Cuba Day 1

Since Stormy Monday is on the market to be sold and George wasn’t keen to travel to Cuba, I traveled to Cuba with my friend of 30+ years, Merrilee.  We arrived in Cuba the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and came home days before Fidel Castro died.

The United States has loosened the restrictions on traveling to Cuba within the last 18 months.  We had to declare which of 12 licenses we would travel under.  This document on the treasury website describes the requirements:  https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

We stated we would travel under the People-to-People license on a form provided by the airline. Per the US Government “Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”  …  “In addition, persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities.” To comply we kept a daily dairy of our interactions with the Cuban people.

If you book a trip with a travel group that is designed to fulfill the People-To-People licensing requirements it can be quiet expensive, $3-$4k for about a week.  Rather than go that route I chose to book a tour that included travel insurance, lodging, a tour guide and a bus to allow us to visit several cities in the country; and then augmented the tour with our own activities to ensure that we met the requirements.  We were able to do this for $470 pp airfare (included Visa & travel insurance) plus ~$120 pp per day (which included all our food, shopping, etc.)

We flew from Miami to Havana and wondered if our experience in the airport might be indicative of what was to come.  We stood in one line to get our ticket using our invoice, then were directed to another line to get our boarding passes, but then they just took our ticket and walked us to the front of the line.  The line was long, filled with Cubans taking large package of goods home.  It was a friendly, unorganized mess.

Miami Airport

Miami Airport

When we arrived in Havana we walked down the steps and into Terminal 2.  There were multiple customs lines with closed doors leading into the main part of the airport.  It looked very organized and the lines were short.  But when I was passed through customers and went through the door I realized that all doors dumped into 1 single line going through a security gate where they were to x-ray our luggage.   It took a while.

There was a Taxi driver waiting with our names on a card, he was sent from the tour group.  He showed to a Cadeca (acronym for Casa de Cambio, which means House of Exchange) so we could exchange our money.  There is a 10% fee to exchange US, but luckily we had Canadian dollars also.

The peso, aka CUP, sometimes called the “national coin” or in Spanish moneda nacional is one of two official currencies in use in Cuba, the other being the convertible peso aka CUC, occasionally called “dollar” in the spoken language. There are currently 25 CUP per CUC.

After we exchanged money we  had about a 20 minute drive into Havana to our Casa in Vadado.  The main tourist areas include: Old Havana, Central Havana and Vedado.  Old Havana is the oldest, most emblematic and most visited by tourists who come to the island in search of its historical and cultural highlights.  Located between Old Havana and Vedado is Centro Havana which is mainly a shopping district.  Vedado, which includes part of the Malecon coastline, displays similar architectural styles to Old Havana. While its buildings are of great visual deterioration, the appearance of the facades does not necessarily represent its interior.  Vedado is a more modern and affluent neighborhood, but still packed with bars, restaurants, music venues and, best of all, regular Cubans.

School Children on a Field Trip

School Children on a Field Trip

Vadero

Vadero

Vadero

Vadero

 

While in Cuba we stayed in Casa Particular which are private homestays.  You can book a Casa or a VIP Casa.  We stayed in Casas.  Typically they had at least 2 twin beds or 1 double bed and 1 twin bed.  All had A/C, most with the ductless quiet type, 1 with a loud old A/C.  It appeared that the same type of mattress was on every single bed we encountered, rather thin and hard but not uncomfortable to sleep on.  Except for the one with cardboard boxes under it!  Each room had its own adjoining bathroom, and they were all different, but all included beautiful tiles on the walls and floors.  Some Casas were in better repair than others.  Breakfast was always included, which typically included fresh fruit, bread, eggs and sometimes a fruit smoothie.  Oh, and the coffee… yum… the coffee.  There are so many Casa’s available I don’t think many people make reservations, but you can.  Here is a website that allows that:  http://www.casaparticular.com/.  There are not a lot of hotels, but there are a lot of tourists! So the Casas make sense for the owners and the country.  Our tour guide explained to us that last December there were more tourists than Casas available, so some tourists had to sleep in the park!  Since then the government has setup a special license to allow home owners that are not typically Casas to accept tourists.

