Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sparky's New Kayak!

After selling two kayaks before going on the road, I thought, I'm gonna regret letting these go...I know, I know, WHY did I sell them in the first place? Because we really couldn't know when and how much we would use them. One was a super duper fast, sleek, carbonlite style "cruiser" for lakes and large bodies of water like oceans and the other was a polyurethane scratched up shortie of a kayak, used for rough rivers. We really didn't want to have them up on our tow car for long periods of time and have to worry about theft, worry about them shifting and moving on top of the car, things like that. We figured, ok, we can rent them when we find places we want to kayak. Sparky is the main kayaker in the family, having kayaked for about six years. Eldo, not so much....maybe two times out on the water? For much of last year, we were in the southwest and in the desert. I really was glad we weren't schlepping around with the kayaks on top of the car. Besides, Eldy was not experienced at kayaking and he just wasn't as gung ho about it so I sold them to hit the road full timing with a little extra money.

So-o-o-o, for the last two years, I've been renting one when the price was right, and when we were in good locations. And now, being in the Keys, and seeing that perhaps we are going to be returning to places with WATER and plenty of it in our near future.....Sparky decided to lend a little of her tax return refund to her KAYAK FUND. (I didn't know you had one, Sparky, with all the craft supplies you've been buying, I thought you were running a CRAFT FUND!) AHEM! Uh, yes, dear, I WAS saving for a rainy day craft fund but NOW, it's a KAYAK FUND and the goal has been reached! Sparky now has enough for a----drum roll, please! TADA! a Sea Eagle 385 FAST TRACK! YIPPEEEEEEEEE! WHEE-E-E-E-E-E! This little piggy (I'm glad you said that and NOT ME! says E.)  is now the proud owner of a brand new inflatable Sea Eagle 385 Fasttrack kayak! AND, the internet special this month....good till the end of February, which is fast approaching, is buy the Sea Eagle 385 and get a second boat FREE! (hull, only) Which means, Eldy can give kayaking another full hearted try...he'll have his own boat!  What a deal! Sparky could NOT pass that up! Reviews for the 385 are terrific, and many RVers own this model of inflatable kayak. They are very happy with it! Sparky's boat was purchased from Inflatable Boats for Less, a company Nick Russell of Gypsy Journal fame recommends highly, along with this particular model of Sea Eagle. Sparky tried and tried to win a boat at Nick's last Gypsy Journal rally, but it just didn't happen.
from the internet
You can get it inflated in about 8 minutes with the provided foot pump, it comes with two plush padded seats and two paddles. We're going to take one seat out and put it in Eldy's kayak, so there's no fussing with two in the same boat about how to paddle.....Sometimes solo paddling is a better experience for two people, especially when one person is a practicing control freak....(And that is NOT me! says E.) He's absolutely correct! Sparky is the control freak in the family!

The boat is due here just before we leave for the Everglades...Stay tuned and we'll show you how it works, how the inflation procedure works and what happens with it out on the water.....Hey, you can even stand up in it and use it as a paddleboard! ALL RI-I-I-GHT!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Who's Viewing Whom?

On a glass bottom boat?  Specifically, the Key Largo Princess, a glass bottom touring boat. For 20.00 a person, (only if you go on the 10:00 AM cruise otherwise it's 30.00 a person), you get to take a nice 45 minute boat ride  out to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to see Molasses Reef up close and personal without getting wet. The Key Largo Princess has the largest "viewing salon in North America", they say. The viewing salon is the glass bottom part of the boat. It's 280 square feet of viewing space and distortion free because it's on the flat part of the hull.

You start out at the Holiday Inn in Key Largo, where you purchase your tickets. Right at the dock, there is something interesting to see....The original African Queen of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn movie fame! It's such a tiny boat! Seems so much bigger in the movies...They are asking for donations to get the original boiler fixed and to keep this boat afloat. Guess this boat has been around the world twice...Judging by its condition, you just can't imagine how a little boat like that could make a world trip. Whoa! Guess you can rent the African Queen for a cruise! Except it's in dry dock waiting for repairs.....wonder how much they charge for the African Queen? Ask at the gift shop the next time you are there.....For you youngsters who haven't a clue what the African Queen movie is about, google's a classic adventure/love story starring two wonderful movie stars from the good ole days......

