Our Last Days in Key West This Season

This post covers the first eleven days of March, 2020, a period that saw confirmed US coronavirus cases jump from 75 to 1301, marking the beginning of exponential growth.  Thus, the activities documented here look, in retrospect, more than a little foolish.  I can only say that at the time there were no known cases in Key West, and no government executive at any level, Key West, Lee County, Florida State or Federal, was yet to advise us to self isolate.  That would come almost immediately after we left The Keys.

1-cinco-captain

This will be explained later.

With our time in Key West nearly over, we focused on two things: Cinco de Marcho and as many of our favorite restaurants as we could pack in before we departed.  Cinco de March is a made up Sigsbee Campground holiday that has evolved from a single location all day party three years ago to the movable feast type event it is today.  It is intended to celebrate all the holidays that we will not spend with our Key West friends.  A handful of teams volunteer to host as party stop.  Each host team provides drinks and refreshments and coordinates holiday specific decor.

2-cinco-our-team

Most of Our Team: Rebecca, me, Charlie, Joann, David, Julie, Andrea, and Rose.  

Eddie and Tina start the event off at the base baseball field for some speechifying, drinks, and the awarding of the Brian “Big Mexican” Pedraza Memorial Camper of the Year.  Brian, a big-hearted icon of the Sigsbee crowd died unexpectedly two years ago, so we have this award to honor his spirit.  Last year Eddie and Tina were the overwhelming consensus winners, and they organized the “on the down low voting” for this year’s winners, Sandra and Bob.

3-cinco-bob-sandra

Bob and Sandra, Campers of the Year.

We have a toast in honor of Brian, take a group shot with our Oklahoma Drone (Eddie on top of the dugout roof) and then drive our decorated bikes and golf carts to the first host’s campsite.  The event continues to evolve: last year Eddie and Tina made sure every host had a different theme; this year he let each group do whatever they wanted.  Thus we had two Easter and two St Patrick’s Day sites, in addition to our group’s Cinco de Mayo themed stop.  4-cinco-drone

Last year, I say with no humility, we set the standard for hosting with our “walking tacos” (Dorito or Frito individual bags that you then top off with traditional taco ingredients and eat with a fork) and buckets of margaritas.  It was such a hit that we had plenty of volunteers for our team this year, and we went with the same menu, though with a better understanding of how much we would need to host up to 150 people.

5-cinco-supplies

Most of the Walking Taco supplies.  Andrea added fresh made guac, but the rest of this came from Gordon’s Food Service, a really helpful place for this event. Next year, unless the numbers grown, only one tub of sour cream and one giant bag of shredded cheese will be needed.

Rose made another Dia de los Mortos themed picture frame that was quite a hit for photos.  Having absorbed more of the cost than we expected last yeardue to confusion over the placement of the donation box, we made sure to have one out this year to help defray some of the expenditures.  Our team had a wonderful assembly line system to speed the feeding process and control the portion size of our one “not sure we have enough” ingredient, the taco meat.   Man it was great, we couldn’t have asked for a better team or event.

6-cinco-edith-jim

Edith and Jim.  Jim has the tandem hobie kayak with a sail that Rose and I occasionally go out on with him.

I think we were the third stop once the group left the kick off point, and we were the only ones providing substantial food rather than light snacks, so by the time we finished out the remainder of the hosts, people were hungry again.  The closing ceremonies included a pot luck/delivery pizza feast for all.  What a fantastic event, what a party.

7-cinco-ladies

Bonnie, Deb, and Rose.

Our loose planning for the season had all along been to stay for Cinco de Marcho and leave two days later, when we would be ostensibly recovered.  But it just felt too soon, there seemed like so much left to do and prepare, so we extended a few days and then a few more, staying around through March 11th.

8-site

Our final full hook up site of the season.  We actually had to shift back to dry camp the morning of Cinco de March, which made the day a bit more complicated.

In addition to getting Serenity and all our belongings ready for the road, we used much of this time to give one final visit to various restaurants and establishments that we love, and perhaps hit a couple of highly recommended new ones. 16-moon-in-clouds

I had been wanting to try Tavern & Town, an upscale surf and turf place in the Marriott hotel ever since learning that they would honor a “locals” rate for us seasonal military people, meaning any entree would be $20.  We coordinated an outing with Steve, Deb, Dennis and Ginger.  For health reasons Dennis and Ginger did not arrive in Key West until late February, so we tried to include them as much as we could since we had limited time to hang out with them.  I had an excellent aged steak that normally went for $42.  Steve concluded that though his fish was good, the steak was the better option.

10-tt

Dennis, Steve, and I with Ginger and Deb photobomming.

On the advice of friends we hit Salute On The Beach for an evening dinner.  It is on the Atlantic side away from the main tourist area, and was quite nice, both in terms of views and food.  We all agreed that Deb’s shrimp pasta was the best choice (specifically Ditalini and Cheese with sautéed Key West Shrimp, the Chef’s special) but I was quite happy with my white wine, garlic, and lemon steamed mussels, a hefty appetizer that served as my meal.  11-salute

Somehow we had let almost the entire season go by without hitting up our previously favorite happy hour spot, The Boathouse (which has been pushed to #2 this year by Pepe’s.)  You have to get there early if you don’t want to wait forever for a seat, even if there are only two of you.  Rose and I got there at about 4;15 and it was still a 30 minute wait.  They put us at a table for four, so we were able to invite Rob and Julie to join us, who had arrived a bit after us.

