Winding-up our stay in The Florida Keys

Dave & I tried new places to eat which we’ve never been, such as The Key Largo Fisheries with our good friends Bill & Barb. The waterfront is a fishery and marina, the seafood comes off the boats docked next to them, and is processed and packaged right there and shipped to people stateside, or prepared for you at their Backyard Cafe.

Dave on the left, Bill on top and last but not least Barb

We also got to see the African Queen which is docked at Marina Del Mar. I was excited because I got to see the movie a couple of years ago and loved it and seeing the boat like it was in the movie was really nice.

The historic African Queen provided the setting for Humphrey Bogart’s only Oscar winning performance has been resurrected from the scrapheap by a movie-loving Florida couple. The African Queen is a 100 year old steam boat famed for its starring role in the 1951 hit movie of the same name.

The classic picture – which also starred Katharine Hepburn and told the story of a Canadian steam boat captain and a British missionary working in German East Africa during the First World War – saw Bogart receive the 1951 Academy Award for best actor.

After falling into a state of disrepair following the death of its previous owner in 2001, the vessel was spotted gathering rust in a Florida marina by Suzanne Holmquist and her engineer husband, Lance.

The couple have since repaired the ailing ship and opened it up. You can take a 1.5 Hour cruise that departs from the Marina Del Mar and travels down the Port Largo Canals to the Atlantic Ocean before turning around to return.

16,709 Row Boat Illustrations & Clip Art - iStock

Dave & I had breakfast at The Hideout a few times.

the breakfast was good and you could look out at the water

We also had a great time going to The Italian Food Comapany and The Catch with our friends Skip & Nancy.

The food was good at both restaurants

One of our favorite places to eat was The Shipwreck.

The Shipwreck has really good food and the added bonus was the awesome volunteers from Pennekamp gathered here for dinner and great times!

Speaking of Incredible Volunteers and awesome people !

Some of us got a chance to get together at The Marriott for the last time to catch the sunset

The last day before we left Pennekamp the weather was perfect for parasailing! so Barb and myself took off.

Getting strapped in
Smooth take off
400 ft up in the air
Coming in for a landing

Smooth take off and landing and gliding through the air was an incredible experience. With a dip in the water before we landed back on the boat was lots of fun.

We had a drink in celebration of a great day of parasailing!

This was our 4th year here in Key Largo and it was awesome! We met fantastic volunteers whom now we call our friends! We snorkeled, kayaked, parasailed and explored what can be more wonderful than that?

We know we never will!

RECREATION PLANTATION

We are now at Recreation Plantation, which is just a little north west of Orlando. We left Key Largo on Friday the 14th. Drove a total of 353 miles, took seven hours. We are staying here till the end of February at one one of the lots here. There are mostly mobile homes here, with scattered Rv lots. This place is right next to the huge community called The Villages. Looking forward to not work camping and just relaxing for a while. A picture of our spot is below.

Melissa will make a final post soon, about our last few days in Key Largo. For now that’s it

We can’t believe it’s 2022!

It’s hard for me to absorb it being 2022, let alone having to type it!

For New Year’s Eve the volunteers and some of the rangers got together at The Point and had a campfire and celebrated the New Year.

We had a great fire and time as some fireworks were exploding and popping around us

There was about 15 of us ringing the new year in.

HAPPY 2022 😊

Take a leap of faith and begin this wondrous new year by believingSarah Ban Breathnach               

“New year — a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately we write it. The choice is ours” Alex Morritt

Cooper our whippet meets his match

December 17th, in Orlando Resa, a male white-and-blonde whippet, bolted ahead of the competition to win the second-annual Fastest Dog USA competition. The three-year-old ran a 100-yard dash in 5.769 seconds or 35.45 miles per hour. That’s 0.5777 of a second faster than last year’s winner, Phelan.

That same day in December here in Pennekamp’s Grove Trail Cooper and his female whippet friend Piper raced.

Piper and Cooper

Cooper is ahead

Piper is ahead

Cooper & Piper had a great day of racing. Cooper has faster strides but Piper sure knows how to turn sharp corners on a dime. Piper was ahead of Cooper a lot of the time which really confused Cooper as no other dog can even keep up with him! Piper you go girl! They both had a lot of FUN!

Piper resting after racing
Cooper resting after racing

Photo Shoot at Far Beach

Ginny & Jim
Nancy & Skip
Bill & Barb and Randy & Linda at the end
Ranger Jack and handsome guys on the beach
Ranger Jack and sexy ladies on the beach

Elena got the Volunteers together to see some Christmas Lights

This house had every blow up decoration ever made for Christmas. Great light show

What we’ve been doin, while we’re doin.

