The next day, we got to use the Dumb Sun Pass for the first time. That was exciting after all the suffering we endured to activate it. We decided we should drive more this since there was nothing in the area we wanted to do. There was a big cat rescue nearby but people had said there were some problems with the treatment and morals of the place so we decided not to go. The problem was where to sleep that night. We had a big book of RV parks (of course we did, this was Florida) we called a few that would be en route. One lady gave us a good quote and we said we would arrive soon. When we got there she didn’t answer her door and we were the only people under 70. Some people started getting a little weird – like are you sure you young folks should be here? And that made us wonder were we sure we should be here? Then they started clinking bottles on their fingers and chanting “young’ins come out to play-ay” (movie reference) so we left.
The drive was pretty enough. Darkened coves of old oak with Spanish moss on them.
It was getting dark and we were in the middle of nowhere. By happenstance we drove by an “RV park” that had a plastic sign just stabbed into the grass. We didn’t even know where we were but looking now it’s called Piddler’s Pointe. It had started as a lawn, but the owners had renovated it into a pretty decent camping area. They had a fishing pond, a swimming pool, and a communal patio. We paid in cash and they let us park behind a shed since we had no hookups. They recommended a local gas station, Casey’s Cover Diner, that served hamburgers. The waitress called everyone “hon” or “baby,” and their sign had anti-Obama stickers all over it. It was the stereotype of what we think of when we think about the deep south and we loved it.
No manatees here, you idiots
After waking up we got some memorably terrible coffee from the gas station/diner then headed out. 70% of our brochures had manatees on them and all advertised manatee swimming holes, coves, and bays in the area. We picked Homosassa Wildlife Park and drove there. When we arrived we casually asked where we could go to see manatees. This casual question lead to us enduring a 30 minute lecture by a very rude man at the front desk about how dare we expect manatees to be here, they aren’t here. I don’t know if you know anything about animals but they don’t have to be where you want them to be all the time. They migrate and you’re about 6 months too late to see them so too bad. You’re worthless, why do you even come here?
Their brochure had gone on and on about manatees but never said anything about the 2 week window where manatees are actually there. They’re lying to bring you into the area and when you’re there you’ll go see something else in the area and give them money. We saw piles of tourists going out on a boat since they were already there and there was a boat ride available. It feels a little scamy using the animals as bait. Also us asking about mantees did not deserve such a lecture. We didn’t demand manatees, we didn’t get upset about it. The asshole just expected us to do that because I bet a bunch of jackass families stop here en route to Disney World and then shout at him for not having manatees. He was probably just giving out his normal speech he gave everyone.
He recommended basically a sad little zoo masquerading as a wildlife park – Crystal Springs. It was 20 minutes away so we drove there. There were 3 school buses and not a single parking space so we left. Researching it now the manatees come to Florida from November-April so some areas could’ve still had them (it being only mid April). The man said they were only there for 2 weeks around Christmas. Anyone going who wants to see them – research and call ahead.
We trucked on south all the way to Fort DeSoto State Park near St. Petersburg. For some reason Chris hated this place. The camp area was crammed full of people, the nearest beach was miles away (also crammed with people), and the whole island was “dry” (so no alcohol). The fort was also less interesting than Fort Pickens. I think it was disappointing because it was false advertising like the manatees had sort-of been. All the maps of the campsite make it look like everyone had water front views but many didn’t. We were in a darkened jungle and had to walk 15 minutes to see the water. The map lied. We were starting to see that a lot of things in Florida were bait and switch. All the pictures online or maps or brochures would work magic to bring you in, once you were there you would see nothing like the advertisements but would stay because what else could you really do? Not a huge problem, just an observation (and warning).
The next morning the handle for our tailgate broke right off. Mind you, all of our things are in the back of the truck. The nature of the platform meant we couldn’t reach into the truck to just get our things. So all of our clothes, food and personal items were trapped beneath us. Fortunately we had brought some tools and managed to jimmy it open.
The first auto repair store Chris called just happened to have a replacement handle (finally some good luck). But the AutoZone happened to be in a less than great neighborhood. We won’t go into details but it was one of those places that just gives you a feeling of caution. People were just acting a little weird. We bought the part and installed it quickly in the parking lot all the while looking around for creeps.
After all the drama, and now a little sick of Western Florida, we zoomed all the way to Florida City, the gateway to the Florida Keys. On the way we saw many of the fires that were burning the Everglades – some were so close to the road you could see flames. We stopped at Oasis Visitors Center in Big Cyprus National Park (NPS got a stamp!). There we saw (and stopped counting at 43) alligators just hanging out next to the parking lot. After searching for hours for them in Louisiana it was funny to see hundreds without even trying in Florida.
We had planned to camp in the Everglades but didn’t know if we even could with the fires. We tried to camp at a huge campsite in Florida City but the guard pretended he didn’t know if it was a campsite for 10 minutes (a joke? Ignorance? Mental health?) which was super strange. So we left. We almost got hit by another car so we were done. We just bit the bullet and got the last remaining hotel room at a Travel Lodge. (Chris here) It wasn’t too bad though because across the street was Pollo Tropical, a Miami based fast food chain that makes Caribbean style food. They had grilled chicken, guava bbq ribs, pulled pork, yucca, and yellow rice. It was honestly my favorite fast food experience to date. We slept well, knowing that we were going to enter the Florida Keys the next day.