pulled into the visitor center parking lot in the mid afternoon and headed inside to make payment, only to be told that they no longer allowed any overnight parking, that we needed to be out of the lot by 6 PM, and if we stayed more than an hour we would be charged $20.  The ladies running the lot were sympathetic and helpful, but there was nothing to be done about this new city policy.  We could drive across the bridge and park at the convention center for $30 a night (no services, just dry camping in the parking lot) or we could look elsewhere.

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“Walking distance to the river front” is a bit deceptive: it has some pretty severe stairs.

So with less than an hour, we turned on our MiFi hotspot and urgently pulled up our go to RV campground websites:  Passport America (referrals available,)  All Stays, Campground Reviews, and US Military Campgrounds.  In the end, we backtracked a dozen miles to Lotts Island RV Campground on the Hunter Army Airfield base.  We arrived with no reservation, having been unable to get hold of anyone on the phone, and could find no camp host to ask about staying.

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A nice site with concrete patio and fire circle.

Even after driving to the MWR Outdoor Recreation Office, which was closed, I could find no procedure for after hours check in.  Embracing the “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” nature of the situation, we pulled in and hooked up at an empty site and hoped for the best.  While it’s not exactly walking distance to downtown Savannah, it’s a decent park with spacious sites, plenty of trees, and full hook ups for $25 a night.  Big rigs should be warned that the turn into the entry gate is quite tight.  4-sign

By this point we were starving, and so we headed back into town for an excellent meal and craft beer at a the Crystal Beer Parlor.  Though we came this time purely based on Rose’s Trip Advisor research, it turns out we had visited this place during one of our previous visits with our friends Fred and Donna.  It did not disappoint.  5-sunset

Speaking of Fred and Donna, the next day they drove in from Statesboro to hang out a bit with us.  We had lunch at a Texas Roadhouse before heading downtown to walk the river front tourist area.  It was great to catch up with these friends from our Miami Beach days, though we are sorry we missed Mark this year, and with him the best recovery possible.  img_20190509_153428750

We closed out our stay with another Moose Lodge, I think we are up to about 28 now.  This one was quite welcoming, and it turns out they have RV hook ups, giving us one more option for future Savannah visits now that the visitor center is off the table.  Next up: Wilmington, and we are down to only three weeks behind on the blog.  7-moose

Our plans for the rest of 2019

During our previous four years of full time RVing we alternated between a clockwise circuit of the western half of the country and a counter clockwise tour of the east.  Per this pattern, we were due to head back west this year, which is exactly what we planned right up until March.  We thought we would leave Key West about two weeks into that month and head west, aiming straight for New Mexico and Arizona, followed by Colorado and/or Utah, and then California and Oregon, with the weather determining our schedule and specific route.

All of that, by the way, would have been our March through June plan, in and effort to hit the national parks we missed in previous years, and to revisit the ones we loved.  Then it would be a couple of week on Whidbey Island in Washington, with uncertain plans after that to see Western Canada or Montana and Wyoming before sprinting east to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

But we are not doing any of that this year.  Our Cuba trip came up, which would have delayed our departure from Florida by several weeks as well as put a strain on the budget.  Also, it had been a while since we had been able to visit some of our East Coast friends and family, and so after careful consideration we have chosen to go east again this year.  The shorter distance means less costs, the more leisurely pace counteracts the later than planned start, the timing works perfect for family stops, and we get to revisit some of our favorite places (Coastal Maine, Nova Scotia, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) and explore some new ones.

Specifically, we left Florida in early May, and over the next 3 1/2 weeks worked our way up the East Coast.  We will spend the bulk of June in Maine and about five weeks in Canada, focusing on Nova Scotia, Quebec, and, hopefully, Newfoundland as well.  August and the first week or so of September we expect to be in the U.P. enjoying the Lake Superior shore and attending a bunch of markets to get our finances on track.

