Posts Tagged With: travel

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

Maya’s Corner

I am so happy, I got a flute from a guy named Phil.  And I keep practicing but it is really hard and I loose my pacience. But I know with practice I will be an expert someday. Phil has at least a dozen flutes and he plays them at the beach at sunset. He has all kind of sizes and some very special ones. There is one made out of turquoise. Mine is wooden and has a bison on it and strings made out of bison skin. Phil lives in a very very big RV with his wife Margie in Turtle Beach. Thank you Phil!

Maya and Phil at sunset, Turtle Beach

Maya and Phil at sunset, Turtle Beach

Sometime ago I was on Skype with Anne-Sophie, a very good friend of mine from back home. I always call her Anne-Sou for short. She speaks French. Back home, we play a lot wii, we ride our bikes and we do sleepovers. Me and her together we have a huge imagination. I miss my old friends and Anne-Sou… I love meeting new people and making new friends, but the worst part is every time we meet new awesome people they go away like after three days or after e few hours, or we go away.

In Turtle Beach, Mia was my new best friend for a week. Me and her were always together. In the pool we were splashing, playing with balls in the water, it was so fun! The second day after we met we thought about a sleepover. So we asked her grandma, and she said yes, and my mom said yes too! So we rushed to our RV and we packed up my PetShops, Bubba, my teddy bear, and my swimsuit. We planned what we were going to do at the sleepover all the way back to her condo. There, we had popsicles and we went back to the pool. After, we played PetShops all day and a bit of the night. Mia always sleeps with crossed legs and she sleep-talks. It was so funny. We wake up, and first thing’s first, we play PetShops.

Maya and Mia

Maya and Mia

The last day before Mia left, our families got together for dinner and Mia and me made a performance: Clown Act, Goblin, Ballet, Shower, and Restaurant. It was funny.

A bad thing happened:

We were supposed to meet Bear Grylls at the Boat Show, but the stupid RV broke down so we couldn’t see him. It was going to be the best day of my life but it turned out to be the worst day of my life… And I am pretty upset to write about it because it reminds me.

The drawing Maya made for Bear Grylls. (It's him standing next to a volcano)

The drawing Maya made for Bear Grylls. (It’s him standing next to a volcano)

The message on back of the drawing.

The message on back of the drawing.

But every time something bad happens, something good happens too. If the RV haven’t broke down I would meet Bear Grylls, but I wouldn’t meet Jasmine. She is my other best friend for a few days. Nickname- Jazz. She made me dice nail polish, white with black dots, and glitter nail polish on my toes, rainbow color. We watched movies together. Once we watched a really scary horror movie, so scary I almost peed my pants.

Jasmine and Maya

Jasmine and Maya

Dice&rainbow nail polish designs by Jasmine.

Dice&rainbow nail polish designs by Jasmine.

Next subject:

Two dogs wrote to me. Their names are Joppe and Tango. I like Joppe because he is funny and he said he can pee when they tell him to. Tango is cool too, he likes eating and he even eats carrots. I really wished I had a dog too.

I sell pot holders $2 each and two for $3. And it is $2 minimum, which means you can give $3 or $4 or more if you want to, but I am not forcing you. I don’t buy them, I make them out of my shirt sleeves and they can be pretty handy sometimes. I was thinking to buy me a skateboard with the money, but now I don’t know what will I buy, I am still thinking about it. I only sold one for $2 so far. I also found lots of seashells at the beach and I was thinking to start selling them too.

Maya's Pot Holders

Maya’s Pot Holders

When i am pretty bored I go swinging for like half an hour or more and I also sing when I swing. I sing about what will happen in my life or what already happened, or what I’d like to happen.

I love traveling. I loved the Everglades. It is fun to see all the trees and gators, it’s so cool.

I also like when my dad makes freshly squeezed orange juice. My dad is my favorite member of the family, he takes good care of us.

My favorite guest from the trip is Mia and this guy named Ray. He is awesome! He brings us lots of pizza and he has amazing stories. Once, when he was 17, he needed to go to California with an airplane but he ended up in Spain instead! It is a long story but a good one. He gave me awesome cookies! I gave him one of my pot holders.

Categories: Maya's Corner | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2013 Miami Boat Show

The Miami Boat Show is considered also The Greatest Boat Show in the World. For five days over 3,000 boats and 2,000 exhibitors from all over the globe can be visited on three locations in Miami Downtown and Miami Beach. It is truly overwhelming. The show features not only boats and marine products, but also seminars and special events.

