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

Cuba! (Part 1)

When we officially retired in December of 2014 and began our full time RV lifestyle in the weeks that followed, we fully intended to include traditional “vacations” into the yearly plan, aiming for one overseas trip per year, and possibly some within the lower 48 states flights as well.  In 2015 we went to Hawaii and England, but starting in 2016  money and opportunity limited our plans.  That year we made one trip to Brown County, Indiana so stepmom Marcia could show us that great little area, while Rosemarie made a couple of short trips to Coral Springs and Norfolk to see family.  The same with 2017 and 2018, a few trips to Norfolk each year.  (Our trip across the border into Mexico in 2017 doesn’t count: we only went for dental work!) 1-flag

So when an affordable and well timed opportunity to take a six day guided tour of Havana and outskirts, we jumped on it.  It all came to pass through family connections: Rosemarie’s Uncle Mario’s wife, Talek, started up a travel organization after retiring from the international corporate world.  She leverages her experience working throughout Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia to take small groups on her personally guided trips, or provide you with the information, tools and motivation to do so yourself via her excellent blog: Travels With Talek.  As a Cuban-American, she has taken numerous trips to Cuba, but had never taken a group.  Since this would be her first, she wanted to beta test it on friends and family who would provide honest feedback, and she would do so “at cost” for her first set of travelers. 2-hemingway-statue

Talek’s guidance for this event started well before actual travel; she sent a series of emails to each participant filled with helpful information and links.  Thus we knew about the Cuban Travel Card, which serves as a form of Visa, and the 12 permitted reasons for US citizens to travel there.  (Tourism is not one of them!  We went with “Support for the Cuban people,” though education would have been acceptable as well.)  Talek made sure that our detailed itinerary included numerous events that supported and justified our stated reason for travel.  We knew what to bring, all about the complicated two currency system within Cuba, and how to maximize our money. 3-d1-flight

DAY 1: Arrival, Money, and the Casa

Based on price and airport convenience, and airline preference, we left the cat with Gloria in Venice, FL, drove to Coral Springs to stay with Xavier and Joy for a couple of days before flying out of Fort Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines.  We arrived early to get our $75 travel cards (they are sold by the individual airlines, with varying costs, so you want to do your research) and boarded a nearly full flight for the less than an hour air time.  Customs and Immigration was a breeze, and Talek had a driver with our names on a board waiting for us among the taxi scrum to take us to our residence for the next five nights.

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The first of many classic cars in which we would ride this trip.

There are three categories of hotel available in Cuba: government owned hotels (nice old buildings taken over after the revolution,) foreign owned hotels permitted by the government (usually very nice and expensive,) and private “casa particulars.”  In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban government had to pretty much restructure the entire economy since they were not getting any fuel or monetary subsidies.  They entered a Special Period that saw huge changes, particularly in agriculture, industry, and transportation. 5

One outgrowth was increased partnerships with West European and South American business to monetize the tourist industry, and the eventual issuance of licenses for Cuban citizens to partake in a select list of private enterprise activities.  One of those is the Casa system, where Cuban rent out individual rooms, often to foreign visitors, sort of like a bed and breakfast.  Many of them are even on Air BnB now. 6-casa-balcony

Our group split between to different Casas within about two blocks of each other.  We had our own private room, with locks, a private bathroom, and a shared large balcony.  We were given keys to the front door of the house as well, and invited to use the kitchen and main living room. The others in our group had the same general set up.  Everything was clean, we had hot water during the day, and were within easy walking distance of bodegas, restaurants, and some shops.

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Our room for the stay.

After meeting up with Talek in the other casa, she got us situated in ours, and gave us the run down on the local area.  We made the stroll down to one of the main thoroughfares to seek out a money changing venue.  As I mentioned earlier, Talek had prepped us for the confusing currency situation.  To start with, there is a 3% fee when exchanging currency, and an additional 10% added on for US Dollar exchanges.  Because of this we had gone through the trouble of changing our dollars into Euros before leaving the states, which saved us about 20 bucks in all.

