The next day we went to a Camping World RV sales lot somewhere near I-95. At each campground we walked by these RVs and trailers, I never have been inside one. Some of them are soooooo huge! And cost over $100,000. So we were very curious to see what was inside of those big ones but also what those small pop-up ones look like inside.
The big ones can sleep10 people and have cable TV, air conditioners, heat and a full kitchen as well as a shower and a toilet. The small ones with no bathroom are very small. They can still sleep four and have two gas burners and a sink. Also there is a table to eat for four. I have to say I was jealous about the indoor kitchen. But mostly because you don’t have to put it away…
We had lunch in some small redneck ville in North Carolina.
Once we arrived in Richmond VA, we decided that we were not ready for such a big city yet. So rather than planning for a downtown walk the next morning, we found a historic farm to go to the next morning and to watch some sheep shearing.
For dinner Renzo found a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant. It was a real dive, but the food was fantastic and the owners were the most wonderful people, an elderly couple from Vietnam.
All the greater then was our shock when we arrived at the motel that we had already made reservations for on the way. The entrance are was entirely packed with dozens of high schoolers on a field trip, apparently some kind of sports team. They were pretty well behaved but we were worried about a bunch of screaming teenagers keeping us up all night.
In the end, the teenagers were quiet and what kept us up instead was some rotten wiring and/or air conditioner that decided to make a lot of noise most of the night.
“Are the little girls still there?” Timofei asked as soon as he woke up. After traveling for a week, our boys have missed other children. But the very close quarters of Boyd’s campground in Key West were very indusive for making connections. Five yards away from us was a very nice family with two girls. One was eight and her sister was five. Timofei was running after the older one and Yelisei was following the younger one. They were running in circles and squealing like pigs all evening and all morning. That alone made up for all inconvenience of close neighbors and high price. The girls’ family had spent 2 1/2 years in Germany, so the father was very eager to show off his German that he learned. Everybody had fun after all.
I never noticed it before but apparently the chicken are wild in Key West. Those roosters that woke us up that morning were calling from all around us. So I was thinking, it is strange how popular it is to keep chicken around here. It turned out no one owns those chicken! They roam the streets on their own! We saw them all over Key West, even little chicks. I was so curious about this that I asked a cashier at a gas station about it. She said that she heard that they used to be fighting cocks which then went wild.
Since our neighbors were leaving in the morning and they were the only nice thing there, Renzo was looking for just about any other spot for the next night. At midnight he managed to find and book one spot for one night in Long Key State Park. Earlier that day I made a reservation for Sunday night at Bahia Honda State Park. It looked like our Easter weekend was not a complete disaster after all.
Following recommendation of our nice neighbors for the nicest beach we went to Higgs Beach in Key West for an afternoon of beach time.
I can not say that Key West has the world’s nicest beaches but there was sand, a bathroom and water to swim in, though it was on the cold side. That is all you need for our kids to be happy.
We set up our chairs under a tree next to a picnic table. At that picnic table sat an older woman. She was from some Muslim country but I could not place it from which one. Her dress had a blue under dress with a beautiful fine batik print and black and brown embroidered robe like over dress. She had a beautiful dark face with black brows that almost met. She was reading something that looked like a prayer book. It tuned out that this lady was from Uzbekistan and spoke perfect Russian. She was so happy to speak to us. She did not speak English and Russian was the only foreign language that she knew. She was in Key West for two months visiting her son. But he works as well as her Uzbekistan girlfriends.
We spoke a bit and I mentioned how much I liked this certain kind of cheese that they have in her country. She opened her bag and pulled out a bag with that cheese! She gave me some -and there I was, eating an Uzbekistan delicacy on Higgs Beach in Key West, speaking Russian to a woman in a head scarf!!
Just then I saw a family with two children of Timofei’s age walking onto the beach. I thought that maybe Timofei can play with those kids. Then the father of that family turns to me and says: Ksenia? And then I recognized them. I know them from New York!!!! And they are Russian!
Though I speak English I still prefer Russian company. We all spent a fantastic afternoon on the beach. Rashid, the husband of the Russian family, was the first one in the water. It was cold to enter but once you where in it was very nice. Even our chicken children went in, probably being impressed by Rashid’s twins.
The Uzbekistan woman was afraid to go into the water by herself since she could not swim and the bottom was rocky and she was afraid to fall. I went with her hand in hand into the water. She was wearing some kind of purple pajama and her head scarf was fully covering her neck. As Renzo pointed out later, we were quite a spectacle for the entire beach. I guess they have never seen a Muslim woman holding hands with white chick with pink hair enter the cold waters of the Atlantic ocean. I have to say: me neither.
Unfortunately, we had to leave this Russian speaking paradise and go find something to eat. We ignored the recommended Uzbek restaurant that just opened in Key West as well as the seaport fish places. We felt like Cuban food. So we whipped out our iPhone and opened good old Yelp. First try was a miss – it turned out to be a window deli next to coin laundry. We wanted authentic but not that pedestrian. But the second hit was a winner.
Habana 1 it was called. The walls were covered with mostly portrait paintings. Timofei said that he did not like those because the people all had long necks. I liked them because almost all people on those paintings had long necks. We ordered steak, a tropical medley and grilled fish. Everything came with the most beautiful orange colored rice and black beans.
Everything was exceptionally good especially the rice and beans. Usually I am not a big fan of rice and beans but this one was a piece of art! The rice had a hint of saffron taste and the beans had a very delicate blend of spice and were firm in broth with bay leaf and something else that I could not tell what it was. We cleaned up all the plates!