Our friend Lisa, a volunteer that we met “volunteering here 3 years  ago at Pennekamp, was here when we first arrived at Pennekamp and the 3 of us went to the Key Largo Conch House for dinner on her birthday. I never ate a conch before, but I wanted to try it.  Pronounced “konk”, it is the meat from an oversized sea snail. It is native to the coasts of the Bahamas, Florida Keys, the Caribbean and Bermuda.  It’s eaten raw or cooked.        

Lisa & I both got The Conch House Sampler. It had samples of their popular appetizers conch fritters, lobster & conch ceviche fried conch, coconut shrimp and mango crab cake. It was yummy

We both decided to get their award winning strawberry &  spinach salad with fresh berries, pecans, cucumbers, goat cheese and real maple syrup dressing. I can see why it won awards, it was yummy too!

I don’t remember what Dave got, but I know it was some kind of fish and he said it was also very good.

Happy Birthday Lisa & many more !

A good time was had by all.

And then it was time to cut the turkey
Skip a fellow volunteer got elected to cut the turkey.
Pilgrim hat cookies I made, felt I had to because I’m a Pilgrim,
an eleventh generation Pilgrim. My tenth great grander father
came over on The Mayflower.

All the volunteers that are in staying in the campground got together with some of the park rangers for a delicious Thanksgiving with all the trimmings and even more! It was a beautiful day to give thanks with friends.

We went to the Francis Tracy Garden Club for their annual Christmas Market. It was a nice event with many Christmas decorations and such. It got ya in the spirit for a bit and it reminded me of my mother because she was a member of garden club where she lived for many years.

Occasionally the volunteers and rangers will meet up and head to the Marriott to watch the sun set and relax a bit, the pics are of that and a birthday party for our fellow volunteer Jim.

Happy Birthday Jim!
Pictures taken throughout the park

Dave & I have been snorkeling in the waters of the park and recently we took one of the snorkel trips from the park. Our boat was named the Sea Garden and we went out to Grecian Rocks Reef, lots fish and coral and lots of fun! It a whole new world under there.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has 70 nautical square miles of sparkling turquoise waters and the shallow-water living coral reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – the only living coral barrier reef in North America and the third-largest living coral reef in the world. These protected and vibrant reefs are home to an abundance of sea life: more than 6,000 species. What a great place to snorkel, right! 👍

The Key Largo library, where we rent our DVDs has concerts on some Friday nights. Last Friday December 3, we went to see Alligator Alley.

They are a Bluegrass band that we really liked. Don’t get to hear to much bluegrass these days.

Coral Castle

Coral Castle is always listed in the “Top 35 out of 35,000 museums across the U.S.” to visit and people come from as far away as Indonesia to visit this incredible place. It’s also one of the Wonder’s of the World.”

The castle and its surrounding gardens were built by Edward Leedskalnin (1887–1951), a stonemason from Riga, Latvia. At the age of 26 Leedskalnin was rejected by his fiancée, a sixteen year old Agnes Skuvst, she broke off their engagement the day before the wedding. Leedskalnin was heartbroken and he set out on a quest to build a monument worthy of celebrating his lost love . He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and headed for the warmer climate of Florida, that is where it all begins.

He settled in Florida City in 1918, and began work on what he called his ‘Rock Gate Park’ sometime around 1923. With no modern construction tools or conveniences and equipped with only hand tools and a fourth grade education, he quarried huge blocks of coral rock before cutting them to shape and arranging them into position. And later, in 1936, Leedskalnin moved to Homestead where he purchased a plot of 10 acres and spent the next three years relocating, a distance of some 10 miles, using a friend’s tractor to transport each of his coral structures. Using no joint compound or mortar, the massive stones, when combined together, are held in place by their own weight. More incredible, he did all of this hard work by himself and he was was just five feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds.

Once we got inside the Castle we were amazed at what we saw! It was a fortress, a playground with incredible pieces of coral shaped into different things, a rock garden of sorts. ED single-handedly and mysteriously excavated, carved, and erected over 2.2 million pounds of coral rock to build this place. The walls alone, 8 foot high by 4 foot thick, weigh 58 tons per section. Each block around the park weighes an average of 15 short tons, and as much as 30 tons for the larger items – while some of the taller columns measure anything up to 25 foot in height.

