Friday, April 12, 2019

As I mentioned in the last post, after 3 great days in Homestead we went on the road once again, and headed to Naples on the west coast of Florida.

You can take the 4 lane hwy 75, but we opted for Hwy 41, also called the Tamiami Trail.
This is the southernmost 275 miles of U.S. Highway 41 and runs east to west from Tampa to Miami, while crossing the Everglades.

Along the first 20 miles or so of the trail are numerous air-boat ride/tour opportunities:

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We almost did one but we were pressed for time, and thought the prices for just a half an hour of  driving very fast through the swamps was a little steep. 
Besides the fact that we would like to see the wildlife and not be entertained by all kinds of water waves and crocodile wrestling.
We'd done the canoe-tour in Flamingo instead.

About half an hour into the trail we stopped at the Shark Valley Visitor Center.
We were lucky to get in there fairly quick because there was a line, and even more so when the only site that we could have possibly parked (attached) in, was open and very easy to get in to.Related image

I'd heard that there were 2 short (boardwalk) trails that guaranteed very close and spectacular alligator sightings, so we set out immediately to see some!

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Unfortunately we weren't very lucky, and by that time it was mid-day, which is not the best time for wildlife watching.
We saw a few, but not what I had hoped for.

We did see a nest with recently hatched young ones ..

How cute is that? For an alligator ..
After some lunch we went back on the trail. 

The trail is only one lane in each direction and has no fences to keep wildlife from traversing it.
It's nicknamed "alligator alley", and we quickly found out that's definitely named appropriately! 

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The road is lined with thousands of Sabal palms (state tree), pines and a huge assortment of alligators!

 A lot of them were very big boys!

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I never knew that there were this many alligators in any one area. Sunning themselves on the side of the road, in the canals and ditches, I stopped counting at 100!

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We saw so many of different sizes and in different surroundings that it looked like we were driving through a wildlife park ..

If we had not seen any alligators during our visit into the park a few days ago, driving this road would have more than made up for it!
As it was, we'd seen many already, and by now we've seen more than I ever need to see in my lifetime and than some! Enough to give me nightmares almost ..

OK, time to move on from here.
Towards Naples the trees started to disappear, and eventually we also left the last of this 'highway of grass' behind us.

In Naples we'd made reservations at Club Naples, a nice RV resort, a little outside of town.

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We had a choice of a few sites, and went for a corner one, with fairly easy access and a view of the pool at our back ..

This is a very active 'snowbird' park with lots of Canadians. 
There's a lot to do, and that evening when the temperatures started to drop, some came out for a game of pickle-ball ..

The court in front is of course a shuffle board court ..

After a restful evening and night, we drove early to Naples the next morning.
It was going to be a very hot day, somewhere around 92F! (31C), and since it was a Saturday many people were flocking to the beaches.

We lucked out finding a parking space for the truck, very close to the Naples Pier.

We walked out to the end of the Pier, enjoying the sight of the colorful beach with people and even a dolphin!

Somebody caught a nice Mackerel

Fishing is free from the pier and many took advantage of that!

We drove a little further down the coast and found a nice bench in the shade with a view of the ocean .. coffee-time!

Afterward we continued following the palm tree lined boulevard, staying as close to the ocean as we could, which provided us with a glimpse of it every now and than.

This obviously is where the jet-set of Naples lives!

Eventually we took the bridge over to Sanibel Island ..

This popular little Island is known for it's beautiful beaches ..

Which do not consist of sand, but are totally made up of shells!


How cool is that?
We searched around for some 'special' ones, but to find any of those you have to get up early and start searching directly after the tide is going out.
You'll also have to beat lots of others who will be doing the same thing!

We took a little walk along the shore but had no desire to stay and sit in the scorching sun, so we went back to the truck and toured around the Island for an hour or so.

It sure was a beautiful day!
Eventually we drove back over the bridge to the mainland ..

Look at all these boats going out!

That evening we decided to skip our next destination, Sarasota, and head straight for Chrystal River, where we were hoping to see some more manatees.
After yesterday we'd seen enough beach to 'get the picture', and we have to arrive in Ponchatoula around the 15th, to meet with Ronnie and Sam, before we all leave for Idaho.
So, we got up early and headed north on Hwy 75.

Everything was going swell until all of a sudden we saw black clouds in the side mirrors behind us and started to notice the smell of diesel!  %$#@&^#!
James managed to take an off-ramp and get us of the Hwy at Punta Gorda, where we limped to a gas station and parked off the side.
After a sweaty hour of close examination he had to concede that this was beyond his expertise, and we started googling for a nearby campground and a truck repair place.

By some miracle I found both about a block from each other, and only 5 miles away!