Casa Building

Casa Building

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Casa Bathroom

Light switch in the Casa bathroom

Light switch in the Casa bathroom

Casa Bedroom

Casa Bedroom

Merrilee and I were anxious to see Cuba, so we just started walking.  We walked the Malecon (a paved walkway along the ocean) at sunset and made our way to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.  The hotel is beautiful, but we were glad we were having a more “Cuban” experience at the Casa.  Casas tend to be ~$25-50(us) per night.  VIP Casas are >$100(us) per night.  The Hotel Nacional starts at $338(us) per night.

Fishing on the Malecon

Fishing on the Malecon

Old Cars Everywhere

Old Cars Everywhere

Havana

Havana

We were a tour group of 16 and so we were spread out over 3 different Casas.  At 7:00pm we met at the “base Casa” and met our tour guide and the group.  Our guide was named Alejandro and he was Cuban born and spoke good English.  We came to know him as our Cuban Angel, because he took such good care of us.  Our group was diverse, 21-70 years old and from all over the world, but we were the only ones from North America.  In fact, we did not meet any other Americans on our trip except at the airport.  Other countries represented included Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany, Hungary, and Estonia.

After our briefing which included information on where we would be traveling, information Alejandro would be providing and guidance on how to be patient with “the Cuban experience” we were about to embark on, we all went to dinner.  We had dinner at a Paladar (privately owned restaurant vs. government owned) named Santa Barbara.  All of our dinners included rice & beans and sometimes bread served family style in addition to the entrée ordered.  We were warned in the states that the food might be bland, but we found that for the most part it was delicious with varied options.  We spent the evening getting to know our tour mates and listening to lively Cuban music.

Maybe we will find wine!

Maybe we will find wine!

Cuban Band

Cuban Band

Next post will be Day 2 & 3 – Vinales

Grateful for it all…

Wanna buy a boat?

Wow, did I just say that?!   Apparently!

When we retired nearly 3 years ago to move aboard Stormy Monday and go cruising we had dreams of taking her as far we wanted to travel.  I am reminded “Man plans, God laughs” – Yiddish proverb

We had an amazing time cruising for months in the Bahamas, and truly it was worth all the planning and hard work to get Stormy ready to go cruising.  But when we returned many variables took over our life including my health issues and our elderly parents needing support.  We aborted a trip to the Bahamas in March 2014 because my blood pressure dropped and George Sr. went into the hospital.  Again we tried, we staged the boat in West Palm Beach, FL December 2014 while we came home for the holidays.  With great sadness we said goodbye to George Sr. over the holidays and needed to stay in town to take care of his estate.

While all this was going on, George could only sit back and watch and provide care where needed.  Our boat was our entire life, and it wasn’t going anywhere.  He felt trapped and bored, so he found other passions to enjoy.  He bought his dream car and spent time racing around the Sebring race track and taking road trips.  He has put > 10k miles on that car since he bought it 9 months ago!  He also started getting serious about his guitar playing, and has put together a “band” that he practices with out in the Red Barn on the property here at the farm.  George has never been a good multi-tasker!  LOL  It seems he has moved on, and no longer has the passion to give all our resources to a big boat.

So she is for sale…  And that’s ok.  I made up my own saying “Glorious experiences may lie in the ruin of our previous plans.”

Will we buy another big boat?  Who knows!  We tinker with the idea of buying a trawler to travel the Great Loop.  For now I think we will take a break from the time, expense, and responsibility that a big boat requires and do a little travel on planes, trains and automobiles.  But don’t be surprised if you see us on the river on a small sailboat, we might be able to say goodbye to Stormy but not to sailing!

If you would like to see pictures and specs regarding Stormy Monday, please click here.

