Posts Tagged With: outdoors

Escape

Escape is what we are doing with all this around-the world-on-a-boat thing. But it is not all about escaping. It is also about changing things.

Still, first we need to escape! The system is wrong. The cycle of school-work-slave-retire-own-rent-spend-work-etc to infinity is wrong.

 

Life can be a lot simpler and relaxed. Like in this picture. This is Monkey Tom’s place in Stock Island Florida and I will write all about him soon.

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Categories: adventure, beach, Collection of Places, family, Florida, Key West Florida, Nature, off grid, Our Journey, photography, stock island, travel | Tags: , ,

How We Survived Our First Storm

It has been exactly one month since we are in 3D Boatyard in Key West, Florida working on our newly acquired catamaran Fata Morgana, getting her ready for liveaboard and cruising. Since one month, we are hearing people talking about “hurricane season”. Our neighbor  Dale in the wooden boat on our starboard side said that the hurricane season officially starts May 1. It started a day later.

On Thursday, May2, a storm hit us, totally unexpected, unpredicted, and unannounced. Our first ever Tropical Storm.

Around 10 in the morning the sky became dark and thick with mean hefty clouds like a herd of buffalos galloping from the northeast at 40 miles per hour, coming straight at us. We closed all hatches and doors. Suddenly massive sheet of rain and fierce winds swooped over the boatyard. The few trees next to the fence almost let go of the ground and flew away. Hell, our catamaran Fata Morgana gently perched on four wooden crates almost flew away, shaking and jerking like a freight train. At times I thought we were airborne, it felt like it. There were lightening followed by impressive explosions so loud and so near us it seemed we were caught under cross artillery fire. Small rivers formed quickly around the boats, puddles transformed into lakes. The earth became liquid. “Good thing we are in a boat”, I kept thinking, “We might as well float away.”

Then the winds calmed down, the rain almost stopped, and we thought the storm was over. Lasted just about a few minutes, we thought. But the clouds kept moving above us, darker and fuller, lower and faster, and it hit us again. And again. And again… Every time: heavier rains and stronger winds from a different direction. The monster kept roaring, attacking, retreating, and coming back again more ferocious and bloodthirsty. It swirled around and hit us five times in five interminable hours, giving us a few false hopes during the short calm intervals of a minute or two. “Please stop, that’s enough”, I pleaded whoever was in charge of the storm. “I am scared”. I get an electric flash of blinding blue light in the face and a mighty thunder for a response.

At one point the jib of the boat behind us, a big fifty feet sloop, unfurled with much noise and started thrashing about. Looked like some maniac in a bridal dress dancing before a sacrifice. Ivo and Jessie, the young guy from the boat next to the sloop, run aboard, as the owners were not there, to furl the jib. The whole boat shaking, and with the wind pushing the open sail, she would surely tip over and crash to the ground. But they saved her.

Ivo and Jessie furling the jib

Ivo and Jessie furling the jib

The storm lasted so long, that after a while I stopped being so afraid and accepted the future, whatever it was. I even started enjoying this uncontrollable display of energy and might. Nature at her best: raging, exploding, attacking, devouring.

Then the sky brightened, the wind calmed down and life was beautiful again. Even more beautiful than usual; it was perfect.

The Boatyard after the Storm

The Boatyard after the Storm

Categories: Key West Florida, Our Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Nudist French-Canadians in Miami

After the Boat Show in Miami, and after our RV gets out of the auto service center, we start looking for overnight spots in safe areas in Miami while negotiating the catamaran in Key West and all the details around the contract and the sale.

The first night we sleep undisturbed behind a Publix store, and the next, in front of a 24 hour Wall-Mart in Hollandale Beach where we discover in the morning a small yellowish ticket on the windshield of our sleeping Baba Ghanoush saying ” No commercial vehicle parking between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. : fine $104.”  Baba Ghanoush IS NOT a commercial vehicle, she is an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and as a matter of fact, we were not parked, but stopped (people inside the vehicle). Next, we freak out, we find the police department, and we gently fight over definitions with a nice policewoman, who finally gives up, says, you are nice young people, and don’t do that again, and indulgently acquits us of all the charges. Great!

