A Morning Walk on South of Fifth

After months of sheltering at home due to the global pandemic, this weekend we ventured out to one of the beautiful neighborhoods right in our backyard. South of Fifth, known to the locals as SoFi, is a small and affluent neighborhood in South Beach, Miami Beach. Surrounded by water, modern and historic apartment buildings, iconic restaurants, marinas, and the beach, Sofi is a highly desirable place to live and play in Miami.

This “walkable” neighborhood goes from South Point Park, the southern tip of Miami Beach, north to 5th street from east to west. Once a dying area of Miami Beach, SoFi came to life in the early 1990’s when a German man, Thomas Kramer, envisioned creating a tropical version of New York’s Battery Park City. His vision transformed this once seedy and crime ridden neighborhood into a Miami gem.

You can live in a city for years and still be surprised by its beauty. I often take for granted that I live in a place most people consider paradise. This morning’s walk reminded me of how lucky we are to be able to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us. Walking on a serene path along the beach I felt a sense of peace and contentment. The beach, with its powdery white sand and tranquil ocean, was devoid of crowds in the early morning hours–just the way I like it.

Thoughts of the sadness, turmoil, and worldwide devastation that the year 2020 embedded in my heart and mind disappeared, if only for a moment.

At the end of South Pointe Park is South Point Pier. You can fish, enjoy a sunset, watch the cruise ships sail out to sea, catch a glimpse of dolphins, or relax and take in the view.

Standing 55 feet tall is the quirky “obstinate lighthouse” greeting visitors and locals with a choreographed light display. This lighthouse, by artist Tobias Rehberger, is the 18th art installation in the Art in Public Places Project started in 1979 with the Mermaid, by Roy Lichtenstein.

One of my favorite things in any urban hike is meeting interesting people. Although Covid has limited the opportunity to engage in friendly chatter with strangers, we managed to meet a couple and their unique pet. We met Jolly Roger, an adorable and friendly mini pig, who charmed and delighted my husband. Now to convince him that we don’t need an addition to our family! Though I must admit, Jolly Roger was very cute.

In a neighborhood where modern luxury high rises coexist in perfect harmony with historic art deco buildings, with the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne Bay, Fisher Island, and downtown Miami, it’s easy to see why Sofi attracts locals and foreigners alike.

Jetty Park Campground, Cape Canaveral FL

On the road again on a Friday night, except this time, we left our Toyota Camry behind to ride in a 36 ft. Holiday Rambler Neptune motor home with friends. We’re headed to Jetty Park, a campground on a stretch of beach along the east coast of Florida in Cape Canaveral.

We are always up for a camping trip. With all of the preparation that goes into preparing for a camping excursion, the experience is easier when you’re camping out in a comfortable motor home. Some campgrounds tend to pack the motor homes too closely together to make better use of the available space, while primitive spots are more lush and private. Jetty Park offers both options.

Nicely tucked away, this primitive site is very cozy.

You can also rent small cabins that comfortably accommodate a family of four. The cabins are air conditioned with a queen size bed, a set of bunk beds, a half-bath, mini fridge, a small porch, picnic table, and charcoal grill.

Jetty Park is the perfect campground for beach lovers and fishing enthusiasts. With a 1,200 ft. long fishing pier, equipped with running water and fish cleaning stations, you can fish from sunrise to sunset. No need for a fishing license to fish off the pier. No bait, no problem. You can purchase bait in the Bait Shop right on site.

If fishing isn’t your thing, Jetty Park offers 4.5 acres of sandy beach where you can lay back, relax, and soak in the sun.

Kayaks, boogie boards, chairs, and umbrellas can be rented right on the beach. Bring your snacks or visit Fishlips to purchase food, beach, and fishing items.

About a half hour drive from the campground, an exciting experience awaits at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Indian River Lagoon, between Cocoa Beach and Titusville, FL. The Bioluminescent Kayak tour with BK Adventures was the most exciting part of our camping trip to Jetty Park. Bioluminescence is light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. Plankton, a microscopic aquatic organism, cause the mystical bioluminescence in the waters of the lagoons we visited on our BK Adventure night tour.