Grateful for it all…

Choices and Priorties…

Life is about choices and choices are usually driven by our priorities. George and I share similar priorities, the most precious to us being our family. We are deeply grateful for every member of our family. It was great sorrow that we said goodbye to George’s father George Sr over the Christmas holidays.

George, being the oldest son, decided lovingly that we would remain in Florida while he managed his father’s estate.

RIP George Sr., you will be deeply missed.  We are comforted to know you are with your beloved wife, Alice.

Alice & George Sr. Wedding Day

Alice & George Sr. Wedding Day

 

We are hopeful to resume our cruising plans in March.

Update March 25:  We continue to have events present themselves that are of a much higher priority then sailing off on Stormy.  My Mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  We will remain here in Melbourne to provide support while she is treated

Underway (Again… sorta)

We left the marina…  Actually, I was having a lovely time drinking wine with my friends in CA, so really George and Ed drove Stormy Monday away from the marina in Melbourne to Vero Beach on November 1st.  Sort of like a baby step, the first of many that we hope will transport us to the Bahamas.  After our false start in March, when I got sick yet again, we are slowly making our way hoping I don’t have any issues this time.  We are trying winter cruising and so far it agrees with me!

Stormy Monday spent November in Vero and we visited her several times while we finished up our farm projects.  Folks call Vero Beach “Velcro Beach” because it is so easy to be lulled in by the many amenities, access to a bus for shopping and the frequent social activities (adult daycare.)

While we didn’t hear a Velcro separating sound as we left Vero, we were attacked by the no-see-ums!  Such is boating life.  As we headed south on the ICW, we were pleasantly surprised to not be swamped by power boat wakes.  We anchored just South of the Jensen Beach bridge and spent a rolly sleepless night due to the long fetch and frequent waves.

Underway

Underway

We pulled into our new home for a month, Cypress Island Marina, just in time to attend the homeowners association’s potluck and watch the North Palm Beach Holiday Boat Parade.    Fireworks, lots!! o’ boats (no sailboats though Disappointed smile) , followed up by power boats with uniformed Marines on board collecting Toys for Tots from spectators on the docks.  The parade was spectacular!

North Palm Beach Christmas Boat Parade

North Palm Beach Christmas Boat Parade

 

We were very grateful to be invited by the HOA to attend the potluck and watch the parade, we met some really nice people and had a lovely evening.

We have rented the slip here in North Palm Beach (Jupiter area) to get Stormy ready to cross the Gulf Stream and cruise the Bahamas for ~ 4 months.  And hopefully we will do a little sight seeing and enjoy the area.

Looking kind of small among all of the large power boats!

Looking kind of small among all of the large power boats!

I belong to a Facebook group, “Women Who Sail”, whose members (> 3000) are women who sail all over the world.  Since we have arrived, we have been having a nice time meeting up with other sailors that are either locals or traveling on their way south.  Seriously, the BEST part about cruising is meeting the people!

"Women Who Sail" Meetup

“Women Who Sail” Meetup

We will drive back up to Melbourne for the holidays and then drive back down to West Palm to wait for a weather window.  Next stop, Abacos, Bahamas!  Join us, won’t you!?

Merry Christmas!

Thank you to Amy for the Jupiter Lighthouse ornament!

Thank you to Amy for the Jupiter Lighthouse ornament!

Grateful for it …

The Farm

It all started with kitchen pipes bursting and flooding the farm house.  Daddy’s farm house (aka man cave) in Melbourne was in a shambles after all his belongings had been boxed, furniture placed in a pod and flooring replaced.  He asked if we could come and help him put things back to together and live at the Farm while we are not cruising on the boat so we could help with maintaining the house.

Perfect timing!  We wanted to do some projects on the boat that would be very messy, making it difficult to live on the boat while the projects were going on.

So life got a little crazy with the Farm clean up and the boat projects.  But we are enjoying the Farm and all the beauty it has to offer.  It also provides a home base for us while we move the boat south this Fall.

