In Orlando we found a three bedroom condominium just outside of all the theme parks for about $46 per night. The housing crisis has hit Florida hard; there are unfinished developments EVERYWHERE in Orlando. It was somewhat eerie the look of abandonment they all sported.
We had a ball at Harry Potter World and after a day’s rest, decided we couldn’t miss Disney World either. Of all of us, I was the only one who had ever been to one of the theme parks. My family went to Disneyland in California in 1979. From a child’s perspective it is pretty magical (and fun). Chris hit the big time at Epcott Centre when we discoverd that research was being done into aquaponics and other growing methods right on site. He took an additional tour, chatted up a few of the employees and even interested one of them in this blog (see his comment on one of our holiday posts).
Chris and I very much wanted to see Key West and we decided it was unlikely we’d be back in Florida as a family again, so we took the extra few days and drove there. We arrived in the dark and missed the bridges and causeways linking each “key”.
Key West was our first night using the huge tent we purchased in Orlando. When we arrived at the campsite at 10:00 pm it had started to sprinkle. Trying to put up an unfamiliar tent in the dark and drizzle wasn’t fun. It was made especially more challenging with the arrival of “Steve” our camping neighbour who had obviously been enjoying drinks somewhere. He started ordering the kids around, and directing us as to how to put the tent up. He kept forgetting Chris’ name, yelling “CRAIG”!!! numerous times. By the time we strapped the fly on (incorrectly) it literally POURED rain.
The next morning Chris crept out of the tent and snapped this beautiful picture.
We were thrilled with Key West. What a vibrant little city. It definitely is a party town. It only really came to life at about 2:30 when the bars started doing a roaring trade and live musicians began playing. If we didn’t have the kids with us, we’d have enjoyed the night life to the fullest.
We spent an afternoon on Smathers Beach and perused the AIDS memorial on the beach adjacent to it. We watched a local fisherman with a line only, fishing from the pier.
Our second night in the campsite was very WINDY. Several times during the night I had to go outside and re-secure the tent pegs. It was so noisy that at about 3:00 am I abandoned the tent and slept in the van. By 6:00 am Chris was knocking on the door and we needed to take the tent down as half of it was blowing away!
We spent our next night in Venice Florida and once again arrived late. As we were setting up, a man approached us with a heater and extra firewood and assured us that we would get all the help we needed. Apparently his family of seven had spent three weeks in our site before finally finding a small trailer to sleep in. We finally figured out, through a few more conversations, that he had lost his house and the family had resorted to camping in a tent. It WAS Florida, but it was also cold, too.
That night, the temperature dropped to zero Celsius and Katie and I abandoned the tent to sleep in the van. Every hour or so, I started the van to get the heat going, then I’d turn it off. Apparently it was a bit of a cold snap for Florida. That marked our last day camping, as we moved west, the nights stayed cold.
We beat our way along the Gulf Coast then headed up through part of Texas into New Mexico. We wanted to rent an earthship at Earthship Biotecture. We spent an hour arranging it at the Travel Centre just inside New Mexico. We had to kill some time, so we stopped at a fairly luxurios hot springs just outside of Taos.
We ended up in the Phoenix and as Katie walked through the door, she said, “O.K., I change my mind; I’ll live in an earthship!” (Whew).
It was beautiful and we are so glad we rented it. We were finally able to show the kids what it could be like.
We did ask around in Taos for used oil, but that town is well organized when it comes to waste veggie oil, and every restaurant we inquired in was already saving oil for somebody else.
After New Mexico we kept bearing west toward Las Vegas. Our first stop before “Sin City” was the famous Hoover Dam. Chris was interested from an engineering perspective and as my Dad used to take us to dams around B.C., I decided I could add this one to my list of dam sites.
The security was quite evident but we had come to expect that everywhere we travelled in the US. We had the most amazing tour guide, a lady named Sidora. The dam rests on the Nevada/Arizona border so with just one step we could change the time back and forth!
Thanks to www.hotwire.com (which had found us the condo in Orlando) we also found a largish condo just off Las Vegas Blvd. Like Key West, Las Vegas was more an adult’s city, but the kids had fun regardless. Chris and I left them at the condo one night when we went out to dinner and to a show. What a treat.
On to San Francisco and the Napa Valley, where our friends, the McKintuck’s are working on making their new sailboat ocean ready. While I took the kids into San Francisco for the day, Chris stayed and tidied up Henry and Lee-Ann’s computer and navigation software.
My brother Tom, who works for Apple, was in town while we were there so we arranged to meet him and my SIL, Stephanie, in Cupertino. We borrowed Henry and Lee-Ann’s GPS to try it out. I think that thing put us on every freeway in the SF-Bay area. Mind you, Napa and Cupertino are probably the most awkward destinations in the Bay area to navigate between!
Tom got us signed into Apple and we all ate at the cafeteria. Wow. That place was great. Sushi, pizza, salad bar, grill, you name it. Complimentary starbucks coffee…all for a song. Chris and I ate lunch for $11. Total.
Unfortunately guests can’t go much further than the cafeteria and retail store (which wasn’t as well stocked as the one in NYC), so we didn’t really see much else other than the windows and a few patios. Still, it was awesome to see.
By the time we were ready to leave San Francisco, we were ready to go home so we put in some pretty long days to get to Vancouver, where we stayed wtih Tom and Stephanie for a day (they beat us back via airplane).
It was nice to come home. It only took us two hours to thaw the water lines (it had been -30 Celsius here for a few days while we were gone). There was no damage to the lines, no windows broken, nothing stolen.
We are now trying to get back into our routines and to talk about future plans.
We have a few invitations for next winter, extended by old and new friends we met up with along the way. Would we do this again? Yes. But not the same way. Next time we would drive to a location but stay and enjoy one place for longer. I think, also, that we would pick less expensive locations. While we loved this trip, we pretty much opened our wallets and let them hemorrhage into New York, Florida and California.
We are also trying to prioritize things for the next year and searching for that ever-elusive balance between paid work, house building, fun and adventure. Stay tuned!
P.S. Having trouble loading pictures but will try to update this post with more pictures soon!