A Hot Week In Naples!

A boat sails past our Boondocker campsite near LaBelle, Florida

Betty & I ended our last posting with a certain uncertainty. We knew we would continue south to the Florida Keys, but still had just over a week before our Key West reservations. Given the noted issues in finding a place in a hot rv market, where might we find ourselves? (not psychologically or spiritually, but geographically speaking. Lol.)

Our campsite at Picayune Strand State Forest. I was able to try out my new golf clubs without hitting other campers. lol.

You might remember that we met Heath last summer at his Boondockers Welcome site on Prince Edward Island. As often happens when we compare notes about places to see and things to do, Heath told us about an out-of-the-way state forest campground in Florida, hosted by a wonderful couple named Orville & Arlene.  It took us a while to find Picayune Strand State Forest, just east of Naples, Florida, but when we did, we were in for a pleasant surprise!

Bet & Charlie chill on a scorching hot day at Picayune.

On the site of the original “buy swampland in Florida” scam, the state has reclaimed a large tract of land, returning it to its natural wild tropical condition. Picayune Strand State Forest campground is a small unserviced park down a back gravel road, which served us just fine! With the sun shining down on us all week – temperatures in the high 80s f (low 30s c) – our solar panels worked their magic to keep us in power. About

A notice board provides info. on local activities.

80’ from our campsite were a series of faucets providing non-potable water for horses that came to visit. When the horses were not there, we were able to run our hose over to provide water for our toilet & shower.  At $10./night, we spent a great 8 days at this site.  Orville & Arlene were wonderful hosts, and it was fun to meet the other campers, including Americans from colder northern states, and Canadians from Ontario & Quebec.

Bet chills at the beautiful Bonita Springs beach on a hot February day.

Within driving distance were a number of beaches, and we explored them all, from Bonita Beach in the north, to Naples Pier and Marco Island to the south. It was interesting to drive down the coastal roads, checking out the elaborate homes and landscaping of properties both backing onto the Gulf, and on the many inland waterways throughout Naples.

Today we drove through Big Cyprus National Park, and are now in the Long Pine Key campground of Everglades National Park. Our “America The Beautiful” pass is still valid, and we are set up in a gorgeous site for $18.

The amazing pipe organ at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church, visited this past Sunday in Naples. BTW, the message focussed on Luke 6:27 – 38 about loving your enemies – building bridges, not fences.

Tomorrow we expect to make the drive over the 42 bridges that span the islands from Key Largo to Key West. The forecast calls for more hot sunny days, so I guess this might be the place to find ourselves psychologically, spiritually, AND geographically. Lol.


Our current site (#108) at Long Pine Key Campground in Everglades National Park.
A Naples beach, with the pier in the background.
Another view down the Bonita Springs beach, looking toward Naples on a hot February day.

Addendum:  As mentioned, Picayune Strand was the site of the infamous “swampland in Florida” scam, perpetrated by an unscrupulous real estate developer who promised to make that portion of the state great for its inhabitants by “draining the swamp” and “creating the largest subdivision in the world”. In a brochure published by the Florida Forest Service we read:

Potential buyers were shown the land from the air during dry season, and many lots were sold to people who never saw their land from the ground. Few homes were built in the subdivision named “Golden Gate Estates” due to the lack of electricity and high summer water levels.”

The plans looked great at first glance, but lacked the necessary depth of study to ensure a balanced sustainable approach for the land and all of its inhabitants.

The article goes on to describe the adverse effect on the ecosystem created by the unscrupulous flim flam man, and the years of effort required to restore the environment that was damaged by this scam artist. Aren’t we all glad to have learned an important lesson from this little piece of history? lol

Lost & Found In A Tropical Paradise

The front yard of our host’s palm farm on Pine Island.

After Betty & I said good bye to our family at Disney World, we were hoping for a little beach time on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Since we didn’t have any reservations, we just hoped to find a quiet spot once we got there. Well, it turned out that a lot of other snowbirds had the same idea, and beach/camping spots were few and far between. Whenever we thought we had found a good spot, it turned out we were wrong. For a while at least…

Betty & I needed a beach rescue, after our Disney visit. lol

We continued west from Orlando to Tampa, over to Clearwater & up the coast road past Dunedin, to Crystal Beach. After finding nothing but congestion, we turned south to St. Petersburg, and as we were starting to lose sunlight, we bit the bullet & checked into the KOA there at $126./night – ouch! The next morning we headed south to Bradenton and crossed over to the coastal road by Bradenton Beach, following this scenic route through beautiful Sarasota, and then back to the mainland. All of the state parks we checked were full, but we thought we’d have luck at an Army Corp of Engineers park east of Fort Myers.

