Since our opportunities are so few and far between to visit with Ken and Paula, our “good byes” were sad as we left their home on Friday morning. We let STella have a loose rein as we headed ever more south toward Fort Myers, still on the westward side of the great Florida peninsula. We arrived on that incredible strand of startling white sand beach around 1100 and walked directly into the welcoming embrace of cousins Pat and Judy McDowell. They spend their winters in their time share condo located as close to the Gulf of Mexico as the tides will allow. An entertaining and relaxing day spent strolling on those warm white sands and taking in all the ambiance that this mecca of leisure will allow. So great to talk over old times and family lore with these two vivacious people. Thank you again McDowell’s!
Leaving Pat and Judy to continue entertaining everyone on the beach (it seemed they knew everyone and everyone knew them), we left the hyper speeds of the interstate system to journey on to the historic (and much slower speed) Tamiami Trail. Ta, for Tampa, and miami for, well, for Miami. It was constructed with great difficulty back in the 1920s and has been upgraded over the decades to an azimuth straight smooth two lane road. Destination: The Everglades! We were well within this “River of Grass” topography when we wheeled in to Captain Mitch’s Air Boat marina. The skipper was well equipped with 8 muscle-car-engine-powered-airboats. Our timing again was fortuitous as we no sooner purchased our tickets than we joined our intrepid crew of 12 to skim our way deep into the shallow waters of this 55 million acre national treasure. Cathy happily logged more than a dozen species of wading birds, including the delicately pink Roseate Spoonbill, all doing what they do in their incredible natural habitat.
Debarking after a two hour ride, we drove further into the vastness of this incomparable wildness and enjoyed a hike at on of the well-staffed Everglades visitor centers. We came “up close and personal” with the largest alligator we had seen yet.
At less than two feet away the other side of a cyclone fence, his 10 foot length was so perfectly still and sculpted Cathy seriously wondered if it was a bronze statue instead of “still life”. A slight twitch of that powerful tail verified his lethal aliveness.
No camping at the Visitors Center, so on down the still laser straight road to a “primitive” (i.e. no electricity or water hookups) camp along one of the many “lakes” within the grasslands. Quiet, serene, and pleasant in all respects. Surprising to us that the mosquitoes are hardly even a nuisance (informed there are 43 species of mosquitoes in the Glades, only a handful of which are blood suckers.) Sounds too good to be true, yes? Read on. An attempt to start the on-board generator to provide us some electricity for using the micro wave resulted in an electrical glitch that knocked out ALL electrical power, which, alarmingly, included the starter on STella’s engine. To summarize: Deep in the Everglades, powerless, cabin and engine, too remote for cell phone coverage, Saturday night, storms predicted for overnight, mystery major electrical problem. Yep, that’s about it. A reminder, “It’s an adventure, not a pleasure cruise”. My ever-calm and faithful Cathy comforts with “We’ll figure it out tomorrow”. Sunday morning, the crack of dawn found me with the hood up and all the tool boxes out and ready. I quickly checked off the likely culprits and found none guilty. As I was staring intently into the engine compartment, an Angel named Jamie walked up and introduced himself and asked if he could help. He just happened to be an aircraft mechanic taking a weekend off for camping with his pretty wife. I know, what are the odds, right? After another couple of hours of checking, guessing, tightening and testing, we were about at the end of our options with no success. Starting over at the master fuse panel, we started rechecking and made a “Hail Mary” play with the replacement fuses we had left. Prayers Answered!! 350 cubic inches of power popped to life and there were high fives, big hugs and huge smiles all around. During all this effort, next door campers Curt and Connie from Michigan kept us supplied with excellent coffee and much needed encouragement. More Angels!
Feeling more blessed and fortunate than we thought possible just 12 hours earlier, we motored on down Tamiami Trail with ever more vehicles and Glades visitors. Our destination on this leg was Shark Valley Visitor Center, a hugely popular stop for sight seers, hikers and bikers just an hour away from Miami. We had arranged to meet long-time friend and fellow bike rider, Jackie Greenberg at this stop. By the time we had unstrapped our bikes and traveled the half mile from the over flow parking lot, we arrived at nearly the exact time Jackie did on her Ragbrai tested bike. She is a volunteer with this Center and knew all the best things to see and do. She was our own personal guide and question-answerer as we took the two hour tram ride around one of the major loops accessible to all travelers, afoot, abike, or tram passengers. This site was truly alligator heaven, and all sizes and sexes of this prehistoric looking survivor were within short distance of us humans. At the center of the loop ride, we had access to a 60 foot incline accessible tower that showed us the enormity of this water powered world.
Next stop: Miami!! Knowing that we had only fixed the symptoms and not the cause of the electrical glitch, Old Testament Angels (wonderfully Jewish), Richard and Jackie schmoozed us into their very busy local GM dealership to score us on-the-spot professional mechanical assistance. Parking Stella at the dealership so that Monday morning, a friendly pro using all the best and newest tech gadgets helped to find the faulty parts.
After parking STella in the secure storage at Richard/Jackie residence apartment overlooking Miami Bay, we were escorted by our very own guide and chauffeur, Richard, to one of Cathy’s highlighted “must visit” places; Fairchild Tropical Gardens. They were truly 85 acres of delight and surprise and awe. Tropical plants of all manner from all over the world, with added highlights of a spectacular butterfly pavilion. More than 3 hours evaporated as we walked in perfect weather conditions over the entire garden. The threatening weather forecast had kept most people away and at times it felt like we were the only visitors there. Wonderful!! A very pleasant lunch on the grounds topped it all off.
A life-long resident of the Miami metropolitan area, Richard gave us an up close and personal tour of all the wonderfully varied sections of Miami, from the modest long held homes of the middle class residents residing in world class surroundings, to the highest priced real estate in South Florida. He cruised thru all the neighborhoods with the practiced ease of a home town boy. As a final topping on a wonderful day, we walked out the pier at the end of “Government Cut Channel” and watched and waved as the festive and humongous tour ships headed out on a turquoise clear sea with their thousands of passengers for points east, north and south. A quick visit to the world renowned Joe’s Crab Shack for a take-out meal wrapped up a glorious day.