When we woke up that morning, Renzo wanted to go to church for Easter service. He unloaded the car so we have everything we need for breakfast and drove off. I started making pancakes. I mixed up the batter while Timofei and Yelisei were asking every 15 seconds: are they ready, are they ready, are they ready? I am starting the stove only to realize that it is out of fuel and Renzo took it to church. Luckily, he left the charcoal but charcoal needs time before it is ready to cook on. I was so mad!
Though Long Key was a terrific spot for camping, our kids could not swim there. When we arrived the tide was low and they were afraid to go to the water edge because of all the mud and seaweed and critters in the muck. When the tide was up, we had to pack up and leave but not before we took a short hike on the boardwalk trail. It started off as mangrove, then we crossed a river and found charming picnic spots on the water edge under trees. There was no one there. I could not think of a better picnic spot. It was under awnings surrounded by trees with water and even had an open shower to cool of. It was beautiful.
Then we went on the trail that said it was an hour long through different coastal community’s of plants. We went only for 10 mins and our boys were hot and exhausted. We were next to the water so I decided to dip them into the water. The alligators did not see that.
The next night we were staying at Bahia Honda State Park. We arrived there around 3 pm, briefly checked out our spot and went straight to the beach. Finally, it was a real beach! With sand, blue and salty water. Timofei and Yelisei had a blast! The water was cool but it was hot enough on the beach to warm up quickly. Reluctantly, we left at 5:30 pm to set up our camp.
On the campsite next to ours there was a family with two children. Timofei went to play with them as I was making dinner. God bless that family! They did an egg hunt with cash inside an egg. Renzo did not approve of cash in Easter eggs but I thought it is better than candy.
Our campsite was next to the boat dock where four pelicans and one beautiful white crane-like bird were hanging out. Fishing boats were coming in and out. Children were playing there as well. The water was so clear that you could see foot long fish swimming. Pelicans came up to you so close that you could see five different colors and kinds of feathers that they had on their heads and neck. Chocolate brown on the back, yellowish on top black and gray in between. Their beak was so long that the tip of it was always in the water. Until then I considered them to be ugly birds. But now I can see their beauty.
The campsite by the dock had one disadvantage. The boats were coming in as late as 1 am! But it was brief and Renzo did not even wake up for that.
“Is the girl still here?” Timofei asked when he woke up.
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…
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.