We will spend the rest of September and the first half of October leisurely working our way down to Florida, with stops in Iowa and Georgia, and tentative plans for some places in Minnesota and Wisconsin as well.  If you check our Where Are We Now page you can see how far we have gotten (we are in Ellsworth, Maine, just outside of Bar Harbor as of this post.)

Last Stop in Florida: Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

A year ago we visited Cousin Rob, Colleen, and the twins in Gainesville on our way out of Florida.  We stayed one night at O’leno State Park and River Rise: It was fine, but the water and swimming conditions were… not great.  Rob told us we should try to stay at Gilchrist Blue Springs, Florida’s newest state park, and we made a mental note of that for our next swing through the region.  It was a fantastic recommendation; we absolutely loved our stay there in October as we re-entered Florida.

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The main spring.  The jumping platform used to be just to the left of the snorkler.

While Bahia Honda State Park is probably our favorite in the state, and Wekiva Springs is our go to location in Central Florida, Gilchrist has become our favorite freshwater based park in Florida.  Don’t get me wrong, it is quite difficult to secure a weekend stay; even with our “check the website every day multiple times a day for cancellations” method, which usually works, we were unable to get our preferred days.  We settled for three nights, Sunday through Tuesday, with Rob and the twins able to join us on Sunday.

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Our site among the pines and oaks.

The main spring is a beautiful swimming and snorkeling hole, crystal clear, shallow in most spots but with a 20′ deep section for those inclined.  Not thrilled with the crowds, especially on weekends?  Take a stroll a hundred yards down a trail to the secondary spring, which most visitors apparently don’t know about.  There are a few other even smaller springs on the property, but they are less accessible and not at all “swim friendly.”

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The secondary spring.  As you can see, we had it all to ourselves.

The Florida State Park system continues to make changes to this formerly private attraction, with most of them aimed at reducing liability rather than improving things, I am afraid to say.  Rather than repair it, they removed a large section of the boardwalk (it used to go all the way down to where the spring run dumps into the Santa Fe River) and since our last stay the likewise took out the 8′ “jumping” platform over the main boil.  I wish they would focus on making the two mile entry road less bumpy, the campground loop less rutted, and the sites a bit easier to maneuver into rather than taking the fun things out, but c’est la vie, and regardless of these changes the place is still fantastic. 4-water-tower

The nearby small town of High Springs provided us a bit of distraction as well, particularly the one Mexican restaurant in town, El Patio.  We did our traditional Cinco de Mayo meal and margaritas there, and it was quite decent and affordable. 5-cinco

I am going to start putting exactly how many days behind we are on this blog at the end of each post in the hopes that it will motivate me to keep pushing until we catch up.  As of now, counting from when we left Gilchrist until when we arrived at our current location: 4 1/2 weeks.  Closing that gap!  Next up: our plans for the rest of 2019.

 

52 Months Fulltiming, April 2019 Report

With a spate of posts over the last few weeks we have managed to close the gap slightly from this blog being eight weeks behind to now only six. Progress!  I mentioned in our January though March quarterly report that we would return to a monthly reporting format, and so we have. img_3117

The Distance:  976 miles as we being our travels in earnest.  I counted the back and forth trips between Coral Springs and Venice in Loki, but not the flight miles to Cuba.  A bit arbitrarty but there it is.  We are up to 979 miles for the year.  We anticipate that May, June, and July will be big mileage months as well. april-2019-route

The Places:  We finally departed Key West but didn’t get far, just a few miles up the road for a week long stay at Bahia Honda State Park.  Then it was our carefully orchestrated pre-Cuba maneuvers around Florida with one night at Midway Campground in The Everglades and a few days each in Venice and Coral Springs.  Then it was our six day tour of Havana and Vinales, with a couple of days with Xavier and Joy, and Gloria and Jerry again in Coral Springs and Venice.  We started moving north again with a one day stop at Fort Desoto Park, two days with cousin Carlyle and family in Inverness, and finished the month up in Wekva Springs State Park. img_3107

We spent one day in a military campground, twelve in public parks (1 COE, 10 State, 1 County,) twelve in the houses or driveways of family, and five in our Cuban “casa” hotel.  We had full hook ups for one day and partial for 14. img_3459

