Car camping our way

We started tent camping many, many years ago with equipment that we’re not even sure they still make.  It seemed that, as soon as we learned how to camp, we quickly devised a style of our own.

We loved the great outdoors, and camping allowed us to spend time in places we would never have visited otherwise.  We’ve camped in many U.S. states and Canadian Provinces.

We enjoyed camping in iconic Big Bend National Park in Texas….

…and Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys.

We’ve huddled in our tent as snow fell, and we’ve camped in the stifling heat of the desert.  Over many years, our three children were along for the adventure in their own little tent.  Those were the days!

We always tent camped from a small car, and there was never enough room for all that bulky equipment. We gave away the clunky 2-burner stove many years ago.

Who needed a big ice chest? We downsized to a little cooler for a cross-country camping trip five years ago, but got rid of that on our latest trip.  (Photo: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas)

The Coleman lantern was always too bright in a wilderness setting so we gave it away as well.  And as for our tent now, it’s very basic and sleeps 2-people.  The interior is large enough to fit our sleeping bags with a few inches to spare for our next day’s clothing.

We guess our current 3-season sleeping bags are about 30 years old.  They still work just fine along with ¾-length mats for comfort.  In the evening we read in the tent on our devices and use a hanging solar lantern to provide additional light when needed.

We use a one-burner stove and still have a little set of camping pots and pans that we purchased many decades ago.  A few carefully stocked grocery bags contain items for easy-to-prepare camping meals that don’t need refrigeration.

This past year we camped in very high heat with unrelenting sun exposure. We noticed most other campers had a tarp for shade.  We quickly purchased our own tarp to hang over either our tent or the picnic table. What a difference it made!

All of our camping equipment fits into the hatchback of our basic Toyota Prius C.

With each passing year more and more “campers” are in larger vehicles and huge RVs, living inside those, with all the conveniences of home.  (Photo: Collier Seminole State Park, FL)

We prefer to pitch our tent in a scenic wilderness.  We try to stay for many days rather than one-night stops along a highway.  (Photo of our tent, taken a short distance away from the RV at Collier Seminole State Park, FL)

We make time for exploring, enjoy living outdoors (except a few places we stayed where mosquitoes drove us back inside), and enjoy sleeping under the stars.

 

March 2019

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Rescued by friends

We had been camping in our little tent at Myakka River State Park in Florida – far from wifi and weather reports.

We drove over to visit friends who were staying in nearby Sarasota, Florida.   “I’ve already made the bed. Did you know it’s going to start raining later today and not stop until sometime tomorrow?  You can stay here tonight,” our friend Ethel said, surprising us with news that we campers would soon be in the rain.  Who knew the weather was taking a turn for the worse?

We quickly weighed our options.  Hanging out in our tent in the pouring rain isn’t really our idea of fun, so we quickly thanked our friends and settled in for an overnight stay.  Oh, we are so grateful for good friends like Ethel and Warren.

One day’s stay led to two.  We all donned rain jackets and went for a walk at the scenic Rothenbach Park, somewhat protected by the tree canopy.  It stopped raining soon after we started our walk.

By the time we went back to our campsite at Myakka two days later, our dirty, distressed looking tent was just starting to dry out. The site looked rather pitiful.  We thought back to Ethel and Warren’s generous hospitality, all of us chatting till late in the evening, and the wonderful dinner served – topped off with chocolate covered strawberries.  They had saved us from a few, very miserable, rainy days in style and comfort.

The sun appeared the next morning – just in time to pack up and check out of the campsite. We drove to the Gulf coast for a reunion with Beth’s high school classmate, Ginny.

Ginny and husband Mike invited us to stay for a few days in their beachside condo.

We had not seen each other in 50+ years. Would we even recognize each other, let alone have anything in common?  The minute we saw each other, it was clear this would be a lovely reunion of old friends.

The view from their screened porch overlooking the harbor.

Ginny knew we’d enjoy walking on Caspersen Beach to search for shark’s teeth fossils.  She found a few and graciously gave them to us so we wouldn’t leave empty-handed.

Beth and Ginny have known each other for over half a century, and we have known Warren and Ethel for almost that long.  These lovely old friends turned 4 days of our Florida visit into a memorable event!

 

February 2019

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You’re headed for the beach, warm sun, and waves

No matter where you are and no matter what you are doing, you can imagine yourself transported to the beach.  The sun is so wonderfully warm on your skin.  Take off your shoes and let the hot sand ooze up between your toes with each step. All you hear are the rhythmic ocean waves and the occasional birds calling. Beach colors are luscious and joyful – and ever changing. The blue seawater fades to greens in the distance, and there’s a touch of grey-brown color in the surf mixed with frothy, bubbly white water.  But wait an hour and the color tones will take on a new look as the sun moves through the sky.

Imagine a gleaming white ibis walking close by, giving you a nonchalant glance with one blue eye.

