Tuesday 22nd February                                                                                                                                                         37 miles
It was a mild night and a misty morning. Drove a few miles to Rainbow Springs State Park – lovely visit, after coffee and donut sitting on kerb – now partly sunny. Lots of trees, lush vegetation, magnolias, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons. Several waterfalls, springs, river (even swimming hole, but didn’t have things – weather now warm). Much birdsong. Had been made as ‘resort’ in 30s, now had a ‘Paronella Park’ feel – not too smart, but very enjoyable.
Left midday via Crystal River to Homosassa Springs State Park. Amazing number of cars, but not too busy inside. Another nice visit. Took ‘tram’ (vehicle pulling trailer), as long wait for boat to main park area.
Park was like a wildlife park, with the addition of manatees. Apparently orphaned or rescued animals.
Manatees could be seen close up, and also from underwater viewing chamber. Lovely to see them eating lettuces at feeding time. Also lots of fish. Nice walk around grounds – pleasant temperature. Among animals were a hippo (lived here from the 60s), black bear, bobcat, alligators, reptiles, lots of birds, including beautiful flamingos and endangered whooping swan.
Wednesday 23rd February                                                                                                                                                      128 miles
It was still misty in the morning. We drove off to have breakfast by Yulee Sugar Mill, which was further away than we thought. This is a free State Park, but is just a small area with the mill ruins and a few explanatory signs, and a picnic area opposite, beside a busy road. We took our breakfast outside to some picnic tables, but it turned into a joke, as a school bus pulled in, and the woman driver got out, drink and fag in hand, and proceeded to have a long conversation on her mobile phone about buying a garbage trailer! She then rang her husband to tell him about it! We returned to the Bam to finish our cup of tea. After a quick look at the ruins, we drove on further, thinking that the road must go somewhere, as there was so much traffic. After a few miles, we came to a boat dock (what else?), so took what looked like the main road. All roads to the side of it said ‘Dead end’ or ‘no outlet’, but only after several more miles did our road suddenly say ‘Dead end’! We checked with the computer, but realised that we would have to return the way we had come!
We now made headway south, through the urban sprawl of constant ‘towns’, turning off to Tarpon Springs. This town is very different, as it made its name as a sponge diving port, started by a Greek immigrant, and is still very much a Greek town, with a Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Sponge diver statue  Tarpon Springs
It is now a little tourist town, teeming with tourist shops, selling any type of sponge you could possibly want, but still attractive. We went into a free and rather rundown museum about the sponge fishing industry and then enjoyed a Greek pastry (baklava and kataifi) with tea/coffee in one of the many mouthwatering looking cafes. The sun had come out, and it was a really pleasant visit.
We continued south on the ‘ALT 19’ to the long sand spit called Sand Key. The sun had gone in again, and it remained misty for much of the afternoon. There was non-stop holiday accommodation as we drove through one ‘resort’ after another. At Indian Rocks, we had our lunch sitting on a seat by the beach.
I had a quick look at Madeira Beach, and we both briefly walked on to St. Petersburg Beach. It was all pleasant enough, but rather monotonous with its non-stop buildings lining it. We thought that we would find coming to stay here for a holiday rather boring.
We now took the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (another long bridge) southwards, stopping at a Rest Area on it to sit by the water with a cup of tea – it was now sunny.
As we drove on, we passed an Albertsons store in Bradenton - we hadn’t seen one since Fort Worth. Of course our quick shop took longer than anticipated, so we now headed inland towards a campsite. This was further than we had thought, and was slow going, so when we passed a Walmart, we pulled in to see if we could stop there.
Thursday 24th February                                                                                                                                 55 miles
We drove back towards Bradenton and on to the De Soto National Memorial, which is in a lovely situation at the mouth of the Manatee River.  We followed a delightful walking trail around by the seashore, amongst the mangroves.
Gumbo Limbo trees at De Soto landing site
De Soto had landed here in 1539, and had led an expedition northwards into America, hoping to find gold, but after 4 years, 4000 miles and the loss of his life, the expedition found none. Rangers at the present site dress in period costume, and enact scenes from the time, amidst a 16th century setting. Altogether a nice visit, and a bit more history to take in.
