Sunday, February 24, 2013

A movie day, Bunche Beach, and Finding Eldo

February 18-22, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

bunche beach

Vic and I are big movie fans. With the realization that the Academy Awards were less than a week away, we decided we needed to see at least a couple more of the movies nominated for best picture. We found a theater nearby where we could see Argo and Silver Linings Playbook almost back to back for matinee prices. Argo’s compelling story about the escape
of six Americans during the Iranian Hostage crisis in 1979 had us sitting on the edge of our seats. After the film was over, we felt emotionally exhausted but we were committed to seeing what turned out to be another emotional roller coaster of a movie. Whereas the storyline dominated in Argo, we both felt the acting is what made Silver Linings work so well. Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence were all nominated for their acting in this fine film about finding silver linings in life despite all kinds of challenges. We returned to the motorhome feeling pretty drained but happy to have seen these two outstanding movies.

The next day we had plans to get up fairly early to go kayaking with friends we met last year, Dave and Jean from Ohio.  We had both heard that the San Carlos Bay Bunche Beach Preserve was a good place to float our boats.  Bunche Beach turned out to be about forty minutes away from our campground but only about fifteen minutes away from where they are staying at the Red Coconut RV Resort in Fort Myers Beach.  This map marks some of the trails that are part of the Great Calusa Blueways Trail.  Bunche Beach Preserve is #13 on the map—just before the bridge to Sanibel Island.

When we arrived, Jean and Dave were already there scoping out the place. The parking cost $1.00 an hour—but was about to go up to $2.00 as of March 1—caught a break there.  Since we arrived by 9:30 in the morning, there was plenty of parking close to the ramp which made it a super easy launch.  The only challenge was a first for us while kayaking: there were no-see-ums swarming around in the parking lot. Dave was kind enough to go to a nearby CVS and purchase some bug spray. It turned out once we got out on the water that we didn’t need it, but better be prepared than sorry. 

fisherman at bunche beach

The water was quite placid with only a small breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s were quite comfortable. Once we emerged from a fairly narrow channel, we were fully in the Gulf with some lovely sights of a schooner in the distance and small private sandy beaches that are part of the preserve.  I pulled out my cameras when I saw a large flock of cranes and noticed a bald eagle taking flight. The big bummer for me was that I thought I had charged my camera battery and it was dead—oops. I really look forward to taking photos from the kayak, but now I would have to resort to my smart phone.  I decided to just let it go—for the most part—and enjoy the outing with our friends. 

jean and dave2

It turned out that initial bird sighting was about the only wildlife we saw this day.  Maybe that was a good thing since I would have been really disappointed to see cool critters and not have a camera. I had expected there to be some mangrove inlets along the shore, but we didn’t see any to explore.  The tide played a big factor in where we could go as there were very shallow sandbars close to shore. Dave even found himself stuck on one that he had to wriggle out of by waiting for enough waves to carry him off. Aside from a few tide and current challenges, we enjoyed paddling out in the Gulf where the tranquil water made it easy to just relax and float around and chat while appreciating a gorgeous day.


jean and dave in kayaks1

After kayaking, we braved the drive into Fort Myers Beach (heavy traffic) to a lunch spot called the Nauti Turtle on San Carlos Bay. We have not spent much time at all in Fort Myers Beach so it was interesting to watch the boaters out in the bay and enjoy an al fresco lunch on the patio overlooking the water. Jean and Dave will be moving north to Siesta Key in Sarasota on March 1, so we made plans to get in another day of kayaking at Matlacha before they leave.  Looking forward to it.

private beach with kayakers

Another fun event for us this past week involved getting to know some new friends who are also full-timers: Jeannie and Eldy of Where’s Eldo blogging fame. When we had less than a week of experience on the road, I met Jeannie and Eldy in Missoula, Montana at Jim and Mary’s RV Park. It was only a brief encounter but enough to introduce me to the first RVing blog I had read.  Fast forward almost eighteen months and our paths crossed again here in Southwest Florida. They are staying in Sarasota, about seventy miles from us, so we decided to meet somewhere in between for dinner. Vic and I recently discovered a beach restaurant we really like in Venice, Sharky’s on the Pier, so we suggested meeting there for our get together.