The Budget:  Way over budget.  26% over, in fact, but we knew April would be a tough month financially due to the Cuba trip costs, repairs on Serenity, and having no markets to speak of at all.  Fortunately we are under budget for the year since we did so well in January and February. img_3298

The Drama and the Improvements:   Not much drama, but we did have a few things fixed while we were in Cuba.  Bill at Mr Mobile RV fixed our TV antenna connections, troubleshot our touchy hydraulics (will need future work, we did not have time to wait for the parts) fixed our windshield wiper connections, added some freon or whatever they use now to our dash A/C system, and a couple of minor things I can’t quite recall at the moment.  Of course the automatic stairs worked perfectly for him the entire time so he could not determine what was causing our problem, but suspects it is the motor controller box going bad.  We struggle with it occasionally, but I can usually make it work by just disconnecting and reconnecting two things and then starting the motor, which seems to reset the system. img_3417

Next up: a final stop in Florida with family before heading out of the state for our 2019 journey.

 

A post-Cuba run around Florida before starting our 2019 travel plans

Upon return from our excellent trip to Cuba Xavier and Joy picked us up at Fort Lauderdale airport and took us home for a two day visit.  Just like our stay with them before Cuba, it was really nice to do so without having to worry about the RV parked in the driveway or how the cat was doing out there all alone (PKM can’t be inside the house due to allergies.  Not the cat’s.  Someone else’s.)

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Apparently we are doing this now.

We crossed back to the Gulf Coast and Venice, Fl, to stay with Gloria and Jerry for a two days as well.  PKM was no worse for the wear, and honestly seemed to really love having a fixed home with a screened in porch from which she could watch the rabbits that come every evening for Gloria’s carrot offerings.  Jerry treated us all to a big steak meal at Serious Prime Steak house, which had outstanding salads but managed to significantly under cook two out of four of the steaks we ordered.  No link for them!

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Long distance phone photo of a deer.  Best I could do to clean it up.

I picked up Serenity from Mr Mobile RV (had a few minor things done while we were in Cuba) and a discussed with the owner, Bill, probable future repairs and upgrades when we return to Florida in the Fall.  After gathering up Rose and the cat back in Venice, we headed north of Tampa for a one night stay at Fort Desoto Park.  This Pinellas County Park has been on our “need to see” list for a couple of years, so we finally were able to fit it in.

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Back on the road!

It is pretty large for a county park, including nearly 300 camp sites, miles of beaches, and the old Spanish Fort.  We only had a single night stay, but it was enough to confirm that we want to come back for a longer stop.  We stayed in Camping Area 2, and though the other two areas are a bit nicer with more water views, they are both no pet zones.  Plus Area 1 is for tents, pop-ups, and camper vans only.

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One stretch of the miles of beaches at For Desoto Park

Our plan had been to get an early start and head to Weeki Wachee Springs to enjoy the shows.  If you are not familiar, this is a kitschy water attraction that became a bit famous back in the day due to the “mermaid shows” conducted by live actors in costumes for the benefit of an audience situated in an amphitheater below the water line, turning the spring into a giant aquarium.  It is actually part of the Florida State Park system, though the relationship FSP has with the concessionaires running the show is unclear, even after reading the Weeki Wachee Wiki page. 5-fort-desoto-breakers

I had been a couple of times as a kid, but Rosemarie has wanted to go for some time.  Unfortunately it will have to wait until we get back to Florida in the Fall: I failed to do adequate research, and we arrived only to find the park undergoing major renovations.  This meant no mermaid show, no glass bottom boat tours, and no wild life shows; only the swimming area was open.

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No mermaids, so enjoy this gopher tortoise instead.