Now, back to finding a safe overnight free parking spot in Miami area for a 32 feet 1988 suspicious-looking RV…

It’s getting dark and we pull over behind another Wall-Mart in another part of Miami and just like that, accidently, the most amazing sight unfolds before our perplexed gazes. Baba Ghanoush stops abruptly, facing a population of  about twenty vans and campers of all sorts: big and small, new and old, almost exclusively with Quebec registrations, stationed in the most remote corner of the parking lot. There are also a few commercial tractor-trailers parked between the campers, a few permanent vans where homeless locals live, and some mini-busses. Not a single normal car. It looks more like a campground than a Wall-Mart parking lot.

In the middle, between the campers, there is a group of tanned men in their sixties wearing nothing but shorts and sandals, holding beer cans, staring at us, their conversation interrupted.

Bonjour, we greet them friendly in French-Quebecois, but it’s hard to break the ice. We join the gang for the night, instructed on which spot to park. We obey. We are not absolutely sure what is going on here, but we feel safe, among compatriots. We sleep.

This little off-grid campground, whose precise location I am not going to reveal as I now feel very protective of it, exists for many years. Its unknown French-Canadian founding fathers first settled here decades ago and each year spend six of the harshest Canadian winter months in Miami, near shopping and near the beach. More precisely, near the nudist beach, as these are no ordinary snowbirds, but nudist snowbirds, who don’t pay for campsites in crowded over regulated campgrounds. I absolutely admire them, and I can’t believe the local authorities are letting it happen. Maybe there is a reason why no one disturbs them and the police car slowly passes trough a few times a day with no objections. Living in the area half the year, they are supporting the local economy by spending their Canadian pensions in near by stores and restaurants. Plus, they occupy only a fraction of a humongous parking lot in back of Wall-Mart, which, if the no overnight parking rule was enforced, would remain deserted and unused anyway. Thus, they don’t bother no one and no one bothers them. I think, that’s the way it should be.

We spend a few days there, trying to fit in, accidently breaking some of the unwritten rules and regulations, like: taking someone else’s overnight spot, running the generator too close to the neighbor and thus ruining his atmosphere, using the water from the little water pump near the fence for washing our Baba Ghanoush in broad day light, and having too much fun at that same water pump taking late-evening cold-water bucket showers. Next time we’ll know better.

The Historical Washing of Baba Ghanoush

The Historical Washing of Baba Ghanoush

We spent a few great days there. We met new friends.

Marcel helped us fix an electrical problem with our RV and took us to a nice park and a pizza buffet; Stephanie from Switzerland introduced us to her dog Mapuche; Nicole thought me how to do crochet and how to make beautiful knitted handbags out of plastic bags; and we spent the last evening before heading off to Key West sitting in our folding heavy-duty camping chairs, under the parking lot lights, sipping warm beer, and sharing funny stories with Alex and few other guys until midnight.

A handbag made out of Dolarama plastic bags.   -by Nicole Cloutier

A handbag made out of Dolarama plastic bags. -by Nicole Cloutier

Evening socializing at the Wall-Mart French-Canadian nudist campground.

Evening socializing at the Wall-Mart French-Canadian nudist campground.

Categories: Our Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wally

“I’d rather hop freights around the country and cook my food out of tin cans over wood fires, than be rich and have a home or work.”

-Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

When we first came in the park near Turtle Beach, we noticed a dark mysterious lump  folded in upon itself in a brown sleeping bag lifelessly lying on one of the pick-nick tables. Only two legs, as dark and devastated as ancient totems, protruding from the cover. For a couple of days, the lump did not change its position nor shape. But when a cold front arrived and the temperatures dropped a bit, an old mysterious tortoise-like being emerged beneath its blanket and lugged its massive shell towards a roofed shelter at the other end of the park. I brought him a bowl of hot soup I have just made and cautiously started a conversation. A month later, the conversation still goes on.

Wally in the Night Park

His name is Wilhelm Gilbert von Wahlenmaier the Third, the mayor of the park.  But everyone knows him simply as Wally, the Mayor. And when I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE! Wally has a plethora of friends, a number in the thousands. People just cannot resist his charisma  and every day friends stop to converse with him for hours. He graciously granted us a permission to stay in the park as his ephemeral guests, and so here we are.

