Monday, March 2, 2015

Alligators Scare The Crap Out Of Me {Everglades National Park}

Whenever we go someplace new, Scott loves nothing more then to list the animals we might see in the area that can kill us. He’s like a little kid – so excited at the possibility of seeing poisonous snakes, creatures with sharp, pointy teeth or animals that can crush you in their arms. Obviously, not your normal little kid. Because you average kid doesn’t dream about different ways animals can kill you. At least I hope not. 

Scott loves to wind me up and he knows that nothing winds me up more then the possibility of close encounters with animals that can kill me. Like alligators. So you can imagine how much he loved our visit to the Shark Valley Visitor Center in the Everglades National Park. Apparently, it is one of the best places in the Everglades to see alligators up close and personal. A little too close and personal to my liking.

As usual, we didn’t know too much about the place before we got there. Turns out one of the big attractions is to take a wildlife-viewing tram ride along a 15 mile multi-use loop trail. Alternatively, you can bike along the trail. We were too cheap to pay for the tram tour and we don’t have bikes, so we decided to walk part of the trail instead. At first it was pretty ho-hum as we walked along the Bobcat Boardwalk. And then we got to the main part of the loop trail and there they were – lots and lots of alligators sunning themselves on the side of the trail.

Alligator Everglades

All of the gators were on the west side of the path, so I walked as close to the east side of the path as I possibly could. Which was stupid, because who’s to say there weren’t other alligators lurking in the bushes behind me.

Alligator Everglades 2

Fortunately, it wasn’t all alligators. We saw a turtle. I like them. They’re slow. I can outrun them.

Turtle Everglades

And birds. I’m of two minds when it comes to birds. Most of the time, they don’t bother me. But I have seen Hitchcock's movie The Birds, so I’m well aware that they can turn evil in an instant and peck you to death. These birds seemed harmless though. 

Brid Everglades
Bird Everglades 2

One of the reasons I love New Zealand is because there are very few animals there that can kill you. That’s why I’m so glad we’re permanent residents. We can always go back there to escape from the alligators. If you’ve never been to New Zealand and deadly animals scare the crap out of you, put it at the top of your bucket list.

I got the crap scared out of me by alligators at the Shark Valley Visitor Center on 9 February 2015.

Linked up at Weekend Travel Inspiration with Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, TheCrowdedPlanet, ContentedTraveller, BayEssence, Safari254. and Families Go!

Linked up with Bonnie Rose at Travel Tuesday 


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Friday, February 27, 2015

The WiFi Crowd At Myakka River State Park, Florida

One of the first things we do when we get to a new campsite is to check and see if there is any free WiFi to be had. We’re reliant on cellular data from AT&T (we turn our smart phone into a hotspot for our computer and iPad), but if we’re not careful we blow through our data plan pretty darn quickly. We’re on the $60 monthly GoPhone plan which includes 2.5 GB data. After that it costs $10 for each additional GB  - and let me tell you, that can add up mighty fast what with all of our blogging activity and other internet stuff. There are days when we put ourselves on restricted internet usage so that we don’t have to top up with more data. So, whenever we can, we try to find free WiFi so that we can upload posts to our blog, catch up on other people’s blogs, do some serious internet surfing, download stuff etc. 

When we got to Myakka River State Park in southwest Florida, we checked out the concession by the river and jumped up and down for joy when we discovered they had WiFi and that the signal was strong enough to tap into from your car parked outside. So early the next morning, armed with a thermos of coffee, we headed down to the concession and connected away. Turns out we weren’t the only ones with the same idea. I’m glad we got there relatively early and snagged one of the car park spots close to the WiFi signal, because sure enough along came some other folks later with their computers, iPads and other devices. The WiFi crowd – you’ll find them wherever there’s a strong enough signal!

Although we were only at Myakka State Park for one night (and we were lucky to get that one night with all of the snowbirds who reserved sites ages ago), we managed to see some of the highlights – other than the free WiFi of course.

Let’s start off with the usual shot of Scamper at the campsite. I imagine you get tired of seeing these, but she’s our baby so we take lots of pictures of her. It can be kind of a pain to set up camp just for just a day, but we’re getting pretty slick with our routine and can usually get it all done within 15 minutes.