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Barn kitties, Rosie & Madeleine.

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The Barn & “Red” the 23 year old sweet horse.

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The Farm House.

susan sanding on stormy monday 2

Boat Projects

We have moved the boat to Vero Beach where she is on a mooring so we can check out all of her systems.  The head is having issues (again) and George is working on getting it fixed.  We will spend time on her in Vero, then start heading south after Thanksgiving.

Since I received a diagnosis a few months ago of “Hypotension” and heat seems to lower my blood pressure to the point that I become sick, we are going to try winter in the Bahamas instead of summer.

Please, join us on our journey.

 

Grateful for it all…

House Sitting

I had been stalking house sitting websites for about a year.  I thought house sitting sounded like a good way to travel without the expense of a hotel.  When we knew we would be tying up Stormy Monday in a marina for hurricane season, we decided to give it a try.

There are quite a few websites that list house sitting opportunities. The ones I am signed up on include www.mindmyhouse.com, www.housecarers.com and www.luxuryhousesitting.com.  The home owners provide listings for house sitting opportunities all over the world.  The duration of the stay may range in duration from 1 week up to a year.  There may be pets (dogs, cats, goats, chickens, etc.), gardens, boats, yards, etc. to take care of.  The sitters provide a profile that describes a little about themselves, when they are available, what their skills are, and why they want to house sit.  Once the profiles are setup, the sitters and home owners may contact each other.  Generally no money exchanges hands.  Here is an example of one of our profiles: http://www.mindmyhouse.com/owners/sitter_listing/17233.  Many of the sites offer email alerts and or RSS feeds so you can be notified of new house sitting opportunities.

We had the pleasure of house sitting for Katy & Kenny in Louisiana and Barbara & John in New Jersey this summer.  We thoroughly enjoyed both experiences and believe that house sitting can be a “win win” situation for both the house sitter and the home owner.  The key, I believe, is in clear communication of the expectations of both parties. 

The website www.mindmyhouse.com offers a house sitting agreement template that may be used to document expectations,  such as what is expected of the house sitter with regard to care of the home, care of pets, reimbursement of utilities or security deposit (if applicable).  The agreement also includes sections for the home owner to fill in to describe what areas of the home are out of bounds, how they wish you to handle unexpected maintenance or repairs, vet visits, etc. and emergency contact information (how to contact the home owner, local family or friends), a visitor policy, rules & regulations (i.e. Condominium CC&Rs). 

The same website also provides checklists for the home owner as a reminder to create a information packet for the house sitter, inform others that they will be having house sitters, preparing their homes, vehicles, and documenting information on services (garbage collection, etc.)  There is also a checklist for pet owners to help ensure that pet’s special needs are taken care of by the house sitter.  These agreements and checklists really go a long way to managing expectations and assuring that both parties understand what they are getting themselves into.

I found this excellent list of Dos and Don’t list for house sitters.  The list is good advice and includes items you might not have thought of, like not taking on an assignment beyond your confidence level.  It wouldn’t seem like a good idea to offer to take care of a horse, goat or chickens if you haven’t done it before.  On our house sitting stay in New Jersey was on an island in the middle of a lake.  The only transportation to the island was by personal pontoon boat, so this required knowledge of boating and comfort with living detached from land and services (i.e. hauling garbage to the mainland, running a generator during power loss, etc.)  Fortunately we live on a boat and have lived at anchor for months at a time, therefore island living was within our comfort zone.

