The Keys to Florida

That title should really read “the Florida Keys.” Visiting the Keys is on my bucket list – time to check it off. Our timing was just right. Tim and Amanda are spending the months of December through March in the Florida Keys. They spent December in their 25-foot Airstream and then moved into a rental house on Big Pine Key for 3 months to experience non-moving land life for the first time in 5 years. Check out their latest adventures on Watson Wander.

The Florida Keys – a map that shows Upper, Middle and Lower Keys, and Key West. I didn’t even know they were designated that way.

To reach Tim and Amanda on Big Pine in the Lower Keys, we drove on the Overseas Highway, a 113-mile roadway carrying U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys. Large parts of it were built on the former Overseas Railroad, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. No map is necessary because this is the only road that takes you over the bridges and through the islands.

The water had an opaque appearance from days of churning due to windy weather.

Big Pine Key is the second island in the Lower Keys region.

Here on Big Pine we see this sign. We must be in the right place!

Tim and Amanda’s “home” for a few months, with their wheeled home snuggled next to it. I “borrowed” this pic from Amanda’s blog because it was better than anything I took.

It was so good to see Tim and Amanda again and have time to really visit with them. In a switch of roles, the son (Tim) has to work during the day while the Dad (Al) has time to play.

While the kids worked, we spent our first day in the Keys, visiting cruising friends that we had met through Anthony and Annette on Magnolia.  Ted and Sally are wintering on their boat Amici, in Marathon, just a 30 minute drive east of Big Pine Key.

Amici, snuggled in at the dock in Marathon.

Ted and Sally took us on a dinghy ride into Boot Key Harbor. We rode though the Marathon City Marina mooring field. Pretty impressive field. Mooring balls are assigned first come, first served, no reservations. You cannot request a mooring until you are in the mooring field area. Marathon is a very popular place for cruisers so there may not be a mooring available when you want (need) it. There is a waiting list, so boaters can wait in a nearby anchorage and hope they get the call.

There are 226 hurricane strength rated mooring balls.

The moorings are lined up in very straight rows.

We love dinghy rides!!

A turn into Sisters Creek, edged with mangroves.

Boats can anchor in a wide spot in Sister’s Creek with the stern tied off to the mangroves,

Exiting Sisters Creek brought us out to the ocean and Sombrero Beach.

Lunch at Burdines

What a nice afternoon – boats, water, lunch and FRIENDS.

The day was not over yet. Back on Big Pine, Tim and Amanda were ready for a sunset kayak trip. One of the best features of their little rental house is that it sits on a canal and their kayaks are ready to go at anytime.

Amanda and Tim’s orange kayaks. The red kayak is a two-person peddling kayak.

Now that’s a comfy looking seat on the canal. Wonder why no one is sitting there??

We kayaked through the canal and out to the waters between Big Pine and Big Torch Key.

Tim and Amanda tried out the two-person peddling kayak. I think they had a good laugh.

We kayaked around a little spit of an island made of mangroves.

A white ibis high in the mangroves, all alone.

A tiny mangrove digging its roots into the water. Could this be the start of a new island??? Grow little mangrove, grow!

And the sun set on a very good day.


Florida – West Coast to East Coast

I can’t believe I am still trying to write the blogs from our 3-week trip to Mexico and Florida! We have been home for almost one month. These next few blogs actually have boats and water in them.

When we left Mexico we had a long day of travel ahead of us, beginning with the ride to the Mexico City airport in a van. The van picked us up at Casa Garza at 6:30 am for our noon flight.

Even in the dark of early morning, you can see what a tight squeeze Garza Callejon is. The driver backed the van down he street right to the front door. That’s service! And some pretty darn impressive maneuvering.

Instead of flying straight home to Connecticut, we had extended the trip to include Florida so that we could visit family and friends. Florida is on the way home from Mexico, isn’t it?