And of course, you can see pelicans, they LOVE to hang out in harbors looking for fishermen filleting and boning their latest catch....Sparky will spare you the pelican photos. You've seen one, you've seen them all, right? But they are so COOL!

On the way out to the reef, you pass thru the harbor channel with the fantastic, multi-million dollar homes on each side. Lots of swimming pools, lots of huge yachts parked in the "front yard", some have beautiful sea walls....
Sea wall along a multi million dollar home leaving the harbor
The ride out to the reef is in air conditioned comfort if you choose to sit inside the boat. Otherwise, be like Sparky and Eldo, and sit up top and let the wind and ocean breezes rustle your hair and watch the waters change from the blue/greens of the Atlantic to the royal blues of the Gulf Stream.....The colors of the ocean were incredible! So many shades of blue!
The gulls came along side the boat, but nobody fed them.....Sparky pretended to have bread crumbs in her hand, but they weren't buying it!
Forty-five minutes later, we were at the reef....the Key Largo Princess boat has a 280 square foot viewing window in two sections surrounded by railings....The water was calm, so we saw the reef very clearly.  Photos give you some idea, but it was much clearer than it looks. It was a very, very cool way to see a reef if you don't plan on snorkeling or diving and that's why we decided to take the tour....The tour guide gave us lots of information about the Keys, the coral, the fish species. She really knew her stuff. Unfortunately, we just didn't see very many colorful tropical fish...this particular reef just may not attract the varieties, who knows?  You never know what nature has in store for you when you do something like this. The guide seemed genuinely excited about the varieties of fish we saw today, as if we were seeing more than normal. So that was good!

The little kids sat down and let their feet dangle over the railing...the adults stood above them. It was a little crowded for the adults to be able to see the reef below unless you parked yourself at the railing before the boat got to the reef. There was some excitement near the end of the 30 minutes at the reef. We were watching the fish swim around and the sea palms wave back and forth...THEN.....We saw IT! A VERY VERY big species----

All of a sudden, the tour guide started yelling, "NEUTRAL, NEUTRAL!!!!!" Apparently, running over the top of a diver doesn't happen all that often and is NOT supposed to happen even though they were quite a few feet below the boat. But they looked VERY CLOSE!  At first there was one, then two, then a couple more...The boats above can't always see them. Not sure if they didn't have diving flags or they ventured farther from the diving boat than they should have. There wasn't any explanation. They were exploring the reef from down below, we were exploring it from up above. We saw a total of four or five divers right beneath us today, and they looked like they were trying to hurry to get out of the way of the boat. They seemed just as shocked to see us as we were to see them!

Do you see lots of colorful, tropical fish at the reef on the glass bottom boat tour? You might, but we didn't. We saw a couple of barracudas, a couple of puffer fish, a huge grouper, lots of coral, lots of black and white striped fish called sergeant majors, and a couple of other species of fish. The day was calm, perfect for viewing, but expectations were set too high. As far as expecting to see lots of colorful, tropical fish, there just weren't any there.....Would we recommend this trip to others? Yes, if you don't expect to see all the varieties of tropical fish you see in an aquarium, you enjoy being out on the water, and you don't plan to snorkel or scuba dive while you are in the keys, AND, you've never seen a reef. Forty-five minutes out to the reef, actual time at the reef-- thirty minutes, then forty-five minutes back, total two hour trip. The weather and water were perfect was a refreshing trip on an eighty degrees plus day, and the cost, we felt, was very reasonable. We enjoyed our boat trip today........See you later!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Back to Bahia

We loved our first visit to Bahia Honda State Parks so much, we went back for another visit today...We spent all afternoon there. There's a little marina at the state park and lots of boats go in and out a little channel right next to the picnic area. The park has snorkeling tours for 29.95 a person, and rental of snorkeling equipment is an additional 9.00. They spend an hour and a half out at the Looe Key Reef Marine Sanctuary. Sounds wonderful! Sparky is THINKING about it for another visit....At any rate, we had a nice picnic lunch and watched the world go by.....

A couple using pedal power in a different kind of kayak....

