Air Boat Trip in the Everglades – Surprise Visits with Old RV Friends

Today's plans were to leave around 9:00 this morning and drive the roughly 150 miles to Everglades City to meet up with Ken & Cheryl and their daughter and her husband, Kim and Terry, for an airboat ride through the Everglades.

Funny how things work out … unexpectedly, I got up early and turned on my phone only to discover that Lila Clements had texted me only minutes earlier letting me know she and Brandon … whom we'd visised with in Hilton Head enroute to Florida … had pulled into Sun N Fun, where we're spending the winter, last night and wanted to know if we were available for breakfast.  Obviously, our answer was, Yes!"

We met at a local Perkins around 7:30 and had a wonderful time …

and were still able to get on the road by 9 o'clock.

as we bgan our 150 mile drive south on I-75 we found ourselves in an intermittent fog

which, fortunately began to breakup north of Port Charlotte as the temperatures climbed into the low 80os.

We made it to Everglades City and

a few minutes ahead of Ken and Cheryl.

After a short wait, we boarded our airboat

Cheryl, Debbie, Dick, Ken, Terry and Kim

and soon were underway …

passing two decorative lighthouses,

an long-abandoned railroad bridge,

several still unrepaired docks which were damaged during last fall's Hurricane Maria …

before heading into a seemingly never-ending maze of mangrove-lined channels

winding their way through the Everglades (reminding me of some scenes of Charles Alnut's and Rose Sayer's journey on the "African Queen").

While there were no "gators" to be seen on the trip, we were fortunate to spy an immature Osprey trying to fish for lunch,

Pelicans,

a Great Blue Heron

and a pair of Bottlenose Dolphins.

However, the highlight of the trip was disovering that raccoons have been a familiar sight for years. These small, bandit-masked looking animals with dark fur and bushy tails. They are extremely intelligent and adaptable, and use their front paws and long fingers to feast on a wide variety of food. Racoons can snatch their prey out of the water, such as crawfish, frogs, and other aquatic creatures. They also eat fruit, plants, and eggs.

Munching on a Cheesedoodle provided by our tour guide

However, a rapid decline in the racoon population throughout Everglades National Park can be blamed partly on the invasive Burmese Python,

Internet photo

which has been relying on mammals and racoons in the Everglades for food. These giant pythons are some of the largest on earth, and can reach up to 23 feet long.

Back on land, we traveled across the street to Jungle Erv's Alligator Refuge where everyone was able to get "up close and personal" with several of these reptiles.

We were amazed to discover that an alligator's scales are not hard and bony as we'd thought but, rather, almost soft and leathery.

Nearby, we were also introduced to a pair of Turkey Vultures

and an untold number of Orb Weaver Spiders.

Heading home, we opted to return along US-41 toward Naples,passing the RV Resort where we spent four winters, before turning north on US-951 to pick up I-75 for our long drive back to Sarasota.

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of a person wearing a visor through the open driver's side  window in a black sedan we were about to pass and I said to Debbie, "That's Wayne!" (a friend who had also stayed at the same Naples RV park all those years).

As we passed the his car, Debbie yelled out her window at him.  He turned, looked at us and was as surprised to see us as we were to see him.  Fortuantely we were both able to pull into a hospital parking lot and got to visit.

It must be Kismit … as if either one of us had been even 30 seconds ahead of behind out positons, we'd never have connected!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Statues of St. Armands and Harding Circle Historic District

St. Armand’s Circle is known today for being one of the most frequently visited shopping destinations in the Sarasota area with over 140 points of interest. However, there is an interesting history behind this popular modern commercial center.

Charles St. Armand was a Frenchman and the first homesteader on the island. He left Europe in 1893 and bought 132 acres of land on the key for just under $22. His last name was incorrectly spelled on the original deed as “Armand”, and the misspelled name is still used to this day. Armand spent time developing the area into a small fishing and farming spot along with a few other pioneers.

St. Amrand later sold the land for $1,500 to Augus McInnes. After that it was later resold multiple times before falling into the hands of John Ringling, who bought it in 1917. Rumor has it that Mr. Ringling won the island in a poker game!

Mr. Ringling envisioned St. Armand’s Circle as an exclusive shopping center surrounded by high-income homes. He wanted to develop the area into the shape of a circle – perhaps because he loved the three-ring circus so much! He began working quickly on building a causeway that linked St. Armands Key to the mainland. Ringling famously used elephants from his circus to carry some of the building materials.

