This has been a week or more of mostly socializing, always a pleasant diversion because of the high quality of all the friends we have! It started off with a visit at Joe Jackaway’s condo, which is in a retirement community called Sun City Center, near Tampa/St. Petersburg. Joe was with us on the 10 month odyssey down to Panama and back in 2004, traveling there in his class B RV, which is like a modified van. We had a joyful reunion with him, admired the beautiful job he has done on his condo remodeling, toured the facilities of the retirement center (impressive), and had a wonderful salmon barbeque in his yard. He had arranged for us to park our RV near the recreation center. Here is a picture of Joe & Elaine barbequing:
The next day, we continued south and set up at the Punta Gorda Elks Club. They have a beautiful site, right on the edge of the river looking across at Port Charlotte, but the RV parking is in a big grassy field near the entry road. Our good friends Nancy & Bob Colbert have an RV site in a nearby park so we spent a lot of the next few days with them. Here is a picture of them on the patio of their winter home in the RV park:
Bob is a handyman and he has often helped Elaine fix things on our RV’s in the past. This time it was our steps that were in need of attention. Periodically, they would refuse to go in or out, and by the time Bob looked at them, they were permanently in, which meant it was lucky that we are strong and agile because we were climbing in and out of our RV. We have 3 steps up outside, so that is a big one step when the automatic feature isn’t working! Bob & Elaine spent hours checking everything, which also involved getting underneath and all this was occurring on a very hot and humid day. In fact, it has been hot and humid pretty much non-stop for the past 10 days or so. They finally narrowed it down to the fact that we needed a new controller, so the next day we called a local dealer for Kwikee Steps and ordered one ($115). Within a short time of ordering it, I went to get into our RV and the steps came out when I opened the door! And they have been working well ever since. But, of course, we aren’t sure why they are working now and they weren’t working before, so we are still going to pick up the new controller.
Having had several days of socializing and shopping with Bob & Nancy, we headed across Florida, on highway 41 towards Miami. In between the fairly densely populated east and west coasts, there is a wonderful natural area called Big Cypress National Preserve. Part of it borders on Everglades National Park. All along the road is a waterway and there are lots of birds either feeding (herons and egrets) or sunning themselves (cormorants and anhingas). There are also lots of alligators in this waterway, and we saw at least 3 of them when we stopped at the visitor’s center where there is a boardwalk along this channel.
There are 2 campgrounds which are very accessible to the road: Monument Lake, and Midway. On our way towards Miami we stayed at Monument Lake, which is free between April 15 and Dec. 14, and which accepts the Golden Age pass the rest of the time, making it $8 for seniors. It has level sites located around a small lake, so every site has a water view. While camped here we walked a boardwalk trail at a nearby roadside park which went right into a swampy area. There were lots of different birds here and we could see all the cypress knees, as well as turtles, fish, and other aquatic plants.
Midway CG is a bit closer to Miami and we stayed there on our way back to Punta Gorda after the weekend. It always has a fee, which is $10 with our Golden Age pass, but that is because there are lovely flat and grassy sites with a paved pad and electric hookup; water and a dump station are available, and all are around another little lake. We would have stayed here longer but the phone and internet signals were so weak we couldn’t get any of our business chores done (including posting this blog update!) so we headed back towards the chaotic Ft. Myers area.
What a fun weekend we had in Miami while visiting our friends Roger & Martin, whom we met on our 46 day Around the Horn cruise last Jan-Feb. They live in an area called Miami Shores in a lovely condo development called The Towers of Quayside. From their home on the 14th floor, the incredible view was over all the surrounding communities such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, as well as the bay in between.
Their development even has a waterfront area and dock right on the water. It also has all the amenities anyone could want, but we mostly used the spa, exercise room, and swimming pool. Luckily, they had obtained permission for us to park in a lot right on the property. We met their cute little shitszu dog, Piglet, and here is a picture of them all:
Friday night they took us over to Miami Beach in their convertible to have dinner with some of their friends, Amy & Dilia, on Lincoln Street. Before dinner they drove us all around Miami Beach and it was fun to see it on such a warm evening from a convertible! We hadn’t been there since 1986 when we were on a summer trip with Elaine’s kids. Lincoln Street is a pedestrian street which has lots of trendy shops, outside bars and restaurants, which were really bustling on this perfect evening. Martin & Roger are Cuban and we insisted that they expose us to some of the Cuban areas and also the FOOD. The next day they took us to a Cuban market, where we had a delicious juice drink and some chicharones. These were much more delicious than the Mexican ones because there is a lot of meat as well as the crispy outer skin. After driving around Coral Gables and seeing the Biltmore Hotel, etc. we went to a Cuban restaurant for lunch. Wow, what a lot of great food was being served and at such reasonable prices because we were with locals and not in a tourist area. Here is some of our food:
We just love the sweet, fried plantains, and the guys also ordered some of the smashed, green ones also fried but not sweet tasting at all. Of course, we had to end the meal with a strong Cuban coffee. This was probably helpful later when we stayed up late for the Halloween gathering we all attended in Wilton Manor. This is a mostly Gay area, so the streets had been closed and a huge stage was set up, along with lots of booths on the street and drink stands in front of the bars and restaurants. We met Amy & Dilia here and other friends too.
There was entertainment on the stage, lots of loud music, plenty of goings on in the bars, but our main activity was walking around and admiring all the Halloween costumes. Not since our last visit to the Castro District in San Francisco many years ago have we seen such elaborate and outrageous costumes. And a lot of the people were straight – they just came down there for all the fun. Here are a few of the pictures we took:
We thought that the following picture of 2 girls who simulated being on a roller coaster was quite the clever costume.
The major theme among gay men seemed to be to wear a very skimpy outfit with a bare chest and have air brushed paint to simulate good abs. Of course, many gay men have great abs even without air brushing them….
Sunday we just hung around Martin & Roger’s development and enjoyed the spa and pool and recovered from the partying the night before. We had the guys over for dinner and in the course of reminiscing about all the great times we had together on the South America cruise, events shifted to looking at current cruise offerings from Miami (since we are in this area), and pretty soon the 4 of us were booked on 4 day cruise to the Bahamas starting Nov. 9! For various reasons related to getting on-board credits and also benefits for being Diamond Plus members (the guys), we booked Mary & Roger into a room and Elaine and Martin into a room. Martin is going to be 30 on Nov. 20 and Roger will be 34 in a few months, so we now call them our “boy toys” and are hoping to scandalize some people when we board the ship.
Yesterday we packed up and headed back towards Punta Gorda, stopping along the way to see Tom & Nancy Vineski. They are staying at the Larry & Penny Thompson RV Park which is located in a county park in the southern part of Miami. Normally they would be on the move to the west but family concerns are keeping them here for a while and we were happy for the opportunity to see them. They are doing well and looking good, as you can see by the picture below.
When a visit was proposed, we asked to meet at their park so we could see it. Boy were we glad we did because when we arrived there, Nancy had a delicious lunch all prepared! This is so much better than going out somewhere. Several hours flew by as we caught up on each other’s news and learned about future plans. The RV park there is a nice one but it is impossible to get a reservation during the “high season” in FL, which is mid-Dec. to mid-April.
Now we are heading back to Punta Gorda for more time with Bob & Nancy, as well as a few more RV fixups. This week we will be making arrangements for a place to leave our rig during the cruises, and getting ourselves ready to go. We hope this is a good week for you all too!