Tropical palms, including these coconut-laden trees, are plentiful in this area of Florida.

On arrival at W.P. Franklin North we found a beautiful little campground with a vacant spot. Unfortunately when we checked, the spot was reserved, and all current occupants had made their reservations six months in advance. No spontaneity here! Our gps and free campground directory told us that a Walmart 18 miles away allowed overnight parking. But when we arrived it was signed for no overnight parking, so we were on the road again.  Fortunately, we found a large rest area on I75, south of Fort Myers, and spent a night there reconnoitring.

Our campsite on the Pine Island palm farm. WOW!

When we checked the Boondockers Welcome site, we found a palm tree farm on Pine Island, west of Cape Coral, that allowed us to stay for 5 nights. We also found an acreage east of Fort Myers, near LaBelle, Florida, that agreed to a 2 night stay following that. We have found both to be tropical paradises!

Mike & Deb’s front yard Tiki hut…

Mike and Deb have a palm farm at the end of a quiet road in Bokeelia, Florida. It was the perfect spot to relax and unwind after our Disney visit, and Mike turned out to be an amazingly gracious host. He described all the exotic plants and palms on his property (I should have taken better notes. Lol), and we used this island get-away as our base camp to go exploring.

Mike & Betty explore the wonders of this controlled jungle property.

In addition to driving up and down the island, on Mike’s recommendation we headed up the coast to Siesta Beach, just south of Sarasota. Having visited many great beaches around North America, we took the claim of this being the #1 beach in the USA with a grain of salt (or sand – lol) until we got there. The beach is wide and long, covered in talcum

Betty & I find a beach day at U.S.A’s #1 beach.

powder fine white sand. The adjacent free parking lot was huge, and the beach access easy, even for those with mobility issues. We reviewed the criteria for the #1 rating, and fully agreed that it is not just local hype. What a great find!

From Pine Island we headed about one hour east to Larry’s Boondocker Welcome site near

Betty is out watching the river go by at Larry’s wonderful boondockers property. I will be joining her shortly…

LaBelle, Florida. It is a beautiful acreage backing onto a river that serves as an inland waterway connection between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. It has been fun to watch the nearby bridge open and ships make the east or westbound passage along this quiet waterway.  Last night we sat around a campfire near the water’s edge with our host and other campers, swapping tales about our adventures. Today our thermostat is reading 87f, and Betty is out under a nearby tree, enjoying the light tropical breeze. As soon as I finish this post, the stunning views, fresh air and sunshine will lure me out also.

The driveway on Larry’s acreage leads to our quiet get-away. What a great spot with a fabulous host!

Betty & I still don’t know where we will go from here. We may get lost in Florida again, but for now we have found a little piece of tropical paradise, and are fully enjoying it!


Another view of our Pine Island camp spot.
A flower blooms in January on Mike & Deb’s palm farm.
Apple bananas grow on the palm farm.
Colourful poinsettia grow outside at Mike & Deb’s.
Fallen coconuts litter the ground adjacent to Mike & Deb’s palm farm.
Betty & I enjoyed dinner from Yoder’s Amish Restaurant in Sarasota, after our beach day. We went for take-out, as you can see the line-up to get into this popular spot.
Looking up the Siesta Key Beach.
Another view down the Siesta beach
Looking to join this future monarch butterfly, as we fly away from this warm & cozy spot. lol

Disney – A Real Unreal Experience!

Entering a magic world!

Is it real, or is it fake? While that is the question most asked about political news these days, our family has been constantly challenged this week to understand what we are seeing and experiencing. We are in Disney World! (And it’s hard to tell the difference between here and Washington, D.C. lol)

Hanging out with Mickey:
Betty, Georgia, Valerie, Kevin, Isabella & Graham

One might think that, as we get older, we become more calloused and jaded. But as Betty & I shared the Disney experience with our daughter Valerie, her husband Kevin, and our two wonderful granddaughters – Isabella & Georgia – we found this imaginary world to be quite the wondrous ride – both literally and figuratively.

