Savannah & St Augustine

It was definitely a lot warmer, and when we stopped to swap drivers in a rest area half way, we were both happy to get back into our shorts again for the first time in a few weeks. After a long but uneventful drive, we arrived that afternoon in Savannah.

After our cold, and towards the end somewhat rainy, time in the mountains, we were ready for beach again. Although it’s a coastal town, Savannah doesn’t have a close beach right in the city. For the lovely sandy beaches we had grown accustomed, it’s necessary to drive about half an hour out of the city to Tybee Island. As we drove, the sun was setting over the marshy area between the two places which featuring several jetties and fishing huts on stilts, all of which really reminded me of Thailand.

Arriving on Tybee island, we drove down to the public parking lot, arriving around 6.30pm. As it turns out, there is no free parking on the island and all parking between the hours of 8am – 8pm costs $2 an hour. We decided to risk the parking ticket and headed down to the beach to watch the sunset over the sea.

As it was now dark and would soon be past 8pm, we decided that we would try to stay in the car park overnight. It was useful to have the showers and toilets right there and we figured that as long as we were gone by 8am, it should be fine. There appeared to be someone else doing a similar thing next to us, but I wanted to move down to a less busy area of the car park. Stopping here we decided to wait until close to 8pm to start cooking in case we got moved on. Soon enough we saw a police car approaching and braced for the inevitable, however we were pleasantly surprised when the car drove past. In the following hour it drove past two more times, by which time we had the curtains drawn, roof up and the generator outside. It couldn’t have been more obvious that we intended to stay the night, but they didn’t appear to care so we relaxed for the evening. Imaging that the relaxed evening might be closely followed by an early ticket inspector we knew we had to be up on time. Sunrise here was at around 7.30am, so we set an alarm to get up and watch the sunrise on the beach before moving on.

Anyone who knows me will know that the idea of being conscious at sunset is not high on my priority list. I am just as stubborn as I am lazy though, so there’s no way I’m paying for parking. This leads to me getting some nice sunrise pictures the following morning.

Amy came with us.

Bang on 8am, we’re heading out. Another free night successfully accomplished. We never really got much beach time though, so we decide to head down to the north beach and see if there was any daily rate parking at the lighthouse.

It turns out that there is, but it’s more expensive than paying $2 an hour so we decide that if we want sun, we will have to bite the bullet and pay for it. While we were at the lighthouse we saw that there was a market on there later at 4pm with free parking, so we paid for the beach until then and went to enjoy some sun.

Lee had been speaking to some other van people on instagram and they said they might be at the market so that afternoon, after using the beach showers we headed over. While the VW people themselves didn’t make it, when we arrived we were greeted by some of their family who had a stall at the market. After a brief look around the market, we headed over to the stall of the people who had greeted us. After a chat, they gave us some free homemade tortillas chips and some bean dip, which tasted absolutely amazing. We didn’t stay for long as I had booked us a ghost tour walk that evening. What I didn’t realise was that while groupon thought the location was Savannah, it was actually out of the town in a village called Bluffton, which was an hours drive from where we were out on Tybee island. We had to be there for 6pm, so we drove out of the town. Arriving just in the nick of time at the start point we parked up. Puzzled that no one else appeared to be there, we wandered around for a few minutes while I checked the tickets. It appear that I had indeed booked it, but that the tour itself only runs Thursday-Sunday. Today was a Tuesday. This left us with taking some pictures of the pretty trees, before returning to Savannah after our pointless outing.

At least the drive back had an amazing sunset to appreciate.

Back in Savannah we thought it was about time we tried the local bar scene, and we parked up on the waterfront. As Lee got changed in the van, a guy approached me and started chatting about Ruby. It turns out that he is a Sheriff back in Arizona, and we talked a bit about travelling until Lee emerged. However, as he got out of the van he managed to lock the keys inside it. Fortunately for us the back door wasn’t locked, so after saying goodbye to the sheriff, who offered us a drive to park on if we got to Phoenix, I climbed in through the back of our van to retrieve the keys.