Ah well, it had only been a few miles out of our way on our route to Cousin Carlyle’s in Inverness, FL.  We headed there well before we planned, but fortunately Alex arrived home just a couple of minutes after we got there to let us in the front gate.  We had a great visit with them and youngest daughter Haley.  Alex and I also learned the danger of ordering take out pizza in a town that has both an Angelotti’s and an Angelo’s; make sure you know which one your spouse placed the order with before trying to pick it up! 7-inverness-spring-boats

Alex hooked up his shallow draft fishing boat and took us all out on the water on Saturday. We had great weather, and with a cooler full of beer and light snacks we enjoyed the ride and a swim at Homosassa Springs.  We finished the afternoon at a dockside bar, with boat moorings just down river from Monkey Island.  Yes, they have monkeys left over from old zoos and movie productions. 8-inverness-spring-carlyle

We closed out April and started May with a full week stay back at our main go-to Central Florida campground, Wekiva Springs State Park.  Having grown up in the area and visited this place many times as a child and young man, it never grows old coming back here, particularly since we get to enjoy the spring during school and work days when there is almost no one around.  Dad and Stepmom Marcia were there for part of our stay as well, and introduced us to one of the camp hosts, Bill, who made a strong pitch for us to consider camp hosting here for part of the Fall later this year.  We shall see! 9-wekiva-site

We had great wildlife viewings this visit!  In addition to the usual gaggle of wild turkey’s, gopher tortoises, and deer, we finally got to see an owl up close and personal.  A barred owl deigned to sit on a branch for over an hour near dusk, and was surprisingly cooperative with photo taking initiatives. 10-wekiva-owl

We only have one more stop in Florida before beginning our annual circuit of the country.  More on the rest of our 2019 plans in a couple of posts from now.

Cuba Part 2!

Welcome to the second (and last) part of our Cuba tour write up. You can find the first part here where we covered a lot of the pre-trip details and planning and explained a lot of the fundamentals about travelling to Cuba, as well as covered our first two days in Havana.  Incidentally I just this morning added half a dozen pics to that post that I had trouble uploading when I originally wrote it. 1

DAY 3:  The Beach, the Fort, and the FAC.

After the previous full day in Old Havana, Talek changed things up with a day at the beach and a night on the town.  We started with breakfast at the restaurant just around the corner from the casa.  While the food was just reasonably prepared typical breakfast fare, the juices were amazing. Fresh squeezed papaya, watermelon, mango, pineapple and cherimoya. Oddly, orange juice was not available. 2

We caught the first bus from Old Havana to the eastern playas with a short stop at El Morro, the castle guarding the entrance to Havana Bay.  The castle was not yet open for tours, so we satisfied ourselves with a few exterior pictures before catching the next bus to the beaches.

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Havana Bay from the fort.

As you would expect in the Caribbean, these are very lovely sandy beaches with beautiful blue water.  We rented a couple of the pre-positioned umbrellas and lounge chairs, I believe it was a very reasonable 6 CUC for each set for the day, and enjoyed a relaxing few hours with local beer and rum based drink available for far less than a US resort would charge.  Shortly after noon we had an outdoor lunch at one of the beach side, bohio style food stands. 4

We returned to to Havana in the mid afternoon to allow everyone the chance to clean up in preparation for our visit to the F.A.C. the Cuban Art Factory.  I am not normally all that interested in touring an art exhibition, but I have to admit this one was fantastic, though my impression was probably enhanced by the very strong drink obtained near the entrance before we even started the actual tour.  The performance and exhibition center encompasses three floors of what used to be a cooking oil factory.  It includes traditional painting, photography, and other wall mounted art, but also has live music, dance, sculpture and full room installations. 5-1

We had dinner outside on the rooftop to cap off a truly memorable evening.  It was a great meal in a beautiful setting, we strongly recommend including it in any Havana itinerary.  We snagged one of the larger taxis home, it might have been a Packard station wagon, and the driver, realizing we were up beat and feeling no pain turned on his interior disco light set up with the music for our short ride home.  What fun!

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None of us feeling any pain after a night at the FAC.