Betty & Georgia on the monorail.

First of all, Florida’s Disney complex is huge! Expressways channelled Betty & me from Sherwood Forest RV Resort in Kissimmee, Florida to each of the four parks we attended: Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. On “days off” we also visited Disney Springs shopping area and Port Orleans Resort Riverside, the Disney hotel complex where our kids & grandkids stayed.  Once at each park, we either took a tram, elevated train, or boat to get to and from the

Isabella & Graham on the monorail.

actual attractions. Thousands of visitors make their way to and through each of the parks each day, and Disney has the people-moving business down to a science – extremely well organized and efficient!


Approaching the Tower of Terror.

At Hollywood Studios the Penner family used “fast passes” to reduce wait times for rides such as the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.


Recovering from the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster ride.








Shooting an Indiana Jones movie scene.

We all enjoyed watching the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and meeting up with Star Wars characters, among other attractions.

Chewbacca meets Georgia. (Georgia is the one on the right. lol)








Performers representing the various continents enlivened the experience.

At Animal Kingdom we took the Kilimanjaro Safari ride through the lush African savanna, viewing such exotic animals as giraffes,

Giraffes stroll through the long grass.




Lyin’ around.

elephants, lions  and wildebeests along the way.  We also visited Asia, Discovery Island, and

Grazing wildebeests in Animal Kingdom.

Pandora- the World of Avatar.  The Penners road a speeding train through the Himalayan Mountains and down Mt. Everest, while Betty & I watched from a safe

The Penner Family visits Mt. Everest.

distance. The day ended with another great fireworks display over Discovery River.

Fireworks over Discovery River.







Entering the Magic Kingdom.

In the Magic Kingdom, we walked down Main Street, U.S.A. to the Disney castle that we all watched on TV Sunday nights, back in the

Betty takes a walk down Main Street, U.S.A.

day…  During our visit we were greeted by Disney characters, and took in a couple of

Everyone loves a parade!

parades down Main Street.

Mickey & Minnie on Main Street.

We attended a hilarious show called “Monsters Laugh Floor” and I was (un)lucky enough to be singled out on screen on a number of

I was “that guy”…

occasions as ‘that guy’. After visiting Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, we stayed around for the most spectacular fireworks display ever!

The Disney castle was constantly transformed by the various images projected onto it.





The best fireworks display ever!!! Nothing but WOWs






We all had a ball at Epcot.




At Epcot, we toured Future World West, including a train ride through the Living With The Land Presentation, showing an

Innovative methods were used to grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.

amazing variety of fruits and vegetables grown in controlled, ideal, sustainable conditions.

Bananas grow in a greenhouse.



In Future World East we experienced a lift off and trip to Mars in Mission: Space, and rode the Chevrolet Test Track, checking out recent cars produced by that company.

Valerie & Graham take a test ride.

We passed Canada, had lunch in the United Kingdom, walked through Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, and Italy (among others). We ate dinner in Japan and watched the evening fireworks from France. Another astounding adventure in this unreal world!

Isabella & Georgia get goofy.



As a special treat, we all had brunch with some of the most famous Disney cast members, and finished up with arcade games in Valerie & Kevin’s hotel. 


Brunch with Chef Mickey!






Georgia tests her motorcycle skills at the arcade.

Throughout Disney World, we saw real people dressed up and acting like cartoon characters. And we saw “lifelike” animated robotics imitating humans. In one park, the exotic animals were all real, while in another they looked, sounded, and acted real, but were fake. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. How much was real, and how much was fake? We

Valerie visits the mammoth tree of life.

couldn’t tell! In all parks we were issued 3D glasses for some of the presentations, which not only brought the screen images to life, but were accompanied by rain/mist/spit (whatever the intended moisture), vibrating

A realistic robotic elephant approaches our boat.

seats, and smells that made the experience far more realistic. Some theatres also included real and/or robotic characters, just to further confuse our senses.


For sure, Disney World is a fantasy land. But we saw real people of every age, culture, and ethnicity laughing, hugging and enjoying family time in this environment. Maybe it’s the kind of fantasy world in which we should all aspire to live more often…


Self-explanatory sticker at the Laugh Floor…

The Time Of Our Lives

Sitting by the fire, in front of an orange tree growing at our campsite, in shorts and a shortsleeved shirt in January. BTW, it is -53c (-63f) with the windchill back in Winnipeg on this day.