It’s hard to concentrate on the birds, or the waves racing towards your feet, when you are constantly interrupted by spotting so many interesting shells.  How to find the perfect ones?

Alongside you, three white ibises race through the surf.

They stopped in unison when they found what they were looking for.

Another bird, a ring-billed gull, chooses to ignore you – but since you are so close, you stop to admire the few dark head feathers and the sturdy yellow legs.

Have you ever seen such amazing legs?  You take time to notice the little details like the “knobby” knees and webbed feet with little claws.

We hope you’ve enjoyed your brief but relaxing time at the beach.

 

February 2019

 

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The beach in Venice

We started the afternoon with 2 scoops at Ciao Gelato, and then headed for the beach in Venice, FLORIDA.  Ah, we have been to the Lido beach in Venice, ITALY, and it was delightful.  Maybe it was just the day we were visiting each, but the pleasant beach in Venice, Florida certainly had the most cooperative birds and a larger quantity of seashells.

It was low tide, the best time to search for shells.

The royal terns seemed to be oblivious to people walking by.

This gull stood out on the beach with so many smaller birds nearby.  We weren’t sure what gull species it was, but did know from its appearance that it was a juvenile.

When we got home we compared the photo we took to images in our guidebook of juvenile gulls found in Florida.   It most closely matched a 3rdyear herring gull except for the eye color (our bird had a dark eye and a mature herring gull’s eyes are yellow).  Also, there is a black tip at end of the herring gull’s beak but the other color is yellow, and ours was pink.  It took a bit of reading to find that the coloration in our photo is typical if the juvenile is a herring gull.  So many gull identifications are challenging!

Distinguishing between a snowy egret and juvenile little blue heron can be a tricky as well.  We realized we were trying to tell the difference totally by their appearance, but we learned that behavior is a better way to identify them.  Juvenile little blue herons will be in shallow, grassy water and the head and beak will often be pointed down, waiting and watching for its prey.

The purposeful striding in the open ocean water with head erect is snowy egret behavior.

We never seem to be able to identify the semipalmated sandpiper without help.  It just looks too much like a number of other birds.

We also saw the semipalmated plover on the Venice, Florida beach.  So we started to wonder – just what does the word “semipalmated” mean? The definition says “having the toes joined only part way down with a web”

Finally, and with great relief, we saw a bird we knew: the willet, a water bird found in the Americas.  There is a slight difference in a willet’s coloration in different parts of the US — on the West Coast it’s lighter versus a darker color on the East Coast.

We didn’t leave the beach till our bag was almost full of shells, and we’d photographed almost all the bird species who came close by.

We made sure to capture a photo of the wildflower that graced the dunes near the parking lot. By that time we were too tired to identify it.

In our estimation, you can’t go wrong with a visit to either beach in Venice — Florida (US) or the Lido (Italy). Both beaches are well worth a visit.

 

February 2019

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1,000 nights in AirBnBs: thoughts about a traveling life with no home

We ended our apartment lease, gave most of our stuff away, and thus began our traveling life 6 years ago.  We have had no home since then, and, for the last 2,200 nights, we have stayed in diverse places ranging from spartan to sublime. One thousand of those nights were in AirBnBs.  What an adventure!

We never imagined that we’d be staying in fantastic places like this (Sydney, Australia)…

…or on this narrow lane, a 2-minute walk to the sea (Cascais, Portugal).

How could we possibly afford to travel for over 6 years?  By giving up a home base, we magically freed up the rent money that we had been paying each month.  When we divided that amount by 30 (average days in the month), we arrived at an amount we could pay for an average night’s lodging while we pursued a traveling life. We always planned well in advance and made sure that, if we managed to spend a lot less for some nights (tent camping in the American West or inexpensive hotels in Asia), we could afford to stay in more expensive countries, if we stayed at reasonably priced AirBnBs with kitchens.  It just needed to average out at the end of the year.

We balanced several days’ stay in Singapore at a high rise with several swimming pools…

…with a very inexpensive and very large apartment (Cuenca, Ecuador).  The apartment entry was a little further down the sidewalk, and its 2ndfloor living room had large French doors opening up to a view of the Otavalan craft market.

Four years after AirBnB’s 2008 founding, we booked our first night in Savannah, Georgia.  It was not one of our better experiences.  Still, we persisted, and our success rate improved in selecting interesting properties in locations where we planned to visit (like Kyoto, Shanghai, Melbourne, Corfu, Jerez de la Frontera etc., etc.)   We loved staying with hosts who were using the funds to help pay their mortgage, send the kids to college, or as a chance to meet a diverse group of visitors from all over the world.

When AirBnB is very good we discovered it was due to brilliant hosts who provided us a “home” to stay in while we explored a new location for a few days — but usually many weeks. (Our host in Florence, Italy was brilliant and her decorating touches were inspiring.)