Scamper Myakka State Park

We started off walking from the campground to the Nature Trail, but making our way along the side of the road lost its appeal quickly with all of the cars whizzing past. So we decided to be lazy slugs for the day and hopped in the car for the park’s 14 mile driving tour. One of the highlights was the log pavilion which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The CCC was an amazing thing – they built so many of the great things you see in our National and State Parks. We had never seen a log structure built out of palm trees. Good reminder that we aren’t in the North anymore!

Palm Log Cabin Myakka 2

Palm Log Cabin Myakka


Our next stop was the River Walk. We only got part way through before we were thwarted by all of the giant puddles and general swampiness from the previous day’s rain. I really don’t like to have my feet wet unless I’m at a beach or in a swimming pool. So we headed off to the Canopy Walk & Nature Trail. As we made our way to the Canopy Walk, we had to dodge a lot of puddles, but we made it and I’m so glad we did. You make your way across a bridge among the trees and then climb up to the top of a 74-foot observation tower and take in the views.

Canopy Walk Myakka

Canopy Walk Myakka2

Canopy Walk Myakka 4

Canopy Walk Myakka 3

After that, we drove out to the end of the road and the North Entrance. We found out the hard way that the North Entrance is only open on weekends and public holidays. One of my jobs in our travels is to be our navigator. I had this great route picked out which took us on the back roads from where we were staying in Bradenton and to the North Entrance of Myakka River State Park. Oops. The navigator clearly didn’t do enough research and find out ahead of time you couldn’t get in that way. That’s the problem when you have limited internet data – not enough data to do adequate research. At least, that's what I told Scott by way of explanation. So we ended up going all the way around the park to the main entrance. Added quite a bit of time to our journey, which was a shame as we only had one night booked at the park.

After seeing the North Entrance from inside the park, we headed out to the Birdwalk and spotted a few birds from the boardwalk. We really don’t know anything about birds so we’re never sure what we’re seeing. I admire all of those birders out there who know so much about these feathered critters.

We ended our driving tour at the Boat Bain and concession where we discovered the free WiFi. You can find lots of cute things to buy at the gift shop there, but to my mind, free WiFi beats stuffed alligators, coasters, t-shirts and other trinkets any day.

We relished the free WiFi at Myakka State Park on 5-6 February 2015.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Whistle Stop Tour Of The Sarasota-Bradenton Area

Scott likes to talk about how we do “guerilla tourism” – we see a lot in a short period of time. We get in and out fast. I’m not really sure that’s what “guerillas” do and I know it isn’t what “gorillas” do (anyone a fan of Captain Ron?), but it’s the expression we use for our approach to sightseeing. The other day we did a bit of “guerilla tourism” and saw the Sarasota area in about six hours. Of course, we didn’t see anything in-depth, but we enjoyed driving around and doing a little bit of exploring on our whistle stop tour. 

We had started off our day at the De Soto National Memorial and then headed over to the barrier islands. As usual, we didn’t have a clue what we would find, but we do like islands, so off we went. Our first stop was Anna Maria Key at the very top near the Sunshine Skyway Channel. At first, when we were driving up there through Holmes Beach, I was feeling pretty underwhelmed by the place. All we could see where lots and lots of bland, generic looking apartment/condo buildings with glimpses of the beach from time to time. Yawn. 

And then we got to the heart of Anna Maria Key and that’s when things got quirky. I love quirky. I’m not sure what it was about Anna Maria, but the buildings were older, the colors were brighter, folks were walking and biking around with energy and best of all they had a cute little tiki bar. Who doesn’t love sitting outside on the water underneath a tree and sipping an overpriced beer? 

Anna Maria Tiki Bar

We like watching boats. It was fun to see this cat go through the drawbridge. Amazing how much fun it is watching a drawbridge go up as a bystander. And how annoying it is when you’re in a car waiting to get across.

Anna Maria Drawbridge

We loved this old-fashioned trailer court. Made us want to pull Scamper in and stay a while.

Anna Maria Trailer Court

After Anna Maria, we headed down south along Longboat Key. We saw more of the generic, bland apartment/condo buildings and lots of enormous new-build houses. The kind of houses that make you realize some people have more money than taste. Scott kept muttering “monstrosity” under his breath each time we passed one. He would get all excited every time we spotted an old, tiny bungalow sitting among them. I guess we’re old fashioned that way – we like houses that stand the test of time. We really admire the owners who don’t cave into peer pressure and raze their bungalow and put a monstrosity in its place. Maybe they have more sense than money.