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Street performers in Old Havana

Here in Havana we exchanged the Euros for Cuban Convertible Pesos, informally, “CUC” pronounced close to “cook.”  The CUC is pegged to the US dollar, 1 for 1, and is the primary currency for foreign visitors.  This is not the currency most Cuban’s use on a daily bases.  They use Cuban pesos, 25 of which equals one CUC.  And yes, the price for foreigners using CUCs is significantly higher than for locals using pesos; most vendors interacting with foreigners will only except CUCs. 9

Which is fine, because we found everything to be quite affordable regardless of the mark up.  We bought a bottle of three year old Club Havana for 8 CUC, fantastic cheese and ham croissants for just over 1, and usually paid just a few, 4 or less, for taxi’s around town.  Local beer, even in high end hotels, rarely ran more than 2 per can, and restaurants were noticeably cheaper than equivalent meals in the US. 10-beer-stop

DAY 2 Old Havana

The next morning we met up with Talek and the rest of our tour group: John, Talek’s youngest brother, and Jaems, a women she had met at a bloggers conference.  Originally there were supposed to be three others (a couple and their friend) but a death in the family had caused a late cancellation.  So here on day two we began our tour in earnest.  And let me tell you, if you have an interest in going on any of Talek’s tours, which we highly recommend, be prepare for a full schedule, because she does not play.  You are in this country for what may be the only point in your life, and she wants you to see everything in the limited time you have available. communal-brkfst12

We enjoyed a sit down breakfast prepared by the hostess at the other casa before boarding a taxi for a full day in Old Havana.  This would be an extensive walking tour of this historic UNESCO world heritage site, focused on the history, culture, and architecture, though with a few stops for refreshments, or course. 12-coco-frio

One of the most common phrases associated with Old Havana is that it is a city caught in time.  The vast majority of the buildings are pre-WWII, and, famously, a large portion of the cars are old American classics from the 40’s and 50’s.  One of the things Talek pointed out is that as far as the architecture goes, much of it really dates to the pre-depression era in the decades after the turn of the century. 13-achitecture

We had a sit down lunch with live music before continuing our walk, then did a bicycle taxi tour of a couple more culturally relevant stops and a drink on top of one of the best rooftop hotel views in the city.  Many of the historic building have intricate lower level lobby’s, some of which serve as historic markers and museums.

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This peacock occupied the back courtyard of one of the street level museums.

We visited one of the local markets permitted by the government to sell various food items outside of the ration system.  It was from these markets that our hostess gathered the necessary items to prepare evening meal in her house.  This was an excellent capper to a long day, and we headed back to our casa tired but satisfied, and ready for an evening cocktail before an early bedtime; for tomorrow would be full as well. 15-market

I was planning on writing up our Cuba trip as one single post, but I’m already at 16 paragraphs and feel I am beyond many attention spans. Additionally, I am running into an unexpected problem with inserting google photos pics into WordPress, so until sort that out, no more pictures. Once I resolve that issue I will likely do the remaining four days in one photo heavy post since we won’t need paragraph upon paragraph of intro like in this one. 1617182019

A pre-Cuba crisscrossing run across South Florida

That title makes it pretty clear what the “upcoming international trip” I mentioned in the last two posts is about.  But before we could go to Cuba, we had family to visit and things to take care of throughout South Florida.  Our grand total of 3 miles in January through March for Serenity was about to get dwarfed by the true start of our 2019 travels.

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PKM in her usual travel position.

Normally when we leave The Keys we head up to Coral Springs to see Xavier and Joy before crossing westward to eventually meet up with Gloria in Venice.  This time we had to reverse things a bit in order to balance planned work on the RV, a cat sitter, and value priced plane tickets.  Though not the most mileage efficient plan, it worked out best for our needs, and we got to enjoy the Tamiami Trail (US 41) through the everglades rather than our usual Alligator Alley (I-75) route.   Though you are not always quite as elevated as on I-75, we found the opportunities to see wildlife significantly better on this road, and enjoyed it much more than the alternative.

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PKM showing concern the night before we left her with Gloria and Jerry for our trip.