Our tour began at 11 p.m., on a night with little moonlight, the perfect condition to experience bioluminescence. We booked the Clear Kayak Tour for $72 per person. The tour guides greeted our group of six, and after a short explanation of the tour, and a generous application of bug spray, we set out on our 1.5 hour kayak tour.

This tour was nothing short of magical, with the exception of arguing with my husband about which way to paddle. Our tour guide led us into the mangroves as we watched in amazement the glowing water around us. The illuminated fish beneath us, and the perfect starry sky above were breathtaking.

Towards the end of our kayaking experience we witnessed something unexpected. Our friends noticed a few large humps peeking through the surface of the water. Our guide shone a flashlight in the direction of the humps triggering an explosion of glowing water as startled manatees, disturbed from their peaceful slumber, offered us an exciting end to a unique adventure.

Although we didn’t have an opportunity to visit during this trip, the Kennedy Space Center is a must see.

Whether you prefer to relax in the serenity of a sandy beach, pitch a tent on a primitive site, enjoy the magic of a bioluminescent kayak experience, or explore our history in space travel, Jetty Park Campground offers something special for all who visit.

Flattop Mountain Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

You know you’ve been in Miami too long when the sight of mountains literally takes your breath away. Our long awaited trip to Boulder promised to be one of our best hiking experiences. A weekend is not enough time to explore the many trails in this part of the Rocky Mountains. So many trails, so little time.

A scenic one hour drive from Boulder brings you to the quaint and charming mountain town of Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park.img_2383

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Not knowing the area we were pleasantly surprised to come across The Stanley Hotel, known to be the inspiration for Steven King’s, The Shining. We decided to take a moment to visit the hotel. Giant Bull Elk are an attraction at Estes Park, wandering through town and around the Stanley. What a sight to see these massive animals coexisting peacefully with people.

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The views from the Stanley were breathtaking.

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img_2468.jpgIt’s time to head to the trailhead at Bear Lake. We had decided on a moderate trail, but soon realized we were mistakenly on a challenging and difficult trail. Flattop is an 8.8 mile, in and out trail, beginning at an elevation of 9,475 ft. at the Bear Lake trailhead, and climbs approximately 3,000 ft. to the top elevation of 12,324 ft. We began our climb on a chilly 35° temperature day but quickly needed to peel away outer layers of clothing as our body temperature rose from the uphill climb.

A short distance into the hike we are at Bear Lake. Several trails, from easy to strenuous, begin at the lake.

 

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You can expect many tourists in this high trafficked area since the lake is easy to get to, and is a scenic stop before heading on to your trail of choice. After a moment of reflexion and many photos later, we begin our hike to Flattop.

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The most difficult part of this hike was the constant upward climb. For two Miamians not used to the altitude, it was also a slow climb. Most of the terrain at first consisted of a narrow smooth and fairly even trail. We were very excited to see snow on the ground, and in true tourist fashion, we had a little bit of a snowball fight.

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After hiking about a mile, we came to this awe inspiring scene. We sat on a rock, let the pure and crisp air fill our lungs, and took it all in.

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The physical strain on our bodies came second to the spiritual high of being surrounded by the beauty of the mountain. For a moment I felt all of my day to day worries and stresses dissipate on the trail.

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The trail overlooks Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, seen in the picture above.

The higher we climbed, the rockier and more difficult the trail became. The steady steep climimg_2486b, and maneuvering your way around the rocks to get a secure footing can be challenging. After one wrong step, my husband’s knee gave out and we were forced to descend before reaching the peak of the trail. We were disappointed; we were so close.

Although not completed, our hike on the Flattop Trail was worth every step. This trail will challenge your body, heighten your senses, and nourish your soul. We will return someday to complete the journey.

 

 

Bird Rookery and Swamp, Naples, FL

Serenity with a dose of danger defines this enchanting trail.  Bird Rookery and Swamp trail is one of the most beautiful and peaceful trails we’ve hiked in Florida.

On the road at seven a.m. headed north on I-75 to Naples, exit 80 to our destination, the Bird Rookery and Swamp.  We arrive at a small parking lot equipped with two porta potties.  A gravel road bordered by swamp leads to the beginning of this 12 mile trail.

The trail begins with a boardwalk;  1,800 feet of easy walking that allows you to freely and easily observe some of the most beautiful scenery in south Florida.