After driving through the rest of Longboat Key, we headed into Sarasota in search of Ethiopian food. If you want some doro wat deliciousness in Sarasota, Queen of Sheba is the place to try. That’s doro wat on the bottom of the plate – a spicy chicken dish with a hard boiled egg. Miser wat is on the top of the dish. It was okay. Personally, we like our lentils to be cooked a lot longer until they’re practically mush. You can’t really see it too well, but underneath is injera – a flat Ethiopian bread that you use to scoop up the food with and put in your mouth. If you’re going to try Ethiopian food, keep in mind you eat off of one plate. So, please, wash your hands before digging in. Queen of Sheba had hand sanitizer on the tables to make things easier. First time we’ve seen that. 

Queen of Sheba

What goes better with Ethiopian food than Ethiopian beer. They have a number of different ones you can try.

Queen of Sheba Beer

After eating, we checked out the Sarasota Bayfront and daydreamed about one day anchoring our boat in the bay.

Sarasota Bayfront

All of the punters were in from their fishing charters. It seems like such a splurge to go on one of these things, but everyone looks like they had a good time. I think that’s because they caught a lot of fish.

Sarasota Fish

The obligatory photo op at the Sarasota Bayfront.

Sarasota Statue

After drooling over boats and fish, we drove out to the southern barrier islands. It was more of the same until we got to the bottom of Fiesta Key and saw the Turtle Beach Campground. It was one of the places we had been calling with the hopes of getting a spot there, but never had any luck. Such a great little place right on the beach to watch the sunset. We actually tried them again a few days later and they did have a spot. But it turned out it was $60 a night which seems expensive for a county campground. We had read somewhere that it was only $30 a night. (My how our views on what a reasonable rate is have changed – before we hit central Florida, we would have thought $30 was outrageous.) Turns out that’s the summer rate. We passed and went to the much cheaper Babcock-Webb Wildlife Preserve instead. $3 a night vs. $60. Easy decision.

Sunset Turtle Beach

PS - I just re-read this post and realize it is one of the most boring ones I’ve written. Sorry about that. To make up for it, here are a couple of really bad alien jokes.

Why don’t aliens celebrate Christmas? Because they don’t like to give away their presence.

What did the alien say to the cat? Take me to your litter. 

PPS -  I just re-read the alien jokes and realize they don’t really help matters. 

PPPS – Is anyone still out there reading this? If you are, you must be a fan of boring blog posts and inane alien jokes. You are now my new best friend.

We did our “guerilla” thing in the Sarasota-Bradenton area on 4 February 2015.



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Monday, February 23, 2015

That De Soto Fellow Sure Got Around

De Soto Sign

Does the name Hernando de Soto ring a bell to you? It did to me, but to be honest, I’ll I knew is that he was some sort of explorer. I really wasn’t the best history student in my class. Thank goodness for places like the De Soto National Monument. They make it easy to learn a little bit of history and actually make it interesting. And now I know a few things about de Soto. Granted, I’ll probably forget them by next week. But at least, I’ll have it all documented here in this blog and one day when someone mentions de Soto, I can quickly look at this post and refresh my memory.

De Soto arrived in Florida in 1539 in a quest for gold and glory in the New World. He had made previous expeditions to Central and Southern America. This time around, King Charles V of Spain gave de Soto the right to conquer and govern La Florida. However, instead of finding gold and glory in Florida, de Soto died there in 1540. 

De Soto Memorial

You can follow the historic route that de Soto took through the Native American territories in Florida. As we’ve traveled around the area, we’ve seen a number of historic plaques and memorials to de Soto. I wish I had had the handy de Soto trail guide beforehand so I would have understood a little bit more about what we’ve seen. De Soto is a controversial figure, as the National Park Service points out. To some he’s a romantic hero and explorer. To others, he’s seen as a monster and madman. The trail tells the story of the clash between Europe and Native Americans. When de Soto was in Florida there were nearly 350,000 native people. Twenty years later, villages were abandoned, peoples were scattered and many had died from European diseases.

De Soto Nature Trail 2

You can read about the history of the de Soto trail in the visitor center. Sometimes, just reading facts can be a bit dry, for me at least. So, I really enjoyed the nature trail along the coast where you can learn more about the interaction between the Europeans and the Native Americans near where de Soto first made landfall. 

