With Bugjam 2019 over and the bus packed away, we had two options for our next destination. Continue our path back up Florida’s west coast and head back to Orlando to spend a couple of days at Universal for $300. Or… turn around and head back down the west coast to Anna Maria Island to spend a couple of days with people we had met only a couple of days ago.
After a very quick conversation and a quick text message, we were on our way back down the familiar interstate we had just driven up a few days ago from Victor’s house. We were never gonna choose Universal over the chance to hang out with James and Lynne after the time we had spent with them on Saturday night.Anna Maria Island is a small bank of land down the west coast of Southern Florida. Lynne had sold it too me as soon as she mentioned the golden beaches, crystal water and the picturesque sunsets.
Looking back, we powered down the east coast of Florida too quickly, without really stopping to appreciate the beaches; so I was kind of excited to have a couple of days to appreciate Florida in a little more detail.Pulling up to our destination, we were both in a complete state of awe when we pulled up outside of their house. Instead of the usual Conifer surrounded property we are accustomed to in England, their garden was decorated by avocado and star fruit trees. I suppose if global warming isn’t prevented, then one day Birmingham may similar to Florida. So it may not be all bad.
We were greeted by Lynne, who arrived shortly after us (she had dashed out to grab a few bits for our arrival). James was out collecting an old friend who would also stopping with them that week. Lynne ushered us inside, and gave us a quick tour of her house, showing us where we would be sleeping for the next couple of nights and introduced us to her two sons, Tyler and Cole.Asking us what we would like to do, we were soon on a local expedition lead by Lynne to find us a cocktail on the beach, whilst Cole volunteered to keep Aimee occupied in our absence.
From the bar, Lynne walked us the short distance across to the opposite side of the island to show us the local pier which was being rebuilt due to damage received during a hurricane. I wondered how many times people in Florida had to rebuild their lives after hurricane season.The tour then continued to another bar for more cocktails and a delicious cheese dip with homemade tortilla chips.We then made our way back to the house. James had returned from the airport with with old friend Rick, who was an artist from Michigan.That night James cooked us a delicous blackened halibut, a fish that I had never tasted before, but after James’ expert cooking, I will be eating more often in the future! We spent the rest of the night chatting in the back garden, which overlooked Tampa Bay, drinking wine in front of an open fire. James allowing me to sample one of his Cuban cigars. Willow and I exchanged a glance of disbelief. How on earth had we managed to get so lucky? We had definitely made the correct choice joing our new friends in paradise.
We woke the next morning, well rested after a night on the largest double airbed either of us had ever seen!James and Lynne had planned to take us all out on their boat for the day, starting with a short boat ride to a local restaurant named the Rod and Reel, for what was pitched to us as the best sea food around!My home city of Birmingham, is probably the city furthest away from the sea in England. And although we have a lot of canals (supposedly more than Venice!) it should come as no surprise to hear that I have not had many boating experiences. And yet, two months into our trip, and we are heading out on our second boat trip, once again in gorgeous sunshine. I am going to have to get myself some nautical themed clothing if this carries on much longer!
It’s moments like these, where I can see myself wanting to do the trip all over again after we arrive back on the east coast of Canada next year, so we can reacquaint ourselves with all our new friends.It seemed our luck was really in that morning. On the short trip to get breakfast, we passed a pod of dolphins swimming not far from the boat. Some even gave us the courtesy to jump out of the water. We were definitely living the dream.
The morning continued to get better with breakfast. The seafood omelette they recommended was divine. Perfectly cooked scallops that melted in your mouth! A lot different to a full English in a rough and ready spoons.Bellies full, we were soon back in the vote, heading to our next stop, which was a small dive bar named Annie’s bait and tackle in Cortez, next to the water where we would be able to refuel.We pulled up outside Annie’s, refuelled the boat and then popped inside for a quick jelly shot. The bar was literally a shack which looked like it would fall down at the sign of the slightest breeze. It was however cleverly decorated in sign with aluminium signs containing witty slogans.
Shots downed, we were back in the boat, now heading towards More Marina Laboratory and Aquarium, which was a little further away. James was now starting to open up the throttle a little bit, and so the boat was starting to pick up a lot of speed. Gripping on, we raced across Sarasota Bay, water splashing in my face. I was really starting to understand the appeal of owning a boat.
Pulling up to park, we visites our second bar of the day, got some beverages and enjoyed our waterside spot. I ordered a local IPA, which was a little disappointing, but it couldn’t take the shine off of fun I was having.From the bar, we headed on foot to the Aquarium. Lynne had a members card, which allowed her to take a certain number of guests along with her, so we weren’t required to pay anything for entry. Our guides were doing an immaculate job of showing us around. They should really consider running their own tour company.The Aquarium was really fascinating. We first passed through an indoor collection of strange fish and crustaceans.
We then headed down the road to larger tanks containing manatees, alligators and turtles.
