Everglades

We left Key West after only a couple days.  Looking back, there was more we would had liked to done there and probably should have stayed for another couple days.  But, we prefer to camp in the wilderness and so we got back on the road and headed to the Everglades.

When we entered Everglades National Park there was no one at the entrance or the campsite checkin.  It looked to us like it was unmanned because of the government shutdown.  We have an Annual National Park pass, so it didn’t really matter to us.  We wouldn’t have had to pay to get in anyway, though we would have to pay for a camping spot.  We drove around the park and it looked to be in good condition considering the shutdown.

As we made camp someone asked me how to identify the camping spaces (they had the number painted on the slabs) because he had to got back to the checking building and tell them which campsite he was in.  After helping this guy, I walked back to the checkin and paid for the campsite we settled into.  They must have just been away from the desk when we drove through before.

Nicole and I decided to take a hike while we were there.  We only got about a 1/4 mile in before being overwhelmed by mosquitoes.  These suckers where huge.   Like, steal your girl and fly away huge.  Nic wasn’t having any of it so we turned around and went back to the campsite.

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These guys were hanging out in the trees when I got up the next morning.

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We only stayed in Everglades National Park for one day.  It was hot and muggy.  The bugs were crazy ferocious.  I would have liked to do a canoe rental, but Nic was not going to get into a canoe with alligator infested waters.  

So we hit the road with Bradenton as our next destination.  Crossing Florida from Miami to the western side of Florida is a highway nicknamed “Alligator Alley”.  It is well named as it has a canal running next to it that alligators have infested.  I saw one roadkill alligator getting eaten by vultures on the way.

We didn’t make it all the way to Bradenton and stopped for the night at a State Park.  We don’t like to pay for camping and that made two days in a row for me.  Unfortunately, there just isn’t any free camping in the Everglades like you would typically see around a National Park.  One thing that was cool about this campsite was that it had one of the walking dredgers that was used to make Alligator Alley.

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This thing actually drug itself along the ground and scooped out mud and stumps so that the Everglades could be drained enough to build the road.

There isn’t much to say about this campsite.  We just had a peaceful night camping before it was time to move on the next day.

Key West

Parking in Key West was very challenging.  We got there late and there were few parking lots that didn’t have no overnight parking signs.  We did finally find a place close to the beach that had an awesome view of the ocean and settled in for the night.

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The next morning Nicole and I got up and Nicole asked me if I’d heard that bird that sounded just like a rooster this morning?   I told her it was a rooster, but she wouldn’t believe me because the crowing was coming right from beside the van and there was no way that it was someone in town keeping chickens that close to us.  I decided to get up and walk down the street a little and sure enough, roosters everywhere.  They freely roam the streets of Key West scratching and crowing.

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Nic and I spent the day bumming around in the van and at the beach.  That evening we decided to checkout the shops and nightlife.  We saw an original painting that Nic fell in love with.  Thank goodness it was already sold, so there was zero temptation to buy it.  It seems that people Key West really like their chickens.

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The next day we walked to Hemingway’s House/Museum.  One fact that was new to me was that Hemingway married into his money long before he was a successful writer.  In fact, the Hemingway house was where he wrote all his novels.

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The pool his wife put in while he was away corresponding for WWII to spite him.  It really pissed him off because she donated the boxing ring he used to have there to the local brothel and she spent a small fortune building it.  Everything under Key West is coral so digging a hole there is a real enterprise and very expensive.  In the end there wasn’t much he could say about it (although he did) because it was her money.

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This room above the carriage house is where Hemingway did all his writing.

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Everything you see there is actually Hemingway’s possessions.  His family sold the house with the furnishings in tact to the family who currently owns it.  They had the foresight to preserve everything and eventually turn the home into a museum.

We spent the whole morning doing a guided tour and then touring the grounds.  After that, it was time to jump in the van and head towards the Everglades.

Diagon Alley

Universal Studios was directly on our way to Key West.  Since Nic is a huge Harry Potter fan, we thought that we would stop there so that she could see the new Harry Potter World that they put up there.  

They divided the Harry Potter World across two different theme parks, Universal Florida and Islands of Adventure, so that you would have to pay for both worlds to get the full Harry Potter experience.  It didn’t much matter to us, since the Islands of Adventure part of Harry Potter World is a roller coaster.  Nic hates roller coasters, so we opted for just the Universal Studios theme park.  That side has Diagon Alley.

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Diagon Alley is a (I think) full size reproduction from the movies.  It has shops where you can buy wands and use the wands to interact with various bits of scenery throughout the park.  It also has the usual gift and food shops.  You can even get Butter Beer!  To help adults keep their sanity, they also had Wizards Brew, a fairly strong stout and other adult beverages.  Butter Beer tastes like a buttery cream soda.  It is really good and if they don’t bottle it to sell it, they should.  Nic really loved the stuff.

