Friday, February 17, 2017

A few more relaxing days in the sun

Northern Crested Caracara


I first spotted this bird on our bike ride to the Billie Swamp Safari, and nobody knew what it was.  The way it perched on the roof, it looked like an eagle, but it wasn’t.  We’ve seen them around a few other times, and when I described it to another camper, she thought it might be a Northern Crested Caracara.

I looked it up online, and she was right.  Turns out that it’s in the falcon family, but tends to scavenge for food like a vulture.  It’s only found in the very southern areas of Florida, Texas and Arizona in the US, and also Mexico and Central America.  One source called it a tropical vulture, and another said it’s the national bird of Mexico.

Hey, look at that – I sound like a birder!

OK, so after our very busy day last Friday, we took it easy the rest of the weekend.  On Saturday, we slept in (tried to, anyway), worked on a few projects around the RV – including adding our new MSU Spartan flag to our flagpole --

Added our Spartan flag

and spent a beautiful afternoon at the pool.  For dinner on Saturday, we invited Dave & Lynn to join us for grilled pizza.  I had previously tried making pizza directly on the grill, but it was a huge disaster, so when fellow RV bloggers, Rick & Kathy Rousseau, mentioned that they use a silicone grill mat for making pizza on the grill, I knew I had to try it.

I ordered a pack of 5 grill mats from Amazon for $10.99, and had to cut one down a little to fit the Weber Q.  We also punched some holes in it because Tom thought they would block the heat too much otherwise.

I made my pizza directly on the mat,

Homemade pizza - ready for the grill

so we could quickly place it on the hot grill without letting too much heat escape.  We left the grill closed for 10 minutes, and when we opened it . . .


Grilled Pizza

It turned out really good!  Lynn & Dave were very happy to be part of our pizza experiment!

Dave & Lynn

The grill mat also makes it possible to cook bacon on the grill – I love that because I hate making bacon inside – too messy!

After dinner, Lynn made little individual chocolate cakes for each of us, in the microwave.  They were yummy, especially with butter pecan ice cream!

On Sunday, I wanted to go into Bonita Springs for the Strawberry Festival at Farmer Mike’s U-Pick, so we made arrangements to meet up with Jesse and Ginger, RV-Dreamers who are staying in Bonita Springs this winter . . . at least they were until they decided to buy a mobile home up in Leesburg!

We met them at Farmer Mike’s, and there were lots of people there, but the festival itself was a little disappointing.  Tom visited with them while I went out in the field to pick some strawberries.

U-Pick berries

Unfortunately, the fields were even more of a disappointment.  They were really picked over, and any decent fruit left had been picked and left piled between the plants.  After searching through all the rows, I ended up going back and picking up enough of the pre-picked fruit for a pie.  We left after that, and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Mel’s Diner in Bonita Springs.

Jessie & Ginger

We had met Jesse and Ginger when we were parked next to them at the very first RV-Dreams Rally in Branson, MO in 2008.  We haven’t seen them in the 8-1/2 years since then, but through blogs and facebook, we’ve kept up with each other.  It was nice to see them again, and we look forward to seeing them in March when we move north in Florida near their new home in Leesburg!

We’ve had beautiful weather again all week, with just a little bit of rain on Wednesday evening.  We’ve continued our late afternoons at the pool, and even got in a game of miniature golf.

Beautiful Day for mini golf

Miniature Golf with Dave & Lynn

I was off to a really good start, but due to a bunch of bad bounces out of the cup, I ended up in last place!

It was rigged!

I think he was gloating over beating me!

Lynn invited us over for spaghetti dinner one night, and I managed to get a pie made from my strawberries – almost didn’t have a crust, though!  I’m terrible at making pie crust!

Yum - strawberry pie!

We’re continuing to love our peaceful stay here at Big Cypress – we can hardly believe we have less than two weeks left in our month!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Magnificent Miami Beach

Miami Beach Intercoastal

Since our adventure in Shark Valley took us as far south as Miami, we figured we might as well explore the international city while we were close by. 