De Soto Living History

From December through April, you can also visit a living history camp where some very enthusiastic and knowledgeable folks put on living history programs about what Native American and Spanish life was like at the time. I’m pretty sure these folks paid far more attention in history class then I did.
Looks like they had soda pop back in the 1500s.

De Soto Living History 2

Of course, we like boats here at The Cynical Sailor, so we’ll leave you with pictures of a couple that they have on display.

De Soto Boat

De Soto Boat 2

What was your favorite subject in school? Were you one of those students who got straight As in history?

We learned a little bit of history at the De Soto National Monument in Bradenton, Florida on 4 February 2015.



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Friday, February 20, 2015

Accidental Discoveries {Robinson Preserve, Bradenton, Florida}

While our laid back approach to traveling has kind of backfired on us during our time in Florida, I’ve been reminding myself why we like taking an unplanned approach to things. One of the reasons has to do with the accidental discoveries we’ve made along the way. Places we wouldn’t normally have found if we had sticking to a guide book and ticking off a top 10 list of places to visit in a particular area. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’ve been to famous places which I’ve read about for years only to find myself slightly underwhelmed or even disappointed that they didn’t live up to expectations. I had that experience on our first day at the Grand Canyon.

That’s why I love places we stumble across accidentally. When you know nothing about them, you have absolutely zero expectations and more times than not, you’ll find yourself delighted at your discovery. That happened to us recently in Bradenton, Florida. After waking up in a Walmart parking lot and destined to spend the next night at the same, we decided to drive around Bradenton in the hopes that we would run across an RV park with a big neon sign with flashing lights saying, “Ellen & Scott! Stop here – we’ve got a spot waiting just for you at the low, low price of $11.95 per night with the strongest free WiFi signal you’ve ever had in your life! And we’ve even got some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with your names on them!”

Well, we never did see that sign and our tummies were crying out for some lunch, so I looked at the map and saw a tiny park in the north part of Bradenton. We knew nothing about it, other than the fact that it was a park. So, we headed on up and discovered the 487 acre Robinson Preserve and the neighboring botanic gardens. Manatee County must be doing something right because this is a real gem set in the midst of a nice neighborhood. You can explore the coastal park and its mangroves and marshes on your bike, by canoe or kayak or, like we did, with your feet on the 5 miles of trails running through the preserve.

As you walk through the preserve, you can’t help but notice the 40 foot tall observation tower.

Robinson Preserve Observation Tower

I can get a little scared of heights, so I try not to look down as I’m climbing up. Otherwise, I might just turn around and head back down.

Robinson Preserve Observation Tower2

But, if you make it to the top, you get these great views of Tampa Bay.

Robinson Preserve Tampa Bay View

Oh good, a boardwalk! I love boardwalks.

Robinson Preserve Boardwalk

As you’re walking along the coastal trail, you can stop off at a number of viewpoints along the beach. For some reason, this picture reminds me of the beaches in New Zealand. No idea why.

Robinson Preserve Beach

I remember one time when we were sailing in New Zealand and I accidentally dropped a tin can overboard. I watched it float away on to the shore of a nearby island. I still feel guilty about it. I wonder if the person who dropped this beer bottle felt guilty or is one of those types who just doesn’t care.

Robinson Preserve Beer Bottle

There’s a palm tree growing out of the middle of this other tree. Weird.

Robinson Preserve Two Trees

It seems where ever you go for a walk in Florida, there are tons of birds around. No idea what kind this is. Maybe we should learn a thing or two about birds. Right after I learn how to make freshly baked chocolate chip cookies without an oven. There aren’t many things I miss living in our 13’ Scamp travel trailer, but an oven is one of them. And a toaster.

Robinson Preserve Bird

It sure is a pretty and peaceful park.

Robinson Preserve Pier

One of the other things that made Robinson Preserve such a special place was the fact that we managed to find an RV park to stay in after all for a couple of nights. Granted it took a lot of phone calls, but we got the last spot at the very quirky Linger Lodge. More on that some other day.

What about you? Are you more of a planned and organized kind of traveller or do you take more of a laid back approach?

We took joy in our accidental discovery of Robinson Preserve on 3 February 2015. If you want to check it out yourself, you can find it at 1704 99th Street NW in Bradenton.

Linked up at Weekend Travel Inspiration with Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, TheCrowdedPlanet, ContentedTraveller, BayEssence, Safari254. and Families Go!


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