12-boathouse-rob-and-julie.

Julie and Rob at The Boathouse.

We took a day trip up to the Big Pine Key Nautical Flea Market one afternoon, and came back with two hats, some tools, and a palate satisfied by fantastically good, though very sweet, mini donuts served fresh out of the fryer.  13-big-pine-flea-donuts

And of course, we did one final Taco Tuesday with the Sigsbee gang.  I was shocked to see that despite many people having already begun their journey back home, we had the biggest Sigsbee crowd I can recall from any Taco Tuesday event.  Yeah, we overwhelmed the wait staff, so there was some confusion and extra wait time, but it was a great evening. 14-old-mexican

We closed out the evening with a stroll to Mallory Square for the traditional sunset viewing.  If you have not been, it is quite a festive atmosphere with lots of street performers and vendors.  15-mallory

That’s it, next post we leave Key West and start taking the the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

9-deer

Spotted near the Publix on Big Pine Key: A deericorn.

 

62 Months Fulltiming: February 2020 Report

I am writing this in the midst of our global pandemic, the day after nearly 2,000 people died in the US alone from COVID-19, a daily figure that is likely to grow over the course of the next week or more, and is most certainly an under count since it only accounts for positively tested victims and does not include those that simply died at home, untested.  We did not start taking this thing serious enough soon enough.  Two posts from now we will have moved into the proper mindset and begun social distancing, but until then I will write our true account of what we actually did while in Key West.  1-key-west

The Distance: Two miles moving from full hook up to dry camp and back, bringing our 2020 total to three.  2-pkm

The Places:  Sigsbee Campground on NAS Key West for the entire month.  We had full services for 10 days and dry camped the other 19.

3-site-view

The view from one of our dry camp sites.  

The Budget: A great month as we ended up 12% under budget.  Staying in one place saves on gas, we enjoyed low campground fees, and had a successful market, all of which countered our higher than usual entertainment and restaurant spending.

4-kw-market-haul

From the Key West Farmers Market

The Drama and Improvements:  As mentioned in the last post, Linda succumbed to ALS after a five year battle.  Its not really “drama” I guess but it must be mentioned in any summary of the month, so here it is.  5-lindas-pr-wake

In January’s report I mentioned how disappointed many of us are in the policy changes made for Sigsbee campground over the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, those changes are rather dwarfed by the new policies announced this month for 2020 and out: 

  • Maximum length of stay is now 90 days, ostensibly put in place to make sure that newly eligible campers won’t be locked out of reservations because of long stay retirees.  The gist of it is that a newly enacted law now allows any disabled veteran (with any degree of disability) to use Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities, commissaries, and exchanges, regardless of whether they are a pensioned military retiree or not).  The problem I have is not with this new law, but with the implementation of a 90 day max stay policy being put in effect despite the fact that the campground empties out dramatically outside of the peak winter months, with scores to hundreds of openings available from March to December.
  • The new base priority system for reservations has eight categories dependent on your active/retired/disabled status, along with whether you are a Monroe County resident or not.  Let us put aside the question of why a DoD federal facility is giving priority to county residents, and just wonder how on earth the central reservation system, having screwed things up for two years, will now be able to handle the additional responsibility of addressing eight different categories of campers!
  • While Sigsbee has been the main campground for decades, the nearby Trumbo Point facility also had a campground for those that were content to dry camp for their entire visit.  We stayed there for two weeks during our first full time RV winter in 2015.  Yeah, they closed it so they can have more storage space for boats and trailers and whatnot.
  • Speaking of which: no one is allowed to store their boat, trailer, or RV at NASKW if they are not physically present in the Keys.  Meaning a whole lot of retirees are scrambling to sell or move their stuff out of the keys towards the end of their stay, meaning the entire reason for shutting down Trumbo to have more storage is moot!
6-parade

A parade we stumbled across while having a drink at Lucy’s upstairs bar.

Next up: our final days in Key West.

7-sunset

Another month in Key West

I’m about to write about all the large gatherings and parties we attended in February, and do so while we are under a stay at home order due to the novel coronavirus pandemic: it feels weird, but here we are.  We had an incredibly active and fun February, so much so that I am unsure how to make a cohesive post rather than a short description of each event we attended.  Ah well.

1-site

Our waterfront dry camping site we enjoyed for three weeks.  Not too shabby.

Like last year, we put ourselves on Jim and Edith’s list of potential sailing partners.  He has a tandem Hobie kayak with mirage “peddle” drive, a sail, and two outriggers.  Its pretty fantastic.  When he feels like going out, he runs down the phone list until he finds someone ready to go.  We got the call early in the month and enjoyed a trip out to the mangrove islands several miles off shore.  2-sail-1

We started hitting additional markets, but as buyers rather than vendors.  The newly positioned Key West farmers market is fantastic.  The new location near the state park and piers is wonderful, and had us second guessing our decision last year to drop this market from our vending opportunities.  We picked up some wonderful fresh fruit, heirloom tomatoes, and one of the moistest chocolate raspberry cakes you will ever find.  3-kw-market

As for vending, we did one on base yard sale and the annual Gardenfest at the botanical garden on Stock Island for the third year in a row.  It was, by any reasonable definition, a sold market for us, though not nearly as good as last year’s.  I didn’t see a lot of advertising for it, and there were apparently some competing events which might have pulled some of the crowds away from Gardenfest.  Ah well, we provided our feedback, and hopefully next year will see a return to form.