In the beginning, the AirBnBs were often decorated with well-used furniture, a few artistic touches, but didn’t always have lamps by both sides of the bed, spaces for our two suitcases, or a sharp knife in the kitchen.  And yet, here we were – in a new place – often a foreign setting – with kind people who were making our traveling dream possible by providing an affordable and decent place for us to stay in a fascinating location.

A favorite AirBnB experience was the month we stayed in the wonderfully equipped – and great value – home in prime bird-watching territory (Sierra Vista, Arizona).

Our first AirBnB stays were mostly booked in an extra bedroom in someone’s home or in their 2ndhome or apartment. A few years later, we became aware that some hosts were renting out multiple AirBnBs as a business.  Some of those hosts seemed less concerned with the guests’ comfort and satisfaction.  In so many of those AirBnBs, the personal touch was gone and the units took on the look of a long-stay hotel.

Over the past seven years, we have observed AirBnB’s huge growth, improvements, and stumbles while we continued to book places to stay around the world.  In our experience, AirBnB has always been weak in its own relationship to the customer. Ever try actually speaking to someone at the company?  We’ve never been able to find a customer service phone number on their website. And, in case you’re wondering, there’s no “frequent flyer” program or any perks for staying hundreds or a thousand nights either.

Despite our annoyance with the company at times, we have stayed with many great hosts who made our stays affordable, enjoyable and downright memorable!

 

January 2019

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Hiding in the swamp

Dick said he had something special to show us.  He pointed to something that appeared to be off in the distance and asked if we could see the jingle bell orchid.  We all looked.  No one could see it.

He put his hand out carefully and pointed to the entire, very small plant growing on a slender tree stem within easy reach and then lifted two tiny seedpods for us to see.

Those seedpods gave it it’s name – jingle bell orchid.  In the continental US, you’ll only find this orchid in southern Florida.

We were in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, home to birds, panthers, and alligators – as well as one of North America’s largest tracts of bald cypress trees.

We were there to see birds, but, as we walked on the elevated 2.25 mile (3.62 km) boardwalk through the swamp, our first notable sightings were orchids.

We were intent on observing the swamp habitat. Dick, our guide, led the hike, but everyone was watching and that led to so many more wonderful sightings. Someone in the group spotted an almost 5-foot long Southern black racer snake.  We watched from the boardwalk as it slithered off behind a nearby tree.  Dick showed us the largest ghost orchid discovered in the world – though we are sad to say it wasn’t currently in bloom.  He also showed us apple snail shells and blood lichens.

We didn’t miss seeing the swamp lily surrounded by ferns.

Where were the birds?  As the sun rose higher and the air warmed, the birds started to appear.  Often they were hard to spot.

Someone called out for us to see the green heron.  Can you find it?  We looked and finally had to ask for help to find the “hidden” heron.

Here’s a closer look at the green heron, found in the center of the photo above.

We ended up seeing 4 species of birds that we’d never seen before and over 30 species total.  That was a good morning for us!  Could we have seen most of those many wonderful things on our own?  Never.

Dick told us that, in past years, so many visitors had complained as they left Corkscrew that they didn’t see anything at all so the Sanctuary greatly increased the number of guided walks.

Now more visitors can see the many riches hiding in plain sight in the swamp with guides and other fellow visitors to help.

January 2019

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Professional family vacation photos

Who hires a professional photographer to document their family reunion?  Our daughter, Kirsten, hired a photographer for our first family reunion eight years ago in Santa Barbara, California, and it was a great success.

We all received the collection of gorgeous photos taken by the photographer  – including this humorous one of Beth’s brothers.

These photos were the best gift from our reunion eight years ago.

With the upcoming family reunion on Sanibel Island, Florida, Beth’s brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Barbara, hired a professional photographer to take family photos during our stay as their Christmas present to all of us.

On the last night of our reunion, 15 of us gathered at the beach for the photo session an hour before dusk.  Julie, the photographer, started with group shots in many different configurations: families placed near each other, tallest to shortest, walking down the beach holding hands….

When she started taking photos of the 4 grandchildren, Joe took his own snaps using his iPhone.

When Julie, the professional photographer, asked them to jump in the air, Joe stepped to the side and snapped the image as well.  We love the joy on their faces!

She asked the next generation (40 year olds) if they wanted to try jumping for a few photos.  Our son, Joshua, surprised us by jumping right out of the frame.

We suspect the photo of Julie taking a portrait of Tom and Barbara might be more interesting than the professional portrait itself.

Julie finished right before sunset and said her goodbyes.  Most of us weren’t in a hurry to leave the beach.  We wanted to see the sun collapse into the Gulf of Mexico.

There was just enough light and still more photos to take before the sun disappeared.

During this family reunion when we were with our family, we wanted to enjoy being with them.  We rarely took out our cameras. It just seemed a distraction.  So, having a professional photographer capture sweet and joyous photos of everyone was a welcome way to remember our reunion. We’ll have more than Sanibel shells to document this reunion.

 

December 2018

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