A very special relationship grew between us, and is still growing. One of friendship and trust. We learned so much from Wally, not only about his life, but also about many other things. Wally is an educated and well-versed fellow, graduate from Denison University, Granville, Ohio, with a bachelor degree in Business Administration and Marketing. He had a successful real estate career, a big beautiful house, and hundreds of lovers. Until one day…

On November 20 in 2000, Wally closed the last door of his last house behind him and realised to himself, Oh my God, I’m homeless… He rode his bicycle to the nearest park and the park became his new temporary home. It has been for the past twelve years and still is. He knows everything that goes on here, and here, possessed by the craving to recount his younger happier days, he tells us stories of love and betrayal, of war and horror, of glory and dismay. He is also writing a book on The Homeless Situation in Sarasota, Florida, an account of his own experiences, as well as those of countless homeless women and men he met. You see, we don’t event think about it, but often we only perceive the present condition of a person we meet, ignorant of their past, their reasons, their circumstances. A grey pile of forsaken ruins consumed by the devastating effects of time, is in fact the Colosseum once trembling with violent glory and rage. But, Oh boy, Wally was a gladiator, a Titus, a Colosseum.

Wally

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in July, 1943, he was a tiny baby paralysed with polio. He overcame it. He overcame everything: his mother’s death when he was 14; thirty three months of hell in North Vietnam when he was only 17; even three marriages, one of which to a terrible Mennonite princess.

But life was always good, and still is for Wally. He never complains, he greets everyone, he enjoys every minute of it. If you pass by in the morning you will here him cheer, Good morning, how are you? I’m fine, how are you, you will respond without stopping. I am marvellous! If I was any better i’d be a twin! And if you stop for a chat, he will tell you one of a thousand around-the-world stories.

In Africa: a hot-air balloon, over the Serengeti, infinite plains stretching before him, the water beasts like ants beneath him, he drifts: a weightless dandelion carried away by the wind, crystal champaign and caviare at sunset, a beautiful lady he loves. (Back on land, he almost gets killed by an irritated Masai warrior for snapping his picture.)

In Greece: an endless table covered with all fruits and fishes of heaven and Earth, a thousand intoxicated guests, a chain of five thousand Sirtaki dancers by the sea, a roasted goat. At the head of the table, he is the guest of honour. Reaching out with a fork, he plucks the roasted goat’s eyeball out and eats it.

In Saint Petersburg, Florida: at the opening of the new Museum of Art, he meets Salvador Dali.

In the Caribbean: he sails on his 27-foot Catalina sailboat for 5 years and almost marries a gorgeous doctor in Barbados. She is still waiting for him. Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah….

In Egypt: down the Valley of the Kings, he meets so many marvellous people.

In New York: 1983, at the Metropolitan Opera, Pavarotti sing for him and Dorothy, his sugar mama, almost twenty years older than him, an artist and an intellectual, he learned so many things from her. They loved each other dearly.

People sometimes listen to Wally’s stories and tell him, You are not real. But you gotta remember, it’s all true. It’s ALL true, he says.

Such is Wally: full of memories and legendary adventures; a  landmark here in the park, and a form of hallucination.

We respect him very much and this last month we shared many stories and many precious moments. One day, when it is time to move on, we will miss him, and surely enough, he will miss us.

Categories: Collection of Stories about People | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Communitas. Genesis

The strangest thing. A small and almost unstructured community has come into existence right here, in the park.

A spontaneous and fragile birth of a tiny fruit-fly nymph: Dolania Ephemeroptera.

First, a family from Switzerland in an RV tentatively joins us for a few unforgettable days. Next, a young couple from  Germany travelling around North America by car decide to stay and stick with us for an undetermined period of time, hopefully longer. And recently, a woman with a dog currently living in a car, are often to be seen around. An intense and unfamiliar spirit of solidarity can be detected here, early in the morning, at noon, and late at night. As well as in between-time. It is defined, I believe, by the uncertainty of future outcomes. In other words, we are all staying here until they kick us out, or until we choose to leave, whichever comes first. But Wally says they wont because it’s up to him, and every time this sounds reassuring. Wally is the mayor (here in the park). He is not really a person, but a place. An icon and a legend, Wally is our nucleus. I will write more about him, as well as each and everyone of them in my next posts.