4-gardenfest-rose

This tree within the botanical garden was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, and a local artist sculpted it into a thrown.

Taco Tuesday is a big thing among the Sigsbee crowd; Lucy’s and Old Town Mexican usually get a big group of us overwhelming their staff as we take over whole sections of their restaurant.  This year we added the poolside bar at the Hilton Garden Inn to the line up, but Lucy’s will always be the place that started it all for us Sigsbee people. 5-lucys

With Dennis and Ginger delayed in coming down to Sigsbee, Steve and I did not have a method of stone crabbing this year.  We put the word out that if anyone had a boat and was interested in crabbing, then we would be flexible about the catch and hopefully come to some arrangement.  Gary and Maryanne are avid crabbers, but health issues precluded him from pulling the traps himself.  We agreed to use his boat, Steve and I would haul all 20 of our groups’ traps, and we would also buy all the pigs feet and cat food bait.  We agreed to pool all of the catch and divide it up by appropriate share at the end of the day.

6-crab-legs

Oh yes.

It worked out great.  Aside from the little issue of me slipping and falling on to his gunwhale and breaking a rib while hauling in a trap, we had generally smooth sailing.  We got used to each others technique, got better and faster with each run, and pulled in good numbers of crab leg.

7-bar-crawl-dave-rebecca

Dave and Rebecca with us at Pepe’s for oysters.

We did far less fishing than last year, but Rose managed to get out and catch a few with Danny and Sally one day while I was still in a bit of pain from the rib cracking incident.  So Rose got to fish and I got to clean and filet them.  8-fish

Eddie and Tina (of course) organized a Hawaiian themed downtown bar crawl which proved rather popular as we made our way through the ten or so stops.  We skipped one of them to have an early dinner at Pepe’s, my knew favorite restaurant that Rose introduced me to last month.  They do fantastic fresh oysters, raw or baked, at a very low happy hour price point, particularly for Key West.  The fresh squeeze juice right at the bar for cocktails as well.

9-bar-crawl-steve-deb

Steve and Deb at Pepe’s during the bar crawl.

Rose and I had a late breakfast there one day, and I just can’t say enough about Key West’s oldest restaurant.  Once this COVID-19 pandemic is over, if you get to Key West, put Pepe’s on your list for breakfast and happy hour.  10-pepes-breakfast

Anyway, back to the bar crawl.  Eddie and Tina brought a big sound system complete with microphone on a dolly to both entertain the lot of us and keep us on the bar schedule.  They also made sure everyone was stocked up with the two for one drink tickets for many of our stops.  We attracted quite a lot of attention from locals and tourists alike.  It sounds strange, but the best stop of the night was the steps outside of CVS, where a case of corona (foreshadowing?) was handed out and we took our group picture.  11-bar-crawl-all

Rosemarie’s cousin Daniella had a short vacation in Key West during our stay, and we were able to get together with her for brunch at one of the best places for it: Blue Heaven.  This post is sounding like nothing more than positive restaurant reviews strung together!

12-blue-heaven-daniella

Rose had something healthy while I splurged on Lobster Eggs Benedict and Daniella had Prime Rib Eggs Benedict.  Fantastic. 

In sad but expected news, Linda passed away after making the decision to have her life support systems removed.  She survived with ALS for longer than they give most people, and worked every day to make it worth the pain and struggle.  Rose made the trip to Norfolk to join the big group descending on Jason for a Puerto Rican style wake.

13-linda-kids

The grandkids at Linda’s during a rare moment of quiet.

Next up, our final days in Key West.

14-linda-angel

 

61 Months Fulltiming: January 2020 Report

The Distance: One mile as we moved from dry camp to the “Hollywood” section of full hook ups.  This brings out 2020 mileage to (checks notes) one mile.

4-grill-1

This is our four year old Weber Q1000 grill, which gets heavy use; i”m talking every other day or so.  Rather than a typical cleaning, I decided it needed a full breakdown, ultra deep cleaning.

The Places: All 31 days we were at Sigsbee Campbround in Key West.  We spent 17 days in dry camp with no services, and 14 days with full hook ups.  And obviously, all 31 days were in a military campground.

2-grill

Total disassembly, which allowed me to really get in places I would not otherwise be able to reach.  I used Grill Cleaner (mostly useless) Grate Cleaner (decent) and Oven Cleaner (the best for unpainted surfaces.)

The Budget: Almost 21% under budget; a great way to start the year.  Parking the rig in one spot for the month means reduced gas expenditures, plus the rate we are paying for our campground spot is quite low.  We didn’t deny ourselves much during this month, so if not for a successful market and a refund from our cancelled April international trip, we would have been over budget.

6-grill-4

About 90% done with the grates at this point.  Took a lot of elbow grease and multiple applications of grill and oven cleaner to remove the carbonized layers.

