Freedom and Frolicking with Friends

Bleh.

Bleh and meh.

That’s slightly how I feel today. And you know what it is? Laziness. Yes, laziness has set in.

This is what happens as you approach the one year anniversary of not working and let your 37th birthday just slide on by. You suddenly realise how goddamn lazy you feel and it gets to you. And the slightly annoying thing is that it’s not like I’m letting life pass me by sitting on the sofa watching TV all day and drinking tea or anything. Though admittedly I do drink a fair amount of tea these days, and with the saga of the vanilla flavoured soy milk weighing on my mind, well that in itself is a whole other worrying scenario.

Right, well, I’m not quite sure where all that came from, but let’s get caught up to speed shall we?

We should make a start with friends, and especially with two people who I am really most fond of, one of whom I consider a forever member of my trail family; yes, of course I am talking about Bunny and Phil.

For those of you who haven’t met Bunny, you really must go and make her acquaintance over on my AT blog (www.postholer.com/button) – she is one of my most treasured friends and every time I see her, she is like an excitable ray of sunshine, mixed in with unicorns and rainbows. And she is always trying to make me eat weird things, like it’s her mission in life to study my reaction to disgusting foods, and yet for some reason when she goes all bubbly and says “Here, try this!”, I always oblige like a small trusting child and then regret it afterwards (I still haven’t forgot the dirt taste of snails from the trail). And Phil is a fascinating character in himself; he always seems so quiet and reserved, that is until he spots a plant or animal, and then he instantly turns into Mr Talking Encyclopaedia. His new hobby is bird watching, specifically woodpeckers. One of the sights that truly makes me smile is to be sitting in their living room happily chatting away and to have Phil suddenly leap up like he’s been shot out of a cannon, race to the window and declare there is a bird on his new feeder. Of course he needs to share this moment with Bunny, so she joins in the show and then inevitably the camera must be put into action, both of them all giddy with excitement.

I think I just like the joy they take in simple pleasures, and sharing it with each other. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

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Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of saying that after leaving Key West we travelled north past Miami and into the city of Dania Beach, where Bunny and Phil have recently bought themselves a lovely house. I particularly like their abode for two reasons; first, it has a massive front garden, enough for a whole pack of huskies (that’s how I measure the usefulness of a garden’s size, by the number of dogs it can contain), and second, they have a canal right at the end of their back garden and their own boat dock (along with a steady stream of manatees that swim past, though unfortunately we are not allowed to feed them lettuce).

So for two days I spent my time being entertained by my friends, while Loops guarded the bus back over at the slightly dodgy casino we had stayed at previously. I promise, honestly, he didn’t mind a bit.

The three of us delighted in walks at a local nature preserve (Tree Tops Park), took in some Mexican at Tijuana Taxi, broadened our horizons with a documentary on bees used for commercial pollination, hung out on the boat dock while I continually tried to persuade Bunny to get some iceberg lettuce for the manatees (to no avail) and was freaked out by the size of the behemoth iguana sitting at the top of their neighbour’s tree.

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Exploring Tree Tops
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Time for ice cream!
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Posing for silly pictures – a must
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Bahhahaha!
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Iggy on the ground – he’s humongous!

Bunny and I spent some quality time together discussing the meaning of life and all that jazz, while walking through a boardwalk area at the Anne Kolb Nature Centre, where we found some fascinating tree crabs, before taking in a splendid banana split from Jaxsons Ice Cream Parlour; so big it fed both of us (and sorry Phil for the milkshake we were supposed to bring back home for you and never did).

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Crazy crabs living in trees!
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Sharing a scrumptious banana split 🙂 

With time slipping by in the blink of an eye, it was time for us to pack in one last lunch together at a rather superb and highly recommended restaurant called The Field, an Irish pub that manages to very nearly pull off a proper British sausage roll, even if they charge an arm and a leg for it. They had some type of mini trio lunch offer on, which I ate, containing a mini flatbread with artichoke, some type of mushroom soup that was literally to die for and a small salad – every single part of this meal was delicious. And slightly off point but worth noting, if you sit outside there are tables with benches that are on a really strange roller system, allowing you and your buddies to gently rock yourselves back and forth in your seats. Never seen anything like it before.

All in all, a fabulous two days that went by far too quickly.

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And they even bought me the most fantastic Turkey Vulture shirt! 🙂

 

Reunited with Loops, and still waiting out the winter, we decided to try and find a single camping spot where we could spend a week hanging out. However, this being the height of the RV season in Florida, this is easier said than done, with most parks fully booked to the brim. With a bit of persistence, Loops manages to squeeze us in at the Corp of Engineers Ortona South Campground, on the Okeechobee waterway. For those of you with exceptional memories, you will recall that our very first overnight trip in the bus last year was at St Lucie Lock, on the same waterway system we find ourselves on now, and much like that site, we are situated on a lock with a stunning water view.