We drove on a bit, crossing to the sand spit of Anna Maria Island. We had to wait while a sailing boat went through, and the drawbridge had to open, holding up dozens of cars.
We drove south down this lovely low-key island, stopping to walk onto the nice sandy beach at Cortez beach. It was all totally unspoilt, and at Coquina beach, a bit further south, there was a lot of space for parking. The next key we drove down, Longboat Key, consisted of all private housing and hotels, so wasn’t very enjoyable to drive through.
We crossed to the mainland to Sarasota, and were able to park at the front by the marina. We walked through a part of the town to the wonderful Marie Selby Gardens.
Datura and bamboo in the Marie Selby Gardens
Here we spent a really superb time. The gardens are edged by the sea, and are beautifully laid out with trees, epiphytes, bamboos and a most wonderful orchid house. As a real bonus, there was a special exhibition in the ‘mansion’ of paintings by English artist/explorer Margaret Mee. The exhibition was on tour from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and made us feel proud to be British! To see her exquisite illustrations of orchids like those we had just been looking at was uncanny. She appeared as a delightful and eccentric lady – we were able to see a bit of film of an interview with her, aged 79, just before she was killed in a car accident in 1988.
It was after we had walked back to the Bam, to have a cup of tea that things started going wrong. I had wanted to phone Nicky to wish her a happy birthday, but we hadn’t seen a phone box, and our phone wouldn’t work. We left the town and headed south, intending to stay at a state campsite. As usual, we had to drive through the non-stop urban sprawl, at ‘rush hour’, but when we eventually reached the campsite, we were told that it was full. When we asked the ranger for any other suggestions, with the same ‘sympathy’ as the man at Lawn Hill in Australia, he said that they had other recommendations, but they were all full!
Now what to do! We drove back onto the busy coast road, turning off at Nokomis, hoping for any ideas – difficult in an area of ‘nice’ estates – but we did come to a little park, Laurel Park – the sort of place which would welcome RVs in northern states – at 6 o’clock.
We pulled in, and Adrian put on the water heater, as we knew that we both had to wash our hair. Then things got really bad! Worrying now about tomorrow night (with my imminent birthday), I suggested that we try to book a state park campsite a bit further south. It was then that Adrian found out (after numerous tries at phoning) that we have no money left on our phone, which we haven’t used, so we don’t know why!
As this was happening, we heard a bang, and Adrian looked outside to see what it might be. A chap, who was parked by us, and was just leaving the park with his child started shouting abuse at Adrian‘What the f*** are you staring at?’ Flabbergasted, Adrian came back in, and I turned on the water for a shower. Adrian had gone back outside to see if there was a phone anywhere, when he saw water pouring from the van. At the same time, I was wondering why no water was coming out of the tap. What had happened was that a pipe had come off, and water was pouring out of the tank, soaking the floor, and wasting our precious water!
With the aid of a torch and a screwdriver, the pipe was mended, and we both settled down to wash our hair – the shower would have to wait, and so would the phoning!
Friday 25th February                                                                                                                                                             122 miles
I got up early and we left at 7.30 to breakfast elsewhere. Workman had arrived with two JCBs to dig up the road – luckily we could still get out of the park!
We stopped at a nearby shopping mall, and Adrian spent ages trying to phone up to try to book a place in a state park for tonight and tomorrow. When he finally succeeded in getting through, he found that both parks he tried were booked up completely for tomorrow, and you can’t book on the day anyway. We had breakfast while we re-thought our plans, and as there was a laundrette here, we put in the duvet covers for a wash, and also shopped in ‘Publix’, which seemed a very pleasant supermarket.
We headed off south on the motorway. Adrian had finally got our phone working, and I was pleased to receive an email on it from Tom.
We continued south, still wondering what to do, and turning off at Bonita Springs to try the state campsite here. This was fully booked. We wasted a lot of time looking out a couple of other sites – the second offered us its last pitch for $37! We had thought of staying in this area as there was a special ‘swamp park’ I wanted to visit. The day however had become rather wet and unpleasant, although still warm. We pulled off to have lunch beside the road, before struggling back at a snail’s pace through all the traffic to the motorway. We had decided to continue towards the ‘Big Cypress’ area, where we understood there to be free camping. Our route took us past Collier Seminole State Park, the other park we had tried to book this morning. We pulled in there at 3 o’clock, really because we needed water if we were to free camp. We were really surprised when the lady asked us if we would like to book in! We could even book for 2 nights if we wanted to (and it cost less than we thought)!
