Sunday, March 27, 2016

Iguana

I saw an iguana on a tree in Key West. I was so excited. How incredibly cool to see such a large lizard in its natural habitat!



Or so I thought. 

I was wrong!

Mr. Dreamy (smarty pants) told me so. 

After my Iguana sighting in Key West, Mr. Dreamy and I took a walk in a lovely park near Fort Lauderdale and happened upon two large iguanas. One of them was at least 4 feet long. I got as close as I could to take a picture, but they weren't willing to stick around. I mentioned how neat it was to see animals like that out in the wild. Mr. Dreamy commented that iguanas are not native to the US.



Sure enough, with a little research on the Internet, I discovered that iguanas are pests in south Florida. Pets that were released, or escaped into the wild, and iguanas escaping from ships do what animals do when their basic needs of food and shelter are met. They multiplied. They enjoy the warmth and the vegetation in the south Florida area, they have no natural predators, and they are thriving. 

And I thought our deer were a nuisance! I can't imagine finding scaly creatures in my trees, eating my mangos.  Hey wait, mangos don't grow in Colorado! I guess iguanas won't be a problem for me!






Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lovely Lauderdale and a-Mazing Miami

Our group was treated to a bus tour of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and a boat tour through some of the canals. We learned the history of the area, and saw lots of sights. One could see, from the lovely art deco buildings in the city, that this has always been a popular area for vacations. And, as we were there during "spring break",  we could see that it is still a popular area for vacations. The streets were alive with people, mostly college-aged kids. The streets were crammed with cars. It took us over an hour to travel 6.8 miles one evening! The streets will be even more crowded as all of the tall condos under construction (we saw cranes on at least a dozen buildings) are completed and filled with residents. As pretty as it all is, I wouldn't want to live here!

In the morning we stopped at Vizcaya, the estate of James Deering (International Harvester). The home was decadent, having been designed around wall coverings, ceilings, tile, carvings and furnishings purchased in Europe on Deering's travels, in the late 1800's.



 The massive home was built around a central open courtyard, with porches and balconies overlooking Biscayne Bay and beautiful English gardens.





In the evening, we boarded the Jungle Queen and were treated to a narrated trip to their 'private island'. We passed mansions of the rich and famous, along with some older, smaller homes, that might only sell for a million or two. Our double-decker open boat, carrying close to 400 people was dwarfed by many of the yachts we passed.




Sadly, this photo is out of focus, but I had to include it. Three folks were evidently heading to a party down the canal. This gal had a bottle of vodka or gin, another gal looked like she had a 6 pack of beer and a fellow was with them in a kayak carrying some bags of chips. What a way to travel!


I've visited the area. I don't need to go back.... unless the stop is just a waypoint on a cruise going to some other delightful destination!

The Conch Republic

I fell in love with the spirit of the conchs, as folks who were born and raised on Key West are called. From what we were told they had (and continue to have) indomitable spirit and a delightful quirkiness.  
A prime example of this was the establishment of the sovereign nation called "The Conch Republic".  To understand how this revolution came about one has to understand a bit of the history of Key West. The early economy of the area was based on salvaged goods sold by "wreckers". Wreckers would watch the sea, looking for ships that fell afoul of the reefs surrounding Key West. They would salvage the goods and sell them. One half of the value was paid to the town, one quarter was paid to the Wrecker, and the other quarter was split between the crew working for the wrecker. Once better warning lights were erected, the wrecking business was shot. Fishing provided the only other income stream, until transportation and sources for water were established, then tourism became the major source of income for the Keys. 
In 1982, U.S. immigration set up check points going on and off the keys. They searched every car, causing delays of four hours or more. This dissuaded visitors and tourism dollars shrunk. The Key West governing agencies sent representatives to talk to the Department of Immigration. They shared their plight. They suggested that since the Keys are part of the U.S., there shouldn't be border guards stopping traffic. Their pleas to stop the inspections fell on deaf ears. Out of exasperation, the Keys decided to "secede" from the State of Florida, since they were being treated as a foreign entity. They called themselves the Conch Republic. They designed a flag. They declared war on the U.S., and almost immediately surrendered. Then, asked for megabucks in foreign aid! Although this was all (somewhat) in jest, the point was taken and the inspection stations were removed. But, the flag still flies, and the locals proudly declare that they are the Conch Republic, and celebrate Independence Day on April 23 each year. 

