RV Life – Our Second Year – Tropical Winter

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Tropical Winter

A Tropical Winter in South Florida offers refuge from ice and snow.

Warm sun and soft sand. Cool breezes and rolling surf. A magical combination for the senses.

Tropical Winter

Tropical Winter

A combination of contradictory or incongruous words.” That’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about the word oxymoron. The phrase, Tropical Winter, seems to fit that description.

Living the full-time RV Life tends to guide mild weather seekers towards this “oxymoron of climate“. We want cozy warm winters and refreshing cool summers, in search of sunshine and 75°F (23°C) . We seek flip-flop weather, always on the move to wherever sandals and shorts are proper attire.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Tropical Winter
Miami Beach, one of South Florida’s top tourist spots.

This was the hope for our 2018 RV Life winter when we pulled-out of Tennessee in late-November, narrowly escaping a winter storm bearing down on Nashville.

We knew we would find a mild winter in South Florida.

The long journey from Smyrna, TN to Homestead, FL covered over 900 miles, so we decided to break it up into multiple stopping points. This was something that worked well for us on our 2017 trip to Arizona. See RV Life – Year One – Autumn.

First Stop

We learned in our first year of the RV Life to avoid Atlanta traffic. So we chose to follow I-65 South out of Tennessee. We drove through Alabama for most of the day and made a one-night stop near Troy, AL at the Deer Run RV Park. We continued onward the next day into the Florida Panhandle. Our destination was Inglis, FL.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Tropical Winter
This gentle giant is often called a Sea Cow.

We parked the rig at the Gulf Coast RV Resort, conveniently central to numerous wildlife management areas, preserves, state parks and forests.

Close by is the town of Crystal River, well-known for its exceptional manatee habitat at the Three Sister Springs.

We enjoyed several outings, exploring various wildlife areas and the nearby towns of Inglis, Crystal River, and Homosassa Springs.

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We made several visits to the nearby town of New Port Richey, home to some very close and dear friends, Terri & Mike. While there, we also took some time to see the Sponge Docks in the neighboring town of Tarpon Springs. The Greek influence on this coastal community is a unique experience that we truly enjoyed, including a delicious Gyro lunch by the water.

Tropical Winter

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Second Stop

We moved the rig a short three hours away to the Fort Myers/Pine Island KOA. Situated on the eastern edge of a sliver of land extending into the Pine Island Sound, this campground is about 3 miles north of St. James City. Time seems to move a little slower in this close-by, yet distant, tiny slice of the tropics.

Crossing the bridge from Fort Myers over to Pine Island takes you through the quaint and quirky community of Matlacha. Colorful murals are prevalent all along main street where unique wares from all kinds of artists are on display. We enjoyed browsing the many shops and galleries, viewing everything from traditional coastal pieces to peculiar items that might be in a genre all their own.

Other attractions in the area we visited include; Sanibel Island, Joshua Citrus, San Carlos Bay

Tropical Winter

Third Stop

From Pine Island we made our way across the southern tip of Florida to Homestead. For nearly 100 miles this landscape is quintessential south Florida wilderness. Commonly referred to as Alligator Alley, or the Everglades Parkway, this route passes through thick swamps, vast marshlands, and tall Cypress trees.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Tropical Winter
I-75 is a quick route, but US-41 offers more opportunities with nature.

Wildlife is everywhere as birds of all sizes, shapes, and colors can be seen.

With a keen eye on the waterways as you pass by it is almost guaranteed that you’ll see an alligator floating on the surface.

Tropical Winter

At one point we made a brief stop for a bathroom break and noticed a giant alligator in the back yard of the house next door. People were standing on the patio and tossing whole, raw chickens out to this swamp monster! With a single gulp an entire chicken was consumed. I could hardly believe what I was watching. We kept a tight leash on Gypsy and made a very quick departure after seeing that!

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Tropical Winter
Arriving in Homestead with the big rig.

Our winter spot was the Boardwalk RV Resort in Homestead. This was a fairly decent location, but not our first choice.

We were hoping to take the RV down into the Florida Keys to a place like Key Largo, or Marathon Island. However, RV sites in the Keys averaged triple the price of mainland resorts!