The Drama and the Improvements:  Just getting a little something off my chest: Ever since Hurricane Irma devastated the Lower Keys in 2017, rules and patterns have been changing at NASKW as the base adjusted to new conditions and new leadership enacted their preferred policies.  I’m not gonna pretend to be objective on this; I think nearly every change has been for the worse, and significantly so:

  • For the winter of 2018-2019, they changed the “first come, first serve” policy to a reservation system that was disastrously implemented and almost completely unnecessary; at the absolute peak season you might have to wait one or two nights for an opening under FCFS, but now we are stuck with an incompetently run reservation system.
  • For 2019-2020 season the reservation system had barely improved, e.g., you could call and be told they simply did not have a 30 day, much less a 90 day availability, hang up, call back immediately and get a different person who magically found a 90 day opening.  They also added the wonderful feature wherein multiple RVers were assigned to tent only sites.
  • The base Community Center, a heavy use facility supporting many weekly events for both active and retired personnel, was handed over completely to the base chaplain, who implemented rigorous restrictions on the use of the building for events other than his Sunday services.  Disgraceful.

As for improvements, we got the RV washed and waxed, and, as you can see from the pics, did a complete breakdown and cleaning of our wonderful Weber Q1000 grill.

5-grill-3

Ready for reassembly.  About the only thing the Grill Cleaner was good for was the plastic pieces.

 

January in Key West

Writing this a few weeks into the U.S’ COVID-19 pandemic, it feels a little surreal to put words to the month of January that are all happy smiles and fun times, but that is what January gave us.  Our blissful ignorance of what was to come allowed it.  So, no more talk about novel coronavirus impacts until I get this blog into our March adventures and challenges.

1-cat-traps

The stone crab traps have an aroma PKM finds pleasing.

For several years now we have timed our arrival to Sigsbee campground on the Key West Naval Air Station for shortly before New Years Day.  We do this partly out of nostalgia: when we began our full time lifestyle in December of 2014, we drove to Key West in late December to symbolically start our adventures at the southernmost point of the continental states.  So there’s that, but mainly it just works for our schedule; we can finish our one month in Sanibel and then hit family and friends across the state during the holidays before landing in our winter campground home.  2-road-and-bridges

Plus there is the fun benefit of getting to Sigsbee just in time for the polar bear plunge!  Sure, the water is probably 70 degrees, but a big group of us pretend it is way colder.  We gather at the shoreline at the end of the dry camping area, and wade into the Gulf Coast waters out to chest deep, and take a “standing” and “plunged” photo.  Then we have an hours long potluck party, the first of many for the season. 3-polar-plunge

When we arrived and checked in at the MWR office, we were, as is procedure, taken on a golf cart ride around the campground in order to select out spot out of the half dozen or so available sites.  With nothing on the water front row available, our choice was exceptionally easy: this site with a mature mahogany tree in our living area.  7-site-1

What a great site.  Perfect in every way.,except one: are you familiar with mahogany nuts?  They are pear sized hard shelled contraptions with five thick outer sections that, in January, explode open and drop to the ground.  To the ground, that is, unless something is in the way, e.g., the roof of an RV.  If you have not RV’d let me tell you that the roofs are like the skin of a drum; an acorn dropping from twenty feet up sounds like a baseball.  It’s lovely during a rain, but hard objects sound like projectiles.  Our first night we must have had a fifty of the mahogany shell portions hit our roof and jerk us from peaceful slumber.  8-cat-geo

I solved this problem the next morning by climbing up on our roof and using ropes, poles, and other implements of destruction to jerk and shake loose every possible mahogany nut section I could.  It worked: over the course of our remaining three weeks in this spot we had very few roof drop echoes.  9-sunset

Oh, apparently we are bowlers now.  Among the many, many activities that Sigsbee campers participate in (and there are so many that you really must pick and choose if you value sleep and your liver) is a Monday and Wednesday afternoon bowling session at the Boca Chica base lanes.  It’s great fun for all skill levels, though the better bowlers are likely to walk away with a bit of cash since we usually have a men’s and women’s high score for each round, along with a poker game with a card issued for each spare and two for strikes.  10-bowling

Did we do some markets?  Of course we did some markets!  We have, with a few exceptions, transitioned away from weekly farmers markets in favor of seasonal and annual fairs.  This is particularly true for the Lower Florida Keys, where once we did three weekly markets and now only do special events.  Our first for the winter season was the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce Nautical Expo (not to be confused with the weekly Big Pine Key Nautical Flea Market.)  We had solid success with this expo last year, which encouraged us to lock in our same site with a deposit for this years event.  We absolutely killed it this year, and have already secured our 2021 site.  This two day event on Big Pine Key is a very fun affair with live music, multiple food trucks, and scores of vendors.  11-market

Rose is always on the lookout for fun and interesting things to get us out of the RV and interacting with the world.  We tend to take turns being the “home body,” but when she wants to hit the town she makes a special effort to make it enticing for me to do the same.  She hit it out of the park by finding Stand Up Science, a comedy road show orchestrated by Shane Mauss, who has appeared on Conan, Kimmel, Comedy Central, Showtime, BBC, and the Joe Rogan Experience.  The continent travelling event entails Shane doing a cerebral science oriented stand up bit, followed by a local scientist’s presentation, then a local comedian’s bit, another local scientist, and finally a Q&A with all five on stage.  It was wonderful, and I highly recommend it for anyone on the tour route. 12-science

