16 December – Casino parking was much better this time around – no noisy patrons or traffic going on into the night. Muddled around for a while early on to make sure that I got the blog posted in case we didn’t have Internet at our next stop.
Finally headed off from Immokalee continuing up H29 via La Belle until we came to Palmdale, where it switched to H27. Left the main drag at the small town of Lake Placid and on a much smaller road skirted Lake Istokpoga to link up with 98W for just a short distance until we came to the gated entrance of the equestrian camp.
The whole trip was spent going through farmland of one sort or another – first grazing land with beef cattle, then probably about 20 miles of orange groves and then into more intensive agriculture. The towns are very much service towns for this industry and very Latino.
The big surprise was how nice the camp is – I picked it up off our free camping app – it is ostensibly an equestrian camp but they let anyone use it. Hickory Hammock is it’s name (a hammock is a vegetated land area in a swamp or flood prone district in local parlance); it is full of palms and mature live oaks laden with Spanish Moss, has impressive facilities for those who come with their horses but otherwise is fairly basic. We have the camp to ourselves; all I had to do was register with the South Florida Water District to get the combination to the gate lock. There is a camp host who has been here for 5 years and that is it.
17 December – Nice staying put for a few days again – can have lazy starts and generally kick back. Did the 6 mile round trip to the gate and back on our bikes – nice flat ride on a compacted shell/sand road. We might have mountain bikes, but I don’t do hills so it is on the flat we will stay. On the internet we came across an RV excursion going down to Mexico from Texas which looks interesting, so will spend the next few days doing a bit of research to see if it would be right for us, rather than having to fly to one spot in Mexico and staying there for our next ‘meaningful period’ away from the US.
18 December – Staying put in Paradise, catching up on news and generally lazying around.
19 December – Time to set forth again- decided to cover half the distance to Homosassa and stock up on supplies for the season. Initially lots of orange groves lined the road northwards, but we then hit civilisation and miles upon miles of built-up area. Were heading towards Groveland with the backup of a WallMart if we couldn’t find a nice freebie. Luckily saw a sign pointing to the Van Fleet State Trail and followed the signs until we came across a great parking spot part-way along the 32 mile trail. Decided that we would stay put, and with nothing to say we couldn’t, settled in for the night.
20 December – A knock on the door greeted us at breakfast time – just a polite ranger saying that no overnight parking was allowed – he had noticed us when he left last night and as we were still there in the morning he had to do his duty and advise us. Our excuse was that we wanted to bike the trail and were too late last night, which was fine with him. Nice gentle ride on the old railway right-of-way; this trail may go 32 miles, but we just did 8 miles on it, as a gradual build-up is required!). It was good timing as the sun came out quite strongly after we had got back so any further would have been really hot riding.
Continued on through much more farm land, cattle ranches and orange groves, and past the Sebring motor racing track, with a break at a promising looking local cafe for a spot of lunch. What a feed we got – their special of the day was stuffed avocado so we had one each (should have shared one as it was really a bit too much for one person!). They really tried with Bob’s coffee and he got something approximating a flat white (one day we will succeed). Northbound again on the road to Homosassa Springs and our destination for the next week – an RV park much in the same vein as that at Titusville – a lot of permanent mobile homes as well as rigs. For the first time since being here we actually have a cable TV hookup, although of the 30 channels available only a couple are worth watching. Clive next door would be proud of these people – loads of homes/rigs decorated for the festive season. Having a look at the social calendar – we can play bingo, cards, pool, street golf, take part in the golf cart decorating contest or even Karaoke as well as carol singing – our options are limitless..
21 December – Yucky wet day, so we just had to stay in – read books and watch some old time movies on the only channel worth watching. Evening came around pretty quickly – and lo and behold “The Sound of Music” was on, so had to watch that. The rain progressed over the evening to thunder and lightning – nice to be tucked up in our little home – it wouldn’t be nice to be in a tent. They are having a Christmas dinner in the recreation hall on Christmas Day so we will sign up for that – the only challenge will be to make a side or dessert to take with us – no doubt I will come up with something.
22 December – Another lazy day getting our little house in order.
23 December – Decided to do the State Wildlife Park today even though the weather was looking a bit inclement. Just had a short drive to get to one of the entrances where they take you on a tram or boat to get into the park proper. We took the tram there and once at the park made our way first to the Manatees – they have four captive manatees (having been injured, these are unable to survive in the wild so stay in the care of the park). We got to hear a talk about them and see them being fed. Even though they look like a seal/walrus their big fat looking bodies are not surrounded with blubber and hence they are extremely sensitive to the water temperature – once the outside ocean gets below 68/70F they have to head back south to warm springs or nuclear power station outlets; the Homosassa Springs are one of their favourite sites as the water remains between 72-74F all year round. If they get caught with the temperature going down to 62F they can die, so it is a fairly fine line they tread. After watching them being fed we wandered around the other animals they were taking care of in the park – a large number of birds – pelicans, storks, flamingo, owls and raptors; alligators, bobcat, panther and bear and also something very non-native – a 60 year old hippo.
