The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday, 25 November 2013

Stuff, Nonsense and Mouldy Wet Dog

It may have been something of an error to go slogging on the penultimate day of our holiday.

By the very nature of slogging, our shoes got wet, and as the entire walk was below water level, they didn't get the chance to dry out during any subsequent walking.

Arriving at our hotel last night, the car already stank of wet shoes, but as our room had a balcony we thought it was to be a short-lived issue.

Alas, such was their wetness (and our lack of newspaper) that even an airy night of 20+ degrees wasn't enough to get them dry (and I'll gloss over the condition of the socks!).

Today has been mainly driving and, on the couple of occasions when we have left the car, we have been overwhelmed by the fumes when we have returned.

I just hope we can get those shoes dry tonight or I hate to think what our suitcase will be like when we get home.


As an aside, we are now in Tarpon Springs, where the Greek bakery has made me wish that we had skipped Naples last night and headed straight up here. We've made a good effort on sampling the cakes in one sitting, but two days of cake eating would have been preferable. Yum!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

M&G Go For A Slog

Mick's bites-the-size-of-small-countries had abated to more reasonable sizes this morning and I managed to convince him to go for a slog*.

We started off on the Florida Trail in the Big Cypress National Preserve, where, just for a look-see, we wandered an hour upstream before wandering an hour back. An interesting place, we declared, going through a mixture of open meadows and Cypress woodland, sometimes on dry land, sometimes through water.

Back at our starting point, and after lunch and a wash out of our shoes and socks (full of mud and silt), we wandered over the road where the going looked somewhat wetter.

Coming upon a college group being led by a ranger (who were stopped whilst one of their number tried unsuccessfully to locate her shoe which had been sucked off in some mud; she ended up limping back to the Visitor Centre) the ranger asked if we realised that we weren't on the Florida trail, but were on the 'Swamp Walk'. In all honesty, we didn't know where we were, but we were exactly where we intended to be.

Out to a stand of Cypress we waded, had a poke around, and waded back along different sloughs. It was less than an hour, but something very different to our usual walking (yes, we get wet feet in the UK, but not in such consistently deep or warm water.

(* slog = walking through the water, varying from ankle deep to thigh high, in the Everglades)


This photo belongs with the next post. I'm having some Internet issues tonight (cheap motel = great Internet; chain hotel = almost unusable Internet) and can't transfer it to my iGadget to attach it to today's main post.

This was the deepest water in which we found ourselves today.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Shark Valley

Arriving at Shark Valley (a misleading name - no sharks and flat as far as the eye can see) this morning we had a choice: to take the 2 hour tram tour or rent some bikes and do 15-mile circuit under our own power. In favour of the tram was that it includes a ranger telling us about the history and wildlife, plus the trams have roofs and it was a rainy day. In favour of the bikes was that we wouldn't feel so lazy.

Bikes won the vote, and off we set, me on a single-gear sit-up-and-beg with pedal-back-to-stop and a fetching basket on the front. Mick was on a similar steed, but without the basket or the begging.

The road being entirely flat meant the bikes were perfectly fit for the job and within 45 minutes we had cycled though half an hour of rain and reached the observation tower which lies at the end of the road loop.

The views from the tower were a little curtailed due to the heavy shower that hit whilst we were there - but at least we were under cover for that one. (BTW it was 25 degrees out, so it was warm rain.)

The return leg of the journey was more interesting than the outward one, mainly for the far-reaching views (the outbound leg was mainly bush-lines), the wild-life and the fact the road wiggled (whereas the outward leg was almost dead-straight).

The headwind combined with a quiet protest from my knees during the final three miles, but I suppose the protest was understandable as that's the first time I've ridden 15 miles in my entire life! Mick reckons it's the first time he's ridden that distance in 43 years.

Jolly good fun it was too and undoubtedly more so than we would have had on a tram tour. We even agreed that the grey day and showers were in our favour. There would be no shelter to be had on a sunny day.

Shark Valley was followed by Big Cypress Preserve where there were so many 'gators present that they almost ceased to be interesting. It being the location where we had originally intended to go backpacking, I was interested to go and have a look at the trails. Mick, however, is sporting some insect bites the size of small countries and thus is harbouring a temporary phobia of areas involving both shade and water.

We're now in Everglades City (which isn't a city at all; they seem to like their misleading names in these parts!) where we received the worst welcome at our accommodation that I have ever experienced. A minor mar on another excellent day.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Vultures, Turtles and Ickle Baby Gators

Just a few photos today. I've been trying to type a post, but have lost patience with trying to type accurate and coherent sentences on a virtual keyboard.