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Gringotts Bank has a cinematic ride inside of it that puts you in the middle of a 3D movie scene with the original Harry Potter actors as holograms.  Escape from Gringotts was impressive and a lot of fun.

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For lunch we ate at a Harry Potter favorite, The Leaky Cauldron.  It served traditional British fare.  I had fish and chips and Nic had a shepard’s pie.  The food was good, but as you might have already guessed, it wasn’t cheap.

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There was a lot more to universal than just Harry Potter world.  I solo rode a couple of roller coasters.  The Fast and Furious made me wish I had my nephews with me.  It was full of fast cars, girls, and explosions.  All the best stuff.

At about 2 in the afternoon, we had seen all of the park that there was to see and so we hopped back in the van and got back on the road toward the Keys.

Osceola National Forest – We’re still here

We’re still in the Osceola National Forest at the West Tower Campground.  This is the same campsite that we have been at for over a month now.  Like I mentioned before, this place has basically all you could want in a free campsite.  Our time here is coming to a close however.  General gun season runs out on Jan. 6th.  During general gun you can stay as long as you want (there usually is a 14 day limit), so it is almost time for us to move on.  As for me, I’m good and ready to get on the road again.

Let’s do some catching up on what Nic and I have been doing all this time here.  Our routine has been very consistent for the last month.  We work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  In between, I code and read.  Nic reads and plays Sims on her computer.  Usually once a day or so I have an overly long conversation about politics and the economy with my neighbor Al.

Al is 75 years old and lives in a tent.  He’s been homeless for over 6 years now.  Before that he lived in a travel trailer that got destroyed in a tropical storm.  He’s in pretty decent shape for his age and has a little pickup to get around in.  He mostly listens to the radio or reads the paper during the day.  He doesn’t have much family except for a couple of older sisters, so he likes to chat a lot.

Al and I couldn’t be more different on our beliefs.  I don’t believe we are being invaded by Mexico, that Jews are trying to destroy our economy, or that there is an imminent race war about to happen.  He probably believes me to be a bit naive because I don’t know about the Illuminati or the shadow government.  Regardless, we do have long conversations and try to understand each other’s differing prospectives.

Our Christmas dinner this year comprised of stuffing, mashed potatoes, ham steaks (cooked on an open fire), and individual pumpkin pies.  We had Al over since he didn’t have any family to spend it with and our family is far, far away.

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All the food turned out really well.  Nic is getting pretty amazing with nothing to work with but a hot plate and some collapsable cookware,

The campsite where we are staying at is an old fire watch station complete with tower.IMG 0201

I got bored and decided that I should climb it.  Don’t worry.  Even though the watch tower was long ago abandoned, it is in great shape.  The steps are newer treated lumber and the whole thing barely swayed as I got towards the top.

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Next Monday Nic and I are heading to the gym first thing in the morning and then driving towards the Florida Keys. We don’t have any plans other than visiting Hemingway’s house/museum.  After that we will be leaving Florida and visiting friends in Bradenton on the way out.  We’ll probably head to Texas after that.  Who knows? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Deer Hunting: Deep South Style

I was working on a program at the picnic table today when the rain kicked up again.  It’s been raining here for about a day and a half and is expected continue for a few more.  We had a break in the rain and I figured that I would get out of the van for a bit, but got caught outside.

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We recently bought a tarp and some poles for our camping gear.  The tarp is mostly to let people know that there is someone already camped in this site when we are in town.  Today it kept my computer and me mostly dry.

You can’t really tell from the photo, but the rain was coming down in buckets.  I was really surprised to see the deer hunters out in this kind of weather.  I suppose they were probably surprised to see some guy working at a computer in it.  I felt sorry for the dogs the most though.  The hunting dogs that is.

This little girl had about had enough of it and was more interested in sniffing the grease drippings in my fire pit.

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One of the things that greatly surprised me was how deer hunting in the deep south was so much different than how we do it in the midwest.  Firstly, they almost completely hunt from their pickup trucks.  It isn’t illegal to shoot across a road down here or to have a loaded gun in the vehicle.  Heck, about half the pickups I see down here have a seat mounted in the bed of the truck to sit on and shoot from.  They look like some kinda 4×4 bass boat or something.  Oh, and everyone uses a high-power rifle.

The other thing they do is use dogs to run the deer.  Some of the more responsible hunters put radio collars on the dogs and track them.  You’ll see them with what look like old TV antenna’s, waiving them around the outside of their pickup trucks trying to track the dogs.  This is the same stuff we used to watch Jim put on a lion in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

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Some guys don’t use the radio collars.  There are these cages about every other corner on the gravel roads that say “Lost Dogs” in them.  If you find a dog, you’re supposed to put it in the box and hope someone comes along and claims it.

The other thing I found surprising was how small the deer are here.  I hear that if you get one over 100lbs, you got a good one.  Maybe hunting small deer with dogs, pickups, and high-power rifles is more common than I knew about.  It was all new to me and I found it all a little strange.