Adding to the quirkiness of Key West, the hens and roosters running through town. (We were awakened on more than one morning by roosters crowing near (under?) the motorhome!) it seems that years ago, residents were taxed on the number of fowl they owned. The solution? Let the hens and chickens run free!
Local roosters
"I told you I wanted scratch, not scratch paper!"
Another oddity, in the early years homes were only taxed when they were completed. These folks weren't dumb, they simply didn't paint their homes! Today you can still see "naked" homes - even though the tax law was rescinded.

A "naked" house 

Here are some pictures from our Key West adventure:


The end of the line

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The Audubon House.... where Audubon never actually stayed!


A 4th generation kitty relaxes on Hemingway's bed.
The headboard is actually an old, metal gate.

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Hemingway frequented this bar when it was Sloppy Joe's
He would write until noon, then head to the saloon

Several of the bars had much of their proceeds stapled to the ceiling. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Coral Castle

Imagine toiling for 30 years, carving out and moving large blocks of coral and erecting them, all for unrequited love. That's what Ed Leedskalnin did. He was born in Latvia in 1887 and was engaged to Agnes. Agnes rebuffed him the day before their wedding, telling him that she didn't want to marry him because he was too old. Ed traveled to the Americas, worked in Canada and the US until he developed tuberculosis. Around 1920 Ed bought some land in Florida city and began creating his castle, a tribute to Sweet Sixteen, his Agnes, perhaps in the hope that she would come to realize his love for her and join him.


Ed began his work in one location, carving reading chairs, tables, thrones, beds, rocking chairs, fountains, and more out of coral rock, excavated on his property. 


The coral rock weighs 120 pounds per cubic foot. Ed used only simple tools, many homemade out of old auto leaf springs. The only mechanical machine Ed ever used, an old truck & chassis, was when he moved every piece of the castle 10 miles to its current location after 15 years. 


Our guide said he wanted to be near Route 1 to attract tourists. A pamphlet about the castle said he moved the castle because of a planned sub-division. 

This "telescope" perfectly aligns with the north star
There is much mystery surrounding the castle. No one knows, for sure why Ed created his monument. And, even more strange, no one ever saw him erect the blocks of stone, even a massive gate weighing 9 tons, which balances on an auto gear and moves at the touch of a finger. Additionally, Ed weighed only 100 pounds and was only 5' tall! He wasn't a massive "Arnold Schwarzenegger" type of guy! I guess one could say that love does truly move mountains!

Ed's income came from allowing folks to tour his "castle".
The admission is no longer $ .10!

This sundial accurately tells the time.






Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Everglades

We traveled from the gulf coast of Florida to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Everglades. We stopped at the Miccosukee Indian village for a tour. Our tour guide was well-versed in the history of this tribe, which is part of the Seminole nation. She showed us through a typical "home" consisting of several "tikis", each used for different purposes.


The tikis have thatched roofs of palmetto fronds, and are open on the sides. One tiki is use for cooking. Another is where food is eaten. A sleeping tiki has "beds" suspended on ropes, with mosquito netting in a hammock-like conveyance above the bed. 



There were several Indians demonstrating crafts in other tikis. One fellow was carving spoons. Traditionally a Miccosukee young man would present a hand-carved wooden spoon to the parents of the woman he wanted to wed to show he could provide for their daughter. 





There were also jewelry and beading artisans. I loved the way the word "Miccosukee" rolled off our guide's tongue. I asked if she would say some more in the Miccosukean dialect. She could not. It turns out she was actually from Puerto Rico! 