We decided on just one, and by 3.30 we were settled in, and while I went for a shower, Adrian filled the Bam with happy birthday balloons and a banner. We had everything now, except sunshine!
Not to be put off, Adrian pulled out the awning and got the fire going. Despite the rain, we sat out under it, eating our meal of corn on the cob, followed by pork and baked potatoes, coming in at 9 o’clockto play cards.
Saturday 26th February                                                    My 62nd birthday. Happy birthday Nicky.                                                      41 miles
It was damp outside, so we ate our breakfast of strawberries and melon inside, and I set about opening my cards and presents. I had lovely gifts from Adrian, Emma and Stu, Paul and Nicky, Tom, R&L and Val & Mike. By the time we’d enjoyed that, it was time for coffee and birthday cake! A hawk watched us from a tree outside.
Swamp at Fakahatchee
After a few miles of driving, we stopped at Fakahatchee  - the first treat of the day.  A sign said ‘boardwalk 865 feet’ – very precise!  The walk was a delight, like walking through rainforest. We saw various herons and alligators, but the prize was a pileated woodpecker – an enormous red headed bird, which hammered at the tree like a man chopping wood.
We had hoped to go on a swamp tour today, and arrived at one of the many tour places at 12.35, just as an airboat was about to leave. Airboats are small aluminium boats with a huge propeller on the back, which drives and steers the boat in shallow water or across land!
On the airboat
As we wanted to do 2 more connected tours here, we grabbed a few things and off we went. The other people on the boat were a very large couple and their 2 small boys – Tyler and Logan. This wasn’t a wildlife tour, just great fun, speeding through the muddy channels, although I had wondered at first if I would cope! Our ‘captain’, a local man, pointed out the 3 different mangroves – white (the only one to burn well), black (which has thin pencil-like aerial roots) and red (which makes the water a red/brown colour).
Back at the Bam, we enjoyed a feta and strawberry salad, while we waited for our next trip at 2 o’clock. A few minutes before 2.00, we realised that we had to drive somewhere else for this – several miles away! We dashed there, but of course we had literally ‘missed the boat’! All was well though – we were rebooked onto the safari for 2.30, and the boat trip for 4.00
We had had the best thing first, as the ‘safari’ – in an open green old school bus – was led by an uninspired woman called Tracy. We did see lots of alligators, turtles and wild pigs – which came running to the bus, as she threw them corn to eat. We also saw fish, a racoon and a red shouldered hawk as we were driven along beside a narrow river.
The boat trip, on the Barron River, was pleasant but unexciting. It felt a bit like a ride on the Thames. Houses lined the banks for most of the way, so it wasn’t the wild trip we had hoped for. We enjoyed the pelicans as always, particularly when they landed on the roof of the boat.
Pelican hitching a ride
We also saw an osprey on its nest, and were given a baby alligator to hold. As on the air boat, we were shown a blue crab, caught in a ‘crab pot’ deep in the water.
We decided to head off into the Big Cypress reservation, where we knew that there were camping places. Not being sure where these were, when we came to a campsite (costing $15) we pulled in. It had rather an ‘alternative’ feel, but we settled in, and opened a bottle of bubbly, which we enjoyed sitting outside.
Adrian cooked an excellent prawn and rice dish for supper, and while eating this, and listening to some of the new CDs he had bought me, we were aware of a large campfire, and several people gathering. Being inquisitive, we walked over, and spent a lovely evening chatting to some of the many people. It turned out that normally a band comes to play, but because of illness they hadn’t come. There was some recorded music playing. Adrian fetched our chairs, and we joined in the fun – a great finish to a lovely birthday.
Sunday 27th February                                                                                                                          61 miles
We were slow coming to this morning, and had to catch up with the diary, and looking at the photos.