sharkys neon sign2

It sure is easy to connect with fellow full-timers, plus we both own the same make of motorhome, aTiffin Phaeton, so a big part of the conversation inevitably focused on Phaeton tips as well as the shared experience of Camp Freightliner. We learned that they had not yet earned the Red Bay Badge of Honor by spending time at the Tiffin Service Center, so we had a few stories to share about our nineteen day stint there last year.  Jeannie and I also managed to sneak in a little conversation about our teaching careers and being single moms earlier in our lives. The evening sure went by quickly in spite of the fact that we had to wait over an hour for an outdoor table. The only disappointment was that the music didn't get going earlier so we might have had a chance to see Jeannie’s famous dance moves which she has so well documented in her blog. Ha.

Jeannie recently wrote about her fear that this lifestyle might turn out to be a lonely existence. I commented on her blog that this too was one of my fears. The happy outcome is that both of us have found the opposite to be true and, once again, I am reminded of the blessings of friendship, new and old.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Valentine dinner, fieldtrips to Koreshan Historic Site and Jet Blue park, and other random happenings

February 14-17, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

We had a almost a full day of rain on Valentine’s Day followed by some rather cool temperatures with overnight lows in the high 30s one night and highs in the 60s a couple of days.  I found the cool weather rather refreshing especially since it was sunny and bright. We are now enjoying daytime temperatures back in the low 80s—plenty warm enough for me.

It is amazing where the time goes in this lifestyle. I have been trying to get to Zumba five mornings a week, come home and often swim, then shower and it’s already noon! Then there is the WDYWTDT (what do you want to do today question) which almost always involves the two other couples we came to this park to hang out with—Mike and BJ and Steve and Diane.  Aside from planning something to share for dinner most nights, we frequent the beach, local festivals, and general exploring together.

We also have some friends in the area which we have made plans to see. On Valentine’s Day, we had the great pleasure of having dinner at the home of  Lois and Mike, friends from Oregon.  I taught with Lois in the 80s and early 90s before she moved to Florida when she retired and our sons have remained friends throughout this time. We saw them last year when they lived in a home in Cape Coral. This past summer they sold their home and moved into a retirement community called Pelican Preserve. They gave us a tour of the area which includes a golf course, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pool, restaurants, ballroom, fitness center, pickle ball courts, boardwalk and nature trails, and a variety of home options. They live in an incredibly beautiful 2400 sq. ft. Carriage Home overlooking the 27 hole golf course.

I can see why it’s tempting to live where you have all these amenities and no pool to clean or yard to maintain.  For us, coming from life in about 400 sq. ft. area. their place seemed grandiose. It was interesting to learn about their new community and how they like it. We enjoyed a lovely evening together talking about lifestyle choices and sharing Oregon memories. (And as usual, I neglected to take photos of us.)

Valentine dessert

Once again, I have to say the quality of our travels is much more about the people and relationships we make than the geography we find ourselves in. Although that’s not to say we don’t love this warm and sunny weather!

bennetts donut pillows
On Saturday, I had a desire to go to a coffee place we discovered last year called Bennett’s Fresh Roast in downtown Fort Myers, about twenty minutes away. We invited Mike and BJ along and off we went. Bennett’s is not just a coffee place; it is famous for its homemade donuts with flavors like almond coconut, berry mascarpone, and maple applewood bacon. I rarely eat a donut, but these are pretty special for a once a year fling!

After filling our bellies with caffeine and sugar, we headed off in search of Oofos sandals—the most comfortable flip flops we have discovered in our constant quest for ones with cushion and support. We did indeed find them at a place called Foot Solutions in Estero. Our friend Mike was interested in trying their slides and they had one pair left in his size—so voila. Success. Vic and I already have a pair and they are our #1 go to shoe in this weather. (Remember: Vic’s main retirement goal is to wear cargo shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops year round.)