Two weeks, 5 stops, 1200 miles of roads. 1= Tampa   2= Spring Hill    3= Stuart  4= Big Pine Key   5= St. Petersburg

After a long layover in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, we landed in Tampa at 10:30 pm and drove north to visit Al’s mother, Dot. Dot and Bill live in The Residence at Timber Pines, a senior living community in Spring Hill. Our visit overlapped with Cheri’s visit, Al’s sister, so we had some nice family time together.

Enjoying “the pub” together at Timber Pines.                                                                                    Clockwise from top left – Cheri and Dave; Bill and Dot, Al and me;                                                         Al and Dave are sitting with Bill’s uncle, also Bill, who is almost 102 years old;                                Bill’s daughter, Sharon  and her husband, Jack.

The Residence has a beautiful outdoor pool that I took full advantage of while we were visiting. I had to the pool all to myself except for this one moment when I decided to take a photo.

After a nice visit in Spring Hill, we hopped back into our rental car and drove four hours across the state to Stuart to visit Al’s brother, Bill and his wife, Barbara. The middle of Florida is flat and mostly country. Shooting photos from the window of a moving car is no easy task. I amused myself by trying anyway.

Spanish moss hanging from trees and horses out to pasture.

Orange groves line the highways along one stretch.

Neatly rolled bales of hay.

Views of the miles of pipeline along alternating sides of the highway.

In Stuart we saw the beautiful Christmas Palm. I remember how festive the berry bunches look. We first saw these palms in Hope Town in 2013.

As things sometimes happen in life, the timing of our visit in Stuart coincidentally overlapped with Colin’s. Colin? Colin who? We met Colin in Lake Tashmoo back in September when we were cruising around the New England islands  (Off to the Islands – Lake Tashmoo & Vineyard Haven, MV). Colin had seen us anchor in Lake Tashmoo and was interested in a Europa (“sedan-style”) trawler like ours. He asked to look at our Kindred Spirit and “talk trawlers.”  Al put him in touch with his brother Bill who found a trawler for Colin in Florida. Fast forward to January – Colin was spending two weeks on his new boat with his friend, Lynn. It was late afternoon when we reached Stuart and we eagerly accepted Colin and Lynn’s  invitation to tour Tortuga.

Tortuga, a 1984 Oceania 38 Europa design trawler, at Stuart Yacht Harbor.

Tortuga means “turtle” in Spanish, an apt name for a trawler since they move slowly (for a power boat.) That’s why former sailors like us are drawn to them.  It was truly amazing how similar Tortuga’s layout is to Kindred Spirit’s layout.

Colin suggested a happy hour dinghy cruise in the narrow winding South Fork of the St. Lucie River, where his Tortuga was docked at Stuart Yacht Harbor.

We met Bill and Barbara for breakfast on Sunday morning. Our conversation included the weather which had been on the windy side for the past couple weeks, and especially so on that day. Bill suggested that although it was still windy, perhaps Colin would like to get Tortuga away from the dock for some trawler tutoring. One phone call and our day was all set – we were all going out on Tortuga!! Extra wind …… extra Watson. Two for one deal. 😉

The Watson brothers discuss methods for pulling away from the dock in windy conditions.

Chartplotter lessons at the interior helm.

More discussions on the aft deck.

Colin and Lynn take the helm and Tortuga leaves the dock.

The test ride went from the lower blue dot in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River to the green dot at the entrance of the North Fork of the St. Lucie Rive, near the bridge. Although we always stopped in Stuart on our ICW-Bahamas trips, we stayed in Manatee Pocket, Port Salerno (yellow dot.)

A few of the sites along the way. Felt good to be out on a boat!!

The mooring field in Stuart. It’s a little choppy out here.

Bill and Lynn have anchoring lessons on the bow.

AL and Colin have simultaneous anchoring lessons on the flybridge.

Lynn and Colin, looking very at home on Tortuga. 🙂

Boating has brought family and friends together. Nice day!!

Last Day in San Miguel de Allende

Seven full days in San Miguel, but nine blogs to describe it. Overkill? No, not at all. We managed to fill every day with something fun or interesting or both.  I can see how San Miguel has even more to offer and why it would be appealing for many to live here.