Drove off through ‘Big Cypress’ – made us think of the Nullabor!
Stopped at Visitors Centre. Phoning time – rang R&L and also spoke to Sara, who was there. Also phoned Emma, and spoke to her and the children, and used our phone to ring Tom. Lots of birthday thank yous. Had coffee and set off again and Simon phoned! We had tried phoning Chris Cook, who is in Miami until tomorrow – later she phoned us, and after a second phone call (from Iain), we arranged to meet up for lunch tomorrow, just before they fly back to England.
Looked in at free camping area a bit further on, then drove back, and into Everglades National Park, stopping at Shark Valley Visitors Centre at 2.45. Now very windy.
Took ‘tram’ trip 3 o’clock – 2 hours into everglades with driver Robyn and her husband as guide. Much more inspired than Tracy yesterday! They were from New York State, and had come down here last year and loved it, so had come down this year to act as guides.
Saw loads of alligators on trip, and also earlier one was on road, and got up on all fours to run off. Also saw loads of birds, including wood storks and purple gallinules and many herons. Climbed tower at end of track, and could see everglades stretching for miles. Lots of alligators here, also large turtle.
Back at the Bam, Adrian phoned and was able to book next 2 nights in Everglades campsite at Long Pine Key. Drove back to Pinecrest campsite arriving at 6.20.
Monday 28th February                                                        Happy birthday Mike B and Kath                                                 67 miles
Left 8.30 and drove back to Shark Valley, seeing lots of wildlife on the way. Hired bikes for 1 hour, and had lovely cycle – lots of birds and alligators, and very few people about.
                          Young anhingas
Stopped to walk Otter Cave Trail - lots of sink holes in the limestone. Later walked Bobcat Boardwalk and saw long thin snake on handrail!
Drove on to Miccosukee Indian casino to meet up with Chris Cook and Iain. Tried to phone to get booking for Key West – hopefully succeeded later.
Lovely lunch with Chris and Iain before they flew back to UK after short trip here. Good buffet selection ($10 each)
With Chris and Iain
Set off south, through market gardening country, with many stalls beside road. At Homestead (nice old town) finally got internet connection and was able to receive my emails.
Headed into Everglades National Park and Long Pine Key campsite. Hopefully changed tomorrow night’s booking to next day, so we can go to Key West.
Tuesday 1st March                                                                                                                                                                        192 miles
After a cold night we awoke at 7 o’clock to see the sun rising onto a beautiful day, but it was cool at first. We left at 8.30, driving back past all the market gardens, with their watering, done from trucks. At one point this went right over the road, totally blinding us for a second. In another field, hundreds of people were picking courgettes.
We set off on our way towards Key West, coming first to Key Largo. We stopped to have a look at the ‘African Queen’, the 1912 boat used in the wonderful film of that name, starring Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn. The boat looked so small and insignificant.
The actual African Queen
We continued on the long ‘drag’ – 126 miles linking dozens of keys by bridges, all the way to Key West. We stopped at Anne’s Beach for coffee. A strange woman talked incessantly to Adrian as he got out of the van – he thought that she must be on drugs. We moved along the beach a bit to have our tea/coffee! We then had a paddle in the lovely turquoise water – the sun now felt hot.
We continued to Bahia Honda State Park, which we had booked in to. We were just in time for lunch, so after sorting out our pitch – someone was in it when we arrived, waiting to move on to another pitch – we sat outside at our picnic table.
We walked down to the beach and had a paddle, before heading off down towards Key West.
We continued to Key West, where we made our way to the most southern point on ‘mainland USA’. We did our tourist bit, and took a photo, then drove on through the busy streets towards Mallory Square, which is the place to celebrate sunset.
We knew that parking was difficult, but ended up at a parking area at $2 an hour. We headed for the bright lights, coming to a pier with good sunset views, and a lot of people enjoying themselves. We knew that this wasn’t Mallory Square, so set off to find it. We did find it, but as 2 cruise ships were in, there was no way that you could see the sunset from here - the huge ships completely blocked out the sun. We returned to the pier, where an enthusiastic band was playing, and we watched as the sun went down on a glorious day.
Sunset at Key West – looking like a dragon!