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As we begin to walk the serenity of this place embraces you, instantly enveloping you in its peaceful environment.  I’m immediately entranced by the songs of the birds that surround us and, for a moment, except for the man-made walk we stand on, I am transported to another time.  All thoughts of the daily hustle and bustle lift away.  This is where I am meant to be at this very moment, and I stop to take it all in.

The boardwalk ends and the trail begins.  A grassy, sandy trail with swamp on either side.  The lushness of the cypress trees, palm trees, flora and fauna is a nature lover’s dream.  This land is truly beautiful. Busy taking one picture after another to capture the beauty that surrounds me, I hear my husband talking to someone further down the road.  A man is taking his own pictures with a much better camera than my iPhone, but his focus isn’t on the flora.  A very large alligator rests comfortably on the side of the road, probably observing the strange humans staring at it.  This is our first encounter with the Florida alligator, we would cross many more in the course of our hike.

We briskly pass the roadside gator and continue on our hike.  I have to say, it was a bit scary to be that close to this potentially dangerous creature.  This encounter intensified our excitement.  What other adventures awaited us on this trail!  We would soon find out.

One of the things I enjoy most on our hikes is having long, uninterrupted conversations with my husband.  Conversations of family, work, future,  next adventure;  conversations that feel carefree, no doubt because we are temporarily devoid of stress; conversations that are sometimes interrupted by a new discovery on the trail.

Having passed a few hikers and bicyclists in the beginning of our hike, we were alone for the majority of the time.  Well aware that we were visitors in this lovely place, we were careful and vigilant of our hosts.  As we continued on the path about 2 miles in we came across a lake.  Could this hike get any better?!

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Onward and further into the hike the terrain is primitive, and we are lucky to witness this natural habitat of so many creatures, including the Florida panther and black bear. But the alligator reigns here, and we are acutely aware that this is their home, as we listen to a chorus while strolling through the gator den.

Determined to complete the 12 miles we continue to enjoy our eventful trek.  Almost 5 miles in we spot something blocking the path in the distance.  As we get closer we see that our roadblock is not one we can easily bypass.  We decide to play it safe and alter our course.

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This gator is a little too menacing, too big, and too close for comfort.  He reminded us that this was his domain, and he wasn’t about to move out of our way.  We headed back hiking 9 miles instead of the 12 we set out to do.  I was a little disappointed, but in the end, we were happy to have experienced the Bird Rookery and Swamp Trail.

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Tree Tops Park

Sometimes the stress of work can make you forget why you work in the first place.  After a week of long hours, never-ending emails, and growing To Do lists, the weekend plans bring renewed energy and life to a tired body and spirit.  Ending the weekend along 5,000 people gathered together to pack meals for the elderly is especially fulfilling.  How else do you follow an early morning assembly line to feed seniors in need, with a local hike of course!

Tucked amidst a residential community in Davie, Florida, is Tree Tops Park.  With various walking, nature, biking, equestrian, and canoe trails, Tree Tops is a family friendly park on 243.3 acres.  Surrounded by oak canopies, the trails are easy, serene, and beautiful.  Tree Tops Park connects to Pine Island Ridge Natural Area.

IMG_9087Pine Island Ridge was an important Seminole settlement area and the location of many of the Seminole religious ceremonies.  It was also used for raising crops.  This land remains a sacred and meaningful place for the Seminoles.

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Although the horse trails are enticing, they are narrow in some parts and you may run into some riding groups, or someone horse playing around!

Walking the trails at Tree Tops Park was a welcome treat on a perfect Sunday morning, and well worth the visit.

 

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Fisheating Creek Outpost

A few months ago we decided that we wanted to go camping.  Real camping with a tent, sleeping bags, lanterns, canteens, everything true campers would carry on a camping trip. There was just one small problem with our plan.  This Miami couple had no camping gear.  No gear, no problem. . .a trip to Walmart would fix that.

When I say real camping, I mean of course camping at a campground.  A campground is primitive enough for a Miami couple that just purchased all of their camping gear, and packed it nicely in a large plastic container, tags and all. All of our camping gear, so shiny and new, was perfect for our camping adventure at Fisheating Creek Outpost in Palmdale, Florida. My favorite purchase for this trip was a Weber  wannabe tabletop  grill.  I couldn’t wait to take this grill, with its lovely shiny red dome lid, out of the box to cook our first camping meal.

