It was now Halloween, and we had debated for some time what we were going to do. As it is such a big event in the US compared to the UK we wanted to do something with the evening. Initially we looked at the scare nights at Universal but even with a groupon voucher they were $70. Lee then found another event on groupon called ‘Dark Horizons’ which was a similar thing but only $25 each. We decided that we would go to this show and see what it was like.
So we were leaving St Augustine that morning, heading for Orlando. We stopped off on the way to get Amy some flea treatment as she had fleas and was now old enough to treat properly. We also stopped off at a VW garage that was south of St Augustine as we were still trying to find a new bushing for our gear linkage. When we arrived at the garage it turned out they didn’t really keep much stock so they directed us to another place in Daytona that he thought would have the part. This meant we got to drive past the speedway, which was kind of cool, but when we got to the shop it was shut. I looked at another one which was a bit further south and we kept going. We arrived at this one and again no luck with the parts, but he phoned his friend who has another parts store and he said he actually had it! This seems to be the good thing about going further south, there are a lot more options for classic parts.
We now also needed a new fuel filler cap as when we had tried to fill up on route, our cheap plastic one broke meaning we were back to duct tape. This guy also said he could get us a new filler cap in the morning, so we headed over to the 4th VW shop of the day. He did indeed have the bushing, but it was in a pack with all the other gear linkage ones which I have no intention of replacing again and was also $20. As we still had gear we decided to leave it, hoping to find somewhere that stocked them individually. We ordered a new filler cap to pick in the morning. We had another brief stop at 7 eleven to pick up a new split charge relay that I had ordered of Amazon and to let Amy cool down as she was getting a bit hot in the van. I fitted the new relay in the car park, and it now worked but there seemed to be another wiring fault so I would need to come back to that later.
Soon we arrived at Walmart where we stopping as it was only a 10 minute bike ride to the event. After some dinner, we headed off on a not particularly pleasant bike ride down the main road. It was pretty busy, and there were only bits of pavement that went nowhere so it took us a bit longer than we thought. It turns out that the event is in the back of the Holiday Inn, it was good that we had bikes so we didn’t have to pay for parking and we chained them up right outside the main door.
The event was several haunted houses which you could walk through and they also had actors walking around in the crowds.
We got one drink as they were $8 each, and sat there and watched the actors scare some children which was completely hilarious. We walked through the houses, which were pretty cool and made us both jump a few times. This guy completely scared the shit out of me.
Despite the fact that it was Halloween, it was quite quiet there which made the haunted houses much better. There was also some live acrobatic acts, which were really good. We spent a couple of hours looking around before cycling back for the night.
We still needed to keep going south, but Lee wanted to drive past the Kennedy Space centre so we diverted out to the coast. We picked up our new fuel filler cap on the way, which is good as we lost half a tank of fuel down the motorway the previous day. We drove past the space centre and you can see some of the launch sites from a distance. As it is still a functioning place, you can’t get that close without buying tickets, but it was still cool to see.
We decided to give Van Alert another chance, after not getting a response the last time we tried to stay on someones drive. There was someone in Port St Lucie called Victor, and Lee sent him a message as we began to drive the coast road south. Soon he replied and we had our first drive host confirmed. A few hours later we arrived at his house which was a really lovely place and we parked up.
It turns out that not only was this the first host we had stayed with, we were also his first guests! He was a perfect host inviting us into his house, letting us use his shower and wash our clothes as well as buying us takeaway. We spent the evening in his house with him, his wife Shilo and daughter Kenzie (who does not look impressed). Ruby parked up alongside Victor’s bus. This was made even better by the fact it was absolutely chucking it down outside. In the morning he was heading off to his other house in Tampa, but he left the door open for us to use his home until we were ready to go. It was incredibly kind of him and we were very grateful for his hospitality. We would definitely be using this app again!
The rain seemed to be following us down the coast, as we packed up and headed off again. I had booked tickets to see a gig on the 15th of November in Pensacola Bay, but we wanted to get down to Key West before then which meant we had to keep moving. We wanted to be in Miami today in order to stay on top of our timeline. Having had such a good experience with the van app, we messaged a few more hosts in Miami to see if anyone had space that night. At first, no one got back to us and then one guy replied and said he couldn’t do that night so it wasn’t looking particularly promising. We were left with two options, drive an hour and a half to Flamingo campground in the Everglades and pay $20 for the night or drive to Miami beach and park in the car park. This is a lot cheaper as it’s free parking after 6pm and also a lot closer but it was supposed to be quite noisy. Still, we had already been riving a while and didn’t fancy anymore so we started heading out to the coast. Soon however we had another email from Ian, saying there had been a change of plan and we could stay at his, so we redirected ourselves to his house.