We made a one night stop at Midway Campground (you can guess about where that is) our very first Corps of Engineers park.  Hard to believe we have been full time RVing for more than four years with a rather heavy road schedule and have never stayed at one of these great campgrounds before.  Of course, we were winging it like we often do and had not made reservations because we did not know how far we would feel like driving that day.  And we were in the middle of the Everglades with very limited reception, so working through the COE reservation system was quite impossible.  Fortunately the campground had a “pay by cash or check” drop box and, after several careful readings, we were able to determine which sites were reservable and which were not, so as to be assured that we were not just pulling into a spot reserved by a late arrival customer.  3-pedicures

It was nice, and we will likely make this a one day stop again if our path warrants.  There are only 26 RV sites, they are electric only, but water and a dump station are on premises.  The sites are large, and the setting pleasant, with lots of greenery all around.  We stayed inside due to rain throughout the evening, but I imagine mosquitoes could be quite bad whilst in the middle of the Everglades.

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We forgot to take a picture of Midway Campground, so enjoy these attractive tacos from Gloria and Rose’s outing in Venice.

From Midway it was on to Port Charlotte to drop off Serenity at Mr Mobile RV’s for Bill and his crew to fix a few minor things.   Bill has worked on our rig a couple of times, and he has become the RV mechanic I trust most.  I remember my grandfather had a regular mechanic, Tom, that did all of his auto repair work, so maybe Bill is our Tom.  I suspect that there is some industry wide secret society that mandates that truly reliable and fair mechanics all have a one syllable first name.  Anyway, Bill would work on Serenity while we were bouncing around the state before and after Cuba, and allowed us to park the rig in his lot for the two weeks we would be busy at no extra charge.

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Multiple trip to Venice means I am slowly filling in the caches in this area.

A short aside: we were very low on propane (in our fixed 24 gallon tank) after a season of extensive dry camping in Key West, and Bill advised us to top off before arriving since we would not be hooked up to electricity at his place (our refrigerator runs off propane when electricity is not available.)  So we pulled into one place we had googled, only to find that they no longer do RVs.  On their advice we headed to the local Tractor Supply Company.  Unfortunately their propane refill station was poorly positioned, and while I was able to pull into it, I was unable to maneuver out of the station due to the parking lot configuration.  We spent half an hour trying before giving up and searching the store for the owner of the pick up truck parked, perfectly legally, in the spot that prevented us from making the turn.  We only fill up twice a year or so, but I need to do better research before the next time.

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Having a fixed tank is nice since it last so long, but those RVs with multiple smaller tanks have the advantage of a much easier fill up.

We stayed with Gloria and her husband Jerry for four days in Venice, FL.  We enjoy this town; Venice was our first Moose Lodge, and we try to visit anytime we are in the area.  Jerry is very hospitable during our stays, and while I was their IT consultant and repairman, he sprung for a family dinner at an excellent local BBQ place for the four of us plus Rose’s brother, niece, nephew, and their mother. 7-dj-rose-laura

And while in Venice we made two significant purchases.  For our trusty 1997 Geo Tracker (Loki) it was time for a new set of tires. They were last replaced in June of 2016, so we got 60K miles out of them, and it would have been more if I rotated them (the nature of the tow system and an alignment issue has caused increased wear on the inner tread of our front tires.)

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Ahhh, new tread. 

And for Rosemarie, who has talked and talked about us trying to learn an instrument of some sort, we finally got her a Ukulele.  We found her perfect instrument at The Rhythm Inlet.  Jeff walked us through the basics, and eagerly encouraged us to pick up any of his over 150 Uke’s and give it a go or let him demo it.  While we were planning on a very affordable “entry level” instrument, we ended up going a bit higher for one with excellent sound and a lovely sea themed design carved and inlaid. 9-rose-uke

This is not shaping up to be the most financially responsible months for us considering that our big trip to Cuba came right on the heels of those purchases, but we think our first quarter financial discipline will allow a month of largess.   Besides, for the six days of the Cuba trip, plus the eight combined days before and after in Venice and Coral Springs, we were staying “rent free,” i.e., no campground fees.

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Whereas in Coral Springs there is still a lot left to find.

Leaving Pad Kee Meow in the capable hands of Gloria, our last remaining cat sitter, we crossed back across Florida to Coral Springs for a two night stay with Xavier and Joy before catching our flight out of Fort Lauderdale to Cuba.  Usually we have our rig in their driveway while there, so it was nice to visit without having to worry about our big rig clogging up the driveway.  11-rose-gloria

Next up: Cuba!