We hit our Moose Lodges, three of them in fact.  Last we were in The Keys, we did not particularly enjoy the one on Key West proper, but they have made some great improvements, turning this formerly smokey den into a great little bar.  We also hit the sprawling Moose facility on Big Pine Key, which is, I think, our favorite of the five in The Keys.  Finally, we ventured up the road to the lodge on Marathon, an interesting and welcoming place situated behind some warehouses where you would never expect to find a social club. 13-moose

Our timing for the Marathon Moose was poor; they had no food available, though the bartender had strong opinions about where we should eat and guided us to Sparky’s Landing.  What a great suggestion!  We had a cocktail, craft beer, and a dozen very fresh, very tasty baked oysters encrusted in various things at an affordable price.  Highly recommended. 14-sparkys

We just love all the restaurant options in The Lower Keys.  In addition to the new (for us) Sparky’s Landing, in January we reacquainted ourselves with Big John’s Pizza (for the fantastic meatball calzone, not for the actual slices.)  El Mocho (Cuban slang for someone with a missing finger) is Rose’s top choice for authentic and affordable Cuban fare and will always enjoy our patronage, whether it is for a simple pan Cubano y cafe con leche (Cuban toast and coffee with milk) or the once a week special of ox tail with rice, maduro (sweet fried plantains) and garlic chick peas.  15-cat

Of course, no visit to Key West will ever be complete without a visit to Lucy’s.  Formerly the host of almost all Sigsbee Taco Tuesdays, in the last couple of years the crowd has split off to other venues, such as Old Town Mexican or the newly discovered Tuesday event at the poolside Hilton Garden Inn.  Maybe it is all nostalgia, but I love Lucy’s, and will always consider it our go to Taco Tuesday event. 16-site-2

 

 

60 Months Fulltiming: December 2019 Report

The Distance:  665 miles during our big “inverted J” route from Sanibel to Central Florida and down to Key West.  Our total for 2019 ended up a bit shy of 10K, ringing in at 9,940 miles.

1-dec-2019-route

I dunno, might be more of a lower case “g”

The Places:  We spent the bulk of December in Sanibel at Periwinkle Park and Campground before beginning our furious race around the state to visit friends and family.  This started with a few hours in Venice to have a pre-Christmas dinner with Gloria, Jerry, and Baby Jerry before heading up to Central Florida for two days at Blue Spring State Park.  2-hr-5

Christmas morning we packed up and parked the rig near Aunt Judy’s for the big family brunch, then sprinted down to Coral Springs to spend a few days with Xavier and Joy.  We had a one night stop in the Nieves’ family driveway in Cutler Bay before finishing off 2019 with our New Years Eve drive to Sigsbee Campground in Key West.  Whew, a furious final week.

3-mm-crowns

Some of our shell haul goes towards these in progress Mermaid Crowns, a good market item.

During December we spent 22 days in a private resort, 2 days in a public (county) park, 6 days with family and friends, and 1 day in a military campground.  We had full hook ups for 22 days, electric and water for 2 days, electric only for 5, and dry camped for 2.  4-jack-heron

The Budget:  23.2% under budget!  I am honestly astounded given that we spent 22 days of the month at one of the most expensive places we stay, didn’t deny ourselves very much while in Sanibel, burned through a good amount of gas during our furious holiday sprint around the state, and also had traditional holiday expenses.  But since I only just now, 2 1/2 months after the fact, did the actual budget math, I had forgotten how fantastic two of the markets we worked that month were. 5-judy-3

The Koreshan State Park Craft Festival and the German American Society Christmas Festival ensured we would be well under budget, and a substantial gift from a relative added to the surplus.  Oh yes, and Rose won $130 at the casino.  This major budget victory also pushed us 1.6% under budget for the year, something I was doubtful was possible after our November numbers.  6-nieves

The Drama and the Improvements:  Nothing significant to report. 7-rose-selfie

The last week of 2019 as we bounce around Florida

We had, like in past years, an awkward final week of December as we tried to hit as much of our family as possible during the holidays.  We left Sanibel and headed north to Venice for a partial day visit with Gloria and Jerry.  Gloria prepped a traditional Christmas type meal with a pineapple glazed ham, and Rose’s brother Jerry came by as well.

1-venice-1

Rose’mother and brother; Gloria and Jerry

After an early dinner we continued up the road to Blue Spring State Park in Central Florida a for a two day stay in order to attend Aunt Judy’s annual Christmas brunch.  Christmas morning we broke camp and parked the rig in the empty school parking lot a few blocks from Judy’s so as to avoid a difficult maneuver in her car filled cul-de-sac.

2-venice-2

Look, I’m not gonna lie; this came as a complete surprise.  In Rosemarie and I’s 17 years together, Gloria has not compromised: her cooking was traditional Puerto Rican fare.  I had become not only accustomed to it, but to expect and appreciate it.  And then this happens: the most gringo, not-Latino food in the known world.   I’m shook.