We parked up in his driveway near his bus.
We parked up in his drive and met his wife Janet, and cousin too. He showed us where the outdoor shower was (with hot water!) and offered us a room for the night in a separate building to the main house. He also had a beautiful garden.
Amy was started to enjoy the outside. The thought of a quiet night and air conditioning was very tempting and we jumped at the chance. Especially as I was proving particularly tasty for these southern mosquitos. Amy enjoyed having some extra space to run around in and came out from under the sofa completely covered in cobwebs, having the time of her life.
We tried to do some video editing as we are very behind, but unfortunately there was no wifi and we settled down to watch a film on a sofa, which is now a bit of a novelty!
The next morning we planned on heading down to the Keys, but first we sat down with Ian at his table and he marked out a whole load of places for us to go as we continued to head west. He showed us photos, told us about free campsites and also told us some places to avoid. This was really useful, as after Florida we were a bit clueless. Now we had more of an idea of what route to take and also some places we definitely wanted to go to. We also got to see some of his artwork; which is pretty cool.
This meant by the time we were ready to leave it was early afternoon. Ian phoned his friend on Key West and he said we could stay in his car park that night. Having been told by several people that wild camping on the Keys is basically impossible, this was really great news. We said our goodbyes to Ian and his beautiful garden, and after exchanging business cards, headed off again on around a 4 hour drive to the southern most point in the states.
It’s route 1 from here on out until we run out of road!
It’s a pretty drive down to the Keys, and we stopped off on the way to see the iguanas that are covering the verge.
While these are a pest in Florida, to us tourist it’s a big novelty having never seen one in the wild before.
I also saw my first pelican.
We drove the remainder of the way, watching the sunset as we neared Key West.
Once in the town, we tried to drive to the seafront to watch the sunset, but this is easier said that done. A lot of the front is pedestrianised, and the parts that we did manage to drive to had the view blocked by enormous cruise ships. We ended up at a small bar on the beach with a little jetty, but I think the sunset was actually better as we drove in. It was still a pretty view though, and we had one of the locally brewed beers while Lee spoke to Richard, Ian’s friend who had offered us free parking.
We agreed to meet him shortly, and drove over to his restaurant where we parked up under a shelter in the corner. Soon enough Richard arrived and took us in to see his shop. We went in through the bakery at the back where they make some lovely artisan bread, and we met his son Bob. He told us that he would put some fresh mango bread out for us when it had finished baking in the middle of the night, so we would have it in the morning. Richard took us through to the customer side of his shop, which has serves food and drinks on the one side while being a shop with food and catering supplies on the other. A big thank you to him for putting us up for the night!
As we hadn’t eaten anything yet that evening, he offered to drive us down to a place he recommended called the Half Shell Raw Bar. The name thoroughly freaked me out, not being a massive fan of seafood but I still thought I should try something local. The three of ordered some drinks at the bar and we had a look at the menu while we chatted to Richard. Unfortunately we had just missed happy hour, but after a couple of drinks Richard asked the bar staff to give us his discount, which meant we still got happy hour prices. This was a pretty sweet deal, and we also chatted to the friendly bar staff Patricia and Misti.
Richard left after a couple of pints and we ordered some food. I was brave and decided to try conch, so we ordered a sandwich to share. It was kind of a chewy meat, but I was proud of myself for eating new seafood! As we were on Key West, it would have been criminal to not have some Key Lime pie, and I can honestly say it is the best Key Lime pie I have ever eaten. Once we were done eating we walked the short distance back to the van and settled down for the night.
After a very warm night, where I was glad there was a bit of breeze blowing through the pop top and there wasn’t any Noseeums (the tiny bitey midges from the swamp night), we were excited to see if we had any fresh bread. Turns out that Bob had left us not one, but three loaves of bread in our roof rack and they looked lovely. It was a good job I hadn’t just made any bread myself, as we would definitely be sorted for the next few days.