I have created my own list for house sitters to consider when taking on a house sitting assignment:

  1. Be proactive and do as much research as you can before you go.  Try to get to know your hosts, the area you will be visiting and information on the pets or other things you might be asked to take care of.  Social media can help in the process of getting to know each other.  Katy read our blog, we shared multiple emails, we friended each other on Facebook and talked on the phone a couple of times.  I requested pictures of the home and specifically the areas of the house we would be occupying.  We were going to be taking care of a Maltese Poodle named Charlie, so I did some research on the bred.  By the time we drove to her home in Louisiana I felt like I had made a new friend and we had no surprises.  Try to arrive a day, before your hosts leave so that you can get to know each other and review the information and instructions regarding the home and pets.
  2. What happens if a emergency arises and one of the parties must end the agreement?  While we were on our first house sitting vacation, our host’s father passed away, so they needed to return home.  They offered to let us stay, but we knew the last thing they needed were strangers in their home during such a difficult time, so we drove into New Orleans and stayed in a hotel and then headed home.  Emergencies happen, but we were glad we had not flown, and had our car.  It would be a good idea to include a “Plan B” in your agreement.  What happens if the hosts need to come home early?  What happens if the house sitters must leave early?
  3. We found that our attention span seems to be 1-2 weeks, after that, we were ready to return to our lives at home. What do you think yours would be?  Think about it before you make a long commitment. 
  4. I am from the South and was taught never to enter a home empty handed, consider bringing a hostess gift or treat for the pet.  But be sure to ask the host for permission before giving the treat to the pet.
  5. When you are leaving your host’s home, try to leave a small token of your appreciation.  A thank you card and/or flowers, or wine, would probably be very appreciated by your hosts.
  6. When you get home, evaluate what you liked about your stay and what you didn’t like.  Make a note of it and be sure to include it in your due diligence next time!

If you decide to try house sitting, let us know how it goes!  Do you have any more advice for someone else that might be thinking about trying house sitting?

Grateful for it all…

House Sitting in New Jersey

When our friends the Goullet’s found out we were available for house sitting this summer, they asked if we would house, dog and kitty sit for them in their home on Halsey Island on Lake Hopatcong, NJ while they went on a river cruise with their daughter and son-in-law in Europe.  Guess what we said?!  Heck ‘Ya!

Map picture

We flew into Newark and John & Barbara whisked us away to their island home.  We boarded their pontoon boat and crossed Lake Hopatcong to Halsey Island.  Their home on Halsey is not only impressive because it is so gorgeous, but also because they built it by bringing over every single piece of material and the laborers by boat.  It took them 2 years (of summers) to complete their home.  Every room offers beautiful views of the lake or the surrounding woods and the large deck became our oasis for 2 weeks. 

 

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When we arrived we met our roommates, Ms. Maggie the beagle and Mr. Oscar the kitty.  We took our time to get to know each other for the first few days, but soon we were all good buddies and enjoyed each others company.  Turns out Oscar loves guitar music!

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Having only been to New Jersey once on a business trip years ago, I found some of these NJ particulars interesting:

  1. All gas stations are full service, you cannot pump your own gas.  This website goes into detail explaining the reasons, but basically it reflects the will of the people of New Jersey. 
  2. They utilize “jug handles” on the roads to change the way traffic turns at an intersection. 
  3. At some of the grocery stores, you have to insert a quarter to get a cart.  If you return the cart, you get your quarter back.  Also, when we produced our own shopping bags, we got a 2 cent refund per bag.

We spent a great deal of our time on the island due to weather and being lazy.  While Hurricane Arthur charged up the coast, it rained every day for about 3 days.  We had a significant storm that rained pebble size hail down on us for about 30 minutes, pummeling the flower beds and destroying the flag pole holder.  We were happy to sit cozy in the house and watch the rain on the lake.  By the time the first weekend rolled around we had not left the island except for groceries.  And due to the busy activity on the lake over the 4th of July holiday, we didn’t leave the house over the first weekend either.

The Goullet’s neighbors, George & Cindy have everyone over for dinner on the weekends, and they were very gracious to invite us for dinner both Friday and Saturday night. George loves to cook and, seriously, he is really good at it!  We had homemade Olive Tapenade, Bruschetta,  Shrimp, Ribs, Steaks, Green Beans, Carrots, Snow Crab and Clams.  Wow, what a feast!  Everyone told us that the local restaurants were not going to be the best food we had ever had… well, we found the best restaurant on the lake, George & Cindy’s!  It was so interesting to get to know the neighbors and some of the history of the island.  Several of the families have owned homes on the island for several generations.  What an amazing legacy to leave to your children.