We headed for the Warehouse Bar and Grill, as it advertised not only the cheapest but the coldest beer in Savannah. We got our favourite spot, one near a plug socket and enjoyed their beer which was indeed cold, and their incredibly fast wifi. Later in the evening they had a live music act, which was pretty good and we ended up staying a while. I enjoyed it a lot more than it looks like I am.

As it was clear by the time we wanted to leave that the nightlife on the waterfront kept going later, we drove to Walmart in order to get a peaceful night. After mountain weather, we were still definitely acclimatising to coastal warmth and humidity.

The morning brought about our meeting with Beverley, now I’m pretty bad at names, but this one sticks. We popped into the shop to pick up a few things before we headed of for the next leg of our journey south. When we got to the checkouts, Lee had forgotten his wallet so I was left under the watchful eyes of Beverley who looked like she thought I might try to run off with the shopping. After some time, as we had parked at the furthest away point in the car park, Lee was back. As we were buying beer, he showed Beverley his driving licence for ID, there was a paused in which she failed to understand a foreign licence after which she declared she wanted our passports. No one has ever declined our driving licences before, in fact I’m pretty sure that as an ID document the are accepted worldwide, but it was not enough for Beverley, so Lee went back to the van and I waited. I asked her why she couldn’t accept a driving licence, she told me it was store policy (which is complete bullshit) and then continued to stare at me. I made some kind of lame joke, Beverley stared. I concluded that she was too stupid to work out were the date of birth was on a foreign licence while she continued to stare. Time rolled on, Lee eventually got back armed with driving licences, passports and international driving permits for good measure. Eventually Beverley retreated and let us pay for our shopping and leave.

This had added a bit of time to our morning, but I still thought that our front wheel bearing needed attention. I had noticed some tyre wear and vibration in the steering wheel, it was also quite loud. We jacked Ruby up in the car park, and after confirming that it did need adjusting, Lee said that he wanted to learn how to do it. This gave me the easy job of standing and giving instruction, while he covered himself in grease.

Amy meanwhile, enjoyed playing in the leaves around us. Soon, as its a fairly straightforward job we were done. After checking the other side was ok, we were now ready to leave for Florida. Just in time as it was starting to rain. We were driving to St Augustines, as it had been recommended to us by several people along the way as a beautiful town to visit and also the oldest colonial city in America.

We began our drive, and soon the light rain turned into a tropical downpour. I sat in between our two front seats, with a cloth, wiping the windscreen every few minutes so that Lee could still see. We do have blowers for the windscreen, but the heater matrix is under the van. This means when it gets really wet, a tiny amount of water manages to get in and then blow steam on the windscreen. Not ideal, and probably why in car they are fitted inside! The rain was so heavy that the hard shoulder was littered with pulled over cars, waiting for it to blow over. We slowly kept going, skirting around a crash that had only just happened before driving out from under the cloud. Opening all the windows to try and dry our bus out, before we entered the next downpour. This made our journey south a bit of a slow one, but arriving on the outskirts of St Augustines, it was a very hot sunny day.

As we go down the East coast, camping has never been particularly easy. Florida, appears to be a very populated state and also a very popular holiday destination and this makes it even harder. There are plenty of campsites, but they are about $80 a night and when our budget for campsite is probably a maximum of $40 a month this doesn’t quite work. We had located a free campsite, but it was still an hours drive away. Looking on google I found that we were near Twelve Mile Swamp, that looked like it would have some good places to park up. Having never successfully found a camping spot via google earth, I wasn’t optimistic, but it was only 10 minutes away and worth checking out.

We pulled off the main road onto a dirt track and tactfully looked the other way as we went pass the ‘no trespassing’ signs. We drove on into the swamp and pulled up in large layby, decided to risk it for the night.

Several jeeps drove past us over the next hour or so, paying us no attention and we started to relax. A little later another truck pulled up and stopped. He told us that while he didn’t care, he knew the owner of the land and that he would probably come and kick us out. He told us that he was a cop to, so that we should hide our weed if we saw headlights coming. When I told him we didn’t have any weed, he pronounced us boring hippies, before driving off. We were in luck however, as night fell and no one arrived.