Then it was a dash back to the car park, which we made just in the nick of time at 6.45. From there it was the dreary night time drive back to the campsite, under a clear, starry sky. We got settled in – now 7.45.
Wednesday 2nd March                                                                 500 nights in the Bam!                                                                  109 miles
     It was noisy in the night with traffic going by, and over the bridge. The morning was bright but breezy.
Bahia Honda  Florida Keys
We set off to walk around some of the park, ending up with a short swim in the beautiful but cool turquoise sea. Afterwards we chatted to a nice lady from Michigan, who had been to England, and loved Boscastle and Tintagel (which she pronounced very strangely).
We drove round to another lovely part of the park – Sandspur Beach, where we had lunch at a shaded picnic table. After a short paddle, we walked the pleasant Silver Palm Nature Trail. We found out that buttonwood (the name of the camping area we were staying at), is a tree much like the white mangrove, and that the attractive tree with large roundish leaves with a reddish tinge is called the sea grape (because of it’s grape-like fruit).
We left our idyll at 2.30, to drive back up the Florida Keys. We stopped briefly by Pigeon Key, where you could walk for several miles on the old road bridge to visit the tiny islet, for only $8.50!
As we reached Long Key, we stopped again, and enjoyed a cup of tea in our isolation, sitting at the water’s edge. We got some more fuel at milestone 100, where we had noticed on the way down that it was cheapest. After that, we made for Long Pine Key campsite, where we had stayed 2 days ago, arriving at 6 ‘clock. Adrian got the fire going, and we had a lovely fire for our 500th night in the Bam. We cooked pork, potatoes, squash and mushrooms, and enjoyed sitting out in the quiet.
Thursday 3rd March                                                                                                                                                                           80 miles
It was a cold night and we were awake early to a dull day. We left at 9.15 to drive down to Flamingo. We stopped first at Pineland Trail, which was lovely and quiet – no other people at all - but it was very cold. We could hear and see a lot of woodpeckers.
The ‘River of Grass’
Our next stop was Pa-hay-okee lookout, where we could look out over the grassy everglades. There was a waterhole just before, with lots of birds – ibis, wood stork and egrets. We received a message on the phone from Simon, to say that he and Laure had bought a house yesterday.
We did another walk at Mahogany Hammock, but the over riding thing was the mosquitoes. Hammock is the name given here to a slightly elevated piece of ground.
Even slight changes in elevation affect the vegetation
At Paurotis Pond there were alligators lying in the water, looking just like logs. Across the pond were egrets and spoonbills, and swallows swooped over the water.
We stopped for lunch at Nine Mile Pond. Afterwards we walked to the edge of the pond and saw more alligators and birds, including white pelicans.
We came to the ‘end of the road’ at Flamingo. Here there was a campsite and Visitors Centre and former fishing village. We walked first around Eco pond – an artificial lake where we saw more of the tree swallows and many more birds. We walked on to the sea edge, which looked beautifully evocative with shades of pink, although it was only 2.30. Driving round to the Visitors Centre, we stopped to watch and photograph an osprey with a fish in its claws. We had also seen a marsh rabbit.
The Everglades reach the sea
We looked in at the Visitors Centre, and on coming outside had one of those strange coincidences – we met up with John and Marilyn from our Central American trip! It seems even more strange, as we have just been in touch with Jack and Rose from that trip, and hope to meet up with them at the weekend. We chatted for some time, but the mosquitoes were being a nuisance, so after moving inside, we went on to their van and enjoyed a cup of tea, and much chat about our shared trip. They had recently returned from a trip to New Zealand and Australia. After reliving many memories, we thought it time to begin our drive back to Long Pine Key.
Luckily we had done most of the stops and walks on the way down. We stopped to watch a red shouldered kite in a tree, and to walk the trek through the mangroves at West Lake, and arrived back at Long Pine Key campsite at 6 o’clock.
Adrian lit the fire – we had enough wood to cook our supper. We came in to eat our delicious meal as the rain began to fall in earnest.
Friday 4th March                                                                                                                                                            87 miles
There was rain in the night, and the morning was grey and cool, but it brightened up a bit later.