The GPS wanted us to get on the freeway, but we chose the slower, but more interesting route – taking Route 41 all the way to A1A at Miami Beach.  As we neared the heart of the city, Route 41 is also known as Calle Ocho, and took us straight through Little Havana.

Little Havana

Soon the bright colors, lively music and delicious smells of Little Havana gave way to concrete, glass and steel – in the form of office buildings and hotels reaching toward the clouds.

Downtown Miami highrises

Reach for the sky!










Crossing the bridge to Miami Beach, we drove past the Port of Miami,  past multiple cruise ships,

Cruise ship in port

Another cruise ship











and containers waiting to be loaded on cargo ships.

Cargo Cranes

There's one in every town!


We crossed over Michigan Avenue – why is it that every major town has a Michigan Avenue – and caught our first glimpse of the hotels and yachts.








Miami Beach 

We reached A1A and turned north, following the beach and marveling at all the beautiful tall hotels, and the bustling scene of South Beach.


Miami Beach Style

The city is everything you expect from an international destination – visitors from all over the world, a multitude of languages floating around you, and money . . . everywhere the presence of money – LOTS of it!

We found a parking lot for the Jeep, and walked down to the beach to check out the iconic scene.


The water was nearly as emerald green as the panhandle coast of Florida, but the sand was a bit more gravelly – not the powdered sugar sand of Siesta Key or Destin.

It was 5 o’clock by then, and most people were leaving the beach, but there was a large group of kite surfers enjoying the windy afternoon.

Kite Surfers

Colorful kites










We watched them jump the waves for a few minutes, and then made our way back to the beachwalk, where we studied the hotels from the beachside, and contemplated menus to find an enticing location for dinner.

Hotels on South Beach

People-watching, too . . . there was plenty of people-watching going on.

The hotels were even more beautiful from the beach side!

Hotel Courtyard

Enjoying the sights and sounds of South Beach!



We were getting hungry, so we walked back out to the street side and found a restaurant for dinner.  Maxine’s Bistro had great reviews, and looked like a fun place.

Our dinner stop

We got a seat on the patio, and enjoyed the live music as we enjoyed our delicious dinner.












Following dinner, we walked back to the Jeep and headed back to the RV Resort – we had about a 2 hour drive to get back home.

It was a beautiful evening, with the full moon shining brightly over the water. We kept the top down on the Jeep, enjoying the warm winter (it’s really difficult to remember it’s winter!) evening!

A1A was still busy as we continued north.

Still busy at night

We were amazed by the number of beautiful high-rise hotels – including at least half a dozen Trump Towers,

One of many Trump Towers in Miami

as well as other buildings,

Cool Building - not sure what it is!



and along the inter-coastal waterway, row after row of magnificent yachts!

It was amazing, and we were star-struck!


We followed A1A along the beach all the way to Hollywood, where we turned west and made our way back to I-75 and back to the RV Resort.  It was a LONG day . . . but definitely a memorable one!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Gators Gone Wild–Everglades National Park

He looks like he's ready to catch a turtle!

Ever since our first visit to the Shark Valley Visitor Center during our first year of full-timing, I’ve always wanted to go back again.

Since we’re staying all the way down here in the Everglades, I decided this was a perfect opportunity for us to go back.  If we could have flown like a bird, or taken a boat, it would have been a really quick trip,

but since we had to stick to the roads, it took us an hour and a half.  It was a beautiful day for a drive, though, so we didn’t mind.

The Everglades were waiting . . .
Everglades National Park
In the parking lot, we ran into Mike & Annette and Russ & Betsy, fellow-full-timers and RV-Dreamers that are staying at the same RV Resort as us.  Mike & Annette were waiting for a tram, and Russ & Betsy we getting ready to set out on bike in the direction recommended by the NPS Rangers.
We unloaded our bikes as well, but we set off in the opposite direction – the same direction as the tram. 
Biking in the Everglades
The east road is more wide-open, so this let us ride with the wind pushing us in this direction; returning on the west road, going into the wind, we would be more sheltered so the wind wouldn’t be too bad.