It was a big group this time; with my dad, step mom, mom, step dad, son and daughter-in-law all in attendance.  Cousin Bryan and his wife Ashley and Uncle Bill are always there, and sometimes other family as well, so it is a decent sized gathering, and Judy always goes big in the food and drink readiness department.  3-judy-1

After things started to wind down we hooked up the tracker and headed south to Coral Springs.  Hitting two families four hours apart on Christmas makes for a long day, but it is our best attempt at a compromise.  We arrived at Xavier and Joy’s in the early evening and parked in his lengthy and fairly wide driveway.  We are able to fit the motorhome fully in with a couple of feet to spare, and as ong as we carefull position the rig to the very far left of the driveway, there is enough room on the right side for both Xavier’s car and the Tracker to fit as well.  4-judy-2

Our timing was excellent since Rose’s sister Melissa was in town from New York as well. We didn’t do a whole lot during our stay, but we did have one outing to the newly completed Hard Rock Cafe, a pretty impressive if a bit tacky hotel in the shape of a giant guitar.  The interior is quit nice, especially the oddly lit indoor waterfall and live plant walls.  5-hr-2

The night before our departure we got a bit of bad news: Coral Springs Code Enforcement dropped by to let us know someone had complained about the RV in the driveway, and showed us the local ordinances indicating that we were definitely in violation.  We have been parking there for few days at least twice a year for five years now, but apparently someone new moved in and reported us to the city.

6-xj-3

Rose and sister Melissa

This really puts us in a bind for future visits; we can’t ust store the rig nearby because, due to severe allergies, our cat can’t enter the Murillo home.  With the rig in the driveway this was never a problem.  But now we will either need to go through a real Kabuki Dance finding a someone to watch the cat and another place to store the RV, or pay the rather exorbitant fees for an RV park in the area.  We will figure it out.  Fortunately for this stay, code enforcement just called it a warning and allowed us to stay the final night so long as we promised to be out by morning.  7-xj-4

So we packed up a little earlier than we might have and headed south to Cutler Bay for our final Florida friends and family visit of the year: one night with the Nieves clan.  They switched houses recently, and their new driveway is long enough to handle Serenity, so we did not have to spend the night in the neighborhood’s club house parking lot.  8-hr-7

We always enjoy seeing Jayson and Lisa and their three daughters, Antonella, Evangeline, and Kai, Rose’s Goddaughter.  We spent the day and evening catching up, telling stories, eating pizza, playing games, watching and unfortunately large number of videos on Tik Tok, and perhaps a wee bit of drinking was involved as well.  9-nieves-1-1

The Nieves house is ideally positioned for our route in and out of The Keys.  In the morning, on the last day of 2019, we backed out, hooked up, and made the three hour drive to our primary winter home, Sigsbee campground on the Naval Air Station at Key West.  10-nieves-2

 

 

December (mostly) in Sanibel

As mentioned in our first week in Sanibel post, we locked in a full 30 day stay on the island for the minor monthly discount and the fact that we really love the place.  This is our second year in a row doing a full month here timed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and is likely part of our November to December pattern for the next couple of years at least.  1-shellig-us

As I have mentioned in past posts, periwinkle park is the sort of place that has a very loyal seasonal patronage, and the park gives “right of first refusal” for the next season to the regulars.  You establish that “regular” status after several years of repeat visits building up some sort of informal reputation with the staff as people that support the park and will come back for decades.  We have apparently reached the point that, at least at the beginning of the peak season, we get that same “right of first refusal” and have already made our deposit for the same time frame next season.  2-shelling-root-ball

Why this particular timing?  Well, we spend a good portion of the Spring, Summer, and Fall traveling the country in a route that leaves us fairly far north into early October.  At that point we head back to Florida in advance of potential cold weather and generally time our arrival to support participation in the late October McIntosh Festival.  Then we participate in a few Central Florida markets and visit friends and relatives around the state until late November, along with an annual drop off of the motorhome at Mr Mobile RV in Port Charlotte for whatever work needs done.  This pushes us out to late November, so it works really well for us to start a one month stay in Sanibel then.  3-shelling-shadow

And yet another factor is we really like to be in Sanibel for the annual Luminary event, occurring on the first Friday in December, when the island lines miles of bike paths with luminaries and many local businesses or charities host parties and provide drinks and  hors de ovres.   Several of the venues have live music, wine tasting, and various entertainment.  Lots of locals decorate their bikes for the the night, and we have really embraced it as a wonderful evening. 4-luminary-1

This is our fourth year participating after accidentally hearing about it at Periwinkle Park’s social hour back in 2017, and this year did not disappoint.  The first year we explored only a mile or two of it, last year we did the full run all the way north, and this year we settled on a Goldilocks point about half way up the path.  5-luminary-2

The social environment at Periwinkle is another draw for us.  Most every evening during peak season with good weather a variable group of the regular RVers (along with a few former RVers who have bought park models and mobile homes in the resort) gather for social hour at the pond side pavilion for exactly one hour between 5 and 6 PM.  We have been coming long enough now that people remember us despite our far from season long stay, and for the first time were invited to the Saturday night restaurant group that dines together at a rotating list of local establishments.  6-luminary-3

We had anticipated that our month long stay would be almost entirely limited to island life, with perhaps a couple of trips off Sanibel for Walmart runs and perhaps some geocaching.  Life had other plans, of course, and we ended up spending far more days and taking many more trips to the mainland than we anticipated.  As mentioned in a previous post, we had Thanksgiving in Coral Springs with Xavier, Joy, and Melissa, and we had multiple follow up doctor appointments in Venice and Fort Myers.  7-shelling-rose

