With the Florida Keys behind us, there was nowhere to go but north. Maybe we would go all the way to the terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia? Or should we begin heading west as soon as possible? We tossed these possibilities around and in the mean-time booked a campsite at Torry Island Campground, located near the bottom of Lake Okeechobee.
This campground had beautiful sunset views, and our site overlooked a pond with lots of birds. I walked the dogs on a trail that had an observation tower at the other end of that pond, which Loki began climbing without hesitation, despite being able to see straight through the metal grate steps. I carried Pippin up (his paws were too tiny for the grating), and we all enjoyed the views.
We were just passing through, so we only stayed one night, but not without a bag full of fresh garden string beans from the nice ladies in the campground office.
We decided for sure that the logistics of going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter were not going to work for us on this trip, so we began driving northwest past fields of sugar cane and sugar mills billowing smoke over the horizon. On the way, George called a member of his extended family who lived in Tarpon Springs, which was on the Gulf Coast in the direction we were headed, to see if she’d be interested in meeting for lunch or dinner the next day. She invited us to stay with her overnight, and when we arrived, she showed us everything from beaches for dog walking to the best restaurants and fruit markets. (Seriously, the best grapefruit I’ve ever had came from that market.)
At Honeymoon Island State Park, the dogs pranced through the sand while we looked at shells and sponges that washed up on shore.
There were a few signs warning of rattlesnakes on the island, and sure enough, we spotted one basking in the sun on the trail back to the parking lot! No worries, though – we held the dogs back and gave the snake space, and it slithered away.
Tarpon Springs is considered the Sponge Capitol of the World. Greek divers began settling there due to the abundance of natural sea sponges, and they’ve developed a thriving industry and culture. The street signs by the sponge docks are written in both English and Greek, and the baklava in the local bakery is amazing!
We happened to be visiting on the eve of the Greek Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany. The Orthodox Epiphany celebrates Christ’s baptism, which differs from the western churches, which instead celebrate the arrival of the three kings on that day. This feast day would be celebrated in traditional Greek style with a ceremony involving a blessing of the waters, a cross being thrown into the bayou for divers to retrieve, and a town-wide festival. It was such a major celebration that the Prime Minister of Greece would actually be attending this year. We did not stay to watch the festivities, but while we were there, we saw crowds gathering for the blessing of the fleet of sponge diving boats.
We left Tarpon Springs with plenty of travel tips from George’s aunt, who had traveled full-time in an RV for years. She gave us a send-off of new ideas for places to visit and helpful apps for finding campsites and tracking the weather. We just weren’t sure exactly where we were heading…
Our direction was determined when we reached northern Florida and I read about a meet-up of listeners of a Lord of the Rings podcast called “An Unexpected Podcast” that would be happening about two weeks later near Fort Worth, Texas. I had been to a similar meet-up a couple of months before and was interested in going, and when George said he wouldn’t mind going with me, we knew that we would be heading toward Texas.
With that destination in mind, we roughly planned out how far we would need to travel each day and began heading westward through the Florida panhandle toward Texas – and the rest of the country beyond.