Our camping weekend had finally arrived, and after loading our Jeep with all of the essential new gear, we set off on a Friday late-afternoon to our camping destination just 2.5 hours Northwest of Miami. We would be there before sunset to pitch our tent, and get acquainted with our campsite.

Map to Fisheating Creek

Did I mention how much we love road trips? We were so excited to get on the road. But before we could begin singing along to our eclectic playlist of 80’s and 90’s tunes, with Pitbull, Michael Jackson, The Eagles, and the occasional crooners young and old mixed in, the car begins to stall, and was most obviously dying on us.  Where were we at this point?  Not five minutes from our front door!  We were lucky enough to turn back home, unload our ailing Jeep, load our Toyota Camry with our shiny new camping gear, and get on the road again to the tune of Sweet Home Alabama.  So what if we were a little behind schedule! Our fake Weber grill would be smoking at our perfect little camping site in no time.6777_10203545918557292_2615398627809341850_n

Back on the road, two urbanites prepare to morph into country folk in the span of a 2.5 hour drive to central Florida; Miami Friday night gridlock had different plans for us.  Leaving the city lights behind would take a bit longer than expected, and a few more Skynyrd and Zac Brown songs to ease into our weekend getaway. 

We are now way behind and into the night, and about forty minutes from our destination. We spot an ever so enticing Walmart Superstore in the distance.  We have to stop.  We need some food and duct tape (duct tape is a must have according to the Mestre Camping Survival Checklist.)  Perusing the merchandise displayed in the camping section of the store I find another item that, in my expert opinion, is essential.  “Look honey, a shiny little red lantern to go with our shiny red Weber imposter!” I say to my husband.  Little red lantern now joins the rest of our shiny new gear.  Morphing is almost complete.  We are ready to camp out!

We arrive at the campground after hours and have to enter a code at the entrance gate to gain entry.  A campground map with our campsite marked to easily locate our site, is left in a mailbox on the office/shop porch.  As we head down the path to our site, we see huge campers, motor homes, and a few scattered tents grouped relatively close together, with lights strung between the trees.  It’s very dark, but from what we can see, we are thrilled at the picturesque and perfect surroundings of this campground.

Further down a more isolated road we find our site, nestled deep within grounds surrounded by bushes and trees.  We could see that the space led out to some type of water, a creek or lake maybe.  It was pitch black, with no light of any kind except for the car headlights.  This “always up for adventure” girl was starting to feel a little nervous. My husband pulls out of our neatly packed camping container two new headlamps he had purchased for the trip.  Now we look like miners, and as we stood in the darkness laughing at each other I thought. . .I’m so glad we brought these headlights!

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As we struggled with our tent, that comfortably accommodates two people and a queen size air mattress (yes I know, we’re roughing it), it begins to rain.  We finish inflating the mattress, place it inside the tent, hang our shiny new little red lantern from a hook inside, and lay down our exhausted bodies before a monsoon, together with thunder and lightning serenade us to sleep.

Greeted by a misty and cool morning, we could finally see where we settled the night before.  What a beautiful campsite!  We were on a lake, isolated from other campers, although we could see a group of tents in the distance.  Already the peacefulness of our surroundings began to ease the tension of the workweek.  We set out to cook our first meal of the day on our phony Weber.  But since we are all about the raw camping experience, we decided to use the fire pit instead.

For the rest of the weekend we enjoyed the trails, canoeing, exploring the beauty of the grounds, grilling, and just relaxing.  Fisheating Creek was everything we expected it to be…a serene and beautiful campground that enchants even the most amateur camper.

Remembering Helen

If you’re a hiking enthusiast, Helen, Georgia will never disappoint.  A mecca for nature lovers, Helen is a very different kind of Southern town.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, this Bavarian village is straight out of a German storybook.  Walking on cobblestone streets lined with Alpine restaurants, charming shops, and colorful buildings, you can almost forget where you are.