From here we were off to get a few accessories for our Hobie kayaks.  Thanks to the internet, we found a great Hobie dealer who carries a large inventory of parts and accessories: Estero River Outfitters.  They had everything on Vic’s list (a drive well seal and leash kits for the mirage drives) except a gear bucket that fits in one of the dry hatches. Another successful stop.

We noticed that the Koreshan Historic Site State Park was just across the road from Estero River Outfitters. I had heard that this was a good place to go kayaking, so we drove in to check it out.

As luck would have it, they were also hosting an art show with live music and guided tours of the historic buildings that were once part of the Koreshan sect who lived here in the early 1900s. I had never heard of this park or the religious group that once occupied it. The historic buildings in what is now a state park include a bakery, printing house, general stores, concrete works, mill shop, and power plant plus some of the original homes they lived in.  We happened to catch a guided tour of the mill shop and power plant which were fascinating. They even fired up the generators and ran the tools in the machine to show you how they worked—way back when.

engine cooling tower

Here are some photos showing the lifestyle of the sect in the early 1900s.

The art show was pretty small and the least interesting part of our day, except that I loved these ribbon mobiles.

I did find a great little blue green saltwater pearl and kyanite beaded necklace that I just had to have at one of the booths.  My resolve is to wear it with jeans around the campfire as I don’t have too many dress up opportunities these days, but I still love the bling.

On Sunday, we heard there was an open house for visitors to check out the relatively new Jet Blue Stadium, spring training home for the Boston Red Sox. 

This seemed like a perfect Sunday outing with the stadium about a twenty minute drive from here. (Seems like that is the norm. . . .) We are not avid baseball fans, but the Red Sox are one of our favorite teams and we heard this new stadium, which just opened last year, is a replica of Fenway Park.

Spring training games are a big thrill for many of our friends, some of whom plan their spring vacations all around going to the games—usually for teams in Arizona as it is closer for our Oregon friends. We also have three grandsons who are big baseball fans and players, especially since their dad played baseball for the Oregon State Beavers. They are only 4, 6, and 8, but we can see many baseball games in our future as grandparents.

We were very impressed with the stadium, especially the replica of the green wall. The big difference is, of course, the swaying palm trees in the distance and the wide open surroundings.

Vic and Mike couldn't resist trying a seat in the dugouts. Notice how chilly it was out here in
Florida—a down vest! Ha-ha.

On the ride home, I came up with a grand plan to check out The Hut, a new restaurant in Buckingham owned by the blues guitarist, Tommy Lee Cook.  The grounds are amazing, the drinks a good deal, and the food rather disappointing. We do plan to go back and give them another try—topic for another blog as this one is getting way too long.

Let the good times roll. . . .

Friday, February 15, 2013

Barefoot on the Beach

February 12, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

Looking at the weather patterns ahead, we decided Tuesday would be a good day to spend at the beach as temperatures were forecast to be in the low 80s with plenty of sunshine. Our beach bum friends, Mike and BJ, are always game for a day at the beach so we all headed out by 8:30 a.m. for Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park in Bonita Springs—about a forty-five minute drive.

Vic and I had been to this park before, but we had our dogs with us and discovered no dogs are allowed so we never went on the beach. We can easily leave our dogs in the motorhome for the day (with a/c when needed) and our friends have even walked the dogs for us, but we have been wanting to try out a doggie daycare place—something we have never done before. Vic researched what kind of places were in the area and discovered a fantastic place nearby called The Dog Resort in Fort Myers.  The Dog Resort is a free range daycare and boarding place where dogs are separated into different play areas by size and temperament. We think it’s good for the dogs to be socialized into the pack occasionally, especially Jetta, our mama dog who sometimes gets protective of her son Rico. Before dogs can go here, they have to pass a free three hour evaluation which we did the week before. You can watch the dogs on TV monitors to see how they are interacting. The cost for two dogs for 1/2 day (6 hours) was $30. We consider it an investment in their training and plan to do this a few more times while we are in this area.