A guy going by also using pedals in his kayak.....
The birds flew in to check us out to see if we wanted to share our lunch. First, the gulls, then the pelicans.....

Then the ibis......but they were looking for fish remnants at the fish cleaning station......
These guys looked all over the place for the fishermen and pieces of fish......They didn't know if they were coming or going!

We watched the fisherman come in with their catch. Have no idea what kind of fish this is, but he can sure be proud of his catch of the day!
We stayed long enough to watch the sun go down......It was beautiful to see yet another beautiful sunset in the keys, this one at Bahia Honda State Park at the old bridge called Flagler's Folly.....

See you later in the Keys......

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Awesome Sunsets at Sunset Grille

Back again we Sunset of many, many places you could choose to see the sunset in the Keys. Sunset Grille is in Big Pine Key....We've yet to make it to Key West's Mallory Square, but that's on our "to do" list soon...Just wanted to leave you with some more photos of gorgeous skies today.....Here's where it all happens at the Sunset entertainment, a swimming pool but no hotel,  the pool is for the restaurant guests! Swim, eat, dance if you feel like it, swim some more...or watch TV on the big screen...but no sound...I have yet to figure out why you'd want to watch a giant TV screen with no sound, but Eldo will have to explain that to me later...Here's the restaurant at night....Love, love, love the tiki hut decor all the way through....
As the sun starts to set, the entertainer for the evening (there's entertainment every night) sings a song specifically referencing the sunset...They've got it timed down to the minute! People swarm out to the dock to start taking photos.....
Here's the view from a little farther back sitting at a restaurant table....

TEXTING???   REALLY?   You are missing it, girl!'s......down........

The scene as we leave to go home.....

Until next time from Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys......Sparky and Eldo........

Saturday, February 25, 2012

And Now, a Word From Our Michelin Sponsor

Today's blog comes from the pen and notes of Nick Boersma, back at Florida Grande. They had another RV chat that we WISH we could have attended but it was back in Webster, FL. Thanks to Nick, we still get to hear what a representative from Michelin had to say. Nick sent us all his notes so we could share them with all of you! Thanks, Nick!

The representative today, was Mike Fowler. He did a great job sharing lots of pertinent information for Michelin tire owners.

1. The last 4 numbers are the most important information in regards to your tires. They are the date of manufacture. Keep this number when it comes time to consider replacement.

2.Best Practices:

Tire covers SHOULD BE USED.

Michelin also recommends that plywood or some other material separate the tires from the ground when sitting for long periods of time, even on concrete.

Small cracks are ok, but a crack that a dime will fit in, means time to change the tire.

Rapid air loss is the biggest issue to be prepared for...When it happens, accelerate, DON'T BRAKE! You accelerate to maintain forward speed and tracking. Do NOT slow down..when tracking is under control, let normal slowing of speed take place. Find a safe spot to pull over.

The best tire dressing is just soap and water.

Tire rotation side to side is ok, but not required.

Tire pressure sensing systems are not a good replacement to checking your tires regularly with a good gauge. There was some discussion about that many tire pressure monitoring systems don't check the air pressure frequently enough to give you much of a warning in the event that a tire is going to blow. (But, most RVers who have them say, something is better than nothing and that's why systems are purchased.) Warnings for low tire pressure or high temps are useful to know on a tow vehicle that you can't see and the same for inside tires on rear duals on the motorhome.)

FYI--The tire representative from Michelin feels that most people are not using accurate gauges. Have the GAUGE checked to see if it is accurate. You should be checking your tire pressure at least once a month or better yet, every two weeks. Even when you are sitting for long periods of time in one place, you should still be checking tire pressure. There is heavy, heavy pressure weighing down those tires when you are just sitting! Also the tire pressure number on the tire is NOT the maximum amount of pressure that should be in the tire, unlike your car tires. Pressure in each tire should be based on THE WEIGHT OF EACH AXLE bearing down on the tire carrying the load.

Tire Replacement guidelines: Michelin does not abide by the "replace every five years" rule of thumb. Have a Michelin certified technician inspect the tires at the 5 year time frame or sooner. If you are seeing warranteed signs of cracking, cupping, and excess wear, get your tires inspected.

