A1a Marathon and Colorful Little Havana

This weekend we made a stop in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area so that Steve could rack up his Florida marathon. While camping at one of the worst KOAs on earth, we did a little exploration, a little shopping, and enjoyed the nice warm weather that south Florida offers up in February.

First, the KOA. We regularly stay at KOA campgrounds when another option isn’t available. In the Miami area there are very few options for RVs, so we jumped on booking this one so that we could easily get to the race. Unfortunately the place was a dump.

What was once, a long time ago, maybe a decent place was decrepit and crowded, littered with ramshackle trailers and a dried up pond. Every time we took a walk we found more reasons why this park didn’t deserve to be under the KOA umbrella. We’ll be writing some reviews. Still, we met some nice people here, and it’s kind of par for the course when you travel via RV. Win some, lose some.

The real draw to this large metro area was the Publix A1a Marathon, which ran alongside the beach in Ft. Lauderdale.

Steve ran the 26.2 miles in just over four hours, and I completed the accompanying 6K (just under four miles) race. It was a beautiful morning punctuated by a sunrise over the Atlantic, a flat course, and relatively cool and breezy weather.

As you may recall, Steve’s goal is to complete a marathon (or more) in every state. This was state number 23 and his 33rd marathon overall. It was a great way to knock Florida off the list.

While in this area we also signed up for a tour of Little Havana, a distinct cultural neighborhood in Miami.  Since we’d been to Cuba in 2019 we have an interest in the history, culture, and political evolution of this nearby island.

Our tour guide Danny has lived in Little Havana most of his life and easily rattled off significant historical events that brought Cubans to the United States and to this region of south Florida. He told us about the political, economic, and social factors that have influenced US/Cuban relations and gave us a great history lesson on the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

In contrast to our visit to Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s picture is often displayed in restaurants and businesses, Little Havana is blatant about its hatred for the communist regime, even expressing that hatred in the name of an ice cream flavor (chocolate with cayenne pepper).

The perspective in Little Havana, established by Cuban exiles who have suffered under the Castros, is clearly on the side of freedom.  

After Danny showed us the serious part of the district, he introduced us to all that is great about Cuban food. On our walking tour we tried pressed sugar cane juice, Cuban coffee, churros, Cuban ice cream, and then enjoyed a traditional Cuban lunch. If you get to Miami and are looking for an activity where you learn while you eat, this colorful tour is for you!

Since our time in the Ft Lauderdale area was short, there’s so much more we need to see and do. At least we know that the next time we visit we won’t be bored (and we won’t stay at the KOA!)

Happy New Year from the Florida Keys

Happy New Year! We’ve been continuing to bask in the warmth of the southern Florida winter weather. Here in the Keys we’ve enjoyed temperatures in the 70s and 80s while thinking about our friends and family in the Midwest and in Prescott who are enduring typical winter weather.

We know we are so lucky to be here, especially since finding an RV site is so difficult in the Keys. We had to work to piece together our reservations this time of year. Thus, we’ve jumped around a few times over the last few weeks.

We were able to book four nights at the newest KOA around. The Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA was severely damaged in Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has been under renovation ever since. The newly opened, completely reconstructed campground features a beautiful pool, a pub, full service marina, and all new facilities.

We kayaked right from the resort, and Steve got in some good fishing in the channel next to camp. We also took advantage of the easy-to-access Overseas Heritage Trail to get in some good runs and bike rides along the water. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine too!

New Years Eve took us to nearby Mangrove Mama’s for a drink and then back to the KOA to enjoy a local band. As usual, we didn’t make it to midnight but it was still a fun evening with lots of festivities to enjoy.

After our time at the KOA we drove about 20 minutes north along the Overseas Highway to one of Florida’s premier state parks. Getting a campsite at Bahia Honda is like winning the lottery and we scored four nights. With some of the few beaches in the Keys and breathtaking views, this is the kind of place you never want to leave. 

