Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Everglades FL

After leaving Sarasota a few hours drive brings us to Chokoloskee Island where we are staying the night at the Parkway Motel. Chokoloskee Island's a bit off the beaten track, but it's known as a great place for fishing and as a jumping off point for exploring the Everglades.  After settling in, I explore the area with camera in hand.
Parkway Motel

Chokoloskee Marina

That evening we have dinner on the deck of the Camellia Street Grill, chosen based on recommendations from Yelp. Again Yelp hit the mark (although not always). The grouper was the freshest of all the restaurants I had tried in Florida... the waitress said it had been caught locally that morning. Peter tried their stone crabs and they were excellent.  Locals tell us they only harvest one claw from each crab at a time so it can still fend for itself and with time, grow it back - a renewable way of harvesting a resource, but labor intensive. No wonder stone crabs are so expensive.
Entrance to Camellia Street Grill

Local fishing is big

We really enjoy the view of the sunset from our table on the deck. However we soon discover why most of the locals are sitting inside - the no-see-ums come out and are soon making us uncomfortable. Fortunately, a quick application of deet keeps most of them away. Deet's good to have handy for this part of Florida.
View of the sunset from our patio table

After a nice breakfast at the Havana Cafe (to get us ready for Havana tomorrow), we book a tour of the Everglades with Speedy's Airboat Tours, which was recommend by the owner/manger at the Parkway. While waiting for the tour to start, we amuse ourselves with the gator kitsch and trinkets for sale. David, I promise to get you a gator tooth necklace the next time we're in Florida.
Sign at Speedy's

That big or a gator can do you some harm

Gators must be common around here

I'm hoping to see some gators up close on this tour. Several years ago I had the opportunity to go on a kayaking trip through the Everglades with a group of women. They said nightly camps were on specially build platforms to keep campers safe from gators at night.  Even though work and family prevented me from going on this adventure, I've been curious about gators and the Everglades ever since.
Getting ready to leave on our airboat

Our guide starts down a narrow maze of tunnels through the mangrove swamp

Then we break out into the wide open grasslands

Grasslands in the Everglades - so where are the gators?
Our guide takes advantage of the more open water by doing some high speed turns and even a 360 spins. It's great fun, but where are the gators?
Airboat wake on a high speed spin

There's a gator lurking under the tree. Wow, they are hard to spot at times

All too soon, it's time to return through the mangrove maze back to the harbor.
Tunnel through the mangroves

That looks like a fun place to live

Harbor at Everglades City

From Everglades City we head north and then east on Florida Hwy 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail and a scenic route through the Everglades. Our first stop is the Welcome Center at Big Cypress National Preserve where we learn about the local fauna and flora, including the nesting habits of gators, but still no live gators are to be found. Our next stop is Kirby Storter Roadside Park in Everglades National Park. Besides restrooms, this stop features a short hike to a gator hole. Gators must be close.
Gator tracks in concrete at Big Cypress Welcome Center

Boardwalk trail to gator hole

over and though the cypress swamp.

Gator hole is beautiful, but where are the gators?

Nice short hike, but still my quest for gators goes unanswered. Our next stop is the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve. The Ranger at the Welcome Center promised us we are almost guaranteed to see big live gators here.
This is looking promising - although this sign would seem like common sense. Guess you never know with tourists.

Look! A big one lurking in the shadows

Not a great place for a heron to hang out

The Ranger was right. There are big gators everywhere in a gator hole just in front of the Oasis Center.

Happy to get my fill of gator snaps, we get back in the car and drive to Monroe Station where we turn onto the mostly gravel single lane Loop Road (click on map link). We are delighted to find lots of birds and virtually no traffic.
Why does a crane cross the road?

Large vulture

Wood Stork

Occasionally we see more gators lazily hanging out on the grassy strip alongside the road. Towards the eastern end of this scenic loop we come to the remains of Pinecrest, which was a thriving logging community in the 1930's. Because of the area's seclusion, Al Capone is rumored to have hung out at a local speakeasy run by one of his relatives. However, it's evident Pinecrest's glory days have come and are long gone.
Do not feed the gators

... or the Rednecks in Pinecrest for that matter.

We've enjoyed our day of cruising through the everglades and hope to return to again to explore it more fully... but Cuba beckons and it's time to check in with our travel group in Miami.
Sunset at Everglades City

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sarasota FL

Again we drive across the state working our way back to the Gulf from the Atlantic coast to Sarasota. Humans have occupied this area for thousands of years even before the Pleistocene glaciers melted bringing the sea up to its current level. More recently in the early 1900's,  Bertha Honore, a local wealthy land owner, was responsible for attracting the wealthy to Sarasota for their winter residences.