The Family from Switzerland

After two days and nights of undisturbed squatting in the park’s parking near Turtle Beach in Florida, a small rental RV joins us. Michele, un italiano vero, Claudia, his beautiful better half, and their kids, the six-years-old twins Laura, and Fabio, decide to move on the other side of the campground’s fence next to our Baba Ghanoush, where the grass is greener, the sky is bluer, there is no fees, no structure, no order (no showers, no electricity, no full hook-up).

Laura, Claudia, Michele, and Fabio at Turtle Beach, Florida

Laura, Claudia, Michele, and Fabio at Turtle Beach, Florida

They are on vacation from Switzerland, travelling all over Florida. We quickly become friends. Together, we are driven by the irresistible impulse to have fun. At the beach or (when the Red Tide is raging there) somewhere else. We play volleyball, we play football (the Americans wrongly call it soccer  but we are all with European roots); in the evening, in our park, we have BBQ and lots of vino. The kids, like innocent shamans, are playing with burning sticks near the lake. Fabio and Laura, who only speak Italian and some Swiss-German dialect which to me sounds as beautiful as butterflies, are teaching Viktor and Maya a song which they now only remember in their dreams. How is it possible that kids of different languages always find a way to communicate? Isn’t it magical?

Their feet covered with grey dirt,  fingers sticky, eyes heavy with sleep, the kids are transported into their beds in the campers. Tomorrow they will continue the game.

Around the fire, Michele continues to sing gently, and we all join in, the songs of Adriano Celentano, Toto Cutugno, and Al Bano and Romina Power. The night will never end.

A few days pass, and our new friends have to continue their journey. Departure is the saddest part of every friendship. We didn’t have enough of each other and yet it is time to say goodbye.

Who will sing to us Felicita now, Michele?

When will you play with Maya again, Laura?

Who am I going to photograph now, and how are we ever going to play football without you, Fabio?

When are we going to savour again the best spaghetti with tomato sauce, Claudia?

We miss you, guys…

Laura, Maya, and Fabio

Laura, Maya, and Fabio

The men washing the dishes at the beach showers.

The men washing the dishes at the beach showers.

The Unstoppable, Unbeatable, Football Legend: Fabio

The shy but ambitious Fabio. Before the game.

Fabio, a frail little guy, but feisty.

Claudia and Fabio playing football (soccer-am.)

Claudia trying without any chance of success to score a goal against Fabio

Two players: Maya and Laura, trying to outrun Fabio. Impossible.

Ivo is trying to take the ball. from Fabio. Ha-ha! Better luck next time, Ivo!

Ivo is trying to take the ball from Fabio. Ha-ha! Better luck next time, Ivo!

Gooooooooooooooooooooooal

All of us

All of us

Categories: Our Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Life in the City Park. Part 1: Overview

Demens Landing Park St Petersburg Florida.Photo by Bill Cobb, SkylineScenes.com

Demens Landing Park St Petersburg Florida.
Photo by Bill Cobb, SkylineScenes.com

Demens Landing is the name of the city park in Saint Petersburg, Florida where we live since a month now. Baba Ghanoush, our motor home (the name in Bulgarian actually means Granny Ghanoush, I forgot to mention this earlier) showed up one day in late November with all her majestic glory of a barbaric matron, provoking a mixture of admiration and suspicion, and stopped next to the playground, at parking A, which is the park parking, and all citizens are allowed to park there for free “from half an hour before sunrise until 11 p.m.. No overnight parking.” (a sign explains)

The park is located in the hearth of downtown Saint Pete, between the municipal Marina and the Sailing Center (that is why there is also a parking B which is only for boat owners from the marina). The way Baba Ghanoush is parked, she is facing the Gulf of Mexico and all beautiful sunrises to the East, the Municipal Marina to her left (port), the Sailing Center to her right (starboard), and Down Town St Pete with its museums and galleries, cafes and restaurants, and souvenir shops behind her, strewn on Bayshore Drive and Beach Drive. If you walk out of the park and onto Bayshore Drive, you will see the extravagant shape of the Dali Museum building to your left (south) and the Museum of Fine Arts to your right (north). In between is the luxurious Yacht club building, and further north is the pink Renaissance Resort and Golf Club, next to Vinoy park.