In 1927, the causeway was completed and Mr. Ringling had a band parade across it. Mr. Ringling also placed his remarkable personal collection of Roman and Greek statues around St. Armands Circle. His statues still line the walkway of the circle today along with a group of newer statues that total over 30. Some of those statues include King Neptune, Discobolus, Venus and Christopher Columbus as well as newer statues such as the Seven Virtues of Sarasota.

Many say that the island’s story can be told through these incredible works of art. One statue of a Roman general has a gaze that hypnotizes visitors who enter the Circle. Just beyond the first general, there is a second statue that depicts the same general holding grapes and pomegranates with his helmet removed. It is rumored that these statues symbolize St. Amand.

Unfortunately, the stock market crashed in 1929 and interrupted Mr. Ringling’s plans. Even though Mr. Ringling didn’t get to see all of his plans through after he passed away in 1936, he would be very satisfied with how St. Armands Circle has blossomed.

Today, there are over 140 different boutiques, art galleries and restaurants throughout St. Armands Circle.

There is even a Circus Ring of Fame located in St. Armands Circle Park that honors Mr. Ringling’s circus tradition. A new member is inducted every year by the Circus Ring of Fame Foundation. In 2017, Acrobats Reggie Armor and Dora Foster were inducted along with Henry Ringling North, nephew of Mr. Ringling and vice president of the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey show from 1936-1967.

The bits and pieces of history that surround St. Armand’s Harding Circle … named in honor of President Warren Harding, a close friend of John Ringling … are a big part of what make it such a captivating place to explore and shop at. At almost every street corner, you can find a plaque or sign that tells a short story about the history of the area, but now you’ll know a thing or two about it before you arrive!

This morning, Debbie and I joined the Sun N Fun morning walking group to take a tour of the 42 statues which grace Harding Circle and the median greenbelts along the four major roads leading to Harding Circle.  Many of the statues are copies of world-famous masterpieces whose originals reside in museums across Eurpoe … and some in marble while others are in other materials accounting for the differences in color.

Those on the Circle include:

The Discobulos

Depicts the ideal representation of a youthful athletic body and shows the moment of rest between the athlete's backward swing and the unwinding forwad motion, combining the appearane of movement withclassical formation.

Diana of Versailles

Diana, born Delos, just before her brother Apollo; was the goddess of the Hunt and was considered the queen of the wild animal kingdom as she was often accompanied by wild beasts.

Borghese Warrior

The warrior is depicted as he protects himself from attack with his shield (at one time attached to the arm guard on his life arm) …

which clearly didn't phase the bird perched on his head!

John Ringling's Bust

It was John Ringling's vision that led to the creation of the St. Armands Key and its famed circle.

Eight Caryatid Statue Lamps

Adapted from lighting fixtures which surrounded Randolph Hurst's San Simeon Castle in California, the design of the eight lights in the Circle is based on a limestone relief of the Greek head … Winged VIctory … at the Ringling Museum.

Statues along the median of North Ringling Boulevard (leading toward the John Ringling Bridge to downtown Sarasota):

Allegory of Sarasota – Its Seven Virtues

Music

Flora

Learning (Aristotle)

Sculpture

Asclepius (God of Medicine)

Bounty

Water (Amphritrite, wife of Neptune)

Michelangelo

Michangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, poet, architect and engineer.  His versatility in these disciplies was of such a high order that he is often considered as a contender for the title of "Renaissance Man" along with his rival and fellow Italian Leonaardo da Vinci.

Dionysus

The God of Wine, representing both the intoxicating power of wine and its social and beneficial influences.

Marzocco (Lion and Shield)

Symbol of Florence, Italy

The Three Graces

The Three Graces are the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome (his first wife); Euphrosyne (Beauty), Aglaea (Charm) and Thalia (Joy) and were thought be in the service of Venus.

Remotely at corner of Madison and North Adams:

Standing Male

Along North Boulevard of Presidents (toward Longboat Key):

Children with Lamb and Melon

Marzocco (Lion and Shield)

only duplicate statue

Athena Holding a Shield

Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, the Arts and Industry, was the favorite child of Zeus.  To help Perseus kill Medusa, Athena took off her shield of polished bronze and gave it to him.  She warned Perseus to use it as a mirror so as to avoid the direct sight of Medusa which could turn a man into stone.  Perseus killed Medusa and used the severed head to kill a sea serpent and save the beautiful Amdromeda.  He gave the head to Athena who mounted it on her shield.

Venus de Medici

A traditional representaiton of Venus (Aphrodite), it is a life-sized sculpture depicting the Goddess of Love and Beauty

Venus at Her Bath

A traditional representation fo Venus bathing.

