Thursday, January 3, 2013

The hitchhiker returns.

My thoughts were on Larry the Hitchhiker as the holidays approached.  He would be spending Christmas alone in a tent. I asked my folks if he could join our family dinner and they agreed it would be a nice thing to do. He accepted my offer but refused to let me pick him up; he is currently residing in Naples, just over 100 miles south. So, he thumbed his way back north and made it here by Christmas eve. He fit in like he was part of the family and enjoyed being fed till he burst. My step-mom said to me at one point, "this is what the spirit of Christmas is supposed to be about, giving to someone who doesn't have anything." I couldn't agree more. We all woke Christmas morning, gave each other no gifts at all and shared a wonderful breakfast complete with orange juice made from the tangerines picked off the tree out back. I have been trying for years for to get my family to do away with giving gifts, except for the kids. Was it weird waking up to no gifts? No, I think just made us focus on each other instead. For the first time in years we had a big traditional Danish Christmas dinner and invited three couples from the community to join us. The meal was wonderful and everyone enjoyed taking part in our tradition.

I pitched the idea of going down to the Everglades for New Years to Larry and he was more than up for it. He is experienced when it comes to camping and reptiles and I couldn't think of a better person to explore that area with. We left on the 27th and headed down the east coast, camping the first night near the Coast of the Atlantic ocean. In the morning we swam in 72 degree ocean water. Quite a difference from the Atlantic waters off the coast of Nova Scotia! We were the only ones in the water and obviously tourists since it's too cold at that temperature for the locals.

It took us two days to reach highway 41 which cuts from east to west with the Everglades to south and the Cypress National Preserve to the north. It's getting dark quickly so we pull over at the first camping sign we see in Gatorland. The female park ranger informs us we need to be in a self-contained unit with a bathroom to camp there. Now, I am a firm believer if you continue talking and maintain a friendly demeanor people are more likely to help you. I know when I was in retail I would go above and beyond to help someone if they were nice to me and only do the bare minimum for a person who wasn't. So, I began to explain to her that my van is equipped with a bathroom and we only need one nights accommodation. She brought out her husband to talk it over with us and said it would be $32. Well, both Larry and I expressed with a sigh how expensive that is for us and as we got into some small talk with them they seemed to have a change of heart.  They told us down the road is some free camping and if there's no spots available they would let us camp there for $10. It's not the first or last time we are somehow able to talk our way into getting a spot.

Favorite sign on the way south.

Camping at monument lake.

The real adventure begins the following day when we head to the most remote free camping site on the map. To keep this post from getting too long I'll continue the story in the next post where I'll tell you about Larry picking up snakes from the road and how we got lost in the Everglades and had to be brought back to our campsite by highway patrol.......

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