We then headed back to the boat and made our way back to Anna Maria Island. I thought James was gunning it on the way to the marina, however I was mistaken. On the way back, he hit it even hard, powering across the waves and the tides caused by passing boats. It was so enjoyable. I may have to consider upgrading Ruby for a small boat instead. I’m not sure ‘The Boat Chronicles’ has the same ring to it though.Before arriving back at James and Lynne’s, we stopped off once again to refuel. We also popped back into Annie’s for another drink. Lynne treated us to a sample of some smoked fish dip and fried green tomatoes in a light batter.Our guides timed the trip to perfection. Back at the house, we had enough time to grab a bottle of wine before heading back to the beach to watch another west coast sunset.
Back at the house, we continued to be spoilt. Our hosts set about cooking us a delicous stone crab meal, whilst we got to experience their heated pool with a glass wine.
It was my first experience of eating stone crab, which is basically a crab claw that you cover with a cloth and beat open, picking out the succulent crab meat from inside.We spent the rest of the night outside again, enjoying a couple more bottles of wine. I had a fascinating chat with Rick about our life experiences. James’ guide duties caught up with him, and a ten minute nap turned out to be an early exit for the evening. But don’t worry, I took the opportunity to share a favourite drinking ‘past time’of mine called ‘bucka roo’.
James is buried somewhere beneath the pillows!We woke on Wednesday, saddened that we would be leaving that night. We had plans to drive to a clear water spring, and we had to keep moving to make the concert in Pensacola on Friday.Lynne had prepared us some home baked cinnabuns for breakfast, as we had brought some with us on the way from Bugjam, only for her sons to eat them first.A lot of calories and coffee later, we set off to visit Lynne’s daughter’s house. Earlier on in our visit, Lynne had told us how she originally bought the house due to a banyan tree that was at the property. Now Lynne’s daughter owned the property and the banyan tree was starting to die.For someone who normally doesn’t have much appreciation of plant life, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of this banyan tree. Banyans grow vines which later become solid supports to the trees, forming astounding weaves around the trunk.
Lynne’s daughter’s house, was super cool. I could easily see myself living there, enjoying the Florida lifestyle we had been accustomed to the last couple of days.
To top it off, she had one hell of a sexy Ford hidden in her garage.
It’s safe to say that I was very envious, and there is a strong possibility that she may turn up on day to find a strange British guy living there!From Lynne’s daughters house, we headed to Solorzanos Pizzeria for the best pizza I have ever tasted in my life. Seriously, if you read this and decide to visit Anna Maria Island, this pizza is a must try whilst in the area! We had a Greek pizza, with olives, feta and heaps of fresh basil.
From the Pizzeria, we set off in search of a tattoo studio. I recently decided that I would like to get a small inky cat print tattoo in memory of Molly. Not wanting to feel left out, Willow decided to design a tattoo to remember our time in Anna Maria. A cleverly drawn picture of the island with the date worked into it.Unfortunately, the studio we visited wanted to charge a $100 minimum, which I just wasn’t prepared to pay for such a small tattoo.Gutted that we weren’t able to get our tattoos, we had some spare time, and so James took us to see his ‘work in progress’ VW.As well as the T25 we saw at Bugjam, James owned another 3 VWs. One was currently in a garage being completely rebuilt, top to bottom.
Seeing his van, stoked a fire within to buy a beat up vehicle whilst we’re over here, to ship back to England and restore. Gotta love a project!James wasn’t done showing us his collection. He next took us to see his other two VWs, vans he planned on tidying up and selling when the time was right.
The VWs weren’t the only thing of interest at the shop. The owner was an artist at vintage car restoration. And James took great joy in showing us around the place, lifting covers of cars, revealing cars over Fifty years old that had carefully been restored to their former glory. If only we had a spare $100,000 to add them to our collection.
We had one final stop before heading back to James and Lynne’s; a visit to a once deprived block on the island, which has now been transformed into a thriving area for craft arts. Village of the Arts is now a small community of artisans who live together in a small community, using their home as a venue to showcase their artistic creations.
Sadly, a lot of the homes were closed, and so we only got to view a small taster of the work in the area. The street was a shining example of how to rejuvenate a deprived area, in a creative way, which provides people with an affordable outlet to showcase their talents. I could think of a few areas in Birmingham which would benefit from a similar artistic redevelopment.
Leaving the village of the arts, we had enough time to stop of to allow me to buy some replacement beach shorts, as I had carelessly left mine to dry on the back of the van in Savannah, driving off before securing them back in the van. Needless to say they were gone by the time I had remembered that they were drying back there.
Back at James and Lynne’s, we had time for one last meal before we were due to head off for Ocala springs. Everything was packed back in the van. Our gigantic double air bed was packed away. All we had left was to enjoy our final meal of Mahi and corn on the cob. Unsurprisingly, we had barely got halfway through the meal before we decided to delay our exit and stay for the rest of the evening. Neither of us fancying a three hour drive, when we could stay and enjoy our company a little longer. In the morning however, we would have to force ourselves to head back out onto the road, and hope that one day we would be able to spend more time in the delightful company of our new family.