Lake Hopatcong is the largest freshwater body in New Jersey.  Halsey Island is one of two Islands (Raccoon Island is the second) on the lake.  There are ~20 summer homes on Halsey Island, the homes are vacant during the winter when the lake is usually frozen over.

On the island and around the lake we saw deer, a bald eagle (who has a nest on the island), herons, cormorants, geese, ducks and lots of spiders.  I had never seen geese upturn their butts in the air while the rummage for food below, hysterical!  One rumored island resident, a boa constrictor, never made himself visible.  Once the sighting was reported, we stayed close to home and didn’t allow Ms. Maggie to roam.  But my favorite was the fireflies!  I haven’t seen fireflies since I was a child when we captured them in glass jars when we visited my grandparents in South Carolina during the summers.

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There are several hiking trails on the island and around the lake, and cruising around the lake on the pontoon boat to admire the homes became a favorite past time.

We did manage to leave the island to do a little sight seeing:

Lakota Wolf Preserve – the wolf preserve was developed and run by a married couple.  They rent their land from a large camp ground, about 10 acres.  They have 4 packs of wolf, with a limit of ~20 wolves total allowed on the preserve.  It was a interesting visit and our first time seeing wolves outside of a zoo.  Wolves are an endangered species, so kudos to the preserves for saving wolves from bad situations and allowing them to live out their lives in a more wolf friendly environment.  Apparently it is illegal to capture wolves and to release them back into the wild.  They also have bob cats and foxes on the property.

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Brook Hollow Winery – on the way to the wolf preserve we drove by this winery, so we stopped in on the way back for a tasting.  Their most popular wine is a dry Cranberry wine that passed the taste test and followed me back to the house.

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Washington’s Headquarters and Jockey Hollow in  Morristown – in the winter of 1779, General Washington and the Continental Army’s encampment was near the town of Morristown in Jockey Hollow.  During the winters, the enemy was the winter itself, fighting the elements to survive.  We explored the Ford Mansion where Washington and his officer’s stayed and then drove to Jokey Hollow where the army built their log cabins for the ~10,000 men.  It was one of the most brutal winters on record, snow drifts 4-6 feet high.  It took them 3 months in the bitter cold and snow to build their cabins, and for the entire winter there was little in the way of food and provisions.  ~300 died in the camp while more than 1000 deserted.  Sobering and thought provoking.  While we walked drove to the Jockey Hollow recreated camp we saw a black bear that had just crossed the road and a red tailed hawk flying over the open pasture area.

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We talked about driving to Jersey City and catching the ferry to Ellis Island and Manhattan, but when the time rolled around to go, I opted for a hike instead.  Hiking in the woods is so different from my beloved walks on the beach.  You must be every vigilant and pay attention to the trails, the terrain and any threatening wildlife.  Since our bear sighting a few days before, I just walked thru the woods shouting “go away bears!”  Seems to have worked.

The 2 weeks flew by and soon it was time for us to leave.  Thank you Barbara & John for sharing your little slice of heaven with us!

Grateful for it all

House sitting in Louisiana

Since George and I decide to hold off on cruising to the Bahamas until winter…  we thought we might give house sitting a try to get us out of the marina for the summer.

Our first house sitting trip was to Prairieville, Louisiana.  Prairieville is an hour NW of New Orleans and a 1/2 hour south of Baton Rouge.  We had a wonderful time and think we might just be onto something with this house sitting thing!

We looked after Charlie, the Maltese Poodle.  Charlie is one of the sweetest dogs in the world, and we miss him!