Following our tour, and a visit to the on-site museum, we were treated to an alligator wrestling demonstration. 


Historically, Miccosukee Indians wrestled alligators to capture them and bring them back to their homes. Alligator meat was a staple in their diet, but in the heat of the Everglades, the meat would not stay fresh for long. Therefore, having pens of alligators they had wrestled and captured provided them with a a ready store of fresh meat. We were all given the opportunity to try alligator wrestling following the demonstration. 



I had everything under control! Well.... on a fiberglass model. 

We took an airboat ride. It was fun to skim across the water, over reeds and grasses. We saw a few alligators, fish and birds. We went to a tiki island where members of the tribe still meet today. Then, earplugs went back in and we were whisked back to the landing, to return to our RVs and head on our way. 


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pretty

We had the opportunity to visit Sundance Orchids & Bromeliads in Ft. Myers, FL. Several members of our tour group had previously traveled with the owner. He enjoyed landscaping, and at one point in time owned a landscape company. He became enamored with orchids and bromeliads. He told me that his wife insisted he find a place for his orchids when an automatic sprinkler came on while she was sunbathimg in the back yard! He now has 4 large greenhouses and acres of covered areas for orchids and bromeliads. Here is just a sampling:



























Yuengling

It is patently obvious that I am not a beer connoisseur. Also obvious that I don't ever (rarely) walk down the beer aisle at the market. Although my father-in-law drinks Yuengling, I never realized that it is only available on the east coast.


Yuengling is the oldest brewery in America, having been established in 1829 in Pottsville, PA, and it is one of the largest breweries by volume in the U.S.  It's name, pronounced "ying-ling" is the anglicized version of J√ľngling, the last name of its founder. J√ľngling emigrated to the U.S. from Germany and began the Eagle Brewing Company in 1829. The name of the brewery was later changed to Yuengling. (An interesting side note: Anheuser-Busch (founded in 1852) sued Yuengling over its use of the eagle as its trademark. The claim was thrown out by the judge, as it was obvious just which brewery used the eagle first!)




Our group toured the Yuengling brewery in Tampa, FL. Coincidently, it is practically next door to Busch Gardens, where Anheuser-Busch brewed beer until the mid 1990's. I enjoyed the Yuengling tour, although as it was Friday afternoon, the weekly quota had already been met so no brewing or bottling was going on. Our tour guide was wonderful. She shared so much information, and so many numbers, my mind was reeling by the time we left. If you are interested in learning more, she recommended this video about Yuengling Brewerieshttp://youtu.be/L_tSYIr9OCU


The tank seen in the back of this picture is in the older portion of the brewery, where the mash was separated from the wort. This section of the brewery is no longer used. (Yuengling purchased the facility from Stroh, and it was previously used by Schlitz and Pabst.)


Here are the new tanks in the brewery. They were being serviced while we were on tour. The new section of the brewery is managed by computer. There is much less "hands-on" work involved in brewing with the new equipment.


The white tanks contain barley. I can't recall the exact amount, but they will go through all of this barley in a very short time. 


Barley comes in by the trainload. Pelleted hops from Washington arrive in huge burlap bags by truck load. 


The bottling line is in the center of this picture. Canning is completed on the right. One interesting fact... beer is usually bottled in cans or dark brown bottles as it is light-sensitive. Beer should be stored in dark places. Some beer is bottled in green glass. Exposing this beer to sunlight for even 15 minutes will impact the flavor of the beer!


Now it's time to taste the beer. I discovered that I like "Black and Tan". This beer is a mixture of Porter and Yuengling Premium beer. 

Another interesting tidbit...during prohibition Yuengling survived by branching out. They purchased some dairies and produced Yuengling ice cream. Our guide said the ice cream will be coming out again. Look for it in your grocery store. If distribution is anything like their beer, it will only be available in states along the east coast. 







Moving Day

Or... Things That Go Bump in the Night We let the moving company know that we were ready. We waited. Anxiously. Finally we ...