What a day!
Then we were off to Long Key State Park. This park had 54 campsites all waterfront and all very big with trees in between. After That private campground in Key West, it felt like coming back to paradise. This is the only campground that I have seen that had no bad sites. Even as we were next to the bathroom, it had so much space it was very nice. Usually we pick the furthest spot from the bathroom to avoid high traffic and the light that shines all night.
Finally, we had a good night’s sleep again. But only to be ruined in the morning by an Easter morning gone bad…
We felt warm in our tent all night. Yelisei had some sniffles the day before and I was starting to be worried that he was getting sick from all this cold. I got the kids some vitamins and I guess that helped. Yelisei was waking up much less at night. So when I was unzipping our tent I realized that the inside of our rain fly was covered with a sheet of ice!! We are in Florida and it is the end of March! Our car and picnic table and our chairs were all in ice. The sun was out though and soon it melted. I started cooking breakfast in two sweaters and a down jacket and by the end I was wearing just a t-shirt.
This morning breakfast was a long forgotten Russian staple: last night’s dinner leftovers fried with eggs. It was a first time my kids seen anything like this for breakfast and it took some convincing to make them eat it. They could not believe that it was legitimate food to eat in the morning.
We picked this park because on the pictures it had lush tropical forests and lots of trails. By 10:30 we were at the head of a 20 minute swamp trail that promised alligator sightings. Just as we got out of our car a school bus full of children pulled in and went down the same trail. I thought we will never see alligators. To my surprise we did see some animals on that trail. They were a flock of beautiful birds that were having lunch in the shallow waters of the swamp. They were duck size birds with long flamingo like legs and a thin long beak that was curved down. I was very impressed. Our children were not impressed. Yelisei wanted to poop. People in front of us and people behind. It reminded me of me wanting to pee when we were hiking in Machupichu on a trail three feet wide with a wall to the left and a cliff to the right with 50 people in front and 50 in the back, all walking as fast as they can.
In any case, if you smell poop when walking down that trail, it was Yelisei.
After having lunch in the park we are on the road again to the Everglades.
Sadly, it was our last night camping. We are heading back home, from Georgia to New York. We will stay in hotels on the way. Our last stop was Okefenokee National Park. Another paradise, but with mosquitos. Otherwise, the temperature for camping was perfect. Not too cold at night and not too hot at noon.
We arrived on Wednesday night, set up camp and met a three year old boy with his Air Force father, eight month old brother and his grandma. Timofei and Yelisei had a blast. They have not seen any other children for a while. So they ran around in circles like mad people. Then they invited us to have our first smorphs (marshmallow chocolate sandwiches). I have to say I was prejudiced at first, but I do agree it was not bad at all. Timofei and Yelisei enjoyed it as well.
After a nice sleep we had a boat ride on the swamp. This park and shark valley in Florida are the best places to see the wildlife. On our one and a half hour trip, we saw countless alligators, beautiful big birds like ibis and cranes, and small birds like swamp canary. Also turtles and deer. After that majestic trip on the swamp, we had lunch of rice and canned organic chicken. I was hoping that both boys will collapse for a nap but they thought differently.
We took a stroll on a boardwalk in the swamp. There was a fire in that forest that was caused by lightning and was burning for a year. It finished burning couple of months ago. So our board walk was not as long as it needed to be for those boys to fall a sleep. Tired of walking in circles we lay down on the floor and Renzo had a nap. Strangely no one else did.
In the evening we were going to do some star watching. They were going to put out 3 telescopes. Since this camp is at the end of a 17 mile dead end road with no light pollution, the sky is pretty incredible even without a telescope. But stupidly we did not register and when we showed up at 9 pm with children in stroller we found nobody with no telescope!! I was so mad at our stupidity! Lesson learned I hope.
I wanted to share a list of equipment that we found useful in our camping trip. It is not complete. I just wanted to mention things I liked.
Our MSR Spider stove. It is small and packable and takes any fuel. We use kerosine, which is a popular item on the countryside. We are thinking of getting one with 2 burners (and a bigger car).
Sleeping bags that can zip together. You never know when the mood strikes you and when the nights are freezing.
REI Basecamp 4 tent. Best compromise between size an comfort. You can stand up to put on your pants but it is small enough not to take over your trunk. It is also very waterproof. We were lucky not to have rain this time but we have slept in it through over night storms. It also was good in windy conditions.
Two large plastic boxes with lids attached. You can find those at McMaster Carr in the shipping box category. One has all the food and the other all the dishes and stove and everything else. If you put the stove on the picnic table and boxes on either side, it works like a relatively comfortable kitchen.
Kitchen sink. Normal people would probably use tubs but we have a rather small car and we stupidly brought our huge stroller. Luckily there is a ‘Sea to Summit’ packable kitchen sink. Worked very nicely.
Do not leave your house without charcoal! Often camp fires are prohibited but charcoal is not. I have cooked entire meals on it.
Swiss army knife.
Wine. It is cold at night and when you wake up with full bladder in the middle of the night it is such a pain to get out of the tent. Stick to wine, not beer.
Find a herbal concoction that you and your children can drink besides water. I made orange hibiscus honey tea or camomile honey. Put it in thermos cups and drink all day.
iPhone. I can not imagine how people travelled without it. GPS is also important. Use them in combination and you can find and make reservations in coming up town or campground. Find out that all the BBQ places are closed without driving to each one.