Sunday, March 26, 2017

Days 182-184 - Brevard, NC

We headed out of Charlotte, NC and into the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains.  Out of the flatland and into the hills and deep hardwood forests, our spirit began to lift.  We are NOT FLAT-LANDERS.  We wound through country roads and small towns reaching Brevard in the early afternoon.  This quiet town of 8,000 folks is 40 miles south of Asheville and home to dear old friends from Bobbie's college days.  For the next three days we visited with our friends, hiked to various waterfalls, and took a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 181 - North to Charlotte, NC with a stop in Charleston, SC

With our road legs back in shape we planned our the next week of travel with a per-planned destination of Chancellorsville, VA by March 23rd.  We drove two hours north to Charleston, SC and parked in a lot outside of downtown.  We unhooked the car and drove into the historic part of the city.  From there we took to foot and walked several miles wandering through the historic homes dating back to 1730, the battery and waterfront, and enjoyed lunch at a local tap house.

After lunch we hooked up the car and drove another four hours to the NC border, state No. 25 and a KOA campground for the night.

Day 180 - Six Months on the Road and our Escape from Florida!

Today we celebrated six months on the road.  Wow!  22 states, countless national and state parks and monuments, Cuba, and a wintering in the Keys.  With our health issues checked and our vehicle woes resolved we headed north for the George border with a destination of Savannah.

We arrived in Savannah to discover that the RV parks in the area were all fully booked.  We had failed to plan ahead for St. Patrick's Day and Savannah does it in grand style.  We located our usual fallback, a Walmart outside of town, and set up camp.  We unhooked the car and drove into the city only to find most of downtown quartered off for the festivities.  Thinking we would join in for a few hours we desperately looked for parking.  With none to be had and the traffic and crowds overwhelming, we took a few photos and then headed out into the neighborhoods to capture some of those amazing houses.  Back at the RV we shopped for a traditional dinner at the Walmart and enjoyed Corned Beef and Cabbage and some oldies on TV before settling in for the night.

Days 174 - 179 - A Longer Stay than Anticipated

Sunday came and still a bit under the weather and waiting until tomorrow to get the car into the shop, we decided to stroll the flea market.  What a hoot.  Just about everything you can imagine at a flea market revealed itself.  Junk, farm veggies, religious fanatics, auctions of goods and animals, fried food of every sort, and an bevy of really unhealthy looking individuals.  We spent a couple of hours, bought some great produce, and returned to the RV for some R&R and a few scrabble games.  The local TV channels were all playing oldies so we watched The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and lots of MASH.

 Monday morning we hooked up the car and towed it to the GMC/Saturn dealer.  Luckily their was a Walmart across the street and that's where we stayed the whole day while they went over the car with a fine tooth comb.  By the end of the day we had spend another $150 to find a lose wire to the battery a long with a heafty laundery list of "other repairs" that could be dealt with at another time or not at all.  The car running fine and doing what we need it to do, we headed back to camp.

We had been watching the weather now for a couple of days and huge winter storm was heading our way leaving snow and ice and below freezing temperatures in it's path from Canada all the way down to the Florida border.  At that point we decided it was a better idea to stay in St. Augustine until things warmed up further north.  After calling RV parks in Georgia and North Carolina to discove they were all full and folks were hunkered down, we lucked out by being ablt to extend our stay where we were in the overflow area.

On Tuesday feeling a bit better we headed into town with the bikes and decided to explore the city for a few hours.  What a nice surprise to find a historic gem, started ion 1525 and still rolling along.  We visited the Lichtner Museum, the University, both housed in old hotels from the early 1800.  Then we strolled through the tourist shop laden old streets, had lunch overlooking the historic fort and headed back to camp for a quite night.