The downside of our stay? Well, while there may be space per se in the campground, the space is not all in one location. What I mean is that we end up moving ourselves around on almost a daily basis, from site to site, much to the good-hearted amusement of many of the other residents.

Ortona is very possibly my favourite ‘official campground’ so far. It is in a beautiful location, with the bright blue sparkling waters of the river to one side and the farming fields of ‘old Florida’ (complete with cows) to the other side. The whole site is well maintained, the other guests are pleasant and polite and it is positively silent and serene, with the exception of the of variety bird calls through the day and evening.

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Morning over the misty fields
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Boat chugging the river, from the front of the bus

 

In our week at Ortona I routinely saw two bald eagles both circling and perching in the trees, a pair of hawks who were feeding and building a nest in the area and a flock of limpkins (I had to look these up) feeding in the brook every evening. Additionally there was a flock of some type of swift or swallow that appeared in the early evening to chase and catch the insects in the air, and such was their multitude that the birds almost appeared as plentiful as the insects they were chasing. It was all fabulous.

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My shadowed hawk (binopic)
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Wading birds feeding in the creek – some of these are Limpkins (binopic)

It was a slight disappointment to find that the lock itself was not open to cross due to repairs being carried out on it, so we weren’t able to wander over and see the boats being hoisted and dropped with the water level, but we did spot an otter on the banks of the river who is obviously a resident, so that slightly made up for it.

However, I didn’t just spend the week bird watching (though you very easily could), I did use the time productively as an ‘odd jobs week’. Loops and I used one of the cloudy days to finally wax the roof to protect it from the elements and I learned how to partake in yoga, using a very handy app on my phone called ‘Down Dog’, which was recommended to me by my friend Di, and totally worth it.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, my working situation has started to niggle at me somewhat, now that I’m not currently studying anything. In an attempt to safeguard some of my savings, I’ve decided to try and find a telecommuting job or a seasonal vacancy, something that can be done from the bus or as a consolidated block come the winter this year.

I do have to say, with all of the research I’ve done, and after reading all of the articles proselytising the rise of the stay at home worker, my advice to anyone considering it – take a large dose of salt with the hype. For those who may be in a similar setup to us, looking for work to do on the road, unless you are a computer worker/genius, a professional writer with a steady writing gig or a photographer with a contract to travel and snap pictures, your options are going to be darn limited.

Even those roles which a legitimate contracts for people to carry out for, say, market research or customer service, will require you to have a land-based phone and internet line. So for me, despite the fact we have excellent Wi-Fi and a mobile phone to boot, I am not able to apply for these roles. Which I have found leaves me in the realm of learning the role of rather poorly paid, but fairly interesting, audio transcriptionist and captioner. I have found two companies willing to let me try this role out and I can proudly tell you that, to date, I have put in around 2.5 hours of work and made just over $3. I won’t be counting my millions anytime soon, but nothing venture, nothing gained, I feel.

Our week at Ortona passed pleasantly and for the first time ever, I found myself feeling free and happy to be here in Florida. There, I said it. It’s a shame there is only a two week stay limit at the campground because I would have happily come back and stayed for the winter season at the end of this year.

With plans to get back into the St Petersburg area to finish off some official business and for yet more routine maintenance (which I’m beginning to wonder if Loops actually has to do, or if he just likes tinkering with the bus too much to stop), we leave Ortona and head to the city where we have had two new Bluebird friends, Jerry and MJ, kindly offer us the use of the road outside their house to camp for a couple of nights.

 

We arrive to a fine-looking neighbourhood filled with historic houses, a number of which have a distinctly Spanish colonial feel to them; pale colouration, terra cotta tiles, arched windows and domed roofs.

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Belle in old St Pete
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Spanish colonial style dwelling

Jerry and MJ (and their Doberman Gus) are thoroughly welcoming and immediately invite us to cycle with them in the evening through downtown St Pete to visit Proper, a restaurant which serves a pretty decent pulled pork dinner. While usually I am excited by such a meal, this evening the best part of this experience is the bike ride. The four of us wind our way through the city, over pavements and into a local park, weaving our way through the residents out for an evening stroll, jog or skate. I’m rather amazed by the sheer number of people who are out this evening, in the dusk. Not only because I am always shocked to see people in America out of their cars, but also because we are in a city not overly renowned for its safety, and yet here are people strolling, playing volleyball, swimming and generally have a grand old time in the veritable dark. We cycle past a small harbour with boats docked for the night and back into the main streets along the cycle lane until we reach the restaurant.

The ride back was equally thrilling for me, this time through the residential streets. At one point the four of us were fanned out along the road and all of a sudden I was struck with the uplifting mood of suddenly being transported into a 1980’s film, as four children racing along together akin to The Goonies or E.T. It made me giggle to myself.