Our plan was to spend the morning on Key West and then drive back up towards the mainland of Florida. We went and had a coffee and a croissant in Richard’s cafe, which is called The Restaurant Store, before we headed out. We were going to take our bikes as it seemed to be the best way to get around and I plonked Amy in the basket of mine. She was surprisingly ok with it, and settled down so we decided to take her with us.
Cycling through the town we got to this impressive looking tree.
And then went on to mile marker 0 for route 1.
Our final point of interest was the buoy which makes the most southern point of the US, where we had to queue up to get a picture.
At this point Amy decided she had had enough and starting whining, something she is very good at. We needed to take her back to the van, but she was done with the bike basket and spent the entire cycle ride back trying to leap out of the basket while I cycled. Fortunately it was only around a 10 minute ride, but it was still a bit of a challenge to cycle one handed through the streets while restraining a howling kitten. No doubt several people thought we were being very cruel to this poor little thing, but as traumatised as she makes out she is, within minutes of being back she is purring and quiet again. She is just a complete drama queen.
Leaving her in the van, we went back into the town. I though we should head down and look at the fort at the end so we cycled in. Paying $5 to get in we went to have a look, after chaining up the bikes. There was a small tour going on and the tour guide invited us to join them. He walked us all round the fort and explained how it was built, following the blueprints of a French design. He gave us some history to the American civil war and also told us about the Spanish American war.
The way this side of the fort is designed is like a chimney and has a constant draft blowing through it so that the cannon smoke would be blown away.We learnt about how cannons were made and the invention of the rifled cannon, amongst many other things. We spotted this heron from the window of the fort while on the tour. Here you can see all the cannons that were not rifled, as they were so heavy and now inferior weapons they were buried here in the concrete to reinforce the wall in case of Spanish invasion.
He was a very knowledgable guide and his tour lasted well over an hour. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the history of the place, and for the cost of $2.50 each, this is an absolute bargain.
After our tour we cycled back to Richard’s shop and said our goodbyes, it was time to start heading north. We stopped of for some groceries on the way and were met with another example of why we need a US phone number when we couldn’t sign up for the loyalty card. We decided to stop at a phone shop further up the Keys and get an American number, as we also wanted to put an ID tag on Amiee and didn’t think anyone would phone a UK number if she did go missing. We had also had problems contacting people from the Van Alert app as most people assumed that a phone call from an English number was a scam. Having got a new sim card sorted, we were just in time to catch the sunset at Gilbert’s Marina as recommended by Heath, before driving back up to stop at Ian’s again.
As we approached the marina, it was looking pretty cloudy and we didn’t think there would be much of a sunset, so we kept driving. It was therefore much to my annoyance when within the next 20 minutes the sky turned a fantastic colour and I couldn’t see it properly. Should have just trusted Heath! Still, we were now heading West and hopefully would have plenty more chances for good sunsets.
We drove on to Ian’s and spent our evening having a few beers with him and Janet in his studio. We also tried his pipe, which seemed to have something very potent in it! We made the most of another night in a bed with air conditioning, while Amy ran around like a complete nutter. Ian being very involved in the VW community knows several other people with buses, and we were going to meet a Marc and Eliana who have an instagram account called birdingbybus where they travel all around the US birdspotting. We were hoping to meet them the last time we stayed with Ian, but just missed them. As we had come back up the same way, it turns out that Marc is a vet and offered to give Amiee some free medical care. Always happy to meet other vdubbers, we drove around to their house after saying goodbye to Ian.
Eliana makes pet toys and gave Amiee a load of new catnip toys, while Marc gave her her vaccines and flea and worm treatment. All for free! This was a lovely thing for them to do, and it’s nice to have the peace of mind knowing she isn’t going to get any nasty bugs eating her while we are constantly travelling to new places. She wasn’t particularly happy about being stabbed with several needles, and she definitely let us know about it by making several horrible noises that made me feel really bad. Still, it’s not the last of the vaccines so she’s going to have to deal with it.
After she had calmed down, we also got to meet their bus, Valetina which they completed a 25,000 mile trip in!
It was a short visit as they had somewhere to be, and we also needed to be heading north, but we hope to meet them and Ian as well sometime on the road.
It was my pleasure to meet you guys.
Terrific writeup…you really capture the flavor of the trip!