On Wednesday we decided to drive north to Jacksonville to visit the Naval Hospital on base.  We needed to get a few scripts refilled and check in with a triage nurse about our continuing maladies.  It was a lovely sunny day, still cold, but invigorating.  We discovered a lovely harbor town and beautiful hospital.  Treated with superb service as usual, our health visit was completed quickly and we were given a clean bill of health in moving forward.  We visited downtown for a bit before driving the coastal highway back to St. Augustine for our final night at the RV park.

Day 173 - St. Augustine

We arrived late in the afternoon and checked in at an RV park next to the St. Augustine Flea Market.  It was a basic park with hookups and near the historic center of town.  We spent the afternoon resting.  Our colds brought back from Cuba still in full force.

Days 172 - Coco Beach, Florida

We got as far as Coco Beach when we discovered our tow car was not operational.  We pulled in for the night at a local RV park to sort out our nerves.  Today was the day to visit our good friends Nabob and Tracie.  We drove to the beach, parked the RV in the parking lot of their local church and enjoyed some time visiting.  We had an early lunch at a great diner, visited the VFW they both volunteer/work and took a stroll to the beach were we could see the luanch towers of Cape Canaveral.  Very cool  Then is was back on the road to St. Augustine where we set an appointment to have the car looked at again.  Thankfully the RV generator is working in top form!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 170 - Heading North - Our Push to New England

The time has come to say goodbye to south Florida and our family.  Becky and Leo have been wonderful hosts.  We realized just a few days ago that this is the most time Bobbie has spent with her sister since they were in high school.  We have had some amazing adventures while here...most of them documented on either this block or Facebook.

Our time in Key West was relaxing...maybe a bit too relaxing...since it appears our traveling legs have atrophied.  We well realize again and again that we are not the sit still and get old type.  Resorting is not our travel style and it is time to get back on the road.  However, this all being said, we are both in better shape now that when we arrived in Key West.  All that bicycling, hiking, and swimming has paid off.  I'm down another ten pounds.  Today I jumped on the scale to see 202.5.  I haven't been this skinny in many years and I feel amazing!!!

Blessings in disguise in the form of needed car and RV repairs came during this time period. We have now invested about $1,900 in the van with generator repairs, new tires, parts and interior repairs.  Our tow car now has been worked on three times since being in Florida.  Major engine work, a new tire and battery, and some cosmetic enhancements have reached the $2,000 mark.  Even with this we are averaging less than $3,000 a month in total.  We are talking EVERYTHING.  Gas, maintenance, lodging, food, entertainment, cellular service, sight-seeing, dinners out, entertaining friends, and lots and lots of activities.  This also includes the side-trip to Cuba!  This is huge for us as it confirms that we can continue our soon to start world plan well within our anticipated budget.

I want to send a huge shout-out to the Jacobsen's, a couple I have been following online for over five years now.  They did what we are now attempting.  If it wasn't for their very informative blog, I"m not sure I would have planned our odyssey quite as well as it has unfolded so far.

We head over to pick up our motorhome from the Cummin dealer in the morning.  With the generator repaired, our tow car now in tip-top shape, and our bodies rejuvinated and jazzed up, we are ready to hit the road.  First stop will be in Jupiter, Florida, home of the Cardinal's spring training camp.  There we will take in a couple of games.  Then it is on to Coco Beach to visit some Air Force friends before exploring St. Augustine a bit further north.  We expect to be in Savanah in a week's time.

Our next layover will be with our dear Andrea Woods at her home in Charlottesville, Virginia where we will spend time catching up with former traveling friends, getting another mail drop, and recoerving a bevy of packages that have been arriving and will arrive within the next few weeks.  At that point Andrea will join us for our Washington D.C. adventure.

All of that to come...and WE ARE READY.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Cuba - Parting Thoughts

We loved the Cuban people.  Although most of Cuba looked like very other Caribbean local we have visited, their culture is unique.  The country is racially mixed with whites and blacks treating each other equally and with respect.  We say no lines drawn ANYWHERE and people lived, worked, played, and participated in daily life peacefully and respectfully.  It was refreshing.