With the exception of a tour of their wonderful abode, sadly Loops and I were mostly busy with our own jobs – finishing off taxes, washing the carpets in the bus and visiting with Loops’ parents, but we fully appreciated our new friends’ hospitality. When it came time to leave, I finally realised that although we had already officially been ‘back on the road’ for a few weeks, this departure signals our move to finally head out of Florida and westward, and that we won’t be back for the rest of the year – an exciting feeling!

Our first major destination out of Florida will be in Georgia, to the home of an old Bluebird employee who now fixes buses privately, to once and for all have our high running engine fan fixed. However, we first make our now routine stop in to see my grandparents and my mum who is visiting with them.

On our way there we spend a night at the Santos Trailhead and Campground where, much to my delight, I discover this….

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Yes, that’s right; the Santos campground is sat right on the Florida Trail!

Oh, it just makes my heart ache and my feet itch to be this close to a long distance hiking trail and not be setting out on it. I do at least have to take a couple tentative steps onto it, and glimpse an astounding sight not far along. As I slowly pick my way along the trail, I am very aware of being smack bang in the middle of snake habitat and so keep my eyes peeled, and am rewarded by catching the slithering movement of a black rat snake to the right of the trail. Even more exciting though is the fact when I disturb the snake, he disturbs what I assume is a small lizard with his movement. The lizard takes off with great speed which immediately prompts the snake into hunting mode and he dashes off in hot pursuit – I am actually stood stock still watching a snake hunt! This is so thrilling!

The lizard manages to high tail it to a nearby tree and scramble up, at which point the snake seems to lose track of him and pauses dead, flicking his tongue in and out to try and catch his scent, to no avail I’m afraid; after a minute the snake then crosses the trail in front of me and disappears into the undergrowth. I curse myself for not having a camera to catch this on, but congratulate myself on such fantastic luck to have seen this for the first time in my life. I head back to the bus with a definite decision in mind, that my two years of deliberation and fussing has come to an end, it’s time to buy myself a proper DSLR camera. I also have the perfect reason to treat myself – my birthday – so with a little help from my savings and birthday money, I did it.

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This is my new Nikon D3400. It comes with two lenses and a whole host of features I have no idea how to use, but fully intend to find out. And what better time to practice with it than while visiting my grandparents?

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Yes, that’s right. I took an arty shot of some skittles. That’s how I roll now. Photographer extraordinaire and all that. You can expect more fine art shots like this in the future I’m sure.

We are staying at a new location for this visit though, usually we just pop into Three Flags RV Campground down the road, but given the fact it’s the high season, our Passport America discount we usually use isn’t valid and we can’t foot the $60 per night usual fee, so we take ourselves about 45 minutes north of The Villages into Ocala National Forest and stay at the Salt Springs Recreation Area instead.

It’s while we are here that we discover 3 things:

  1. That this part of Florida has a multitude of resplendent horse farms, situated safely behind picture perfect post and rail fencing, with handsome horses in the fields that are dotted with tall old oaks dripping in moss. I have discovered I am very fond of this type of scenery.
  2. That Salt Springs does have a spring you can swim in, it’s not salty at all, the water is a constant 72 degrees year round and it contains fish, but not alligators – and yes, I can attest that it is enjoyable to swim in even though I was in constant fear of alligators (despite the lady at the information desk telling me there are none) and leeches (but that was only cause I was swimming and a lady on the side told me she thought she felt something grab her and wondered if it was a leech, but I don’t think there were any at all and it was probably the small amount of vegetation that got her, but it freaked me out anyway).
  3. That the Beast has obviously gotten fed up of us already and in protest decided to jam up it’s back brakes, causing a rather alarming burning smell and a $500 repair bill.
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Salt Springs
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Natural spring water you can swim in – like bathing in a few bottles of Evian

So all in all, it’s fun and games as always living on the road!

The next time we see each other, it will be in Georgia – go Bulldogs! (FYI, I don’t know a thing about the Bulldogs apart from they are a football team and I was trying to do a very American thing there, see. To even things out, go Basingstoke Bison!)

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6 thoughts on “Freedom and Frolicking with Friends

    1. Thank you 🙂
      I’ve already taken about 500 pictures, and ended up keeping only about 50 of them. I’m also learning a little about the ISO settings as I’m mostly using it in automatic at the moment.

      Like

  1. Bunny

    Woah, what a full entry!! You have no idea what joy it brings me to read what you write about our adventures together. Simultaneously, I want to laugh and cry at the person you help me to be. Also, that is an awful picture you posted of me and Phil by the boat! In contrast, I’m looking forward to these arty pictures you’ve promised. The Springs look beautiful, your Grandpa looks kind and the misty morning at Ortona- simply gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love our adventures together my dear! You are amazing and my hero, you know that. Also, you can blame Phil for the photo, he was posing, but I love it! It shows that wonderful fun side of you both.
      Winter won’t be far away and we can hang again 🙂

      Like

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