The highlight for us had to be the springs themselves – there was an underwater viewing chamber right where the springs bubble out of the ground – very clear and teeming with fish – I have never seen so many fish – they were swimming around the observation chamber which was probably 12 feet under the water and took up all the viewing space – one species was going in a clockwork direction, probably 20 high and 20 deep, with another layer above them going the opposite way – it was amazing.
The special treat was when a wild manatee with her pup came in and swam around for several loops – as they are completely vegetarian the fish weren’t at all bothered by them. With that done – we had a bite to eat in their small cafe before heading back to Wanda – this time by the little boat through the swamps.
24 December – Another not so nice day, good for book reading with just a short outing to stock up on fruit to make a fruit salad for Xmas dinner. Just made it back from shopping when the heavens opened up again and we had an evening of rain and more thunderstorms, whilst a tornado tore apart Columbia, Mississippi.
25 December – Happy Christmas and the bad weather has cleared away. Joined about 120 of the residents for the dinner later on. What a lot of food – cooked ham was supplied by the camp with all the extras bought in by the residents. Some very interesting sides appeared and an awful lot of very sweet desserts which got reasonably well demolished except for our fruit salad – looks like we will be eating very healthily for the next few days.
26 December – Met up today with Sue and Wayne, a couple we had met way back in June in South Dakota. They came and picked us up, took us for a little drive up to near where they were staying at Crystal River and we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch at a local seafood restaurant. Yum – I had crab stuffed shrimp and Bob crab stuffed Turbot. There were so many nice choices on the menu (even frog’s legs), it was hard to decide. Frogging is quite a popular pastime in the swamp areas and you do see them quite often on menus. It was nice to catch up and share our respective travels since our last meeting. Spent the evening searching out our next spots to stay. Tried a different tack this time – I used Google Maps to have a look at the quieter roads available to us going north and from there drilled down to the satellite view to look for something suitable. Identified a boat launch/bird watching area that looked like it had a decent parking spot with no habitation near – so plugged the co-ordinates into Sally so we can try our luck tomorrow.
27 December – Time to get back to reality and leave the cushy life – no power or TV now for a while now and no great loss. Made our way up past Crystal River on Highway 19 and spent about 100 miles travelling in a very straight line on a quiet four laned highway. There were a couple of bends in the stretch, a few towns and at Chiefland stopped at Wallies to try and get a top-up card for our prepay wifi – they couldn’t oblige but Radio Shack next door were able to do it directly so we should be set for another 30 days.
From Hwy 19/98 out of Chiefland we turned off on to a minor country road through Steinhatchee -this place was teeming with boaties as it is right on the Gulf of Mexico. Not far up this road we came to our destination – boy what a triumph! Magical place, with picnic tables and plenty of places to park (nothing says we can’t). Parked by the boat launch on a small estuary only a very short distance from the open Gulf. Plenty of palm trees and only one ute with trailer parked waiting to pick up a boat. Turned out to be a small airboat and the owners encouraged us to stay and watch the changing tides in the coastal swamp – so here we are. We have witnessed the most gorgeous sunset and apart from the few inevitable mossies, it is a perfect spot.
28 December – Another day at this lovely spot was the order of the day. Bit funny weatherwise – it started off a little overcast but by 11 a sea fog had rolled in and everything got a bit clammy. Went out for a bike ride on one of the many tracks in the area followed by a walk later on. This region of the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, with many birding trails was once a Cypress Swamp but it was clear felled a long time ago and all that is remaining from this era is a lot of tram track footings raised above the swamp. Pelicans, wading birds and hundreds of fiddler crabs were in abundance in the immediate area. A little more activity from locals coming and going today including the local sheriff, but no-one seemed bothered by us being there.
29 December – The sea fog came in again during the night – there is so much moisture in the air that it was gathering on the trees above us and every time there was a bit of a breeze we would get showered with the accumulated droplets. Time to move off again and back on along Highway 19 to Perry to pick up supplies before heading off in search of our next sojourn. Turned out not to be such a great choice – a Hunt Camp in the forest – we gave up after driving quite a long distance on a forest road which got progressively less driveable. Could have stopped on the side of the road, but the sound of gun shots continually ringing out made the decision for us and it was off to Plan B – the Ochlockonee River State Park. Definitely the better choice – only about 30 sites in an open pine forest area bordering on the Dead and Ochlockonee Rivers, with hiking and biking trails.
30 December/31 December – Staying put and enjoying what this camp has to offer – especially the unique wildlife – white squirrels, masses of grey squirrels, gopher tortoise and white tailed deer. The bikes are getting a good workout on the easy rideable paths through the forest. Took me two phone calls to Verizon technical support to finally get our new period of wifi sorted – going to Radio Shack didn’t turn out to be the best option – I will go back to buying a refill card for the next month’s data.
Hope everyone has a Happy New Year – we will begin our journey westward around the Gulf Coast aiming for Texas late January.