We set off, stopping at the Royal Palm area, where we walked the 2 trails – the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. We saw a lot of birds and alligators on the Anhinga trail, including cormorants, anhingas and their young, also young ibis, and a woodstork.
Cormorants all lined up
The bad thing was that it felt really cold. The gumbo limbo trail (a tree with a red, peeling bark – often called the ‘tourist tree’) was more sheltered, but we were glad to come back into the warmth if the Bam for tea/coffee and the last of the Key lime pie.
We stopped off at the Visitors Centre, and consolidated much of our knowledge of the Everglades. Our next stop was at ‘Roberts’ – a wayside fruit and vegetable stall which we had passed several times before. We could buy a lot of unusual locally grown fruit and veg, and also a bunch of antirrhinums. We had seen them growing in the field beside the stall.
We  now set off in the direction of Miami, driving through the attractive area of Coral Gables (where Chris had been staying with friends).  Everywhere was very green, and beautiful old trees lined the road. We passed the lovely looking Fairchild tropical gardens, and later the imposing Viscaya Gardens.
In Miami itself, the traffic was heavy, and it was slow going, but we persevered, and made our way across the long bridge to Miami Beach. This was also very busy, but was mostly a pleasant surprise, as there was a large ‘Art Deco’ area, with low, 30s buildings. It was impossible to park, even on this overcast day, but in the end we found a parking area, so put in 25 cents so that we could have a quick look at the beach.
Miami Beach
It certainly is beautiful white sand, which contrasted with the turquoise sea and dark grey sky. The area by the beach is open and green, but of course the tall hotels are taking over the area behind.
We had a cup of tea before heading out of Miami Beach, and then Miami itself. This was all a bit of a nightmare, as traffic was really heavy on a Friday evening. We took the freeway, thinking that it would be quicker, but it was chocker, and was really slow going. It tried Adrian’s patience in the extreme, but we finally got to Miccosukee Casino  at 6.10.
As we had had such a good meal the other day, we walked across to try the evening meal. This was just as good – same price - $10.75 each, and with a different choice of food tonight – lots of huge prawns and crabs legs, plus all sorts of other things. We decided to go without the wine, as that cost $5 a glass! Otherwise, excellent. The restaurant, and the casino, were both packed. We walked around afterwards, marvelling at the amount of people who wish to spend their life this way. We spied a swimming pool through the windows – obviously for hotel guests only – what a shame, as there was no-one using it.
Saturday 5th March                                                                                                                                                                             157 miles
We woke to a clear blue sky, but a refrigerated truck had been running all night! At 9.30 we left to drive back along the Tamiami Trail, beside the canal. We saw lots of alligators, and birds. The anhingas and cormorants were spreading their wings in the sun today. We continued into the Big Cypress reservation, stopping at the Big Cypress Gallery. This was a delight to visit, with black and white photos by the renowned photographer Clyde Butcher. There were also coloured photos by Jeff Ripple, and paintings by Natalie Salminen , who was the person we met when we walked in. We loved all the photos and paintings, but all were exorbitantly expensive - we bought a few cards. Out the back was a delightful trail through the woods, with Bizzie Lizzies making colour on the ground.
We had coffee by the pond outside – as lovely as anywhere we have visited in this area. It felt just as if spring had sprung, as the leaves were just coming out on the cypress, there were epiphytes everywhere, and the weather was wonderful.
We drove on to Kirby Storter Picnic Area, where there was a long boardwalk to a pond with an alligator and its babies, turtles and herons. On the return walk, we watched a raccoon for ages, until it finally got its prey of a small lizard.
A bit further on was HP Williams Picnic Area, where we had lunch at a picnic table, watching a little warbler. On the boardwalk nearby we saw more alligators swimming.
Now we travelled north, between the Big Cypress and Fakahatchee Preserve to Corkscrew Swamp. This was the site I had wanted to visit last week. It certainly was a delight. It is run by the Audubon Society, and was started in the fifties to preserve the bald cypress, which was being logged to extinction.
