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Camping with Jeff – Take 3

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So I love to go camping. My family would camp when we were kids and I have fond memories of swimming and fishing and campfires and outdoor adventures. We would camp in the backyard sometimes in our pop-up camper or in a tent, and would play camp in the house and sleep in forts we would make in the playroom. One of the best Christmas gifts when we were in grade school was a tent for each one of us that would fit over out twin bed, so we could each have our own little private place.

So I have been trying to convince Jeff that camping can be fun. Unfortunately, things have just not lined up for him to not think it’s absolute misery. The first time was a few years ago when we found a camp site in Tampa for a Weird Al concert. That was the first time I realized two things. One, not all camp sites are beautiful. This one was just a patch of gravel on a lot with no trees or flora of any kind – boring as can be. Two, it is hot as balls in Florida!! I think it was spring time and might as well have been in the summer. It was SO HOT, and I’m not sure how we survived that night. I think we just slept a few hours and packed up camp early.

The second time was in South Dakota when we camped in Hill City and picked a teepee instead of setting up our own tent. While the teepee seemed like a good idea at the time, it was musty and Jeff had to sleep in the car at one point from the bad allergy reaction he was having. It also wasn’t fully enclosed along the floor, so I had to keep our two beagles on leashes tied to my arm and barely slept because I was worried they were going to escape while I was sleeping.

So, this time I planned things differently. In January, I booked a weekend campsite at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys for October. I thought it would be cooler and comfortable, in a beautiful area, and close to Key West so he wouldn’t get bored. I also planned to pack an inflatable mattress so that he would have a comfy bed to sleep on. In the week leading up to our camping trip, I tested blowing up the mattress using Jeff’s car and my electric plug adapter. Success! Then within hours, the mattress was half deflated – boo! Jeff said he would rather sleep on the ground than buy another mattress, so I planned to double up my bed rolls instead. We got everything packed and managed to leave in the evening on Thursday when it looked like nothing was imminently heading in through the ER. We spent the night in Homestead which is my favorite way to start out our Florida Keys weekends. We get to miss all of the Miami morning rush traffic this way, the hotel rooms are very inexpensive, and the location is close to things that I like to visit like the Biscayne and Everglades national parks. Even better, we can just wake up the next day and get to the next adventure instead of adding a couple of hours of driving first.

On Friday, I woke up before Jeff by a couple of hours. We got ourselves moving before too late and had hotel breakfast with waffles and sausage. The newspaper that day featured a story about the family farm Robert Is Here winning a local Farmer’s Bureau award. Check out the link for the sweet backstory. Jeff and I were already planning to go to the Everglades National Park this morning and decided to stop at the farm stand on the way in. It looks like what I picture my parents would have if they retired to Miami area instead of Northern Michigan. There were stacks of fresh tropical fruit, jams and honey, and juices. Our favorite part was behind the shop where there were animals of all sorts – a weird menagerie of farm animals and tropical exotics. We left with half a guanabana and a couple of popsicles.

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We headed over to the Everglades National Park after that. We found a geocache right away before heading into the visitor center.

Then we stopped at the boardwalk at the Anhinga trail. The day was blue skies sunny but hot hot hot on the boardwalk without shade and the noon hour approaching.

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After a short loop, we ducked into the Gumbo Limbo trail which was pleasantly shady and cool. We were looking out over a shady stretch of water and we suddenly heard a growling bellow. A big gator was a few feet away and sending rippling waves through the water from his roaring growl. We were happy that we were high enough out of the water to be out of easy reach, because he was a big guy!

We had a lot to do and not much time to do it in, so we turned back toward Miami to loop around to the Keys. We had a delicious lunch at Taqueria Morelia, a little gem attached to a gas station that we found my accident. There isn’t a website for the place, but it’s featured in several articles for good Miami eats. I’m leaving a link to this one for our future reference for tasty gas station eats in that area.

We started off to Bahia Honda with a stop at Florida Keys Brewing. I love this place! It’s colorful, the people are friendly, the beer is good, and there is a charming patio garden in the back. I won’t mind stopping here again.

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We headed out in time to get to Bahia Honda State Park before sunset. Check in was a breeze and our campsite was sooooo beautiful! We were in the Bayside campground that was just a few feet away from the lapping waves on one side and mangrove on the other side. If it was peak hurricane season I would feel claustrophobic, but the weather is calm and the water is smooth, so there we no worries about a flooded tent. Camp set up easily and we got everything laid out just in time for dark. There wasn’t a firepit, but we did have a camp grill to use instead. We had smoked turkey dogs, Hawaiian sweet crescent rolls cooked brown and smokey on the grill, creamy garlic pasta, and Iguana Bait beer. We also ate the guanabana for dessert – a weird but tasty fruit. I saved the seed to grow some guanabana trees.

We settled into the tent to watch a tv show on our tablet and sleep. Falling asleep was easy but staying asleep was a struggle! Even though we had the flaps open to let air flow through the mesh, there was almost no breeze and it was hot hot HOT!! It must have been over 90 degrees in the tent and both of us woke up feeling anxious and suffocating like we were going to have heat stroke. After a restless night with little sleep, we agreed to find a place in Key West for the night instead of cooking ourselves another night. So camping failure #3! At least he likes the rest of the experience and was even comfortable on the bedrolls, so that’s a plus. He is giving me a do-over on this one so I will choose more wisely next time. We’ll get a good camping experience for him someday!

We went for a morning walk before breaking camp. This entire park is really beautiful. There were also lots of big tarpon cresting the surface of the bay by our campsite – wonder what they are eating! When we checked out, they even refunded our unused night!! This wasn’t expected, but very appreciated – State Parks are so underrated.

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Jeff found an adorable B&B called the Mermaid and the Alligator. I just loved this place. Beautiful, friendly people, and great location. It felt like absolute luxury after camping.

We got to check in early and grabbed our bikes to head to Waterfront Brewery for Oktoberfest. We were there just a little too early so we just had a beer and pretzel snack before heading out to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. This is a nice little place right by Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

We headed from this wholesome adventure to the Bull and Whistle Bar which felt very French Quarter. We started people watching on the second floor balcony, then moved up to the clothing-optional third floor rooftop. My impression is that this is the part of the bar the locals hang out on. There were a bunch of normal-looking non-touristy folks hanging out with no nudes anywhere. Maybe they know tourists may be less likely to disrobe in the middle of the day, so you’re safe from the noisy frat kids we saw on the second floor.

We had Lucy’s for dinner then Fat Tuesday after that for a double dose of New Orleans in Key West. After that we went home for a little pool time with our fellow guests. In this small world, one of the couples was from Stuart and the other from Covington! As usual, I went to bed early while Jeff went out to explore Duval street.

After sleeping in, we had mango waffles for breakfast before packing up and heading back toward home. We stopped to see the retired blimp, Fat Albert, on the way to Curry Hammock State Park to check off the last park in the Keys that doesn’t require boat access. We had a short visit before moving on to the S.S. Wreck and Galley Grill for the Saints game.

This was our last stop before heading home to snuggle with the pets and settle in for a busy work week.

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