Michelin does NOT recommend nitrogen. The rep felt the additional cost doesn't warranty using nitrogen in the tires plus it's difficult to find.

Michelin strongly recommends having INDIVIDUAL tires and axles weighed. Follow the pressure recommendations by weight. ALL tires need to be weighed, not just the rears....Check tire pressures COLD. A driven tire can raise the pressure amount by as much as 10%. Cold tire pressures stated have a safety factor built in.

Michelin does not recommend changing tire size to get better fuel mileage, be able to add more carrying weight to the coach, just isn't worth it...

The Michelin rep talked about the FMCA Advantage Program. Check the FMCA website for more information. If you are not an FMCA member, you can use the owner/operator classification for a slightly less discount. The Advantage program has a number that you can call for assistance on tire issues that many members feel is well worth it.

And that's the word from the Michelin Man, Mike Fowler for today....and thank you, Nick, for sending us some booklets from Michelin! There are some really great charts and great information in them. On a rainy day when we have nothing to say, we'll post some info from the booklets Nick sent us. But first, Sparky has to do her homework and read 'em! Now, go and check your tire pressure, people!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bahia Honda--a Car Dealer? NOT!

View from the bridge at Bahia Honda State Park
Sure sounds like a car dealer in Mishawaka, IN to me...Oh, wait a minute, that's Basney Honda!  Bahia Honda is the beautiful state park in Big Pine Key, FL. It's just down the road from us, about a mile and a half at mile marker 37. Bahia Honda State Park had the "most beautiful beaches in the U.S. in 2002", but there wasn't much beach anywhere we looked today because they were COVERED in seaweed. They are not allowed to clean it up here, everything stays natural. And of course, you are not allowed to pick shells.  According to the photos from the website, there must be times where the beaches are relatively clear, because it looks absolutely beautiful on the website. I'm sure it depends on the wind conditions how much gets blown in from the ocean.

No's a beautiful place...we took our blankets and beach chairs and spent a lovely afternoon at the state park. The Gulf side of the beaches were pretty clear of seaweed. It was nine dollars to get in for two people, $4.50 per single individual, $2.50 if you come in on your bike. Bahia Honda has a historical bridge that you can traverse part of, and get some beautiful shots of the surrounding multi hued colors of blue waters......Here's the picnic area.....

Eldy got into the water at the state park today! It's been a long time since Eldo's been in the Atlantic Ocean! He really enjoyed himself today. Forty-three years of working in a factory, he's earned this!

A few facts about the park: They have snorkeling tours which sometimes get cancelled due to jellyfish alerts, which was the case today..They say you can see nurse sharks when you snorkel..That would be cool!....They have kayak rentals for 12.00 an hour.....Bahia Honda is composed of 500 acres and includes an off shore island. The park is open from 8:00 AM till sunset. They do have bike riding on the main paved road that runs through the park, so Sparky did a little bike ride today...about three miles from one end of the park to the other.

Sparky also took LOTS of bird photos today....they seemed to be talking to each other!
"I hate to tell you this, but you have bugs in your wing."
"I know it's here somewhere!"
"My feet are killing me!"
"He's SUCH a showoff!"
And then, there was Mr. Pelican. He stayed around for a LONG time...A little boy came and sat down a little ways away from him and they made quite the pair...both having black and white coloring....and when the little boy looked one way, Mr. Pelican looked.

If the little boy looked the other way, Mr. Pelican mirrored his movements. And some times they just looked in opposite directions.....

Eldo and Sparky just LOVE pelicans...they look like wise old men with their white heads.....And when they yawn, oh, my!
This egret had its picnic lunch right alongside our picnic spot......

Off to find a good happy hour place! See you later! Karen and Al said to be sure to try the "La Ti Da" bar. We'll have to see where that is! Thanks for any tips of things not to miss, everyone!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iggy Visits the Pool

Sparky and Eldo were sitting at the pool today, reading and people watching, and all of a sudden, two ladies JUMPED sky high out of their lounge chairs and were staring directly in front of them. One was a mom, the other was her twenty something daughter. The daughter's eyeballs were as big as golfballs and the two gals were frozen, eyes glued to something in front of them. "DID YOU SEE THAT?" "Yeah! What the hell is it?" I'm thinking, scorpion, huge spider, big strange flying insect of some sort.