So, we opted to park in Homestead and take day trips from there to explore. This literally saved us thousands of dollars.

We enjoyed a secluded spot along the back row of the resort nestled under tall palm trees and spent the next several weeks exploring all over South Florida and the Keys.

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Some of our favorite Homestead area experiences include …

Havana Spice: A local, family-owned restaurant serving authentic Cuban cuisine. We ate there several times and enjoyed the warm basket of complimentary, crunchy, buttery toast just as much as the entrée.

Roadside Markets: On nearly every main throughfare you can find a fresh fruit market offering all kinds of tropical varieties … Mamey (Sapote), Guava, Star Fruit (Carambola), Papaya, Mango, Jackfruit, Passionfruit, and so many more. Some of these we had never tried before.

Miami’s South Beach: Internationally known and visited by millions every year, this is Miami’s tourist hot spot. More than a beach, there is nightlife, Art Deco, fine dining, spas, and so much more.

Lake Okeechobee: On the southern end of this 730 square mile lake is the community of Pahokee. We went there to see the lake from the vantage point of the Pahokee Marina.

Biscayne National Park: Over 172,000 acres, this aquatic preserve is 95% water. Protecting barrier reefs that harbor hundreds of marine species, including 16 endangered ones, the park encompasses four distinct ecosystems.

The Keys: True to plan, we experienced multiple day trips deep into the Florida Keys. In addition to Key West and the Southernmost Point, we explored Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, and Sugarloaf. We even tried a half-day fishing excursion with Key Largo Fishing Adventures.

Tropical Winter

Tropical Winter

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While we were there in Homestead, my employer asked me to make another customer site visit to Europe. It was January, again, so I was thankful that the destination was not in another cold region of the European Union. We were headed to southern Spain this time, to the city of Alicante.

We had a new wrinkle in our travel plans this time because of our new furry family member, Gypsy. We didn’t want to leave her with a traditional pet boarding service, so we found an excellent pet sitting individual using the Rover.com app.

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Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Our Second Year - Tropical Winter
A selfie at the P&G plant in Jijona Spain.

Located in the Costa Blanca region on the Coast of the Mediterranean, Alicante is a beautiful Old-World city by the sea.

Procter & Gamble operates a production plant in the nearby small town of Jijona, about 20 miles to the north of Alicante. I was asked to join my customer team there for a week-long cybersecurity conference.

Of course, Cheri tagged along!

While I worked through each day, Cheri was out exploring the city on foot, logging thousands of steps and experiencing all kinds of Spanish culture and architecture. We also had the weekend to explore together, touring Castillo de la Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara Castle), wading in the Mediterranean surf of Playa del Postiguet (Postiguet Beach), and strolling along the Esplanada de España (The Promenade).

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It’s interesting to note how much the area reminded me of South Florida. A connection formed in my mind, relating Old World Spain to New World Florida. Similarly, the drive north to the Jijona plant passed through some terrain very similar to Arizona. I can only imagine how it must have been for Spanish Explorers when they encountered the Americas centuries ago.

On our last day in Alicante, Cheri and I enjoyed a walk together as she showed me several amazing places she had found, including; Mercado Central (Central Market), Plaza de Toros (Bull Fight Arena), and Marina Esportiva (Sports Marina). We made sure to experience a traditional tapas dinner and Flamenco performance. What a great ending to a fantastic trip!

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We weren’t back from Spain for very long when it was time to embark on yet another voyage. This was one we had been planning for months, ever since we knew we’d be in the Miami area for the winter. We booked a 3-day cruise to Nassau, Bahamas.

After taking Gypsy back to the same pet-sitter we used for the Spain trip, we boarded the boat at Miami’s Dodge Island Cruise Terminal and traveled into the northern edge of the Caribbean Sea to the Nassau Cruise Port. We enjoyed a couple hours wandering around Nassau, stopping to see the Queen’s Staircase. We then took an excursion on a small boat out to a wonderful place called Pearl Island. We snorkeled, lounged on the beach, and swam in the refreshing island waters until sunset. So relaxing!

We finished our excellent Tropical Winter season in Homestead and began the journey back to Tennessee in March of 2019. We were excited for our next RV Life summer adventure into the mountain west!

2 Corinthians 9:8

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Steve Coryell