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TUBERSOne of my favorite memories of Helen is tubing down the Chattahoochee River with my husband, after a day of exploring the village.  The normally smooth and relaxing tubing trip down the river was an especially hilarious one for us.  We didn’t account for the low water level, and instead of enjoying a two-hour trip, it took close to four hours of laughing at each other while getting stuck on the rocks, then flipping over as we lost our balance prying ourselves out!  A push stick and water shoes are a must have on this river adventure.  Check out Cool River Tubing if you’re ever passing through Helen.

And now to the hiking trails!  From the touristy and challenging steep climb to Anna Ruby Falls, to a lesser known wildlife trail we came across while exploring the countryside, we had our pick of dozens of picturesque trails.

While on a hike on one not so primitive trail, lined with plaquards depicting the various wildlife of the region, we spotted a sign on the BLACK BEAR.   I have to admit that we were just a bit intimidated, okay more like terrified, after seeing that bear sign. We quickly brushed off the fear and pushed on, that is until we came across a plaster cast of a bear paw in the middle of our trail.  Needless to say, we finished that trail in record speed!  SL273034

Here are some more pics from that hike.

After a long day of exploring the village of Alpine Helen, and walking the surrounding trails, we were grateful and happy to wind down for the evening at our charming B&B.

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The Nacoochee Valley Guest House is just a few miles outside of the heart of Helen.  It is the perfect restful getaway, owned and operated by a mother/daughter team. These charming ladies also run the gourmet restaurant located at the inn.  Every meal at Bernie’s Restaurant is more delicious than the next.  It’s a good thing our daily hikes balanced out the amount of food we devoured at Bernie’s!

Our final adventure on this trip was our very first zipline tour.  Ziplining with Nacoochee Adventures was exhilarating, and a bit frightening.  In the end, we were ready to do it again, and again.

Whether you visit Helen for the trails, the adventures, or the charm of its unique village, this is a place you will never forget; a gem in the beautiful mountains of northeast Georgia.

Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

 

 

 

 

Every Day Counts

Finding the motivation to get out there and walk is not always easy.  Factor in a busy workday and 86 degree temperature with high humidity, and the motivation is close to non-existent.  However, there are so many ways to keep the momentum going if you really try.  Weekday hikes may be as simple as getting up early to get your walk in before the day begins, walking around a park during lunch, or committing to a walk in the evening in your neighborhood.  No matter how you do it, do it.  You are preparing for the more exciting hike planned for the weekend ahead.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt:

Planning for our weekend hikes is made easy with a few great apps we love.

AllTrails offers downloadable maps of hiking and biking trails at the tip of your finger.  You can save your favorites for easy access, record your hike, and share your photos and trails with friends or followers.

MapMyHike goes a little further.  It not only tracks your hike/bike route, it also let’s you set exercise and nutrition goals, track the lifespan of your gear, purchase your favorite gear brands and items, and join challenges with friends or groups.

You won’t fall off the map with these apps!

Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo

 

Live, Love. . . Let’s Do This

After meeting late in life, we are a couple in love, knowing that sometimes second, even third chances don’t come easily.  We are Olga and Rolando, and while working through the monotony of everyday life, we still dream big.  And now, through the eyes of a couple starting life anew, today we have decided to embark on a pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago.  Also known as The Way of St. James, for many this path begins in the Pyrenees, and continues through northwestern Spain to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Our love of hiking began while on our honeymoon in Georgia.  There’s something about pushing yourself to walk long distances on beautiful trails, some easy, some hard, but oh so rewarding when you’re done.  This picture was taken while hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains.  It was during our time in Georgia that we began to fantasize about tackling the Appalachian Trail.  We began to follow seasoned hikers of the AT on YouTube, and thought…we can do this!  Now we have set our goal to walk a path a bit further away from home, and hope to walk El Camino, a visual, spiritual, and physical adventure stretching over 500 miles.

Back home in Miami, we have begun to plan for our future journey.  This morning we didn’t venture off too far from home.  We did an urban hike on Ludlam Trail, a new 6.2 mile trail through Miami, created in the old East Coast Florida railway system.  We look forward to training throughout different trails for the next two years, and sharing our experiences in our preparation to conquer El Camino.

Here are some pictures of our hike on Ludlam Trail in Miami.