Catamarans at 2013 Miami Boat Show

Catamarans at 2013 Miami Boat Show

We hoped to be able to go the first day, Thursday, February 14, and meet Bear Grylls at the Convention Center promoting life rafts. He is Viktor and Maya’s Number One Hero, Ivo’s as well (and I worship him too, I have to admit). We have all his shows and when we have nothing to do, and when we have electricity, we watch them over and over again. So when we learned he will be there the first day, we were so excited, and Maya prepared a drawing and a hug for him. But, alas, our RV broke down and we couldn’t meet Bear… Maya cried…

Here Bear Grylls was standing just a couple of days ago...

Here Bear Grylls was standing just a couple of days ago…

We had to deal with Baba Ghanoush the next three days, so we were only able to go to the Boat Show on Sunday and Monday, the last two days. We spent our time mostly in the Strictly Sail section, visiting all the catamarans, from 34 to 82 feet! Each time we had to deal with a broker trying to sell us a boat. It was exhausting, I don’t know if I will survive another Boat Show…

Catamaran Interior (a big catamaran, over 60 feet)

Catamaran Interior (a big catamaran, over 60 feet)

Down bellow, one of four cabins.

Down below, one of four cabins.

Besides visiting boats, we also bought three books on cruising, catamarans, and galley secrets, and we we went sailing on a 2012 Leopard 4800 for two hours, after the end of the show.

Getting valuable books and advise from Corinne C. Kanter, 15 years cooking aboard a catamaran!

Getting valuable books and advise from Corinne C. Kanter, 15 years cooking aboard a catamaran!

Oh, and we also met the broker for a 2001 Leopard 38 Catamaran we are interested in, and we got ourselves an accepted offer and a signed contract! Next week: marine survey, and sea trial. If all goes well, we will have a boat by the end of March.

Sailing on a 2012 Leopard 4800. Lots of wind and waves- fantastic!

Sailing on a 2012 Leopard 4800. Lots of wind and waves- fantastic!

Ivo steering the Cat, shining with happiness...

Ivo steering the Cat, shining with happiness…

Categories: Our Journey | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mi Casa Su Casa

We leave Turtle Beach, direction: Miami Boat Show 2013, right?

We get to South Beach February 13th around 7 p.m. and our old RV (Baba Ghanoush) stops in the middle of Michigan Avenue, not far from the Convention Center (where the boat show will start the next morning), coughs, gasps, and, without any particular reason, dies. We push her large lifeless body away from the middle of the street to the side, in front of a fire plug (the only free parking spot near by). We sleep there, with one eye open, waiting for the police or the parking enforcement guys to show up any minute. Plus, it is humid and hot as hell, it’s South Florida…

The next day, still no parking ticket, the manager of the near-by building complex passes by and we tell him about our misfortune. We tell him not more than a few confused hurried words, trying to explain that we don’t want to take the parking space in front of his buildings, but we are kind of stuck. And than the most surprising thing happens: the manager, Azael, who doesn’t know anything about us except that we have two kids with us, invites us to take shower, use the laundry and even sleep in one of the vacant apartments of the building, furnished, luxurious, with two big bedrooms. For the first time in almost four months we sleep in normal beds! For the first time in almost four months we take showers in a private bathroom, and not in the beach, marina, campground, or sailing school public showers! For the first time in almost four months we have a private clean toilet, and we don’t have to run to the park, Walmart, or any other public restroom! And running water, and electricity, and a laundry machine! All those things people usually don’t even think about, made us so happy. We stay there for three days.

After three days and a few unsuccessful attempts to fix the RV problem ourselves, Baba Ghanoush gets transported to a service center by a tow-truck for $350. It’s Saturday, the service center is closed on Sunday and we have to wait until Monday or maybe Tuesday before we will see her again, running. So we are homeless again.

We go back to the apartment for two more days, before our Baba Ghanoush is finally resuscitated, for a total of $1, 035.

Bad things are always sudden and unpredictable and tend to occur in the worst of moments. But thanks to our RV’s little fit, we got to meet Azael, his beautiful wife Sonia, and their three kids, Shaun, Jasmine, and Kevin, who thought us a lesson of kindness and humanity.

And the boat show?

Well, that’s another story.

Azael and Sonya

Azael and Sonia

Categories: Our Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


“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.


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!


All of us

All of us

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

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