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Sunday, July 3, 2016

THE SUNSHINE STATE


We are slowly ticking off our list of States as we head in to “Sweet Home Alabama”. And surprisingly we find it very sweet. Lots of lovely rolling hills & many miles of glorious lakes & rivers. Of course the locals have taken full advantage of their waterfront positions and have built waterfront houses everywhere. Most have their own jetties and some even have a beach house over the water.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before crossing the border we check in our Lonely Planet to see what the top picks in this State are. There are only about 3 pages! They mention a Space Centre (nah! Just been to one – and this sounds much the same), great lakes and surprise, surprise an Unclaimed Baggage shop. What the heck is this doing way out here in whoop whoop! As we are practically passing by we stop. Looks like a humungous op shop – and a not particularly cheap one at that!

We end up at Lake Guntersville State Park camping area for the night. We find ourselves a primitive (no services & usually only for tents) spot beside the water. A perfect spot to get our boat wet again.

As we are tootling past lots of lakes we see a sign to a Racetrack. We pull up quickly & back track. John is in his element. We have arrived at the Talladega Super Speedway NASCAR Racetrack and Hall of Fame. We tour the track in a little bus. The stand is huge & the camber on the sides of the track amazingly steep. Our guide says it is 4 stories high! Then John spends a few happy hours in the Hall of Fame (I opt out again.)

As we head in to Montgomery- which is the State Capitol – we decide to visit our favorite site. Yes the Capitol Building. It is too late to go in, but we stop in front for a quick pic. On through the old town and straight in to traffic snarls – surprising on Saturday evening. A baseball game is on. The old town is surprisingly nice, but we just do a drive through. On the outskirts of town there is a huge Hyundai plant. But by now we want a spot for the night. Check our helpful GPS as there are few spots in this State on our app. Maybe a Wal-Mart. First one there are signs up. No Overnight stays. Next one the same. Oh well – we head over the road to Lowes and tuck in to a cul de sac. It is nearly dark. It proves to be a great spot.

As we are in town John has decided we really need a pancake breakfast at IHOP (International House of Pancakes) & amazingly there are none in this town, so again we hunt on our ever faithful GPS, Sure enough we find one 50 miles away! We persevere and arrive to find massive queues. It is Fathers Day here, but we head in anyway & are rewarded with very yummy pancakes (probably helped by the fact that we, or should I say me – are starving.)

Finally we head in to the Sunshine State – Florida. And we head straight to the waterfront at Panama City. Of course the first thing we do is stop for a swim – it looks so lovely. All white sand & aqua blue water. From now on we hug the waterfront, down past Mexico Bay & out little peninsulas. We finally head out to Cape San Blas & find the lovely St Joseph Peninsula State Park where there are a few camp spots left – so we grab one and settle in for the night. No hardship as the beach is truly gorgeous.

Checkout is not until 1pm, so we stay and swim. Finally head on along more magic coastline. There are lots of waterways, bridges, swamps & houses built on tall stumps. Here they have no problem building on the sand dunes. In fact lots of the waterfront is covered with beach houses. Decide to head out on the 4 mile bridge to St George Island with its lovely old lighthouse. It is very tempting to head out to the State Park to camp, but we carry on. There are more & more wetlands….in fact water is everywhere. Finally we find a gorgeous spot beside a river for the night. Perfect as we need to sleep with all our windows open.

Lots of driving today. We want to get to Orlando 1/to visit the Fiamma  place to order a new awning – it was damaged in a tunnel in Peru quite a few years ago & it will be nice to have a usable awning again, and 2/ to book a last minute cruise – because what else do you do in Miami, but “do a cruise”. But first we head through lots of little towns in what the locals call Old Florida. At our coffee stop beside a river we see huge fish leaping out of the water, and a local couple tell us they are sturgeon. They are so big that just last year one leaped out of the water and killed a girl standing on the boat ramp. Phew! That’s big. Apparently they are also very hard & scaly.

We set the address in to the GPS and follow it – rather a long drive due to the traffic and the frequency of the traffic lights. Orlando is a pretty large city. Anyway, we now have our awning ordered and we will collect it after Independence Day holiday. And we have booked a cruise for Saturday. Actually, a bit harder than expected, as it is vacation time here and so nearly everything is full and naturally the advertised cheap prices have sold out! We finally head out of Orlando in rush hour – but all is good. The worst traffic seems to be going the other way. There is a truck that has dropped its mid section on the motorway – thus causing chaos! But it is getting late & where will we camp? Our freebee spot is padlocked up, so we sneak in beside a tiny lake for the night. Traffic never seemed to stop all night long.

It is Wednesday & we are due on our ship on Saturday, so probably not enough time to explore Key West, so after much map shuffling we decide to cross over to the western beaches. Stopping for coffee at Zolfino Springs we spy our first alligator in the lake. They are apparently everywhere, but as there is so much water – a bit hidden from sight. Anyway on to the coast – and of course the houses & cities. Magnificent – but every inch of the waterfront is used. And of course all the manmade waterfront/canals are also used. John reckons he could live here – there are so many boats and waterways. We head out to lots of glorious keys- again these are totally covered with houses.  Even the roads are narrow – don’t think motorhomes are welcome here. Drive down Casey Key –a narrow strip of sand with houses on each side and the narrowest road you have ever seen – definitely not a spot for GR2 for the night. Finally find a carpark & head to the beach. There is a group of muso’s having a jam session on the beach & everyone is taking their deck chairs over to listen & to watch the sun setting over the sea. We join them for some great Cuban music & a glorious sunset. No worries, be happy. Much later we leave – head off the island & find a spot under a bridge & beside a marina. 

Stop for a swim in the morning before heading on to Punta Gorda & Port Myers. It is a lovely old town – yes lots more lovely plantation homes & rows of palm trees lining the streets. We are heading to Sanibel Island today, but get waylaid by an Outlet Shopping centre. We just desperately need a few things for the cruise – don’t want to look like waifs and strays! Finally we make it to the island & head in to the National Wildlife area – a pretty drive through mangroves, with the occasional alligator cruising by. By the time we reach the beach carpark (paid parking here of course) it is late – so there is space. We laze in the water before heading off the island (not a spot anywhere here for us) & slink in to the Outlet carpark for the night. Actually a great spot as we pick up free Wifi.

On to our last island at Fort Myers. Time to head on in to the Everglades. It is hot & sticky in the extreme, but we stop & explore the boardwalks. Fortunately we get to see a few more alligators, lots of wetland & miles of water. There are heaps of places offering airboat rides – but we did one with the kids years ago, so give them a miss. Finally we reach the outskirts of Miami and our destination for the night – a proper campground. We need to prepare for our cruise tomorrow. Lots of washing, packing, & booking- we need a spot to store GR2.

Tomorrow new adventures await.

 

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