Florida, East Coast

Thursday, 14 December 2006, Curry Hammock SP, Florida Keys, FL
We have finally arrived somewhere where the weather is no longer a reason to move on. It is comfortably in the 20's, a little humid, and even though it is threatening with rain, it isn't cold! Curry Hammock State Park is very nice too - it is a small campground and sits right on the ocean. The only nuisance is these tiny little bitey thingies that are called 'no-see-ums' - actually 'ya-see-ums', but only just, and mostly buzzing in and out through our flyscreens (as if there's nothing in the way), and 'ya-feel-ums' biting, so they are probably even more annoying than swarming mosquitoes. But we will find a way to live with them so that we can enjoy this truly beautiful place.
We arrived in Florida last Thursday and our first stop was the Welcome Centre, just over the border, where the counter staff were very friendly and full of useful information. We spent our first night in Fort Clinch State Park at Fernandina Beach, which is right in the north-eastern corner of the state. We had hopes of being in a prime position to see the shuttle take off, as it was supposed to that evening. Unfortunately for us it was postponed due to unfavourable weather conditions and when it was finally launched on Saturday, we were not in such a good position to see it. The person we spoke to at the Welcome Centre had told us about it and said it is really quite a sight on a clear night, and that people come from all over to see it. We also found the weather there particularly unfavourable. The forecast had threatened freezing overnight temperatures since we left Charleston and they hadn't materialised. Our first night in Florida almost made it - we woke to 3 degrees and a very cold wind coming off the Atlantic. Not the warm welcome we had expected! But it was a pretty campground in sight of the ocean and it must be a lovely place to spend some time in more pleasant weather.
From there we headed down the A1A, which is a coastal route and follows the barrier islands as much as possible. Our goal was St Augustine. Juergen had spent some time there when he holidayed in Florida in the late 80s and had really liked it, so it was on our must-do list for Florida this time - along with Miami Beach for the Art Deco architecture, the Everglades and the Florida Keys. Everything else we will just discover as we go along. St Augustine didn't disappoint us either, despite the fact that it is much more tourist-oriented 20 years on. It claims to be the "oldest town in America", which of course is heavily disputed by Santa Fe (which we also visited earlier in our trip). The historic old town has some beautiful buildings and a quaint town centre. There are some very old houses there also, the oldest dating from 1706. We spent Saturday walking around the town - it was a beautiful sunny day, but still not really warm. That evening there was a boat parade on the river with the boats all lit up for the holiday season - we were so beat after our day walking around town that we got back to our room and stayed there. We missed the boats and also the shuttle launch, but sometimes a warm room with a surprisingly comfortable bed is too good to give up.
We had chosen to stay at a motel for the 2 nights we spent in St Augustine. It's not very often that we do this, but we first went to the KOA campground and Juergen checked out the bathrooms - they were not warm! When the temperature heads towards freezing at night, you want a warm bathroom to take a shower in the morning. Bad enough that you have to walk through these temperatures to get there! The Anastasia Inn on Anastasia Island was $15 per night more than the KOA and we had our own bathroom as well as a reasonably good WiFi connection. I managed to talk to my family on-line and Juergen caught up with some overdue things that he needed to do on the internet.
On Sunday morning we drove back into town to visit the Castillo de San Marcos. This substantial fort was begun by the Spanish in 1672 and completed in 1695. Through its history it has withstood a number of sieges and serious bombardment, and has belonged to Spain, Britain and finally the USA as Florida changed hands over the centuries. It is a very impressive structure, in reasonably good repair for its age, and worth the time spent wandering around its many rooms and also enjoying the view of the town and the river from its battlements. For the enthusiasts, they also fire one of the canons on weekends, but I'm not so fond of such loud noises.
Since we left St Augustine on Sunday we have been covering quite a lot of miles each day in order to arrive in the Keys yesterday. (We had phoned the state park campground reservation line from Fernandina Beach to check out availability and found that most campgrounds on the Keys were almost fully booked. The guy I spoke to was really helpful and found us 2 nights at Curry Hammock and then 1 night at Bahia Honda starting Wednesday, both of which are about halfway down the Keys.) On Sunday night we stayed at a nice campground at the Sebastian Inlet State Park but the experience was really spoilt by a campground neighbour who started a fire first thing in the morning with the sole purpose of burning a plastic bag that I suspect contained fish guts. And then he fed it with his green firewood. We were exactly upwind from him and therefore got all the foul smelling smoke right into our camper. Unfortunate that you sometimes run into such unthinking people.
We were still driving the A1A along the coast, but it got a bit boring the closer we got to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, as it became one gated estate after another. Twice on our journey south we had actually driven right next to the ocean - the first was around Flagler Beach, which is not far south of St Augustine and the second was between Fort Lauderdale and North Miami. So much of the coastline in the USA is privately owned that it is always an unexpected pleasure to actually drive along by the beach. Near Fort Lauderdale we stayed in a county park which would have been great except that it was unfortunately sited right next to a railway line and the I-95. So after a night of not very restful sleep that ended far too early, we decided to head west the next night.
We did manage to spend a couple of hours at Miami Beach on Tuesday, despite being tired. I always wanted to see the place and was not disappointed. I knew about the Art Deco architecture, but had not expected to see it everywhere you look. We plan to go back next week and spend some time there. The campground further west that we chose was listed in our AAA campground guide as being in Miami. That was a slight exaggeration! After battling peak hour traffic on US1, we finally arrived after an hour and a half at Miami Everglades Campground, situated in a rural area, to discover that it would probably have been cheaper to go to a motel in town! And for this exorbitant price, did we get a good night's sleep? Sometime around 5 am one of the residents started his truck and let it run for at least 15 minutes before eventually getting in and driving off to wherever it is people go at that hour of the morning. And this particular rural area is full of nurseries, which have to start their watering systems (noisy diesel pumps) very early in the morning.
It was such a relief to arrive at Curry Hammock State Park yesterday, where it seems to be very quiet and peaceful - except for these cursed insects!!!

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