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It totally rocks to have the leisurely time to explore an area. We probably could have done all of this in a week, but we would have been exhausted (probably happily).   But by being able to take advantage of a house sitting opportunity we were able to intertwine relaxation time with exploring which was a very new experience for us.

Thank you Katy and Kenny for your hospitality!

Things we learned:

The difference between the Creole and Cajun people of Louisiana.

Cajuns call themselves “coon asses”, yup, seriously.  Probably one of those terms best left to self proclamation.

George and I could probably eat our weight in Cajun food!  LOL

Places we went:

Vermilionville, Lafayette –  This “living history museum” village is recreation of an ~1800 Arcadian village.  The original homes where moved here and other structures where built, such as the covered shed for storing boats.   The village lays on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin (swamp.)  I was skeptical, but ultimately enchanted by the village, which was a delight to experience.  We walked thru the village admiring the landscaping, gardens, and authentic feel of each cottage.  What it must have been like to live on the edge, seriously folks, right outside your door, swamp.  Some of the cottages had their original cypress floors, but they all conveyed what it would have felt like to live in a village of this type.

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Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, Baton Rouge – This nature center had over a mile of paths to walk thru the Bluebonnet Swamp.  Once you get into the swamp it is amazing the diversity of wildlife you can hear and see!  We heard a lot of birds, frogs and even Wood Peckers!  The deeper we got into the swamp the louder it got!  And we learned that Cypress trees have “knees” (picture #3) which are the roots of the tree above ground.

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St. Francisville, LAA small town with many historic homes, and plantations in the area.  We drove the historic “walk” since it was nearly 100 degrees, and had lunch at the Magnolia Café.  After lunch we drove around to some of the plantations, but didn’t take any tours.

Couret’s Swamp Tours   When I asked George what kind of swamp tour he wanted to go on, I told him he could choose from a large boat with many tourists, or just us in a boat with a guide.  He chose the later and we chose Ernest, and it was an amazing choice!  Ernest launched his 16 ft. wide bottom boat (25 hp johnson), and we climbed in and away we went.  Throughout the 2 hour tour of the swamp Ernest told us about the swamp (Atchafalaya Basin) while we were in awe over the quiet, eerie beauty.  This swamp is the largest in the United States, spanning over 1 million acres. On our tour we saw Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Anhinga, Glossy (black) & White Ibis, Night Heron, and Tri-colored Heron.

Ernest showed us two of his Crawfish traps.  He puts a beer can and corn into the traps.  Apparently they are attracted to the beer can and they eat the corn.  There were a few big ones in one of the traps.

He also took us into a basin which he knew was the home of 2 alligators, a male and female… and this is mating season.  The male poked his head up right by the boat and Ernest quickly started the engine and we slowly exited the basin… he said that the male is very territorial and they can get aggressive during mating season, that same male had slapped his boat with his tale just the day before.

There are remnants of a old railroad track, only posts remaining, jutting up out of the water.  He told us about boats that have run into the posts that are hiding under the water with deadly consequences.  There are also many tree stumps, some can be seen, some can’t, hazards for the “coon asses” as Ernest would say.  There are no charts or hazard indicators out here, just local knowledge.

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Frenchmen Street, New Orleans – If you want to find some serious musicians, not bombarded by drunks like Bourbon Street, head for Frenchmen Street.  We went to the Spotted Cat, which is a small bar frequented by locals, and watched a couple of bands.  Gotta love a show where the musicians show up on their bicycles, even the tuba player!

Places we ate (of note):

Prejeans, Lafayette – (pronounced “pray-ZHAHNs”)  Probably some of the BEST Cajun food George and I have ever had the pleasure of eating.  But the one dish we literally fought over was the “Crawfish & Alligator Sausage Cheesecake.”  We have never had “hot cheesecake”.  And if you try to Google recipes, you come up goose eggs mostly.  Is this a well kept Cajun secret!?  It was amazing!