resting dogs

Mike and BJ followed us to the Dog Resort where we dropped off the pooches, loaded into their car, and headed to Bonita Springs. Last year we stayed about one week at the Bonita Lake RV Resort and liked this area very much. One big difference as you head further south on the Gulf Coast seems to be that the affluence increases.  Probably a big generalization on my part, but Bonita Springs is close to Naples which seems to be one of the highest income per capita cities in Florida. Okay, so I had to check it out after typing that last sentence.  At least one source lists the Naples/Marco Island metro area as the second highest income in the United States with Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, Connecticut ranked as first. I bring this up as the road leading into Barefoot Beach confronts you with the disparity between middle and upper class. Do you know anyone who has a vacation home that looks like these?

The two mile drive down a curvy brick road on Barefoot Beach Boulevard is part of a semi-gated community of homes that start at 5 million and up, although there are some cottages and condos that could be yours for around one million. The landscaping upkeep alone on some of these homes would exceed our previous mortgage payments. At the end of the two miles, you reach a gate that requires you to pay an $8.00 entrance fee to the park area, one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida's southwest coast. The contrast from multi-million dollar homes to two miles of a natural preserve shoreline is rather stark. The park was pretty busy already at about 9:30 a.m. but we didn't have any trouble finding a parking place. It is a lovely beach with well-built walkways protecting the sand dunes, sea oats, and a hammock of sable palm, gumbo-limbo and sea grape. This hammock provides nesting sites for the protected gopher tortoise which makes its habitat in this area—probably another reason there are no dogs allowed here.

I took a walk on the boardwalk hoping to see a gopher tortoise shortly after we arrived, but to no avail. It wasn't until we were leaving later in the day that we saw two tortoises heading down the road. The park had posters providing information about the gopher tortoise. They are one of the oldest living species dating back over 60 million years. They are unusual in that they dig burrows that can be up to 40 feet long and 10 feet deep which are not only their homes, but also, when abandoned, serve as homes for all kinds of other species.  They can live up to 60 years if their habitat is stable. The biggest threats to them are habitat loss, logging, and road kill. I once accidentally drove over a large turtle in Michigan; it was a traumatic experience for me as a young driver and one I will never forget.  Sure glad that Florida has made an effort to maintain natural areas like this beach to help protect this endangered species.
When we arrived at the beach, we set up our chairsmand Mike, BJ, and I went off in search of shells. The tide was coming in—not the best time for shelling—and the Gulf was pretty choppy so the waves breaking at the shore made it less than ideal shelling conditions. The beach was also fairly crowded compared to most we have been to and this may account for fewer shells as well. 

After doing a little reading, I grew restless and walked down the beach with my camera in search of some photo opportunities.  I saw a couple pointing inland to an osprey nest that appeared to be occupied.  Just as I focused my camera on the nest, in came mama to the nest, followed by papa. (Just guessing who's who.) Lucky for me.

As I walked down the beach, I could feel my throat grow raspy and my nasal passages burn a little. There was a Red Tide warning sign when we entered the park, but the park ranger said the level was low. I must be pretty sensitive because I definitely could feel  respiratory symptoms.  I don’t think this was related at all but there was also a heavy haze in the distance. I checked on my phone and the humidity was 100%. I am not sure how humidity affects Red Tide; the windy conditions were probably more of a factor. Another effect can be the stench of dead fish washing ashore, but fortunately we saw very few dead fish. The haze produced kind of an eerie image of the when I zoomed in on the Naples shoreline in the distance.

After about three hours on the beach we packed up and headed to one of Mike and BJ’s favorite lunch stops: The Fish House Restaurant on the backwater bay in Bonita Springs, one of three local chains.  We opted to sit outside on their pet friendly deck (something I appreciated even though we were having a dog free day!). The service was excellent and the food very good.  While sitting there, I couldn't help but think about my mom who used to visit this area to see one of her very good friends who owned a restaurant here. Last year, I looked it up and learned the name of the restaurant was the Lucky Landing. It closed years ago. I haven’t been able to find its exact location but it was within a mile or so of where we were eating.  I asked our waitress the history of the Fish House and learned it was never the Lucky Landing. All the employees were too young to know the area back in the 70s and 80s. Time marches on, things change, and new memories are made where old ones once reigned.