Shortly before arriving in the Sarasota area we drive cross a spectacular bridge and causeway.

We arrive at our destination of Pete and Martha's home in the late afternoon. We were neighbors in Corralitos before they sold their home there, packed up and moved to Sarasota.  They do have a beautiful home here and are able to enjoy the warm waters of the Gulf and milder climate.  Yes - it's tempting do to the same, but something about California keeps calling us back.
Pete and Martha's lovely new home

with a lake behind their house.

My favorite part of their home is a large screened in patio with a swimming pool and a wonderful view of the lake. Martha tells us certain times of the year 'gators live in this lake, but they're not around at the moment.  Instead we enjoy watching a Great Blue Heron fishing along the shore.  We also get a kick out of playing with their two dogs, Lacy and Macy.
Happy hour at the patio dinner table

Peter with Lacy & Macy

The heron catches a fish dinner

After breakfast the next day, Pete and Martha show us their favorite beach - Lido Beach, one of the first beaches in the nation to be integrated. According to Yelp, this beach is "Breathtaking gorgeous." Gotta admit it is pretty nice.
Entrance to Lido Beach

Peter cools his heels

Snow birds are already arriving in mid October

Lido Beach

Pete and Martha treat us to a boat tour with Le Barge Tropical Cruises of Sarasota Bay.  Close to the boat harbor is a large sculpture "Unconditional Surrender" by Steward Johnson commemorating Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day in Time Square.
Unconditional Surrender

Le Barge tour boat

Dive bar decor on restrooms

We select a table at the back of boat for better unobstructed panoramic views.
Pete & Martha

Leaving Sarasota harbor and skyline

This is going to be fun!

Out into Sarasota Bay

Our tour begins along the shoreline to see the many interesting homes:
from the funky

to the fabulous

and artsy.

Other boats are out enjoying a beautiful day on Sarasota Bay as well.
Rental boat at a popular picnic island

Party boat passes us

Classic red sail boat

That evening we go to the Linger Lodge, famous for being one of the "Most Unusual Restaurants in the World." With walls covered by mounted gators and venomous snakes, we can certainly see why. The menu's also "unusual" offering Alligator and "road kill."  Of course we have to order "Alligator Bites" with our drinks. Humm ... 'gator tastes just like chicken. Actually to be more precise, it tastes more like calamari to me.
Entrance to Linger Lodge

'Gator comps a human leg is mounted on a wall

Yum - my pina colada looks good.

The next morning we treat our friends to the Ringling Museum complex in Sarasota. John and Charles Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Circus, used Sarasota as their winter headquarters starting in 1927. With 15 circus companies now headquartered in Sarasota, it's the place in the world you can find the most living circus people, those active and those retired.
Entrance to Ringling Museum

The lush Bayfront Gardens inside the museum complex

The circus museum has a large collection of surprisingly detailed miniatures illustrating just how large these shows were.
Inside the Bigtop miniature

All kinds of circus art and equipment are on display.
Lavish orchestra wagon helped lead the big parade

A flyer heralding the coming of the circus

Bruno Zacchini's Super Repeating Cannon
for human cannonballs

Costumes and props are well represented.
Bill Ballantine's clown shoes

Charly Baumann - Animal trainer

Trapeze artist

Of course, there's lots of opportunities for just plain clowning around.
Peter tries walking the high low wire

A clown demos how he applies makeup in a video

My reflection in a fun house mirror

One of five brothers who owned and operated the circus, John Ringling's success with "The Greatest Show on Earth" made him one of the richest men in America during the 1920's. A few years after starting to buy property in and around Sarasota, he and his wife Mable began building their home "Ca' d'Zan" (house of John in Venetian dialect). They hired architect Dwight James Baum to design and build a Venetian Gothic style of the palazzi in Venice, Italy. Construction of the 5 story, 36k square foot mansion began in 1924 and was completed two years later for $1.5 million. A million dollars went further in those days than now.
Caesar gets us

Approaching Ca' d'Zan

One of many towers

Ca' d'Zan is situated on Sarasota Bay which serves as it's Grand Canal

Inside, it is just as opulent as Hearst's Castle, which was started around the same time.

My favorite is the gigantic kitchen area with wonderful natural light streaming in the windows.
Work table with recipe book and apples

tour guide answers a young girl's question

Immense ice box used real ice

After a quick lunch at a museum cafe, we hit the road bound for Florida's Everglades.
Thank you Pete and Martha

we had a great time clowning around with you.

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Retired and enjoying life.