This 9-ton stone gate  was built and installed by Ed at the turn of the 20th century,one finger could open it.  It stopped working in 1986. In order to remove it, six men and a 50-short-ton (45 t) crane were used. Once the gate was removed, the engineers discovered how he had centered and balanced it. He had drilled a hole from top to bottom and inserted a metal shaft.   Leedskalnin did this all by himself.

Lounge chairs he carved for a family he would never have. He carved a total of 25 rocking chairs from a single piece of coral that set with smooth, curving tracks beneath to allow for a gentle rocking motion. One of these – apparently, his favorite – was positioned up high, offering a panoramic view over the park. Now called the Billy Idol Chair
The mans, womens and childrens chairs
The beds with a crib on top.
Ed’s bath that he carved. He’d fill it in the early AM and it would be warm by mid day.

These pictures are of Ed’s well. He of course dug it, carved out stairs and also used the well for his refrigerator. In the last picture he used a round piece of coral to stop the children for going down the well. It could be rolled with just a slight nudge.

These 2 pictures are of Ed’s cooker. He built the cooker with old truck parts. He used this to cook chicken and hot dogs.

He would create a fire in the pit, and insert the food into the slits. It’s an air tight, which cooks the food faster and will prevent it from splattering all over the place.

Moon pool he carved the inner circumference of the circle like teeth of a gear.

Ed’s heart table is called “The Feast Of Love” table. “Ripley’s believe it or not” has awarded this table the “heaviest valentine” on earth, it weights 2½-tons.

A 30-ton lensless “telescope” that soars 25 feet above the castle walls. The telescope is perfectly aligned to the North Star, and on the first day of winter, sunlight pours directly through the scope’s opening.

Ed’s sundial can tell the time of day and also determine the seasons.

 A table in the shape of Florida that is geographically correct with an 8-inch indentation representing Lake Okeechobee that is filled with water.
Did he even have a map?

Billy Idol wrote the song “Sweet Little Sixteen” after watching “The Castle of Secrets”, an episode of Leonard Nimoy’s program, In Search of , which was based on Coral Castle. He visited Coral Castle and sat on Ed’s favorite rocking chair. The music video was shot there as well.

The Planets from the far corner is Jupiter, Saturn, and the Crescent Moon (what Ed called the “Crescent of the East.”)

Jupiter, Saturn and the moon from blocks weighing as much as 23 tons

Ed’s living quarters

Up the stairs is Ed’s bed & kitchen

The green doors on the ground are where he kept his tools

Ed’s rustic house

Behind the walls of the castle

Around 1940 Ed finished erecting the walls (the largest weighing 29 tons) of his coral castle. The gates to the castle were locked at all times but Ed would give tours of his home for a  fee  of 10 cents, he later raised it to  25 cents,  and those who wanted to have a tour had to ring the bell twice to summon Ed. The sign on the wall says “Ring Twice” and if your rang less or more than two times Ed would not open the gate to let you in. Ed would love to have children visit his castle and show them around.

He would show you the 8-ton gate that a child could push open with a finger. And would tell the story of his lost love as he showed you a telescope that points to the North Star, carvings of stars and planets and an accurate sundial and his other creations.

The castle has been on TV shows and various documentaries because nobody really knows how he built the castle? Here the question arises- how could a man using only hand-made tools, attained this height? The answer to this question is still unknown.

Ed was a very private person, and his methods were a closely guarded secret. In 28 years he refused to allow anyone to watch him work – carving the stones by night with a lantern, while a series of lookout posts along the castle walls provided an extra defense against prying eyes.  He used only tools that he fashioned himself from wrecks in an auto junkyard.

Some of his neighbors who took it upon themselves to have a peek one night, said that Leedskalnin placed both palms on a block of stone and started to sing and the slab reacted by levitating. For obvious reasons, many people have dismissed this claim.  Leedskalnin even told people that he had an in-depth understanding of the laws of gravity, leverage and weight and that he had “discovered the secrets of the pyramids,” implying that magnetism was used by the ancient Egyptians to construct the Great Pyramids. And of course some say it was aliens that helped him.

However, all these theories could it have just been the fact that a human being, when set their mind with a steady focus and powerful motivation, can attain anything. Even if the story of its creation doesn’t wow you, it’s hard not to be impressed when you see Coral Castle up close. Given the primitive tools that were available at the time it was constructed, even the most skeptical visitors will be a little dazzled.

Edward Leedskalnin died in the winter of 1951, aged 64. He closed the castle with a sign that read, ‘Going to the Hospital,’ then took a bus into Miami. He wouldn’t return – first suffering a stroke, before later dying in the hospital from a kidney infection.

