Thankfully our RV is still in the same spot with everything in it, and again it is great to come ‘home’ in our little Jerry. We stock up on groceries again and go by a car wash to give the RV another wash to make it shine and give it the necessary TLC. When we are fully settled again, we drive out to our stop for the day; Sawgrass Mills Shopping center.
While the exchange rate is not great, the deals to be had in the shopping malls so close before Christmas are actually quite great, so we decide to spend some time in one of the biggest malls around (more like a combination of several malls AND an outlet center all rolled into one). We are mostly looking for new clothes for the boys, especially from brands we would normally never shop for like Tommy Hilfiger, GAP and Guess. But as we have some budget left and we have all been wearing the same clothes now for all this time, we feel we have earned a bit of a spree.
We do a high speed round through pretty much all the stores, taking pictures of the things we like, and then hours later make a selection and reverse the way we came while piling everything in. It is a lot of fun, and we even manage to score some extra discounts through the app which makes it a very satisfying round. We may do another round for the grown-ups before we leave, but for now we made very efficient use of the opportunity.
Big Cypress National Preserve
With 3 major NPS sites still to go and a cold front coming in over Christmas we need to make some decisions on the order of things. While Florida seems hot and humid all year (with a bit more of that in the summer), it turns out that the forecast for this weekend shows a plummet of temperature from 27 to 15 degrees for a few days before climbing back up again. So we decide to head straight to the Big Cypress National Preserve and the western edge of the Everglades NP, to take our kayak out again for a spin.
The choice is a 5 mile loop towards Sandfly Island across from the coastline in the smattering of small islands there, and visit the one island that was inhabited back in the day by the Native Americans that lived here. To get there though, it turns out the tide coming in is really pushing us hard and the dock does not seem to get any closer, no matter how hard we paddle. We decide to take the detour around and see if the current is less there, which turns out to work and gets us to the walkway in the end for a short hike there.
Going back of course we enjoy the tidal current helping us across the water clearance and back to the boat landing for a smooth finish. We are going to feel those muscles for sure! Packing up the kayak and all the paraphernalia that come with it is a tedious chore, but one we have to do right to ensure we do not get mold or other dirt on the kayak. Once packed up, we take to the Visitor Center again where we are just in time to catch the better part of the park movie and collect the first of 3 badges: Big Cypress NP. We are ready for the cold, one good weather outdoor activity checked.
Getting things done over Xmas
And cold it was!! For Florida standards it was very extreme, and it triggered a run on propane to keep all those gas heaters running and the family warm during Christmas. We also need a few gallons more as our heater is also needed again and we are preparing for a few days outside of the city. We use the day to get some things organized while we start to slowly pack up our RV and rummage through all the things we have collected over the course of this trip. We also have a few stops like a bike shop to request empty bike boxes to be kept aside for us so we can pack up our bikes.
Towards the end of the afternoon we find our way towards our stay for the night, which is a Boondockers spot in the spacious plot of a very kind Cuban couple. The boys love it as it is also the home of 2 lovely dogs they get to play with the remainder of the afternoon, and even better; the rabbits have tiny baby rabbits! After a nice and quiet night we decide to stay a bit longer and make use of this beautiful refuge to get our RV a bit more organized (and for the boys to play some more with the dogs). Our lovely hosts even surprise us with some proper Cuban food; beans, rice, pork belly and salad – which is quickly devoured by the boys before we say our goodbyes.
Everglades National Park
As we drive into the Everglades we enjoy the scenery but also the cold weather we still experience. The visitor center helps us on our way and we gauge whether our plan to kayak one more time the next day is feasible… There is no clear answer, but for that evening there is a guided night walk planned close to our campground which is the first activity on the list. We go to the campground to settle in and discover the surroundings a bit before we have dinner and get ready for that walk in the dark!
The ranger joining us on the hike has the privilege of hosting us and 2 Belgians, which feels so incredibly random after 1,5 years of mostly non-Europeans we have been running into! Before we venture out onto the trail, we take an introductory range of sounds the ranger plays to us where we try to guess what it is. Which Luc does really well!! After this our eyes have accustomed to the dark and we have an hour on the trail where we discover alligators (even a dead one!), fish – some stunned because of the sudden cold – and other critters that come out in the dark. Really fun to do, but the cold also makes us not hang around too long after the ranger finished her talk. The heater goes on, and we head back to the campground.
The next day the rain unfortunately does not let up, and the cold continues to mess up our plans. This means we do not take out the kayak anymore which is a real shame as there is a canoe trail in the everglades that takes you through several habitats which we had really wanted to take on. Instead, we spend the day packing up the RV, the boys playing outside with other kids between showers, Sven filling the first of three bike boxes and of course decorating Christmas houses to kill time. Not really how we imagined our time in the Everglades to be, but you can not have it all!
The next day it is time for a good surprise for the boys: We have altered the countdown calendar and tell them that we are actually leaving much earlier to go home. Bo cries “is this crying of happiness mom!?”, and they are incredibly excited to go home, but more importantly surprise everybody with our return. This means it is time for them as well to pack their bags, and for mom to do a final round of laundry in the morning so we can start the process of getting home and wrapping up our travel life. Before we do though we finish in style with our last National Park visit of the US;
Biscayne National Park
Our final national park on this epic journey is Biscayne National Park, of which of course 95% lies actually underwater. As the weather has not been great we decided to opt out of the snorkeling trip we could do here, and only take on the guided ranger walk which tells the story of the park and the 4 different ecosystems it contains. As it is the final of the 3 southern Florida parks we do the Junior Ranger work which earns the boys the badge of the park and the patch of the combined parks. They even work towards the Bark ranger tag for their stuffed animal dogs… because you can! :-).
As the sun starts to peek out a bit we roll out the kayak again for some final drying and then adding some more luggage to the bag to maximize the space to the 23kg we are allowed to take with us. Then we drive back towards the bike shop to gather 2 more boxes and end the day at another Harvest Host – a church this time – to spend the evening packing up those boxes and cleaning the RV. The next morning we FINALLY have breakfast at Cracker Barrel, one of our favorite chains to stay the night, where we are even treated to our breakfast by 2 incredibly kind guests we came to talk with; what an incredibly kind American send-off!
Wrapping up the journey
And so our final 24 hours began, in which we did some final cleaning (while driving to the next stop), washing the outside (while picking up a rental car), packing up all of the things we want to take with us, and donating all the things we don’t to the salvation army. Luckily for us the hotel we will stay at for the last night actually has our room ready early, so when we get there we can not only leave our luggage but even put some of the stuff we still need immediately in our room.
Then it is a 2hr drive up north to park our RV in Palm City, so it is ready to be viewed and sold. We have rented a huge pickup truck, because of course that is what you do after watching these monsters everywhere we go in North America for this long, which the boys especially really love driving. Right before we drop off the RV we empty out all the tanks and make it look extra shiny, and then give our seller Elle a tour through our home away from home. We leave the RV with a little pain in our hearts, but then say our goodbyes and take the 2hr drive back to Miami.
As we wake up the next day we take it slow and do some final shopping/swimming/relaxing before we pack all our luggage into the back of the truck… or so we thought! Right then and there, with only a few more hours left we realize we forgot one of our big bags in the RV which is 2hrs away… THE HORROR!!! There is nothing we can do about this anymore, so we will wreck our brains on how to get the bag home another time, take our losses now, and take a deep breath before driving out to the airport for the last time. With one checked in bag less we rearrange our luggage a bit to minimize our hand luggage and then it finally is really time to fly away… Thank you AMERICAS!!! You have been amazing :-).
Next week: 555 days of travel come to an end