I'll just point out that there is a turtle somewhere in the water shot, although it may not be too clear.

There is no photo of the ickle baby 'Gators, as I forgot to get the iGadget out.

Twas another good day (and silly hot).

(Note 1: I don't think the photos are going to land in this post in a logical order and I can't quite be moved to try to sort that.
Note 2: our car is the nicely wrapped Mini Clubman, not the sloppily wrapped vehicle being unwrapped by the vultures)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Anhinga Trail

Having left Key West this morning, the Everglades was our destination. Having lugged our backpacking gear around with us all this time, our intention was to spend a couple of nights camping.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we entered the National Park, having spent a little while in the Visitor Centre talking to a ranger and taking in the exhibits, so we headed straight for the campsite, just 5 miles or so down the road. The ranger had gone into such detail as to tell us which pitch to try to get at the campsite, and that we wouldn't find it to be busy. She was quite right about it not being busy. Apparently nobody told her that its currently closed for refurb.

That threw us a bit, as we didn't really want to drive 34 miles further up a dead-end road to the next campsite, where the ranger has told us the mosquitoes were still out in force. To give us time to contemplate, we thought we'd go and walk the Anhinga Trail, which is less than a mile long, but (because of its location and route) is crammed full of wildlife.

We weren't disappointed. In fact, quite the opposite - it was absolutely fantastic, as much for the sounds as the sights (splash, flap, squawk, splash, flap, ROAR).

The sights were impressive, though. Both of the photos attached have 'gators in them. The one with the view actually has two within the frame (although I don't know how visible the second one is in this snap).

Whilst seeing wild 'gators on their natural habitat was the icing on the cake, we were just as taken with the fish (perfectly visible in the clear water) and the birds - moreover, the birds we witnessed catching fish. Top stuff!

We would have investigated another trail, but decided to go back in the morning to join the ranger led walk and to visit another couple of nature trails, so headed out to find accommodation.

Homestead is where Mick spent months at a time in the years before Hurricane Andrew flattened the place, and that's where we ended up. As much as it would have been nice to spend a couple of nights in the tent, I'm quite happy to be in a comfy bed again tonight. My only complaint about our chosen accommodation so far is that the walls seem not to be sound-insulative. Let's hope our neighbour doesn't fall asleep with the TV on - I need to be fresh as a daisy for more Everglades Oggling tomorrow!

Coast to Coast

We walked miles again today, including a yo-yo coast to coast.

The day started in the cemetery, which may seem an odd choice, but it came recommended. The only shame was that we didn't find the self-guide leaflets until we were leaving.

Then came the Eco-Discovery Centre, which we would have visited yesterday when we were right next door, except that it doesn't open on Mondays. It was there that Mick came perilously close to losing his Tilley Hat. Thankfully, we hadn't gone far when he realised, with some horror, its absence and back-tracked to find it. That hat has accompanied him over so many miles that it really would have ruined his day to lose it.

Then started our first coast to coast walk as we ambled up to the north coast before walking down for an obligatory photo at the official 'southernmost point in the Continental USA'. A bit like the sign post at John O'Groats, it's not actually at the most southern point - but it's almost as close as you can get without being on the prohibited land of the US Navy.

We then returned to the north coast (twice more, actually) before our day was over (and our day wasn't over until we'd gone significantly out of our way to a restaurant which turned out to be closed). I'll pop up a separate post about our final coastal visit of the day.

We're all done in Key West now so there's only one way to go: back north.

Sunset at Key West

On our third attempt we took no chances and arrived at the square with 45 minutes to spare. A good job we did too, as we had already missed the prime viewing spots. We quickly staked our claim to a sub-prime spot (but one that allowed us a view of some unicycle-riding-fire-jugglers) and by 15 minutes before the sun hit the horizon, people were many deep along the quay behind us.

As sure as eggs are eggs, the sun dipped behind the horizon. Maybe I was the only one there to find it odd and unnecessary that it got a cheer and round of applause for so doing. Am I missing something? Surely it's a natural event that happens every single day?

The snaps attached were taken with the iGadget, so please excuse any quality issues - the ones taken with the camera are definitely more colourful.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Zachary Taylor State Park and the Customs House

We've walked miles today and, my goodness, it was a hot one for walking anywhere.