Neptune

Neptune with a fish at his feet was the Roman God of the Sea and second in power to Jupiter.  Neptune ruled with violent fits of temper and fury, sparking tempests.  His trident launched thunderbolts.

Along South John Ringling Beach (toward Lido Beach):

Christopher Columbus

Depicts Columbus with his hand resting on a globe which is resting on a chart of scroll, signifying a map or commission he received from Queen Isabella.  Both rest on a support whcih has an anchor and sailing ship in bas relief.

Dionysus (Bacchus)

A second statue of the God of Wine, representing both the intoxicating power of wine and its social and beneficial influences.

Apollo Belvedere

It epitomizes the ideals fo classical antiquity for Eurpoeans from the Renaissance through the 19th century.  Appollo is associated with the Arts of Music and Medicine; and for his role as the leader of the Muses establishing him as a patron of intellectual pursuits.

Birth of Venus

Depicts the birth of Venus, who was thought to have emerged from the sea as a full-grown woman, arriving at the shore on a shell.  The naked goddess is a symbol not of earthly but spiritual love.  Thus, this statue follows ancient trditions with Venus shown as slim and lon-limbed, with harmonious features.  The modest pose is borrowed from the Venus Pudica type of ancient sculpture.

Apollo and Daphne

Ovid describes Daphne as Apollo's first love.  As she was pursued, she called upon her father, Peneus, the River God, to come to her rescue.  This statue represents the moment when her father starts changing her into a laurel tree so as to escape Apollo.

Statues located along South Boulevard of President (leading to Lido Key):

Prometheus Bound

As punishment for giving fire to humans, Jupiter (Zeus) had Prometheus bound to a rock with unbreakable chains and set an eagle on him, which ate his liver by day.  By night his liver would regrow, only to have the cycle repeat the following morning.

Roman General

Pomegranates,with his helmet off, symbolizes peace.

Apollo as a Hunter

Apollo, along with his sister, Diana, represent the hunt.

Small Children Around a Column

Man in Cloak Nodding

Winter, shown as an old man clutching a cloak to fend off the cold.

Woman in Dress

Full crown and fruit in hand likely symbolize her as either Pomona or Persephone.

The Four Seasons Allegory

Spring

A maiden holding spring flowers.

Summer

A maiden holding the fruits of summer.  Unfortunately, this statue was missing so this phtograph was downloaded from the Internet.

Fall

A maiden with a scythe and harvested wheat.

Winter

A maiden well-protected from the cold.

Venus and Cupid

Venus (Aprotide) with her son, Cupid.  Cupid is seen blindfolding his mother, an allusion to the thought that "love is blind".

John Ringling Statue

Remote at the Corner of South Adams and Monroe

Small Children Around a Tree

Located at the corner of Van Buren and South Washington:

Hunter and Dog

While walking between the several boulevards and streets on which these statues were located, other items caught my eye …

Church and other Steeples

St. Armands Lutheran Church

Martha Catholic Church

Bent weather vane on unidentified building

Sculptures in the Yards of Private Homes

Colorful Tile Roofs

Pedestrian Benches with Decorative Tile Inlays

Handshake Mural

An enormous Banyan Tree

and even Additions to my Growing File of Photographs of Mailboxes from Across the Uniited States and Canada

Beffor leaivng St. Amands, we have a wonderful lunch at the historic

Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the Columbia Restaurant is Florida’s oldest restaurant, and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.  It is currently owned and operated by the founder's great, great grandson!

 

 

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Day One in Sarasota

While firends and family back home would consider our Friday's low-50os temperature a "heat wave", a chilly breeze discouraged us from donning summer clothing. 

With a short, but important, list of maintenace problems, we stopped by the local RV dealer who installed an auxillary breaking system in our Jeep (which is not working properly) last Jnauary; called for an appointment with another RV dealer in Tampa to address a leak in our washing machine; hit the Jeep dealer where we purchased our Jeep to sechedule an appointment for a free oil change and tire rotarion to which we are entitled to; dropped off our ship's clock (originally purcahed for our sailboat many years ago) to correct some time and bell synchronization issues … before stopping by to surprise our best friends for the past 51½ years, Ken and Cheryl,

who weren't even home.

Back at Sun N Fun, we picked-up our mail and noticed parked outside

Not having donated since before my tyroid cancer surery in June 2015, I decided to

Back at our coach, Debbie, who has not been feeling well, took the afternoon off and rested.

About the time I finished cleaning and reorganizing our "basement' compartments, the mobile RV repair service we'd called arrived to replace our leaking "black water" discharge valve, without which, using our toilet was severaly restricted.