I look up, and there's about a two and a half foot green iguana making his way across the pool deck directly in front of them. The two women didn't scream but they were scared to death of it, thinking it might bite or something. The iguana, who shall now be known as Iggy, didn't like the attention he started to get, especially from Sparky, who had run back to the rig to get her camera and was now back snapping away, coming ever closer to Iggy, along with a couple of other people trying to get a photo. The two women made a beeline for the opposite side of the pool, giving Iggy a wide berth, which was fine with Iggy. Iggy was VERY nervous and more scared of them than they were of him. He flared his throat thingy which is supposed to scare predators and postured up and down, up and down with his head, to make himself look larger and more threatening. That didn't scare Sparky, she kept trying to get just a LITTLE bit closer to get her photo. Back as fast as he could, into the bushes he went, nervously watching everybody. He finally slithered through the fence holes to the other side of the pool complex after Sparky followed him into the bushes. She just HAD to get a photo of an iguana, never having seen one!

The two women kept asking a few minutes later, "Are you sure he doesn't bite?" "They really are scared of people?" And finally, they started to relax and even got out their camera phones to take pictures of him when he came back out a little bit later. The two gals were from Ohio, we compared notes about no iguanas in Indiana and Ohio except for pets. After their initial scare, they told us a story about seeing a dolphin in Marathon, and how the dolphin was playing with a very large fish it caught, throwing it up in the air a few times and just playing with it. Sparky was all ears! Ah, well, a visit to Marathon, another place, another time....

It seems that green iguanas are a problem around here...they are a feral population. Sparky learned that feral means an animal was once domesticated and now has become wild. Green iguanas are purchased as pets, then owners have let them go when they don't want them any more and now they are munching their way through Florida. They cause severe landscape damage as they love to eat plants and flowers and their burrowing near seawalls can cause sea wall collapse. Sparky also learned that iguanas CAN bite when cornered or captured! Glad she didn't know that at the time. Did you know they also can detach their tail when caught to get away, then grow a new one? Cool!

No other creatures other than a couple of tiny geckos showed their faces today at the pool. Some guy at the pool today said that when he was in Mexico, the iguanas, much bigger ones, would be found swimming in the pool! Yikes!

You gotta love the Keys....slower pace, slower way of life....even the local cafe cat has got the idea....

See you tomorrow in paradise!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sunset at Sunset Grille

There are other places to see a beautiful sunset in the Keys, besides Mallory Square in downtown Key West. Check out Sunset Grille about seven miles north of Big Pine Key. It's a great restaurant/bar/grille with a swimming pool, great entertainment, really good food and a really BIG screen projection TV screen. How much more could a person want?

The view from the pool........

And the sunset views? (And you DID say the pool views...There certainly are some nice views at the pool, laughs E.)

Everybody piles into the restaurant about an hour before sunset, then the place gets a lot quieter after the sun goes down......
We had a great time listening to some great entertainment....the singer's name was "Wyatt Hurts"...hard name to forget! He was really a terrific singer! We even bought one of his CDs to remember the Sunset Grille. Did we have a great time? You bet the most beautiful sunset!

We'll be back!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

Let the good times roll! It's Fat Tuesday at Sunshine Key, and the residents and long time visitors know a good time when they see one....this morning started with a pancake breakfast which is supposed to bring you good luck.....Next, a "Big Mamou" Polker Walk....Then, crown the Sunshine King and Queen for the parade later this afternoon.....

This afternoon was the Mardi Gras Parade...great floats, great costumes! The best one was the School of Fish float, starting with a boat named "The Happy Hooker".....The anglin' boat caught a LOT of fish, a whole school of them, to be a matter of fact!

A hogshead fish.....
A lionfish......
There were pirates! Friendly ones...he said he was Captain Morgan! yuck, yuck!
The Conch Queen was at her finest.......
And even a little devil of a dog......

Finally, at 6:00 PM, there was a Mardi Gras Ball and dinner dance at the clubhouse....We didn't take part in that....we waited to late to get tickets, the ball sold out!  Such a fun day.....We loved it!