Astral Nomads

One man, one woman, one rabbit......traveling with the stars.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hooray For Hollywood FL

Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star
And everybody's in movies, it doesn't matter who you are
There are stars in every city
In every house and on every street
And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Their names are written in concrete*

Yeah, that's what I was thinking too. Except this is Hollywood Florida. We hunkered down in a largish Comfort Inn for 3 days to wash off the Everglades and wait for the mosquito bites to heal. Since this hotel is right off of I95 near the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport, it's not in the most scenic part of town. So our initial impression was of a town whose heyday came and went with the original Rat Pack. Especially the strip north of downtown featuring the inescapable US1. Then, we went to the beach and our opinion skyrocketed. It's not just that the Astrals love the beach either. The beach front part of town, while not extremely upscale, is pretty damn nice, with a lovely paving stone promenade on fronting the ocean.

But before we got to the beach, we did explore Hollywood Blvd downtown, which is mostly restaurants, bars, and night spots. Looks like it could get pretty jumping down here at night. We had lunch at an Argentinian steak house where Wendy told me the women's bathroom was festooned with fresh orchids. Man, all I got in the men's room was a time-release Lysol sprayer. 

Except for the main strip as described, the downtown was
devoid of much of interest, but they did have this cool
bike-rack topped with a concrete disk into which was
inserted chunks of colored glass. Not exactly Chartres
Cathedral, but colored glass in the sun is always inspirational.

"You can travel fifty thousand miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread."
Henry Miller

This old building, perhaps a sign of the glory days, did
not seem to have a current tenant. I'm pretty sure I've
heard of Hollywood Bread, though. I think it was one of
those insipid American white breads, like Wonder Bread,
that were bestsellers back when women stayed home
and cleaned the house in pumps and a party dress. Probably
made a killer grilled cheese sandwich when used with Velveeta.

Here's the Eurovan as seen from our third floor in the Comfort Inn. When we were at Wendy's sister Bonnie's, I bought a tarp and wrapped our tent and secured it to the luggage rack over the cab with some tie-down cargo straps. We have not really used the tent yet and it was taking up a lot of space in the rear storage aisle (under the rear deck). Since I discovered that camping primarily consists of moving stuff around, I have become a maniac about minimizing the movement of objects. Plus it adds a nice 'rugged adventure' look to the Eurovan. No one needs to know the contents include two Tenderfoots and a spolied rabbit.

As I was saying, there's a real nice beach here. It's been kind of unseasonably cold still, though. I was reading today that Miami has had the coldest December in 115 years. Today it was in the mid-60Fs but the north wind was still blowing, probably wrapping around that big Nor-easter that just dumped all that snow up in the New York/New Jersey area. There were actually some people swimming in the ocean but I think they were Canadians.

The water was a beautiful turquoise and we had a
large section of the northern end of the beach entirely
to ourselves..

Most of the oceanside building are generic 60s era two
story motels, but we did spot this pink beauty that really stood out.

Here's the promenade.

No shade was required but Wendy felt compelled
to stuff herself into this cubby-hole.

Nomadic and ready.

We ate lunch at the Nilus Delights Bakery/Deli. Highly recommended. Great sandwiches served on a crispy baguette that was a nice counterpoint to our memories of Hollywood Bread. Henry Miller would have approved, I think. We also bought a box of tarts that are abfab and a pound of cookies.

They had large-breasted Hindu goddesses painted on this wall mural 
which was curious since nothing else in the entire bakery
was indicative of any connection to the Indian subcontinent.

 For dinner, it was the Taverna Yiamas, a Mediterrean restaurant that was quite good. We had Baba Ganoush, seafood kabobs, and an Egyptian Lamb Shank.  They have a hookah bar and belly dancing every night but we didn't stay for that, not because we don't like the hookah or belly dancers, but because it was late and we were hitting the road again early the next day.

This lamb shank was served in a highly spiced tomato
sauce and was spoon tender. The couscous served with
the kabobs was the best we have.

Next stop: Eustis Florida to spend a few days with my old college roommate Clark and his family.

-The usual suspects.

*Kinks, Celluloid Heroes

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Even More Everglades

The faithful reader may, perhaps, be thinking at this point "Enough with the Everglades already". Just wanted to save some of these photos online and, of course, we did promise gators and hawks. So, hang in there, this is the final Everglades post.

A beautiful sunrise is required by Florida statute.

In addition to all of the birds, the Everglades hosts numerous
butterfly species. Of course, I got the Audubon bird guide out of
van this morning (after yesterday's embarrassment), but I left the insect
guide behind. So here's a beautiful example which I cannot identify right
now. [Note: When I was showing the preview to Wendy, she said "Oh, that's
a Viceroy!". Brat! ] 

The stately Great Blue Heron. In NJ, seeing one of these
is a treat. Here, they are almost as ubiquitous as sparrows.

White Pelican coming in.

White Pelican 

Coot Pond.

This I know is a Zebra butterfly (Heliconis Charitonis) because it
was featured in the park brochure.