It wasn’t long before our first gator sighting,
He looks like he's sleeping
First gator of the day

We made our way through the swamps of the Everglades,
Everglades National Park

keeping our eyes peeled for alligators and interesting birds, but mostly making time towards the Observation Tower.
The birds aren't concerned at all

We knew there would be much more to see on the ride back to the Visitor Center!  The first 8 miles passed quickly.

We made it to the Observation Tower
We reached the Observation Tower

We parked our bikes and took our snacks up to the tower.
Observation Tower
There was a tram full of school kids on a field trip behind us, so we climbed to the top of the tower while they enjoyed their picnic lunch in the grass at the bottom.

Nice view from up here! 
The view from above
Mike & Annette were on the tram behind the field trip, and we ran into them at the top of the tower.  Mike was kind enough to take a picture for us.
Tom and I on top of the Tower




On the way back down, we ran into Russ & Betsy.
Tom with Betsy & Russ
We chatted for a few minutes, and Betsy told me about some baby alligators that they had spotted along the walkway to the tower.  I made sure I looked for them on the way back to the bikes.

They were camouflaged pretty well at the base of a tree, but we found them!
Baby Gators
More baby gators
A few more babies




On the ride back, we did spot more gators than on the way out, but not nearly as many as we had seen when we were here 4 years ago.  Maybe it was the warmer weather, but it seemed like most of them were down in the canal,
A pair of gators




rather than in the grass along the edge of the road. 
Lurking in the grass

There were some lurking in the grass, though.
Looks like he's smiling




We also saw a few turtles,

and LOTS of Great Blue Herons!
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron





Most of them didn’t even mind when we came up alongside them.

Another Great Blue Heron

We also spotted a Black-Crested Night Heron (had to google that one!), and lots of butterflies.
Black-crested Night Heron




Finally – an alligator up in the grass!
One of the few we saw near the road

And another one crawled out of the water as we rode past!
This guy crawled out of the water as we road past




The highlight of the day, though, came when we were almost back to the 2 mile marker on the trail.  We saw another gator in the grass, but from a distance, something looked strange about him.
We got close enough to see clearly, and saw that he had caught a turtle in his mouth.
We weren’t sure what to think – it was the craziest thing we’d ever seen!  The turtle was still alive – he was moving his head and feet around.  We didn’t know what was going to happen next; I’ve always heard that gators drown their prey, so we though he might take the turtle back into the canal.  We were standing there thinking about it, when suddenly he threw himself into the air and kindof flung the turtle.
He almost got away!
We thought it might get away, but the gator reached out with those giant jaws and grabbed it sideways!
He flipped it on the side so he could get a better angle
Got it!

He stayed like that for a few minutes, appearing to be resting, and then he flung himself upwards again, repositioning the turtle in his jaws.
He's working on getting it turned around

He was apparently working on getting it flipped over so he could bite into it easier.

He got it flipped over
After every re-positioning, he would stop and rest.  We would wonder whether we should move on, and other bike riders and walkers stopped to take pictures and then moved on, but we just couldn’t drag ourselves away.  We kept wondering what he would do next!

Once he had the turtle upside down, his next move was to open his jaws and then close them with a quick snap.
20,000 pounds of pressure in those jaws

We heard a “Crunch!”, and knew he had broken the shell!






It was disgusting – guts flew out of his mouth!
Pieces of turtle are flying

Once again, he re-positioned it, and continued to crunch on the poor turtle!
Getting gross

At this point, I took a short video with my phone.  You can hear the crunch as he breaks up the shell, but I’m also told that Tom’s sound effects are pretty entertaining!

He was still working on swallowing it when we finally moved on.
Now he just has to swallow it all!

WOW – That was not something we ever thought we would see!  It was gross, but amazing!  Nature in action . . . and we witnessed it up close!  It certainly was a memorable end to a great day!