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We confirmed they had a site available at the RV Park (they even honored Passport America!), and managed to get there while driving very slowly, smoking/spewing diesel all the way ..


James had got a hold of Empire Truck Repair just down the street of the RV Park, and after setting up the basics, he drove the truck over to start the process of finding out what was wrong with it this time ..

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They didn't have time to look at it until the next day (this happened on a Sunday), and it took some time dismantling everything, to get to where they could determine what was going on.

They allowed James to help the mechanic, who was by himself, which was nice. It would bring the cost down some ...

Eventually they found out that there was a hairline crack in the
fuel injector pump which, among other things, we replaced only a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne.
The pump is fortunately under warranty but of course the work is out of pocket ... sigh .. if it wasn't so sad it would be funny ..

No clue what I'm showing in the next pics, but I think it's the old and the new?


All in all, it took 5 days of intermittent work, and ordering and waiting for parts, until we were finally up and running again!
Five days lost of our already very tight schedule! Shoot!
Needless to say, we had to adjust our itinerary once again and unfortunately this time we had to cancel Chrystal River and the Manatees .. 
Oh well, at least we had already seen some ..

Here's a pic of the campground's pool where I've been hanging out these last couple of days, when James was sweating his tail off working on the truck:

Yeah, how awful, poor me ..
OK, so it took a little longer than we hoped (and cost even more) but the truck got repaired and we finally left on the 13th of April.

The plan was to drive to Ponchatoula, LA, in 3 days!

Well, we made such great time that day that we decided to push it a little more and do the whole trip in 2 days! 
So, we drove all the way to Tallahassee, where we set up shop at the Tallahassee RV Park, just in time to watch the Masters!

Everything truck-wise looked and sounded good but for 2 of the tires who all of sudden look 'funny'.
They seem to wear down unevenly, creating a strange pattern on the threads .. sigh .. always something ..



Any-who, we left the next day in good spirits, although a little apprehensive, since we were driving towards what appeared to be a big storm that was coming our way.
All was fine until about an hour down the road when it hit us in full force. The rain came down so hard, we barely saw the road in front of us!

WW0060 Radar
We later heard of tornadoes causing severe damage in Texas and Mississippi and flooding in Louisiana!
Fortunately we drove through the storm fairly quickly and we were fine.

But just when we were getting cocky .. the AC pump started making a funny noise and soon the AC quit working altogether ...
We'd pulled into a Loves to fuel up, and James thought it would be best to see if they had any mechanics on duty that could take a look at it. Of course it was lunchtime by then, so it all took a while, but eventually somebody did take a look, and it was determined that the clutch of the AC compressor pump had ceased!
Without it (the pump) you can get into major problems so the whole thing had to be replaced.

This is obviously not us, but we sort of looked like that ..
So there we sat once again, waiting for the part to arrive from a nearby town ...
All in all it took a few hours before it arrived and got installed. 
(We crossed our fingers that the metal shavings that were detected in the system had been cleaned out sufficiently!)

Finally, around 2 pm we were on the road again, we'd hoped to be in Ponchatoula by than, but at least we were driving!
Not for too long though, because there was a wreck around Biloxi, and traffic had slowed down to a crawl. 
Jeez, Louise, enough already!!!
In the end, we rolled onto Ronnie's property just before dark and with Hunter's help (Ronnie's son) we connected the electricity and left everything else for the next day!

The next morning was a beautiful bright and sunny one. 
It always feels so good after an ordeal like the previous days, to wake up and find yourself safe and sound, right where you are supposed to be, and not having to move for a while!

We were parked right next to Ronnie's shop:

And look, I finally got the mail my mother had send us for Christmas!

We had thought to be somewhere around here in December/January so she had send it to Ronnie, but as we now know, we never made it ..
She send me 2 great jig-saw puzzles of Jan van Haasteren! They're hilarious and so much fun to make. Thanks Mom!

Well, "there's no rest for the wicked" though, and as soon as we were somewhat recuperated, James set out to have the truck's oil changed, and to pick up 2 new tires to replace the 'funny looking' tires in the front. The damage is probably caused by 'improper balance'.
He didn't have them mounted yet, but it felt safer to at least have them 'just in case'.

We also had a meeting with Ronnie and Sam and Pat Magee, for whom we are going to renovate/build two of their properties in Idaho!
Hopefully, the job(s) will last for about 1.5 to 2 years, so we're going to be staying put for a while and, more importantly, we can start paying of our debts and putting some money in the bank!

The plan is that we all drive and fly up there in the coming week, and meet again on the 25th to see the properties and talk everything through.
That gives us a week to get there (and drive roughly 2400 miles!). 

Let's see in how much troubles we can get this time! 
To be continued ...