I suppose it could be argued that any time we are still breathing is the time of our lives. But as Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we both feel very blessed by this time we have together. Yesterday was another birthday – not a big milestone date, just a regular one like the (too) many before it – but it always causes one to pause and consider where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.

Where we are currently is Far Reach Ranch, just north of Orlando, Florida. It is a family owned and operated blueberry farm that participates in the Harvest Host program. Today Betty & I had the opportunity to sample and purchase a variety of jams and honeys made on the farm, and look forward

Tonight’s free campsite: Far Reach Ranch north of Orlando.

to a quiet night here, before we join our kids and grandkids for an anticipated less quiet, high energy Disney visit, starting tomorrow.

Since our last post, we left site 30 at Cyprus Glen for a fabulous weekend visit with a Boondockers Welcome host in Floral City, Florida. Cindy and Regis extended

Parked in Cindy & Regis’ front yard, under the hanging moss and beside the flowering plants & bushes.

the kind of hospitality that we have come to expect from this great program. It turned out that we had left Winnipeg without the key to unlock Betty’s bike from the back of our motorhome, so Regis, who previously owned a bike shop, graciously agreed to cut the lock off for us. Somewhere along the way, unbeknownst to us because of the bike cover, my rear wheel had become severely bent out of shape, and Regis was able to recommend a local bike mechanic who trued it back up on short notice. Since both our bikes had been locked together, we are now free to go for rides again. Yeah! Super serendipity!

Cyprus Glen is one of a number of campgrounds within Withlacoochee State Forest.

We then returned to Withlacoochee State Forest Cyprus Glen campground, this time to site 27, for five more nights, enjoying the unique jungle-like sights and sounds of this quiet central Florida forest. BTW, the site is quite unlevel, as are many of the others, even though they are all equipped with 50 amp electrical service, water, picnic table and fire ring. It had rained for a day before we arrived, and the

For $13.45/night, we enjoyed this nice, but unlevel, site 27 in the Cyprus Glen campground.

back wheels of our motorhome sank into the parking spot’s gravel up to our axles. If it wasn’t for our hydraulic lifters – which are working fine now – we would have required a tow truck to get us out! Thank goodness for our levellers, boards, and snow shovel that allowed us to dig out. Who knew that the snow shovel would come in handy down here in Florida. Lol.

Betty & Lorraine ham it up at one of their resort’s swimming pools.

For my birthday yesterday, Betty & I drove into Orlando, and finally bought a new set of golf clubs to fit the closet built for that purpose. LOL.  We also had a great visit with our old next door neighbours from Winnipeg, Robert & Lorraine, who now winter in a well-appointed resort complex near Orlando’s convention centre. It was fun to talk about our families, where we are, where we have been, and where we are going from here. Just like the past, the future is not likely to be all smooth sailing for us, but for now as we continue our bucket-list adventure, Betty & I agree that we are having the time of our lives. Here’s hoping that you are also!


We couldn’t resist including a picture of this theatre in Inverness, Florida, for our red-headed daughter, Valerie. lol
This armadillo was a regular visitor at our Cyprus Glen campsite.
They are a little hard to see, but Betty assures me that these are two of the wild pigs she saw making the rounds at Cyprus Glen.
Much of central Florida is still swampland. Apparently the alligators in Withlacoochee State Forest are hibernating just now, but we were warned not to let Charlie go for a swim!
If you listen closely, you can almost hear Tarzan swinging through this jungle/forest.
We had to duck our motorhome under many of the low hanging trees on the twisty road in and out of the park.
Another view of tonight’s site at Far Reach Ranch, with Charlie on the dash, watching the photographer..

Addendum: Some people might think that, to qualify as “the time of your life”, one must participate in a high energy, adrenalin-producing activity like bungy jumping or sky diving, where you are reaching out to cheat death. But I can’t help but think back to a poem memorized in public school.  Daffodils, by William Wordsworth, ends with the verse:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

These days, bliss can be found just as much in solitude and admiration of the world around us, as in the fast-paced activities of our culture. Our lives seem to have a combination of both just now, and Betty & I are happy to have this time of our lives.


Flowers were blooming in January at our Boondockers Welcome site in Floral City.