We began our last day with breakfast at El Pagaso and then spent time in El Jardin.

There is a webcam in El Jardin. That’s the four of us win at the camera.

After breakfast, we tackled one more market.  Tianguis de los Martes (Tuesday’s Open Market) takes place every Tuesday just out of the center of San Miguel de Allende. It would have been a long uphill walk so we took a taxi. This market was different. Getting out of the taxi, we faced acres of colored awnings covering tables, shelves, and vendors. It was enormous, paralyzing to a novice like me. It is like a hybrid farmers market and flea market.

First impressions

Hundreds of vendors were spread out selling anything and everything: fresh produce, fish, chicken, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, clothing (old and new), kitchenware, souveniers, cleaning supplies, radios, cell phone cases, live birds and other animals. This was definitely where local people do their shopping.

Hardware and Houseware

Anything and everything — produce, grains, beans, pork rinds, candy …

Hot food stalls serving Mexican dishes were side by side with junk vendors.

People taking a break from their shopping to eat.

The man is scraping the prickles off of the nopales (cactus). Evidently, it is cooked and served as a side dish.

I was overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed in the Christmas Tree Shops, so this was tenfold worse. But….. if there is something you need, Tianguis de los Martes is the place to go!

I must describe one more park, Parque Juarez. Whenever we left Casa Garza to head in the direction of El Chorro, slightly southwest instead of north and down into the city center, we uaually found ourselves in Parque Juarez. Parque Juarez is the largest green space within San Miguel’s city center. It’s got fountains, winding paths, basketball courts, and public classes in tai chi, yoga, and zumba. It’s quiet, peaceful, and seemed very safe.

The park grounds were once full of plentiful orchards and vegetable plots thanks to the water coming down from El Chorro. Dr. Hernández Macías wanted San Miguel residents to have a place for recreation, and so, from 1895 to 1904, he bought the orchards one by one and put them together to create this park, an extraordinarily beautiful sight when it opened 100 years ago. Now, in mid-January, there were few blooms, but plenty of green.

The paths wander in and around gardens, exercise stations, playgrounds and fountains.

Artwork along another path.

I had to use the internet to try and understand most of the words on this cross, although some are obvious. (Ok, I didn’t have to, but I was curious and wanted to know.)

LEFT: humanos (people),  tierras (earth),  plantas (plant)
TOP: aire (air),  fuegos (fire),  luz (air)
RIGHT: animales (animals),  agua (water),  insectos (insects)
BOTTOM: pensamientos (thoughts), emociones (emotions), sentimientos (feelings)
The yellow base: yo soy nosotros  (I am us)
The bottom: Todo lo que ves oyes sientes hueles piensas haces …. Y aun lo desconocido y lo invisible es la manifestacion de dios. Fluye con amor actua con respeto y eleva tu consciencia   —–Everything you see hear, feel, smell, think, do… And even the unknown and the invisible is the manifestation of God. Flow with love, act with respect, and raise your awareness.

Carved tree trunks

A poinsettia bush, still blooming after Christmas. Rather nice to see one in nature instead of just a pot that gets thrown out after the holiday.

A zumba class and children playing basketball

Bridges take you over what is now a dry bed. In the rainy season, water would be flowing through there.

We walked through Parque Juarez one last time on our way to dinner that evening.

One of my favorite photos of Kayda and me, taken in Parque Juarez, that last day.

The four of us went to Hecho en Mexico (Made in Mexico), one of Sam and Kayda’s favorite restaurants.

Another beautiful courtyard setting for dinner. There is a hummingbird drinking at the feeder.

Dinner did not disappoint any of us. Clockwise from upper left: my shrimp tacos, Kayda’s chili rellenos, Al’s bacon burger,  and Sam’s fish & chips. Kayda and I tried the grilled nopales and they were actually pretty good.

We have had such wonderful time exploring San Miguel, especially with our gracious hosts and friends, Sam and Kayda.

Alas, the sun set on our visit to Mexico.

The lights of San Miguel de Allende at night.

Good Night, San Miguel.