Just after the work wsa done, we had perhaps the most spectacullar sunset we've seen at this campground.

While dispoing of the trash this evening, we passed a motorhome which had obviously been here since before Christmas.

Temperatures projected to hit the 70os by Sunday… can't wait!.

 

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Sarasota and Warmer Weather … At Last!

Again, we awoke to sub-freezing temperatures … 29o … and brisk winds out of the northwest … which was a bad omen as they would be buffeting our motorhome all the way to Sarasota!

As we pulled in our slides in preparation to leave for Sarasota, we heard a crashing noise as ICE can tumbling off the top of our bedroom slide

while another sliver of ice was visible from the top of our dinette slide.

We were amazed at the number of police speed traps along the way … typically one crusier in the median or along the side ot the highway where oncoming traffic could not see it until it was too late … and two or three other police cars a short way fruther on who pulled over those unfortunate drivers with lead feet.

Points of interest along Interstates 275, 10 and 75 were few and far between today.

Today's Interstate highlights were few and far between.A decaying barn … big surprise

Always amazed to see bear warning signs in Florida

Skulls obviously headed for Nathan Benderson Rowing Center in Sarasota

Despite the srong and often gusty winds,

periodically reqiring a "death grip" on the steering wheel, we made great time until about 25 miles before our destination when we saw brake lights ahead and came to a near halt.

Fortunately, the back-up lasted only a couple of miles before we passed an accident scene

in which there did not appear to be any injuries.

Finally, Sarasota came into view

and shortly before 2:30, we pulled in to

and had our site set-up for the next four months.

This evening we met up with Debbie's brother Dick and wife Kate for dinner at

 

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“Cooling” Our Heels in Jacksonville

We'd hope to complete the last leg of our trip to Sarasota today.  Although this morning's cold temperatures and windy conditions were not a particular problem, the forecasts for freezing rain

and the weather-related closing of sections of I-10

along our route of travel convinced us to sit tight in very a chilly and windy Jacksonville.  Even the GPS in our Jeep was reporting cold conditions through tomorrow afternoon.

However, when Lila and Brandon sent us a photo of their campground on Hilton Head where a once-in-several-decades ice and snow storm had brought even local travel to a near halt, we were glad we'd made it to Jacksonville yesterday afternoon.

Once we'd decided to avoid traveling today, we checked out a local movie theater online and planned to see what was billed as the 9:50 AM showing of "Wonder".   Upon arrival at the theater we discovered the first showing was scheduled for 1:10 PM.  Oh well.  Fortuantely there was a Walmart in the same shopping center so we decided to do some grocery shopping and then returned to our motorhome.

By early afternoon, the precipitation had passed off shore to the east,the skies began to clear and we actually saw the sun.  Debbie suggested we take a trip over to the ocean.  Our drive took us past a family of wild pigs

then through the seemingly impoverished community of Hedges

through Yulee

(St. Peter Episcopal Church)

(old and abandoned school)

and on to Amelia Island and

At the one beach we stopped at, there was a huge flock of Black Skimmers.

Heading south along A1A, we were amazed by the eclectic homes, including among others …and of all out-of-place buildings … a log cabin

and a cement home.

South of Fernandia Beach, the road was separated from the ocean by an endless string of gated communities and we rarely even saw the water … even when crossing the bridges between Amelia Island and Big Talbot Island and between Big Talbot and Little Talbot.

Mouth of the Nassau River

We only passed two mailboxes, one of which I'm adding to my photo collection,

several storks,

some decorative chickens,

a plam tree growing out of a boat,

and, in the distance, the Mayport Naval Base … where I spent several days while on active duty in 1964!

As it warmed into the low 40os this afternoon, it appears the roads will be dry tomorrow and the forecast is for a cool but sunny day, we hope to be on the road to Sarasota by around 8:30 in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Still Trying … Apparently in Vain … to Escape the Cold Weather

We awoke to another very chilly day as we prepared to leave South Carolina and head to Florida in hopes of leaving the winter weather behind.  However, leaving the Hilton Head RV Park & Marina

where we've spent the past couple of days, we could only hope the 25o temperature would increase and the winds continued to howl … churning up white caps on the sheltered interccoastal waterway adjacenat to the campground

and flags were out nearly straight.

As we crossed into

speed traps were omnipresent

and the strong northeasterly winds still evident in the water blowing from a fountain..

Of all the Interstates we've driven across the country during the past several years, the litter along I-95 in Georiga was as bad as we'd seen anywhere.

Our arrival in the sunshine state

failed miserably to produce either sunshine or warmer weather.

The only intersting thing we saw was an SUV covered with baseballs which sped past us.