We loved our two and a half hour walk through a variety of different habitats. It helped that the weather was perfect, and there were no mosquitoes. We saw a lot of birds – a barred owl (which we were able to see through a scope), and later we heard it call. We also saw a pileated woodpecker (again), a swallowtail kite, a Carolina wren and a whole variety of herons. Adrian agreed with Lonely Planet, that it was the loveliest place in the state (so far).
An ancient bald cypress tree
The walk was on a boardwalk, over 2 miles long, and we were about the last to leave the park at 5.30 (when the gates were locked!)
Now came the difficult bit – we set off on the long trail to Lehigh Acres, where we had hoped to stay in a Walmart carpark. At Immokalee there was a fair, so our road was blocked off, with nothing to tell you where to go! Adrian found the way, but when we finally reached Walmart at dusk, there was a sign to say no overnight parking. We drove back a bit, and as darkness fell, we pulled on to a rough road where we hoped that nobody would disturb us.
Sunday 6th March                                                                                    Mothers Day                                                                           35 miles
I opened my Mothers Day card from Emma, and we left at 9.15.
Drove back to Walmart, got photos printed then drove on into Fort Myers to the Edison and Ford winter homes.
Good visit here (after quick lunch, sitting outside at picnic table under gigantic banyan tree). Lovely situation beside Caloosahatchee River. Two homes owned by Thomas Edison (under renovation) and neighbouring one by Henry Ford both used as their winter homes. The two men were also friendly with Harvey Firestone (tyres) and John Burroughs (naturalist). Lovely grounds with wonderful trees. Also saw Edison’s laboratory, and a museum with some of his many inventions – he had 1093 patents taken out during his lifetime. Quite a man!
Edison’s Laboratory
We now made our way to Cape Coral, and arrived at the place which Jack and Rose are renting, just before they arrived, with Jack’s brother Joseph.
Spent the rest of the afternoon/evening with them – sitting outside at first, then coming inside to eat a pizza meal with them, and much chat. Came out to Bam to sleep 11.30.
Monday 7th March                                                                        Travelled in Jacks & Rose’s Motorhome
We had left the phone on, and an email from Jon came through at 5.30!
After breakfast and a swim in the lovely pool, we left late morning in Jack and Rose’s vehicle with them and Joseph. We set off for Sanibel and Captiva islands, joined to the mainland by a long toll bridge.
We had a lovely day. We drove through the ‘Ding’ Darling wildlife refuge, stopping often to view the wildlife. There were a lot of birds, particularly early on, and we saw the one crocodile which was around in this area. It was lying at the edge of the water, and we wouldn’t have recognised it as not being an alligator, as its snout was partly submerged, but we could see its different teeth setting.
Us with Jack, Rose and Joseph
Rose drove on and across to Captiva  Island which is joined by a bridge at a narrow inlet. We were aware all the time of the damage done by hurricane Charlie, last August. After driving as far up the island as we could, we returned to Gulf Side Beach on Sanibel. These islands are known for the shells on their beaches. There certainly were a lot, but perhaps of more interest to us on this beach were the vast number of gulls, terns and black skimmers. We had a pleasant wander along the beach, then came the long crawl off the island. As there is only one way off, and there had been a vast number of cars, there were of course hold ups. We turned town one small road after another, driving right along to the lighthouse, and avoided a good deal of the queues.
We returned to Cape Coral, and Jack cooked excellent steak on the barbecue, on the terrace at the back of the house, beside the canal. It was too cool to sit out, but we sat around chatting, coming out to the Bam at about 11.30.
Tuesday 8th March                                                                                                                                                                        53 miles
It rained in the night and in the morning, but I still had a swim before breakfast. Rose had cooked egg and mushroom on toast, and we all sat chatting and putting to world to rights, and we didn’t leave until 11.30. We had really enjoyed meeting up with Jack and Rose again, and meeting Joseph.
After getting stuck in slow moving traffic, it was now time for lunch – we pulled into a large parking area called Edison Square, near the Edison home. We now headed out east on the 80, and reached Ortona Dam campsite at 3.15. There were only 2 pitches left – ours had a view down over the Caloosahatchee River. It was now sunny and warm, but breezy.
   Mahogany hammock 
An osprey with its catch  
Egret, young ibis and endangered woodstork

Dunnellon to Ortona Dam, Florida

A Manatee