The bad part of parking in a swamp, which sounds pretty obvious is the bugs. The sun may have gone down, but the temperature had barely dropped below 30 and the humidity was over 90%. This was a very warm night and left me sleeping butt naked with all the windows open. This is not normally a problem as we have mosquito netting, but the swamp had midges that could easily fit through the holes in the net. We killed as many as we could before turning the lights out and hoping they wouldn’t keep coming in, but no luck. I awoke (which is generous as I barely slept) covered from head to toe in midgey bites, and was not impressed.

Nevertheless, we drove into the town. Amy has taken to sleeping here while we drive. She fits perfectly in the gap for the step.

It is a picturesque place and this unfortunately makes it a touristy place. As we drove in we regularly saw signs advertising parking for $20 a day, like it was some kind of deal. On a $35 a day budget, this doesn’t really work for us. We decided to park at San Sebastian’s Winery and thought that if we went inside and on the tour we could probably park there for free, especially as the car park was pretty empty.

First off we headed into the town centre for culture. You could definitely see the Spanish influence on the architecture.

Nice car!

Bridge of lions

We walked down the seafront to the Castillo de San Marcos.

This is a 17th century fortress with a drawbridge.

This is where they used to heat the cannonballs before loading them into the cannons.

After completing our walk around the exterior of the fort, Lee was in need of a beer and I was in need of some water. It was another very hot day. After getting a drink, we continued to walk north towards the location that claims to be the actual fountain of youth. This was some distance in fact, so we were not particularly impressed when we got there and found out it was around $20 each to get it in. Although we had walked for a while, I’m not paying $40 to see a fountain so we headed back. Guess this should teach us to look these kind of things up in advance. We went back to the van to check on Amy, as it was a very hot day and we wanted to make sure she was ok. Our van is actually pretty good at staying cool if you close the curtains and pop the roof up and she was fine. We are still a bit overprotective after the Molly incident.

As we were now back at the winery, we went inside to take part in our of there free tours. We got to try several different wines and some port and sherry too, which was pretty cool even though I’m not a big fan of sweet American wine. We bought a bottle of port and at the till asked if we could spend the night in the car park. After looking a bit unsure at first, they agreed as the couple next to us spoke up and asked us if ours was the really cool VW in the car park. This seemed to swing it, and we had a free nights parking.

We just had enough time to visit the St Augustine’s Distillery, which was only a 5 minute walk away. It was pretty cool that these places offer free tours and tasting and we definitely wanted to make the most of it. We got onto the last tour of the day, and were shown around their very small little distillery. The tour guide we had was doing his first ever tour and was clearly a bit nervous. He made a pretty good effort, but I’m glad that I’ve been to other distilleries to fully understand the process as his explanation was a bit rushed. We tried some free samples of their bourbon, rum and gin which were quite nice but very expensive, before we returned back to the van.

Amy is getting pretty good on her lead around the car park.

This time I managed to get dressed after my shower before people started turning up. Firstly was Alex from the winery who came over to say hi to us and see the van.

Then shortly after Jack arrived. He was the person who had given us permission to stay in the car park and we chatted engines for a bit before he left. He said we were welcome to stay a couple of nights if we wanted to, which was nice. We thought we would head into the town to see some live music, rather than just chilling in another car park. We went to down the cutesy little village shops and bars that make up the town centre. We stopped off for a drink in the Mill Top Tavern, which has a nice balcony overlooking the high street and still has the mill on the side that gives it its name.

We continued to look around the town for a bit before we ended up in Trade Winds Lounge which had a live cover band on called Down Low. They were banging out the old school classics, and played some AC/DC for us Birmingham folk.

I saw these plaques that were fixed to the wall and realised that these are the markers for where the water level came up to in hurricane Irma and Matthew.

We ended up staying for a while as the cover band was really good and the drinks were very cheap.

We were looking forward to enjoying a night where we knew we not only had a nice spot but were actually allowed to be there. This made us a little affronted when we were awakened in the morning by someone banging on the window. Lee climbed out of bed to be brusquely informed that we couldn’t camp here and we should move to a campground. Lee said we had got permission from the winery to which the guy responded, “I doubt it”. I have no idea who he was but I don’t like the implication that I’m lying. It’s kind of ironic, as there are so many time we do camp without permission with no problem but one of the times we actually ask, we get some arsehole with an attitude. Nevertheless we were leaving anyway, heading south again.

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