Spot Tippi Hendren and win a prize.

I'm calling Great Egret on this one.

Definitely a hawk, but still a bit of a head-scratcher for an ornithologist
wannabe like me. After careful perusal of the guide, I'm calling it a Broad-Winged
Hawk. I'll probably lay awake at night worrying that I got the classification wrong.

This is definitely an Anhinga. They have the most beautiful
emerald colored eyes I've ever seen.

The Astrals promised gators and the Astrals deliver.

I'm Great, I'm Blue, I'm a Heron!

The Anhinga has no oil glands in its wings, so it dries its
feather by stretching in the sun.

These HAVE to be contacts.

Smile for the camera,
I know I'll love you better.

There were so many gators on the Anhinga Trail, that I 
began to suspect that the park puts them there for tourists.
This part of the park almost felt as fake as Disney World.

Here's a Great Egret.

A Purple Gallinule. These birds had an iridescent quality
that changed and shimmered in the sunlight. They appear
to also enjoy walking across lily pads. 

Black Vulture.

Here's the brave Astral Wendy indicating a gator. Most of the gators
were across the water lounging in the reeds but this guy was on the path
side with only this small guardrail between him and us. I was surprised
to see families with small children posing for pictures with tasty little
kid legs dangling less than eight feet from this gator. Yikes!

Smithers, release the hounds.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More Everglades

Another day, another beautiful sunrise over Florida Bay. Must be something about camping but we're up at dawn every day and usually retired to our cozy bedroom on wheels shortly after sundown. Considering the length of the days at this time of year, that certainly makes for a lot of horizontal living. Of course, we'll catch up on the vertical portion of life as we round again to the summer solstice. Living in nature, we follow the clock of the sun. On the other hand, to get up in the middle of the night here is to be treated with a canopy of stars unlike anything in the light pollution of civilized life. I was overjoyed to be able to see the Milky Way for the first time in many, many years. There are so many stars visible that I need to download a star map because, after living so long in and near urban areas, I have forgotten the shapes and names of many of the constellations. There is a true sense of wonder in the wild night sky.

This is the beach of Florida Bay right near our campsite. It's not sandy but more of a clay-like muddy strand. There are dozens of small keys that dot the distance. It's a good place to kayak camp this time of year and there's a marked kayak/canoe waterway that runs all the way up to the gulf-side entrance to the park. According to the brochure, the estimated travel time by canoe is seven days. There are water platforms (called Chickies) along the way for camping over the water.

The Everglades is a birdwatching paradise. It not only has tons of native birds, but it's also an important stopover point for the migratory birds of the Western Hemisphere. They do a bird census every year around this time and the record count for individual species is 150. That's a lot of birds. I don't have my Audubon guide handy, so I will only guess at the ones I know in these photos. I think these guys are a form of cormorant. They certainly seemed to enjoy seafood.

The Astrals love the beach.

Here's a stork doing a little fishing in the shallows.

Lots of pelicans diving and splashing in the water.

When we were cycling past the marina, we spotted this osprey
just chilling on a lamp post. It did not seem too disturbed by our
presence and we were able to get close enough for Wendy to
grab this awesome shot.

There's quite a variety of landscapes in the Everglades, from coastal prairie to pine forests to mangrove swamps. This shot (and the one below) is from a bridge over the main park road down near Flamingo.

We were cycling and stopped for a picnic lunch at Coot Pond.

This little killdeer was hanging out at Coot Pond.

Life is good!

Anyone for a spot of roasted black vulture? Right after I had
cooked on this grill, this vulture landed on the hot surface
and hung out for awhile, looking for a tidbit I guess. I couldn't
believe he could tolerate the heat. Plus, there really wasn't anything 
there for him to eat. Hot feet and no food is not a winning combination
in my book.


Wendy in full hiking regalia. It was not that cold, but there are enough mosquitoes
that it's better to cover up and sweat than to suffer the bites.

One of the minor downsides to the Eurovan (and mostly since we are carrying so much gear) is that, once we step up camp (swiveling the upfront chairs, popping the top, stowing stuff upfront and in the overhead bunk), it's kind of a pain to undo all that to drive anywhere. So, usually, once we set up camp, we only go where we can walk or cycle. So we broke camp very early on our last day so that we could explore the park by auto on our way out. (It was thirty miles from our campsite to the main park entrance.) The above shot is a mangrove stand at the West Lake stop.

There are a lot of boardwalk trails (as opposed to regular hiking trails) that are easily accessible from the main park road, so we stopped at all of them on the way out. We timed the weather well, since it rained on and off as we were making our way out of the park and the weather forecast called for another relative cold snap.

One section of the prairie was populated with these
beautiful silvery trees.

I think this is some form of heron. I'll get back to you
with a full identification when I get back to the Audubon guide.

There are so many birds here that they hang out together
in wonderful inter-species clusters. Here a heron and an
ibis share some quality branch time. 

More to come, including gators and hawks.

-The usual suspects.