DAY 4 Donations, Classic Cars, El Malecon

Though Talek intended to change things up with breakfast at a different joint, the lack of a chef on premises yet pushed us back to the previous day’s venue for more excellent fresh juice.  From there we gathered up all our donation items and caught a taxi to an elderly folks home that has some relationship with a local youth group.  We met many wonderful old Cubans here, and received a thorough briefing on the different forms of elderly care facilities in the country. 7

After that, another highlight of our visit: a driving tour of Havana in a beautiful convertible classic car.  We had our choice from among a dozen or so parked in the central plaza. We selected the largest we could find, a 1950’s era Cadillac complete with big ole fins and lots of chrome with white interior.   The only disappointing thing about it was the backseat limo style bar was empty. 8-1

Talek pointed out the interesting archtectural historical features along the way, and we made a couple of stops for pictures, of course.  The final leg of the ride was along the multi-mile waterfront stretch known as El Malecon.  As part of Havana’s 500 year anniversary celebration many art installations line the way. 9-1

We went back to walking through Old Havana with a late lunch at a tiny little restaurant with good food and excellent gin and ginger based drinks, and visited yet another wonderful rooftop view atop one of the big hotels. 10

DAY 5 Vinales

The last full day of our tour would take us well away from Havana and into the country.  We piled into a 1953 Chevy taxi for the three hour drive to Vinales Valley.  We made a brief stop at a hotel overlook point with a beautiful view of the valley, a welcome stop after the long car ride. 11-1

From there it was on to a working tobacco farm for a tour and a smoke.  We got a short rundown on how the process works with some interesting information about the different flavor and strength of cigar tobacco largely determined by how high or low the chosen leaves are on the tobacco plant, and by other factors such as sun and soil.  Then we had a smoking opportunity made further appealing by the delicious guava infused rum drinks.  More on that in a second. 12

The cigar offered had just been rolled, and we learned that many Cubans dip the mouth end in a bit of honey, which alters the flavor and nature of the smoke quite a bit.  It was, frankly, a really nice cigar.  I enjoyed it quite a lot, especially since we got to share the time with a family from Baltimore visiting as well. 13

As for the rum: it was some of the best we have had.  I’m not much for fruit infused spirits normally, but the guava really worked well with the Cuban style rum, and we nearly purchased a couple of bottles.  However, we believed that we could get it on the way out of the country at the duty free, which would save us some trouble.  We were wrong.  Ah well, if we ever get to the point where Cuba is exporting to the US, that will be one of the first things I purchase.

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Did I mention the rum drinks were strong?  This one can verify.

Moving on, we headed to a underground cave and river for a short but fun boat tour.  It was a nice, very cool temperature large cave complex and some talented boat drivers working in tight maneuvering situation.   I think the best part was the exit point, just beautiful. 15

We headed for a late lunch at a restaurant with family style serving and set, but extensive menu.  After stuffing ourselves silly we stopped into the town of Vinales to check the local outdoor market before piling back into our taxi for the long ride home.  Incidentally, the 1953 Chevy was a perfect example of the imaginative methods Cuban mechanics use to keep these things running.  It had a Fiat engine, a Toyota transmission, and a Ford differential.  Truly Frankenstein. 16-1

We made it back to Havana well after dark, only to find outselves locked out of our Casa.  No one else was home, and we tried repeatedly to make the key work.  Even the neighbor came over and gave it a go: no luck.  After waiting about 30 minutes for the someone to hopefully return to the casa, we gave it one more try and voila, it magically worked.  I am not sure if our key was right on the edge of being off, or if the lock is just that sensitive.  Oh well, we got in. 17-1

DAY 6 Departure

Talek arranged for taxis for each of our trips to the airport.  Ours was late morning, and we had no problems at all, aside from the disappointing lack of Guava Rum at the duty free!  Ah well, we made do with a few bottles of Club Havana.  The flight was uneventful, and US customs and immigration was easier than expected. 18-1

On a final note, those of you interested in taking a tour of Cuba may be out of luck for a while since the current administration just removed most of the reasons a US private citizen may go.  We can, however, strongly recommend any tour organized by Talek: She has upcoming plans for Norther Spain, and China is in the works as well. 19-1