Karl Marx has it right in my opinion, at least in theory.  The Communist or Socialist movement was meant to create equality among everyone. Unfortunately those in power take advantage of the system they create and there are always those that suffer.

And suffer they have.  There is object poverty everywhere.  And yet there are smiles on all their faces and the cities and villages we visited were immaculate. Road and highways are a mess, pitted, rutted, and in serious disrepair.  Money for infrastructure is directed at tourist areas and the local neighborhoods need a lot of work to improve the housing conditions.

Schools, clinics, hospitals, daycare facilities, etc. are EVERYWHERE and children could be seen daily in crisp, clean uniforms on their way to classes.  The colleges and universities were huge, well maintained for the most part, and once again all students in uniforms.

Local shops were far and few between and mostly for tourists.  There were few store for locals.  In the smaller villages there were no clothing store, applicance store or merchantiles of any type.  Grocery stores simply don't exist.  Local farm markets were everywhere and the quality of the vegetables and fruit was outstanding.  Meat and poultry in local markets were rare and what we did see what truly quite costly by local standards.

As in any other third world nation (and I use that term only to make a small point) there is a need to get what you can from where you can...and toursits with their flashy clothes, cameras, and demonstrable lifestyle are easy targets for vendors.  If someone local does something nice for you, GIVE THEM SOME MONEY.  They don't need your worn clothing, left over shampoo and toothpaste.

Most importantly, TALK TO PEOPLE.  Get out and meet the real Cuba.  You will be pleasantly surprised by what you find and learn.

AND, no matter what you think of what is going on at home right now, be thankful that you live in truly the most free and amazing country in the world.

Day 10 - Back Home

Our professional driver and new van picked us up bright and early and the four hour drive back to Havana was quick and comfortable.  Immigrantion was a breeze, we exchanged our CUC back into dollars while waiting in line...see our first entry...and our plane ride back to Ft. Lauderdale was a huge 45 minutes...barely enough time to drink the included bottle of water and eat the little bag of snacks.

We'll be back.  GO NOW!!!

Days 8-9 - Cayo Santa Maria Resort

Today we were picked up and transported in a brand new Hyundai minibus to the northern coastline and the keys of Cuba.  It looked as if we had once again arrived in Key West.  Not my cup of tea, but a nice way to relax after so much road travel and sightseeing.  This was part of our package and all in all it was ok.

This resort was full of occasional tourists, basically a cruise ship on land.  It was billed as a five star resort.  We call gave it two.  The rooms were nice, the hotel pretty and well maintained, and the pools were beautiful.  The water was shut off on both days, the toilets and showers did not work, and the food, although totally beautiful in its presentation, was mostly canned and pre-prepared steam table meats.

I'm just not cut out for this kind of stuff so my callousness needs to be taken in stride.  Some folks would think this was an amazing place to stay.  It was fully inclusive...all food and entertainment, etc.  The cost was $120 a day per person.

The sad part is that most people we spoke to had flown into Havana and taken a large transport bus or small plane to the island.  Few had ventured into the counrtry itself and the only exposure they had to the Cuban people were the staff members, many who weren't even Cuban.

Day 7 - A Free Day in Trinidad

Today we decided to go to the nearby beach for a day in the sun and surf.  It was a lazy day.  We had a few drinks and snacks before heading back to the guest house for a cooler afternoon in the shade of the upper deck.  Sorry for the stock photos.  I forgot to take my camera to the beach.

Later than evening we went out to a local cafe for dinner.  While seated in the patio it started to rain and we were forced to all move indoors.  We shared a table with a British couple and had a lively and most enjoyable conversation.

Another amazing meal, this time with a full buffet of side dishes, salads, and dessert.  $8 each.

During dinner the band took a break and a beautiful woman in a formal gown sat down at the piano.  What followed were three magnificent classical pieces.