Another couple of “pull us off the island events” were a pair of market opportunities; one at Koreshan State Park and another at the German-American Society on Cape Coral, both two day affairs about half an hour from our campground.  They were sort of late finds by Rosemarie after a motivating sales month in Central Florida.  8-bridge-causeway

The Koreshan State Park Annual Art and Craft Show was a mixed bag: we sold OK but only because we got a bit lucky with our site assignment and even improved it by moving closer to the crowds and action after consulting with the event staff.  The problem, as we saw it, was that they had spread the vendors out in an almost comically distant matter.  In some places there would be 50 or more feet of separation between stalls, and the poor people on the back row, barely visible from the main thoroughfare, really suffered from a lack of traffic.

9-german-1

Traditional German band at the German American Society event.

We have enough experience at so many markets around the country that we can spot a bad set up and we are willing to be the squeaky wheel asking for improvement.  We even got our way too laid back vendor neighbor to move her tent, and I’ll be damned if her sales didn’t jump.  This market probably could have been fine done in one day rather than two; they just did not have the traffic they expected.

10-german-2

Row of vendors at the German American Society fair.

The German-American Society was a lovely event with live music, traditional German food, drinks, and attire, including a traditional European Saint Nicholas.  Sure, it probably could have been a one day event just like the Koreshan market, or lacking that shorter by a couple of hours each day, but we did decent business and plan on doing it again next year.  There is just something to be said for a craft market that has a reasonably priced beer hall.  11-german-3

We also had a day visit from our Key West friends Stan and Marilyn.  It is really nice to meet up with your favorite people from the winter campground in Sigsbee as spring approaches.  We have been fortunate enough to enjoy Sanibel with both Stan and Marilyn as well as Rusty and Charito in years past.  12-stan-marilyn

A few words about the restaurants on Sanibel: they are generally excellent, we have our favorites, though enjoy finding new places, but have to make smart choices for budget reasons.  Because of this we came to a few conclusions about dining in Sanibel.  For instance, we really enjoy the ambiance, particularly in the late afternoon, at the Mucky Duck Bar and Grill on the North end of the Island.  Unusually, they have easy parking, a beautiful outdoor area to enjoy the seashore and sunset, don’t harass customers for not ordering enough while lingering, and the food and drinks are quite decent.  It’s not cheap, but its wonderful.  13-mucky-duck-1

Another: while I love the fantastic milkshakes at Pinocchio’s/Geppetto’s, Rosemarie is firmly convinced that Love Boat has the superior actual ice cream, so that is our go to spot, conveniently located in the shopping plaza with one of the two grocery stores on the island.  And yet another: we have given up on the pizza at Island Time (between two years ago and last year something went desperately wrong, and the slices looked and tasted like dough that had random shredded cheese partially melted on it,)  but the meatball Parmesan sandwiches are still quite up to snuff.  14-mucky-duck-2

Anyways, we did not hit nearly as many places as we expected to this year, and so we look forward to the Periwinkle Park regulars (“The 49’ers,” due to the 49 RV sites in the park) showing us new options during the Saturday night dinners next season.  Incidentally, I just checked TripAdvisor, and we have only eaten at three of the top ten  rated places on the island, so I think we have a great culinary exploration lined up for our next visit.

15-shelling-jack

A little bit of chilly and windy weather didn’t stop our shelling.

OK sure that’s all well and good, but what are we really down here for?  The shelling, of course.  With our unexpectedly high number of days off the island and a bit of foul weather, we did not get in as many days on the beach as we expected, but we still did a good amount of miles on the shore doing the “Sanibel Stoop.”  We went out in good weather, and not so good weather.  We explored multiple beaches because conditions can result in dramatically different results even a mile apart.

16-shelling-art

Found this cute shell art while on one of the beaches.

The beach closest to the park was a pretty big bust this year (despite in past years having provided a plethora of coquinas, lightening whelk egg cases, and sea urchins).  The same for Lighthouse Point (which gave a us a lot of tulips and murexs last year) and Middle Beach.  But Bowman’s Beach and Blind Pass Cut produced nicely for us, especially as you get to where few shellers wander; half a mile or so away from the easy parking areas.

17-shelling-rose-dots

Rose with a broken piece of the rare Junonia shell.

 

Next up: our awkward route around Florida for Christmas before heading to Key West.

18-shelling-the-haul

The final haul.

59 Months Full Timing: November 2019 Report

The Distance:  517 miles bouncing back and forth from the southern portions of the Gulf Coast and Central Florida.  We are up to 9,275 miles in 2019. 1-nov-route

The Places:  During our three weeks in Central Florida we spent the weekdays in some of our favorite places (Trimble Park near Mount Dora and Blue Spring State Park in Orange City) and weekends at our “go-to-everything-is-full” campground, Lake Monroe Park or Twelve Oaks RV Resort.  Finally we headed south to begin our month long stay at Periwinkle Park2-img_0119

During this time we had 20 days in public parks (11 in state and 9 county) and 10 in private resorts.  We had 10 nights with full hook up and 20 with electric and water. 3-dscf4562

The Budget:  A bit more than 19% over budget, unfortunately.  A $1,348 repair bill simply can’t be overcome by some modestly successful markets, particularly when cap off the month with eight days in our most expensive park of the year.