We signed up for sailing lessons and for the One Year Unlimited Sailing program at the Sailing Center, which means 6 days of sailing per week, between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a 18-feet keel boat, the four of us, for a total of $500, showers included! Unlimited sailing+ unlimited showers, how cool is this! (For us the access to showers is of great importance right now, as we are not in a campground and we are not plugged to water, and so we are not using the shower and toilet in the motor home.)

Since we became members of the Sailing Center, we go out sailing every day, except Mondays, when the Center is closed, and except all those days when the wind is over 20-25 knots and they don’t allow us to take the boat out. (Thanks goodness they don’t allow us, because if you ask Ivo, he would try his skills even in such powerful winds, no matter how rookie we are.)

We come and park in Demens Landing usually before sunrise, around 6 a.m. The kids still sleeping, I make myself a sweet coffee boiling it in a small coffee-pot on the stove, the old-fashion fay, and watch the sunrises, all of them inexplicably anticipated and surprising. We go out, me and Ivo, sometimes only Ivo, sometimes the kids come too, whoever feels like it, and we do some sit-ups, squats, pull-ups and push-ups, as well as 15-20 min jogging. We greet people walking their dogs, jogging, older couples taking a walk: every day the same people. There is the fat bold guy and his trainer exercising near the bench; the very short latino woman doing some  bizarre dance movements while walking fast around listening to her music, suddenly shouting some cheerful words in Spanish; a couple who lives on a boat and their two dogs, one of which thinks is a bird, and probably has hollow bones, as she can jump so high after a Frisbee, she looks like she has been catapulted when you watch from a distance. There is  also a sleepy blue heron and an white egret greeting the sun on the shore or the piers, lots and lots of skinny hyper-exciter squirrels running up and down the palm trees or checking the garbage cans for leftover french fries, and Ringo,the cat, curled up in the middle of the sidewalk, finishing his unfinished slumber. Ringo also lives on a boat at the marina and I don’t know if he takes any drugs or it is just his character, but you can literally walk over him, or if you are a dog, you can bark all you want at him, he doesn’t care; he will not even look at you. He is now OUR CAT, as the park is OUR PARK, the herons are OUR HERONS, the park toilets are OUR TOILETS, and the playground is MAYA’S PLAYGROUND, where she plays for hours, waiting like a spider for little kids to arrive and a chance to play with them.

We also have a place: a small Police Memorial granite statue near the waterfront illuminated at night with benches around that have electrical plugs on them, where we sometimes go to charge and mode our i-phones, or plug our lap tops and write for the blog, because, guess what, we don’t have plenty of electricity in the motor home, as well. This place is OUR OFFICE. I brought from Canada my bread-making machine and one of these days I might bake some bread in the office, then it will become a bakery as well. But we don’t want to abuse the park hospitality too much. We now know all the park staff, we told them who we are and why we are in the park almost every day, and they are all friendly and nice with us, greeting us every time they see us. We offered them to volunteer and help them with the cleaning and maintenance of the park, as we now have a strong feeling of responsibility towards it, but they declined politely. Still, Maya went out yesterday and collected all palm leafs fallen after a windy night, piling them on the corners near the garbage cans.

Our morning rituals over, we gear up and we go sailing for two to four hours in different directions, practicing tacking, jibing, docking, man overboard, anchoring, as well as just going in a straight line towards a fixed point, trying to have a perfect sail’s position to wind. Every time the sea and the wind is different and every time we have a different experience, this is why we don’t want to miss a day of sailing.

After sailing we do all kinds of other activities: studying, reading, going to the public library not far away to use internet, fishing, cooking, playing tennis, taking walks on the beach or in Vinoy park, or around the city, enjoying life. I will write more detailed accounts of our activities later on.

A bird's view perspective of the park with points of interest.

A bird’s view perspective of the park with points of interest.

1- the usual parking spot of Baba Ghanoush

2- our restrooms

3- Maya’s playground

4- our fishing pier

5- our office (this is an older picture and here the Police Memorial is not build yet)

6- the Sailing Center&showers

7- our new friend Jackie’s 60 feet long houseboat

8- Gulf of Mexico- we sail through here

9- the Municipal Marina office

Categories: adventure, family, motor home, off grid, parks, RV, the city, travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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