 

Lucking into a full week stay at Bahia Honda State Park

In an ideal world we would hit Bahia Honda immediately after leaving Key West every year and maybe follow that up with a stay at Curry Hammock State Park as well.  We came pretty close to this ideal in April.  Our vaguely planned departure date from Key West had originally been mid March, but an international travel opportunity caused us reevaluate our options, and look at staying a couple of weeks longer.  Once that change occurred, we were checking the Reserve America website every day for any cancellations at either Bahia or Curry, but only managed to find a single day available in the time period we had available. bridge-day

Then our friends Rusty and Charito developed truck problems and had to cancel their reservations at Bahia Honda.  They contacted us to see about orchestrating a carefully timed “we cancel and you snatch up the days” online action.  Which we did, and that combined with yet another cancellation from some stranger allowed us to string together a full week there.  Perfect!

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Can you tell this place makes Rose happy?

While we will take Bahia Honda under almost any circumstances, we are particularly enamored with the fifteen or so water front sites.  Fortunately, the last half of our stay was in one of these coveted numbers, really capping off a lucky set of circumstances for us.

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Our site from the Overseas Highway nearby

We spent our days enjoying our fantastic ocean front views, swimming and snorkeling in the protected bay, and when the wind was right, checking out the Atlantic side as well.  Almost every evening we joined a conch blowing group at sunset near the overpass, which was nice as you start to actually know your neighbors and the volunteer staff when you see and speak to some of them each day. us-at-conch-blow

We made several outings around the lower and middle keys, hitting the Moose Lodge on  Big Pine several times, eating at a nice little pizza-by-the-slice parlor there as well, and driving up to marathon for a hair cut, some shopping, and a bit of geocaching.  This was a great way to start our post Key West travels. bridge-sunset

49, 50, and 51 Months Fulltiming: January, February and March combined report

So we are breaking from a four year long consistent pattern of posting individual monthly reports that contain numbers and info about where we went, what we did, how we did it, how much it cost, and how much drama was involved.  Bottom line: I have allowed the blog to become too far behind, and in order to get back on track I’m taking a shortcut.  Thus I present the first, and hopefully last, quarterly fulltiming report covering January through March of 2019. 1-sunset-1

The Distance:  3 miles, about on each month.  We stayed in Key West at the Naval Air Station Sigsbee Annex the entire three months, and only moved a handful of times between the dry camping and full hook up areas.  This brings our 2019 annual total to (checks figures) 3 miles.  2-route

The Places:  As mentioned above, we spent all three months in Key West.  So that’s 90 days at nothing but military campgrounds.  Since we were in the Sigsbee full hook up rotation scheme, we ended up dry camping for 57 and in full hook ups for 33 days. 3-jack-crab

The Budget:  Way under budget!  Specifically, 15% under in January, $17.8% under in February, and dead on in March.  Key West is great for our budget.  For some of the Sigsbee crowd, Key West is their splurge: in addition to maintaining a home wherever, they deny themselves little while here in paradise.  For us, it is one of the cheapest places we stay ($17 a night drycamping, $27 while in full hook ups, giving us an average of nightly cost of less than $21.)  In addition to that we are not moving, thus no gas costs for Serenity.  This is a big deal for us: our rig gets 7 mpg and we travel 10,000 miles or more the rest of the year.  Finally, we have markets, and quite successful ones at that.  And we stayed this far under even after paying 80% of the cost of an upcoming international vacation. 4-rose-water

The Drama and the Improvements:   Our buddy Stan spent several hours helping me troubleshoot and repair a few issues this season, with the big victory being his repair of our onboard generator, a big ole Onan Marquis 5500 watt machine capable of powering both A/C’s and everything else in our rig.  For less than $50 we replaced the fuel filters and then the fuel pump, which solved the problem.  He also worked on our highly temperamental automatic stairs, which will probably work for a month or so until they go out again, and reinforced our biggest slide out floor.  After Stan determined that our toilet was not reasonably repairable, I ordered an upgraded model and installed it.

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It’s not a toilet, it’s an all weather indoor/outdoor stool with under seat storage.

We had some drama with Serenity’s starter battery going dead a couple of times, and are not certain what caused it since it is now holding a charge just fine.  We must have some sort of very light trickle drain on it somewhere in the system.  Lastly, we ripped out our front sleeper sofa: it had become such an eyesore after all the faux leather peeled away, and we figure that pulling it out will motivate us to find a replacement sooner.  6-sunset-2