Here is what we ate at Prejeans, and I don’t think I would change a thing if we were to be blessed with another visit!  Cajun Bloody Mary, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, Crawfish and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake and a Crawfish Platter (Fried crawfish, Crawfish Etouffee, Crawfish Cornbread Pie, and Crawfish Boulettes, served with French Fries, Corn Macque Choux, Crawfish Bisque, and Fried Crawfish Salad).  Oink!

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Bon Temps Grill, Lafayette – We had another delicious Cajun Bloody Mary, Cajun Sausage & Boudin and Shrimp & Tasso pasta… Yum!

Royal House Oyster Bar, New Orleans – When we visited New Orleans in November 2013, we went to the Royal House Oyster Bar twice because we loved the sauce in their Crab Claw appetizer.  George has been trying to reengineer the sauce ever since.  On this trip, Royal House was our first visit.  We again had the Crab Claws, followed by their sampler platter of Jambalaya, Gumbo & Crawfish Etouffee.  Delicious!

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Orleans Grapevine Bar & Bistro, New Orleans – One of the few wine bars in New Orleans, this restaurant also had good food in addition to a nice wine selection.  We had Gumbo and New Orleans BBQ Shrimp (heads and all!).

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We are back home for 2 weeks while we diet and prepare for our next house sitting adventure on Halsey Island, Lake Hopatcong, NJ, stay tuned!

Plan B

After a false start for the Bahamas, we returned to Melbourne to get the head fixed and check on George’s Dad who went into the hospital (very happy to report he is home and recovering nicely after a hernia operation.)  Immediately after our return, I started having issues with low blood pressure.  After a couple of weeks of being ill, seeing the Dr. and waiting for blood work, it turns out they can find nothing wrong with me.  After adding Himalayan pink salt to my water for a few days I was back to normal.  So what the heck was that!?

After much discussion, George and I hypothesize that I am perhaps sensitive to heat.  It was very hot while we were in Vero Beach.  We talked about continuing onto the Bahamas, but instead decided to spend the winter there, to avoid the heat.  We certainly do not want another health scare episode like last year.

Decision made…. now what the heck are we going to do all summer?  We don’t really want to stay at the dock doing boat projects all summer.  hmmm…  Road trip!  I have been stalking websites (i.e. http://www.mindmyhouse.com/) where you find house/pet sitting listings.  The listings are all over the world and range from weeks to months.  The gig may include taking care of pets (cats, dogs, ducks, horses, chickens, etc.) or no pets at all.  Generally, no money exchanges hands, but appears to be a win-win situation for the host and sitters.  I am very  happy to report that we have our first house/dog sitting gig in Prairieville, LA for 2 weeks in June.  We are looking forward to the road trip and the opportunity to explore Louisiana.  And don’t you know, New Orleans will be one of the first stops!

Stay tuned, we will post some pictures from LA…

Detour!

Remember our last post titled “Underway at last!”?  Well, we had to take a detour.  We spent ~8 days in Vero Beach testing all our systems and we had a few hiccups.  The culprits:   bilge pump (running too often), outboard motor (not starting easily), and the head (not pumping water back into the bowl.)  The showstopper is the head.  We can use it if we flush with fresh water, but that is not ideal in the Bahamas where we would be conserving water.

In addition, George’s Dad has been admitted to the hospital with a hernia.

So… we decided to come back to Telemar Marina in Melbourne and get these things taken care of.  We will regroup and head out again soon…  stay tuned!

While we were in Vero Beach we had a nice time meeting up with other cruisers and just generally relaxing.  It really is a small world, we met up with s/v Door into Summer from St. Pete whom we met last summer in Treasure Cay and friends on s/v Kristali who were returning from 5 months in the Bahamas.

Susan in the Dinghy

Susan in the Dinghy

Anchorage in Vero Beach

Anchorage in Vero Beach

Working on the Head

Working on the Head (plumbing)

Uh Oh, getting help working on the head

Uh Oh, getting help working on the head

Sunset in Vero Beach

Sunset in Vero Beach