Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Notes from a Tin Can Tourist

After many years of endless condo building and strip mall proliferation, there is a movement afoot to protect and even display, the real Florida. I know firsthand that it can be enjoyed from the waterways, but previous land bound visits had left me soured on finding places apart from mansions, malls, and multi-lane highways. It seemed that there was no escape from Flager's heritage. Could this one man have doomed the entire state to an entirely coral pink future?

However, a short but luckily victorious bout with cancer left us with an overwhelming desire to relax in the sun. The grey cold of a bitter Canadian winter was too much too bear; we packed our recently acquired motor home in frigid temperatures and fled South.

Arriving in Florida found us with plenty of sunshine although a bitter wind was blowing. But we could shed our coats and mukluks!

Armed with our Camping in Florida pamphlet, we located and checked into the city run Manatee Cove Park, just outside of Titusville. It is an excellent park, and an inexpensive way to visit DisneyLand (note to self - perfect for a grandchild visit) and to view space launches. For this reason, it is often fully booked. Call ahead.

We wanted to stop at the first lock on Lake Okeechobe, but they were full. With a view of the canal and a resident family of alligators, we knew this to be a peaceful natural site. It is state run and inexpensive for boaters and campers. However, they had been booked months ahead, so that left us with Indiantown Marina and Campground.

Knowing what to expect at a somewhat primitive location was a plus. We had spent a month there on board our trawler. Nothing comes close to being other than basic, but the managers and the people there are friendly. There are many old salts willing to share their sailing adventures with you. As Florida's past is definitely linked to boating, and not just the huge pleasure yachts dotting the waters around Miami, this is a glimpse into that world.

Still in search of the real Florida, we left after a weekend and headed across to the Gulf side. We tracked down Canoe Outpost  (www.canoeoutpost.com). Bingo!

A very small campground, but there was a cement pad for our rig, BBQ, and two sets of tables and chairs. Waving grasses gave us great views from the motor home, a short walk took us to a winding stream, and there were kayaks and canoes to rent. The owner should get an award for the most unusual restroom facilities - full of Florida kitsch and you could literally shower under the stars!

Encouraged by our stay at Canoe Outpost, we hit the road again and headed to Frog Creek, (www.frogcreek.com). They have every amenity, landscaped grounds and many organized activities.
Disappointingly, it was hard to forget you were in a campground because there were no opportunities to walk or bike anywhere.

Our following week was spent in the Happy Traveller Park which had cheaper fees and was set among many live oaks. Less rule bound than the previous spot, it was not as pristine, but had an interesting mix of campers and permanents. It is opposite a gigantic flea market, which is a more lively option than shopping at the mall. A visit to nearby Myakka State Park gave us a nice respite I  lovely natural surroundings. Our favourite part of the day was the view from the seventy foot tower - after we had caught our breath!

Feeling that I had more of a grasp on picturing and finding good campsites, I booked a week stay at Bayshore Cove in Tarpon Springs. Again, bingo!

A brief memory of a visit to the sponge docks some twenty years ago inspired me to think that this area might have it all. It does - a town based on fishing, not just tourists, that sits near the Gulf and has some beautiful homes with lovely bayou views.

The campground was full of snowbirds who stay for five of six months at a time. The few spots serving transients seemed to be mostly occupied, so booking ahead would be safer. Unlike any other spot, we were not given a package of rules and information. For awhile, I didn't even know there was a laundry. No pool, no pet leash laws, and not a lot of space between sites. But everything was in biking and walking distance with wonderful views that made you eager to jump on your bile and do mundane errands at the library or the grocery store. Within a week we were much healthier and fit.

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