Coral Castle stood the test of time, being hit by hurricanes and neglect, so glad we got to see this incredible place.

Ed & Me

We took a day off and went sightseeing ….

We decided we needed a break from volunteering and snorkeling and took a trip to the Lower Keys. We went to Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key and No Name Key. Definitely an easy route all you do is get on Overseas Highway” (Highway That Goes to Sea), which is where Pennekamp is, and go South.

It’s really great to be driving on Route 1 again, having the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf on the other and sometimes like above, there isn’t any keys in between. It’s one of the longest bridges in the world, approximately 130 miles with 42 bridges. I can’t imagine all the hard work and ingenuity it took to build it.

And there is also, the original Seven Mile Bridge, now called the Old Seven Mile Bridge (or “Old Seven”), that runs parallel to the modern structure. Located at the very west end of the City of Marathon is the Seven Mile Bridge.  It’s a famous bridge in the Florida Keys and connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys and is among the longest bridges in existence when it was built.  Of the many bridges that connect the FL Keys, the Seven mile bridge is the longest.

The Old Seven was built in early 1900 as part of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West Extension, also known as the Overseas Railroad.  In the early 1980’s this old bridge was no longer used for vehicular traffic when the new bridge was constructed.

Today the Old Seven Mile Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it was once named the 8th Wonder of the World. For now It’s a fishing pier, jogging and walking route and It’s famous for having appeared in a lot of movies like Licence to Kill, True Lies, The Haunted Mansion, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Mission Impossible III, I Am Number Four and Leverage, Key Largo, Up Close & Personal, The Triangle, CrissCross to and others.

But what makes The Old Seven Mile Bridge even more famous is Fred, Fred is the Tree you see above. He’s growing out of a roadbed on the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge. Fred is a non-native species, a salt-sprayed Casuarina, or an Australian pine tree. According to a 2013 story in the “Keys Weekly.” Fred sprouted from droppings of a passing bird or an osprey. Fred serves as a symbol to all the residents of The Keys because he has strong roots and wouldn’t let Hurricane Irma blow him away on October 10, 2017. And despite the lack of good soil, Fred has grown tall and green and is a symbol of strength for all who see him. The unexpectedly sturdy tree symbolizes the strength of The Keys.

Our 1st stop . . .

Bahia Honda Key’s has a deep natural bay that has been a harbor for passing sailors from a very long time ago. The island’s name, is Spanish for “deep bay,” it began showing up on Spanish nautical charts hundreds of years ago. The park was signed over to Monroe County sometime between 1953 and 1957, and in 1961 Monroe County gave the Florida Park Service control of the park on Bahia Honda. Most most of the island was still owned by Monroe County and private landowners, and in 1963 the county deeded an additional 63 acres to the Florida Park Service. On March 17, 1984, a private landowner sold their property at the east end of Bahia Honda to the state, bringing the entire island of Bahia Honda under the responsibility of the Florida Park Service. Dave & I have driven by the park before but we were glad we stopped in for a look, it is a very nice park with 3 beaches for swimming, plus camping, cabins, snorkeling, boating, fishing, biking and it is know for it’s beautiful sunsets.

“Your only worry should be if the tide is going to reach the chair.” – Zac Brown

Located on the west end of Bahia Honda Key, is another bridge that was originally built between 1905 and 1912 by Henry Flagler as part of the Overseas Railroad. It was intended to carry a single track of the Florida East Coast Railway across the Big Spanish Channel from Bahia Honda Key to Spanish Harbor Key. But the bridge was damaged during the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and rather than rebuilding the bridge, the existing foundations were repaired and were converted to become part of the Overseas Highway in 1938 by adding the deck on top of the existing truss. The bridge served as the primary route of transport to the lower keys and as the main evacuation route. In 1980, a new four-lane bridge was constructed just a few hundred yards north of the old bridge, replacing the old route of U.S.  The old bridge is now in the National Register of Historic Places. The easternmost section of the bridge is open to pedestrian traffic and you can see a scenic view of the area from the bridge.

They took an old railroad bridge and decided to put a road on top of it? I did work for many years though, you can see from the picture below the lanes were a bit smaller than usual. Definitely had to be careful when passing another car and definitely no passing on the right lane.

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Our next stop was Big Pine Key where the Key Deer live. They are native to the Florida and are found no other place in the world except for Big Pine Key. The deer are a sub-species of the North American white-tailed deer and are the smallest deer on the continent. Adults are similar in size to a large dog, ranging in weight from 65-90 pounds and the fawns are about the size of a small house cat.