4-img_0134

This tree was in our South Beach apartment for a couple of years, never growing more than 8′ tall.  We planted it in Xavier and Joy’s yard just before we started full time RVing, and now after five years look at the size of this coconut bearing thing!

The Drama and the Improvements:  After a great round of repairs with Mr Mobile RV in October, things have been great: no weird hydraulic issues, the stairs work, the water pump is quieter, etc etc.  So I was pretty pumped and ready to continue the improvement trend when I was approached at one of our markets by wind shield repair representatives.  For those that do not know, Florida insurance law mandates full coverage of all windshield cracks over a certain size with no rate increase.  I am not going to go into the issues now, but after five reschedules and clown-like management, we still do not have the windshield fixed.  Once it is actually fixed, I will relate the horror story. 5-img_0055

 

The Start of a Month Long Stay in Sanibel

Sanibel is one of our favorite places in Florida.  We typically visit after a string of family and friend stops along with a series of markets, so it has the added benefit of being a restful place capping a couple of months of significant driving and activity.  It is, however, expensive; as in one of the three priciest places we stay all year.  We get a modest discount for a full month stay, which brings the RV resort fee down from $58 to a bit over $48 a day.  Because of this, we want our full 30 day stay, and are loathe to compromise on this. 1-sunset

What this meant this year is that despite having our last Lake Mary Farmers Market on a Saturday, which continues into the early afternoon, we still packed up the rig and drove all the way down to Sanibel upon completion of the event rather than staying one more night in Central Florida and making the trip south the next morning.  We had to do this because Periwinkle Park could not slide our reservation even one day due to their fully booked near Christmas status.

2-rose-bar-mural

Rose in front of a Ft Myers area water front bar’s mural.

We woke up a bit early, I dropped Rose off at the market and helped her with the basic set up before leaving her to do the rest.  I drove back to the campground, made the rig ready for the road, drove it to a big supermarket parking lot half a mile from the market, disconnected Loki and then joined her for the rest of the event.  It made for quite the long day, but it was worth it just to finally get back to one of our happy places and not “lose” a day of our month long stay. 3-site

Periwinkle Park, by the way, is the only RV game on the island unless you secure one of the season long volunteer positions at Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve.  What do we love about this place, meaning both the park and Sanibel?  I often compare and contrast Sanibel with Key West, and Periwinkle with the Sigsbee RV park in Key West.  Sanibel is like a more laid back and far less crowded version of Key West in some ways.  It doesn’t have the party bars and pub crawls, but it has an island mentality, easy access to the ocean and seashore, excellent restaurants, and a generally wonderful vibe.

4-sunset-pop-up

Sunset behind our new pop up gazebo.

Periwinkle is one of the few RV parks of the hundreds we have visited that possesses a welcoming (and clique-free) social atmosphere even new comers can enjoy.  Almost every evening at 5 PM a collection of RVers gather at the modest covered pavilion beside one of the duck ponds for cocktails and conversation.  Lots of parks have social events and activities, but Periwinkle strikes me as a cut above most.  It does not have the almost insane level of Sigsbee Park’s social activities, but it is quite lovely, and each year we come back we seem to get further involved with the regulars.

5-alligator

This guy migrated to Periwinkle Parks since our last visit.  The captive duck and swan population has taken a big hit during his stay.  About 4 1/2 feet long, and smart enough to avoid capture so far.  And no worries; he’s behind a chain link fence with all the food he could want.

But why are we really here, you might ask?  For the shelling, obviously.  Sanibel’s geographic position as a barrier island mostly perpendicular to the Gulf Coast means that it captures a wonderful array and amount of Caribbean shells.  We find tulips, turkey wings, shark’s eyes, Florida fighting conchs, horse conchs, angel wings, lightening whelks, cockles, scallops, murex, olives, coquinas, and twice now the very rare junonia.  This is the place that Rose restocks her shell collection to make jewelry and other decor. 6-sunset

We have heard acquaintances report that they did’t find the shelling good at all during their weekend visit to Sanibel: this is because the shelling conditions vary as much as surf conditions.  One day Bowman’s Beach might be top notch, another day it is Blind Pass walking south, another it is Lighthouse Point.  You have to be willing to check out all the possibilities, but we have never been disappointed with our stay on the island.

7-shells

Right, no shells at all.  Place is way overrated.

While we don’t readily give up days on Sanibel, we made several exceptions this year, a couple of medical appointment visits back in Venice, and of course, Thanksgiving over in Coral Springs with Xavier, Joy, and Rose’s sister Melissa.  I had assumed we would all go back to La Vie, the wonderful Lebanese restaurant we had so thoroughly enjoyed last year, thinking this might be our new Thanksgiving tradition.  But Joy decided to do the full turkey and sides sit down meal even if it was just the five of us.

8-thanksgiving-turkey

A flavorful and tender turkey Joy made this year.

We stayed for two days before heading back to Sanibel, about which we will have a lot more to say in a coming post; this one just covers the first week or so.

9-thanksgiving-tree

Helping out a bit at Xavier and Joy’s with coconut removal.  The juice was excellent!