Tonight we're sitting in Jacksonville

with hopes of getting to Sarasota tomorrow.

This evening, we had an opportunity to take one of my cousins, Lindsey, and her fiance Phil to dinner.

It was a fun time and we'll get to see them again here in Jacksonville for their March 3rd wedding!

HOWEVER, the forecast for tomorrow morning, and possibly on into the afternoon, is for mixed precipiatation and likley freezing rain and even the possibility of a few snow showers!  If that prediction become reality, we'll simply sit tight for another day.

 

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Dinner with Brandon and Lila Clements

The weather was LOUSY … overcast, cold and with a steady breeze off the water creating a wind chill in the high teens … although no where near as unseasonably cold as back home!  Having discovered our washing machine had a leak … again for the second time in four years … we opted to use the campground's laundry this morning. 

After that chore was completed, we hunkered down in our motorhome for the rest of the day.

However, this evening, we met Brandon and Lila Clements,

two old RV friends from our winters in Naples whom we hadn't seen in several years, for dinner at Hilton Head'swhere we had the absolutely BEST ribs ever!

Spending time with Brandon and Lila was especially sweet as over a year ago he had been diagnoed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a very rare type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and mainly affects men who are over 50.  After months and months of cutting-edge and experiemental treatments, he looks and feels great! 

We're hoping to catch up with them later this winter in Florida!

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December 31 – Lunch with Bob Newbert

A pretty leisurely day highlighted by having my cousin, Bob Newbert,

join us for a very good meal at

on HIlton Head Island.

Disappointingly, Bob's wife, MJ was sick and unable to join us.

Ours will be a quiet New Year's Eve with wine and pizza aboard our motorhome where we can watch the people standing outsdie in Times Square freezing … if we can stay awake that long … which is unlikely.

 

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December 30 – Wade to Fayetteville

We wooke up this morning to a gorgeous sunrise!

As was the case yesterday, our early travels were almost traffic free and punctuated by water towers,

decaying homes,

unique license plates,

a surprising number of boats being trailed,

a beautiful mural on the back of a motorhome

a number of American flags

the reflection of the front of our motorhome in the rear window of a fifth-wheel,

and a beautiful 1968 bus conversion now serving as a mortorhome to a fellow Pennsylvania RVer we met along the way.

Then …

and they weren't lying.

However, what continues to amaze us is traffic which is crusiing along near or slightly above the posted speed limit which suddenly grinds to a halt … and then several miles ahead picks up speed again … with no apparent reason for slowing … no accident, no road work, no breakdown, no event which would cause rubbernecking.

After arriving at the Hilton Head RV Park & Marina … one of our favorite campgrounds when heading south … hooking-up to the utilities, attending to some housekeeping chores and making a minor repair to our shower

we decided to take a walk around the campground.

Aside from seeing the first flowers we'd seen in months

we were amazed at the Christmas decorations many of the RVers had set up on their sites.

However, the decorating didn't stop at the water's edge … as some of the boat owners were not to be left out!

After dark, many of these decorations were even more spectacular.

Over the next couple days we plan on catching up with friends and family in the Hilton Head and Bluffton areas.

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December 29 – Still Trying to Flee the Bitter Cold

We awoke to slightly warmer temperatures (19o) than yesterday (16o) … but without the wind making it felt much warmer.

After enjoying the campground's complimentary waffle breakfast and filling our gas and propane tanks we pointed our motorhome south toward North Carolina.

Skirting Richmond, we made really amazing time … giving Debbie time to focus her attention some of her favorite photo subjects … water towers,

decaying buildings,

cars with unique decorations,

fountains,

out-of-context lighthouses,

and flags … especially Old Glory!

Then, with less than 30 miles to go, a sign of things to come …

In close to 1,000 day of driving our motorhome across the US and Canada we have NEVER had a single day during which we did not hit ROAD WORK!

Fortunately, the impact on traffic lasted less than a mile.

However, another ten miles down the road …

Not a good omen.  Soon we were again creeping along at a snail's pace

from close to a half hour.

Still, we arrived at our campground in Wade, NC under partly sunny skies and temperatures as high as 47o. 

allowing us to finally to fill our fresh water tank (it had been too cold to do so before we left home or even yesterday).

However, tonight's weather forecast predicts temperatures droppping into the 20os … although it should be another ten degrees warmer  when we get to Hilton Head tomorrow afternoon were we'll spend the next few days.  After that, we'd planned on a couple of days in Atlanta, but we're postponing that stop until we're headed north in late April and will head straight for Florida on January 2nd!

 

 

 

 

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