A highlight of the park is the broken bridge, a remnant of the park’s beginnings when Henry Flagler’s railway arrived on the key in 1908 en route to Key West. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane swept a train off the tracks, destroyed miles of rail lines, and seriously damaged the bridge. The railroad never ran again. The bridge found new life when they laid a concrete slab on top and opened it to cars. Now it’s a picturesque viewpoint from which to watch the sunset and a silhouette that makes for great photos.

Like at the KOA, we never left Bahia Honda while we were there, except to run the trail and to kayak the bay. Steve did some good fishing under the bridge pylons. If we can get reservations here again, we’ll jump on them!

We headed back towards Key West after this incredible stay and will report on that time in the next post. Spoiler alert: it includes appearances from our friends Tom and Nancy and a few more spectacular sunsets.

Taking Care of Business in St. Pete’s

Our last two weeks have been spent on the Florida Gulf Coast in Madiera Beach, adjacent to St. Petersburg. The St Petersburg/Madiera Beach KOA was a great basecamp for exploring this area and for taking care of business. After three months on the road it was time to stay put for just a little while.

During our time here we saw the dentist for cleanings and six fillings between the two of us. I saw a great physical therapist three times a week to address some lingering issues with October’s foot surgery. We also took Bob to the vet to have his Addison’s Disease checked out, and he is in great shape! Three of the four of us got haircuts and one of us got a massage. It was a fruitful two weeks!

Our site at the KOA backed up to a mangrove and we had a nice “backyard” where we could enjoy a fire, games of Scrabble, and dinner at the picnic table.

The campground is located along the Pinellas Trail, a paved, multi-use trail that runs from before Clearwater to downtown St Petersburg. Steve did his daily runs on the trail and Bob and I worked on increasing our walking distance, per the orders of the physical therapist. We are now up to about 2.5 miles on most days! We took the bikes out a few times too.

On many days we spent a few hours exploring the nearby beach towns. Treasure Island had a nice beach boardwalk, and Madiera Beach had kitschy shopping area with restaurants, bars, t-shirt shops, and ice cream shops.  Both communities have a weekly market, so we hit those as well.

Clearwater Beach also has a great boardwalk along the water. Steve was scheduled to do a marathon here but the race has been postponed, so we just explored. Brightly painted dolphins, as many as 120 of them, are scattered throughout the Dolphin Trail. We tried to capture a few of our favorites along our walk.

The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg is world-renowned, and it’s hard to walk away from it without being in awe of the Spanish artist’s abilities. While often weird and distorted, his works are filled with meaning, and learning about each works’ interpretation was fascinating.

In particular we both loved The Hallucinogenic Toreador, a multi-level painting that combines symbolism, optical illusion, and visual language to tell Dalí’s story. I won’t go into the full meaning of the painting (Google it) but it’s really cool. 

On another day we took the drive across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which links St. Petersburg to Bradenton and Sarasota over Tampa Bay. 

Driving the bridge itself was exciting, but our destination was even more of a circus. No really, we visited the Ringling Museum and learned about the history of the circus and in particular, the Ringling Bros. circus. As a child, I was enthralled every July when the circus visited Phoenix.  I poured over the circus programs for months after attending each year.

The Ringling Circus Museum is just one part of a very large museum complex which also includes the Ringling’s large mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. We focused on the circus museum and strolled the bayfront gardens

Steve went fishing one morning with Hubbard’s Marina and had some little success. Luckily a few other fishermen on the boat didn’t want their catch, so Steve brought home a big bag of fresh fish for the grill that night. 

The Tampa area is in a frenzy for the Super Bowl which will be held in just a few days. It’s the first time in ages since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in the big game and the first time ever a team has played the Super Bowl in their home stadium. And of course, there’s Tom Brady. We stayed away from the festivities in Tampa but couldn’t avoid the hype! It’s everywhere and even Bob was getting into it!

We continue to enjoy our RV lifestyle. We’re heading inland to a few of Florida’s state parks now and then on to the other coast. Stay tuned for more fun!