Day 12 – Florida Roadtrip – Chassahowitzka River, FL

As we learned just yesterday, even though it says “no alcohol on campground”, this is not enforced at all. When I went to complain to security, nothing happened. That is the price you have to pay for the convenience of car camping. It is so easy that every moron can do it. Apparently, in Tampa / St. Petersburg it is a common thing to do: go camping, get fucked up.

In the morning we rented a canoe. Everyone got his own paddle, even Yelisei. It was all around beautiful. The water was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom. There were several springs that we could see as perfect circle craters. There was so much fish, it made me think of the time before America was discovered. I imagine you could fish with your bare hands here. On a motor boat you could go far down that river but on our paddle boat we went to different shallow inlets that were shady and abundant with fish and just magnificent.

We had lunch on land on the edge of a perfectly round and blue pool of water fed by several springs. It was full of big fish. Timofei found a long piece of gras and was fishing. I think he was convinced that if he puts a stick in the water then eventually there will be a fish on the end of it. He was quite disappointed that no fish came to bite. He could not understand why, although I explained to him the concept of fishing rods and bait several times.

Then we had to decide what to do next. It looked like it was going to rain where we were going to go next, so we decided to stay put and go to the beach nearby the next day.
We moved to a different site, away from the drunken boys. In the evening by the fire we enjoyed not only peace and quiet but also armadillo and several raccoons just a few feet from us.

Day 11 – Florida Roadtrip – Chassahowitzka River, FL

The girl was indeed still there, so Timofei was happy while we were packing up. It was time to leave the Keys and start heading north again. It was a long drive all the way north of Tampa, to a campground at the Chassahowitzka River. The drive was pretty uneventful except for the usual entertainment provided by Timofei and Yelisei.

The campground was in a gorgeous swampy forest with lots of Armadillos and Raccoons and it was pretty empty, except that we ended up next to three college boys who were pretty nice initially but then got more and more drunk until one of them thought it would be cool to run screaming after an Amadillo, with a machete in hand…

Their drunken loud chatter was pretty annoying – we told them twice to keep it down, but it was of course useless. Eventually, their chief moron passed out at midnight and so did his followers. Thankfully, the next day made up for it though.

Day 9 – Florida Roadtrip – Key West, FL

“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…

Day 7 – Florida Roadtrip – Everglades National Park, FL

We got to the Everglades last night early enough to be done with dinner and all packed up by 8 pm. Unfortunately we could not enjoy sitting by the fire since there was no firewood for sale anywhere. There were many campers searching the woods for fallen branches so there was none left by the time we got around to it. It was an early night.

When we woke up it was just as cold as in Ocala but it warmed up very fast when the sun came up. This is my least favorite campground. You are camping in an open field. There are trees here and there but you can see and hear everyone. I could see the teenage girl in her leopard print FOOTED PJs and hear a four year old girl crying and calling Mommy! Mommy! Every 5 minutes. She was camping with her dad and three siblings! That dad wins a medal for patience in my book. We were done with breakfast by 9:30 and were on a boat tour by 10 am. I love the mangrove forest. I think it will be nice to go on a canoe trip here in five years.

The bad: all the food in the cafe is deep fried, there is no coal or wood for sale except at the marina store where you can get three logs for $6! So we decided to go 50 miles to the nearest store instead…

Day 5 – Florida Roadtrip – Ocala National Park, FL

We have arrived at my favorite campground ever! In the Ocala National Park, Florida, Fore Lake campground. It has completely private sites along the circle drive. It has warm showers, clean white sand and a swimmable beach. We could not enjoy any of it though, because Mother Nature decided it was time for record low temperatures in Florida again! Second time!! I can not believe that we travelled five days to be in Florida and the temperature is the same as in NYC!!

We have gotten used to the new routine and cooking does not annoy me any more. After Renzo reorganized everything in our car the loading in goes much smoother. Now that we got the material stuff down it is time to smell the roses.

When you drive for a long time on a highway I often find a car that is driving with just the right speed and follow it. It takes a while to find it. Some cars drive annoyingly slow, some are too fast and some are just right. My question is: do I have anything in common with that driver whose car I am following or not? Is our common sense of how fast the car should go on a highway the only thing that connects us? Traveling on the highway is a very lonely experience. Unlike traveling on Russian long distance trains where you eat and drink with strangers who tell you their innermost secrets. There is no sharing on the interstate highway.

To my disappointment we had to leave Ocala as fast as we could because it was too cold. We decided to change our plans yet again and go further south and find a campground that was half way between Ocala and the Everglades. Again, the iPhone came in handy. The weather was checked, campgrounds rated. We picked Highlands Hammock State Park.

On the way there a few exiting things happened. Renzo forgot a fuel cap at a gas station and we went to a Walmart to get me a car key. In Walmart our children had a meltdown of gigantic proportions. Yelisei was clutching a set of Hot Wheels that he already has and demanded that we get it. Timofei was crying that we don’t have space for a superhero in our car. We did not make a copy of my car key but we found a fuel cap replacement. Also we replaced the rear windshield wiper and got a ratchet cord to close our roof box because we realized yesterday that the locks pop open as you hit potholes. It is so difficult to stay on track and stop improvements!

When we arrived at Highlands Hammock State Park, it was cold and windy. In Ocala it was not windy, it was just cold. So we drove 3 hrs to be in a less pretty spot and have wind and cold. I was very disappointed and was ready to cry. The spot we were in was called wilderness camping: there was no water, bathroom, or trees. There were picnic tables, a fire ring, and 5′ tall palm trees that went as far as you can see. Every 50 yards or so there was a pine tree. There was a road nearby so you could see and hear cars and power lines going along the road. And did I mention WIND and COLD? And then I thought since there is no clouds and no trees then maybe it will be the most beautiful sky we have ever seen. After having shrimp for dinner that we got at a farmers market on our way, we sat by the fire and drank some wine. The stars were shining and the moon was full.

The wind and the cars stopped when the sun went down and by the fire we had the most peaceful evening yet. The moon was so bright that we did not use our flashlights to get around our campground. In the morning everything was covered with ice! But that happened on day six.