We visited Blue Hole where key deer, alligators and fish gather at the watering hole, formerly a limestone quarry, where fresh water is layered over salt water.

Right next to Big Pine Key is ……

Yes, there is an island called No Name Key. No Name is a relatively small island of approximately 1,140 acres and about one mile wide and two miles long and irregularly shaped.

We read about a great place to eat Called No Name Pub on No Name Key.

The history of the No Name Pub goes back to 1931 when it was  a general store, bait and tackle shop. In 1936 the owners added a small room on to the main structure which became a restaurant and a pub.

In the 1940’s tourists and locals alike began to discover this quirky out of the way place. The ladies would do their shopping in the general store as the men would browse the bait and tackle shop and have a beer and sandwich in the eatery.

By the mid 1950s, the general store and bait and tackle shop closed and the Pub became 100% bar and restaurant. No Name was added to the Pub name and it became the No Name Pub … and quickly became a Keys hangout.

The atmosphere of beer drinking, shooting pool and food became known from Miami to Key West. Crowds often grew so large that the interior would get so full of smoke and crowded, that customers would spill out into the backyard where dice, crap and card games would eventually break out. The old timers say the place never got raided because the Sheriff ran the dice games.

The 1970’s and 80’s became a rowdy time for the pub  Jimmy Buffett’s “Why don’t we get drunk and screw” played on the juke box while people would drink, eat and dance to excess in the Pub. There was a lot of illegal money passing through the Keys back then and everyone loved to spend it. They had so much money in fact they started signing the dollar bills hanging it on wall.  And this is how it looks today.

Every inch of the Pub is covered in money. Money hanging from the ceiling and walls. It definitely wouldn’t pass the NY building codes and laws. It was a great place and they had great food!

It was a great day out and about The Florida Keys!

KEY LARGO LIFE

We have been here in Key Largo now for a month or so. Pretty settled in . Our work days are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Melissa is working in the visitor center, greeting people who come in there to see the aquarium. I am now at the Gate. Because of my good looks and charming personality, they decided to put me there, Haha, if you believe that one. I greet people who are coming in for the day and take there money, basicly that’s what I do. I like it, I meet all kinds of people, most very friendly, a few not so much. I feel sorry for them, they are in the keys, and coming in the park is one of the cheapest things you can do for the day around here. Oh well, I’m happy. Cooper is doing very well when we see him, he has been spending a lot of time with his friends at the Pet Motel lately. On a side note a twelve foot Phyton was caught the other day on a road in the park. It is a female , it will be released back into the wild with a tracker on it. Then tracked to see if it attracts any males. If so they will be caught and killed.

Ranger Drew and Ranger Sierra with the snake

The weather was hot when we got here, now it has cooled off to the high 70’s or so. Some rain is in the forecast. We have been to the beach several times and have gone swimming. Melissa took a snorkeling lesson from one of the volunteers named Jinny, last week, she spent an hour with her, and she did very well. Now I can’t keep her out of the water. With the new type of masks, it is very easy to learn how to do it. Over the week end we both snorkeled out to the buoy, where there are old 1735 shipwreck cannon and an anchor on the bottom, she loved it. It was about 100 yards or so off shore. She did very well ,and I am very proud of her.

Me coming in from the buoy

Update on the couple of issues we have had on the rig.

TOILET, We have a new one, as the stopper valve on the old toilet broke I just went out and bought a brand new one. Took me five minutes to put it in, no more soft ball for the stopper.

Old Toilet
Our new toilet, WHOO HOO. The small things in life make you happy

HOT WATER TANK. We now have some hot water. After spending hours in the bay looking for a break in the wires.

The bay and a tangle of wires.

And buying a new control box for the hot water tank, (which was not the problem)

I had Chad come over. He is our next door volunteer, and he had a volt meter. We spent over an hour going through everything and finally found the short. Inside the panel switch box, where there is a whole lot of wires, we found that two small wires coming from the small circuit board going to the lights that lite up when you turn on the hot water tank, were the issue. We disconnected those, and turned on the propane, and it fired up. However when you turn on the electric for the tank the propane also lights. That should not do that, it should only run on electric. So for now I am leaving it that way and just using propane. I will get to it soon when I have more time, but at least we have hot water.

Look at all the damn wires, Yikes.

For now that is about it. This week we are going to take a few day trips down to the lower keys to visit some sites.