Our starting point was to walk down to Zachary Taylor State Park, where the map they give you made it look like there was quite a distance of trails available to us. Having walked all of the trails (and, in fact, almost the entire circumference of the park) within 40 minutes, including a few stops to photograph the many iguanas, we headed over to the fort. The fort was well worth the park entrance fee on its own and we spent a good while poking around and learning about its history.

The Little White House (presidential residence/office, particularly of Harry Truman) came next on the agenda, once we finally found it, but that proved just to be a quarter of an hour of mild diversion (admittedly, we only looked at the free exhibition, rather than taking the tour).

Really feeling like I was melting I was pleased to see a 'Cool Inside' sign outside our next stop, which was the Museum of Art and History at the old Customs House. Usually, I'm not a fan of air-con, but today I relished our hour and a half or so in this chilled building. We didn't just loiter either; it was a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable place and worth every penny of the admission fee.

Our final intention today was to get down to Mallory Square to enjoy sunset and to see the street performers, for which the square is renowned. Alas, exactly the same as yesterday, we arrived about 10 minutes after the sun had set and just as the last entertainer was finishing up. A real shame, as there were no cruise ships in tonight to spoil the view to the west.

Continuing the theme of this holiday, we've extended our stay here by a night. The Everglades portion of this trip is looking more severely curtailed than ever. We should have booked a 4 week trip, rather than a mere 3.5!

(Today's lack of a photo was not a repetition of yesterday's operator error, but just a complete failure to get the iGadget out to take one.)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Bahia Honda State Park and Key West

Journeying down to Key West today we passed a number of state parks, but the one we opted to visit was Bahia Honda, which, from the descriptions I'd read, sounded like the most interesting. Alas, we found ourselves a trifle disappointed.

The entry fee was the same as for yesterday's park ($9), but it seemed to offer so much less. Certainly the views were stunning, but so they were from other points on the island too. And the 'walk onto the old railway bridge' was as short as the visitor centre was small.

Still, we whiled away a pleasant few hours in gorgeous hot weather, walked the nature trail and back along the beach, before overshooting the rest of our intended stopping-points for the day and heading straight down to Key West. Arriving late in the afternoon, we have done far more walking here than we did in the park, albeit most of it was in the dark and all of it was on the city streets. I'm not yet sure what to make of Key West, but I will say that if someone brought me here blind-folded and I had to guess where I was, I wouldn't think it was the USA.

We will explore further in daylight tomorrow.

(As for today's photo, Mick confirms that I did take one, but it seems that my inability to see the iGadget's screen in the bright sunshine made me miss hitting the 'take picture' icon. Please just imagine perfect seas, skies and palm trees.)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

John Pennekamp State Park, A Geocache And Some Big Fish

Being 17 days into our Florida trip we should be embarking on a six day backpacking trip just about now. The plan had been to spend a week around Orlando, a week looking around the Keys and a week backpacking in the Everglades. The plan got altered in week 1 when I realised that 7 days at Disney just wasn't enough.

We did finally drag ourselves away to head south, arriving yesterday (Friday) at Key Largo.

The John Pennekamp State Park was first on the agenda for today and I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn't expect it to be so educational a visit. As well as visiting the very informative visitor centre, and generally ambling around, we walked all 3 of the nature trails (two of which were a whole 1/2 mile in length!).

It was on one of the nature trails (which were variously mangrove or hardwood hammocks) that I spotted a couple walking around off-trail, smart-phone in hand, looking under various logs.

"They're looking for a Geocache" I said, and a few moments later (a few yards beyond where they were thrashing around) I saw a tell-tale trod. On our way back along the trail the couple had gone, so we dived off down the trod and within seconds Mick had spotted the cache location. That's now our 4th random Geocache find (but our first abroad). Being the first people to sign the log today, it appears that the couple, who were so obviously looking for it, missed the give-away path leading to its location.

With our park explorations declared complete, Robbie's Marina was our next stop, where we didn't indulge in a bucket of fish to feed the tarpon, but simply watched firstly the spectacle of the big fish swimming so close to the dock, and then the bigger spectacle of lots of other tourists feeding them. It was an impressive sight - and funny as people recoiled as the monster fish leapt out of the water, huge mouths agape, and headed straight for their fingers.

All that ambling had worked up an appetite, so after an hour sat on a swing looking out to sea (what a lovely colour of sea too) it was off for a big dinner and my first ever taste of Key Lime Pie.

A bit more State Park ambling may ensue tomorrow.