We stopped to look at a few campground along the way home: Woodsmoke Camping Resort and Shady Acres RV and Camping Park. I preferred the Woodsmoke park over Shady Acres, but both are just off the very busy 41 highway and not too close to anything other than shopping. Just before 3 p.m., we picked up our pooches who were happy to see us. They gave us a report card for each dog with information on what games or toys they played with and the names of the dogs that were their favorite playmates.  Pretty cute. They definitely had some fun as they were completely exhausted the rest of the day. Even though it wasn't the best shelling and there was a bit of Red Tide in the air, it is always good for the soul to have a day at the beach.

Thanks for traveling along with us.

Morning glory flowers wrapped around the sea grapes at Barefoot Beach

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gettin' down with the blues on a Saturday afternoon

February 9, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

Another treasure we discovered in this area last year is the World Famous Buckingham Blues Bar. How’s that for the name of a funky looking back country bar. The owner, Tommy Lee Cook, a  blues musician himself, remodeled the place about ten years ago, and made it one of the best venues for blues music in Southwest Florida. He claims it is world famous as his patrons hail from countries all over the world.  Aside from blues jams and live music at least three nights a week, Tommy holds a monthly bluesfest on the two acres behind the bar which features two outdoor stages, a large fire pit, picnic tables, and a grassy knoll for blankets or lawn chairs.  Behind the stage area is a small fenced in area where Bucky the beer drinking mule resides.

We made plans to meet another RVing couple there whom we met last year in Bradenton. Jean and Dave arrived before us and managed to score a great seat under cover from the sun near the stage.  The weather was perfect for an outdoor event—about 75 degrees with occasional cloud cover and a gentle breeze which kept it from being too hot.  The entry fee for the show was $7.00 and parking is free in a grassy field next to the bar. They only serve beer and wine at the bar with a bottle of beer costing $3.00. They also had a grill going with burgers or hot dogs with beans and potato chips for $5.50. Pretty reasonable for the quality of the venue.

I never caught the name of the first band that played as a warm-up act to Tommy Lee Cook and the Boys of Buckingham.  It looked like they were the Boys of Buckingham, at least the lead singer played guitar in both shows.  He looked like quite a character himself—fit right in with the highly eclectic crowd ranging from bikers to upscale retirees.

Tommy Lee is kind of a renaissance man: a songwriter, musician, bar owner and restaurateur, young adult novelist, and international crossword competitor.  You could tell he really loves performing and seeing his audience have a great time. The show started at 1:00 and by about 3:00 there must have been close to 300 people enjoying Tommy’s big party.

I walked out back to pay Bucky the mule a visit and noticed what I thought were wood storks on the property behind the bar. Sure enough. It’s often surprising where special birds show up when you are least expecting them. It looks like the two on the left may be nearly grown babies of the stork on the right.

The second act, JP Soars and The Red Hots, started about 4:30, and the lead guitarist, JP Soars, was amazing. I learned he was a 2012 Blues Music Nominee and has quite a following in this area and Europe as well. Most of what we heard him play were original songs he wrote. He also plays a slide guitar but, sadly, we left before we had the chance to hear this part of his performance. 

It’s clear that the local blues lovers really appreciate what Tommy Lee Cook has brought to this country town of Buckingham—population 3742. Cook has also recently re-opened what used to be a landmark restaurant in this area called The Hut.  I heard Tuesday is Ladies Night and Karaoke there with ladies getting two free drinks of anything including call liquors. Sounds dangerous but fun! 

We enjoyed reconnecting with Dave and Jean, doing some people watching, and appreciating the talent on stage. What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Thanks Tommy!

The end. . . .