November 19th-27th (Cosmo to the Rescue)

Before we mention anything about the springs, we must first tell about our short stay in Ocala. After writing the previous post we made our way to Walmart where we planned to spend a relaxing night sipping wine and editing videos we’ve taken of the trip. Still thirsty after the first bottle, we waltzed into Walmart for a second, which went down just as easy. We got a bit caught up in the videos (which will someday be posted on the blog) and ran the truck battery so low that it would no longer start. Eager to get the battery charged back up, we started to push it around the parking lot in attempt to roll start it. To our luck, a friendly fellow happened to see us struggling to push it up a tiny slope in the parking lot and came to our aid. Together we were able to get the truck up the slope far enough to start it on the way back down. We thanked the fellow for his help and then he proceeded to tell us of how he blew his car up just down the road due to excessive smoking while driving. He asked for a drink of water, which we gave to him. He asked if we brought any good weed down from Canada, but we didn’t bring any of that, of course. He asked for some money for a pay phone to call a friend, so we gave him two quarters. Then he began to tell that Ocala was a strange place, and that there was a hippy commune of some sort a few miles away in the Ocala National Forest, and he began to list off all the “things” you could find there. The conversation had gone on long enough so we wished him good night and good luck with his car and retreated to the Boler.

The next morning, while walking to McDonalds to buy a coffee, Drew came upon another interesting character. “Hey! What year’s the truck? That’s a front wheel drive isn’t it!” a man shouted from a camper van a few spots over. A conversation about the truck began. The conversation moved sporadically through all sorts of topics, but to sum it up …The man had been all over the world working for the coast guard, had been killed three times (once he got his head blown off with a rifle. “DEAD” he exclaimed motioning his brains coming out the back of his head), and he had lived in Key West and was friendly with the most important people on the Island (he mentioned some names). Whether any of this is true, we will never know.

We then set out to do some camping in the Ocala National Forest (nowhere near the commune). Seeking a cheap campground with showers, we made our way towards Big Scrub, a campground located south central in the forest. We travelled down the hwy 40 until we found a sign for the camp, and took it. A mile down the road it turned from pavement to sand, but we continued on. Then the trail became extremely bumpy, but we continued on (at 10 mph) for a while, until we realized we may have to endure twenty more miles of this before we reached the camp. After examining the map more carefully, it seemed that Big Scrub was twenty miles from any paved road in all directions. We soon decided that the Boler wouldn’t be able to handle the sandy road, and that if the Rover were to have any problems we would be in big trouble that far from civilization. We redirected our route and ended up at the gorgeous Alexander Springs to spend the next couple of nights.

We’ve said before that we felt like we were in a scene from Jurassic Park – but we were wrong. Drew claims he saw a T-Rex at Alexander Springs. It was magical, with paths winding through the forest (a jungle compared to Nova Scotia), with lookout decks over the spring where you could view all sorts of fish and birds. We turned into Alligator Hunters and searched in the banks to find one, with no luck. However, later on in our visit, after swimming in the spring (72 degrees water year-round, can you believe it?) we were informed that we had been swimming with an alligator! The water in the spring was as clear as glass and extremely enjoyable to wade around in.

After seeing tons of new wildlife and greenery, we were inspired to see the manatees that we had been anticipating all along. Therefore our next stop was Blue Springs, where hundreds of manatees go to for the winters since the water stays so warm. The manatees amazing and we joined the crowds in watching them play and munch on algae off of the rocks and trees. This was also our first Alligator viewing, and a big one he was! We hiked a bit into the woods to arrive at Blue Spring (where the water first surfaces from the earth), and wished that we could jump in the water with the manatees and swim with them. It looked so inviting.

Once we were finished our day at Blue Springs, we headed for Orlando, to find a spot at a Walmart to stay the night. However, once we arrived, the parking lot was packed and there were people everywhere pushing carts filled with various items. We decided to find out what the madness was all about… and that is how we experienced our very first Black Friday, at a Walmart.

The store was insane. People were pushing others out of the way to get to the floating balloons boasting the new price on things like toys, suitcases, Tupperware and laptops. It was impossible to get anywhere, let alone get through the cash in less than an hour. Walmart became “Zoo Walmart”, and we were very happy that we’d done our grocery shopping earlier, so we didn’t have to try and get food while the danger of getting torn apart was still there.

We settled down for a peaceful sleep after braving the aisles of Black Friday, and the next morning we got up, excited to meet up with another fellow Land Rover enthusiast, and the kingpin of the Florida Land Rover Club, Aldous (Cosmo) Gitles. As of recently, the Rover has been leaking about a half gallon of oil per 150 miles, most of which seems to be coming from the front main seal of the crank shaft. Cosmo just happened to have a spare main seal lying around his shop and kindly offered it to us, and his help in order to fix this problem! The two Range Rovers, and Discovery in his driveway made it pretty easy to find the place, and with the addition of the Series 2, we found ourselves with an impressive “grease spot” (that’s what you call a group of Land Rovers) before us! After some introductions and chatting, the guys got to work: on the truck and the beer fridge, and the girls (Danielle and Cosmo’s 2-year-old daughter Stella) played, and hung-out in the Boler. Stella is such a sweetheart! The Rover repair went smoothly and the truck was back together by supper time! To celebrate our victory, we went to a fantastic burger joint named “Johnny’s Fillin’ Station” which Cosmo strongly recommended. We scarfed the burgers down so furiously, it must have looked like we hadn’t eaten in days. We then stopped into the Orlando Brewing Company to sip on some of their fine ales and listen to a live jazz band. They often host live music there, and Friday night is their Jazz night. Cosmo is friends with the owners/brew-masters and we talked with them about beer, and other things (which have slipped our minds). Thanks Cosmo for showing us a Friday night in Orlando! We now recommend it!!

The next morning Cosmo’s wife Paulette grilled up a delicious bacon and egg breakfast for us! The rest of the morning was spent tinkering with land rovers and talking about travelling and we made plans to try and meet up again to maybe do some camping and off-roading!

After saying goodbye to Aldous and his family, we hit the road to commence our journey to Miami. Along the way, just outside of Orlando, we stumbled upon a flea market, and decided to check it out. There was music playing from the various kiosks, so we thought that maybe, if we asked the office, we’d be able to get out the guitars and play some of our own music. However, when Drew asked if we’d be able to, the guy behind the desk had no sweet clue what we were trying to inquire about. “What, busking?” “Uh, street performing, we’d like to play some music.” (Looong uncomfortable pause.) “What?” ”We’d like to get out our guitars and play some music; we just thought we’d ask you first…” “Oh. We don’t do that kind of thing here.”

After being awkwardly turned away, we drove to Winter Haven to stop for the night and work on some of our recordings. The next morning, we got up bright and early to finish the drive on the 27 that would take all day to get us to Miami. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was shining, and it was sooo hot (sorry everyone back home!). We puttered past hundreds and hundreds of orange groves, which is something that’s new to us Nova Scotians, and we started craving oranges pretty badly. After driving the tedious Land Rover for about eight hours, we arrived finally at the outskirts of the insane place also known as South Florida. We put Walmart in the GPS, and after driving in stop and go traffic for about an hour, we realized that the GPS was taking us north, near Fort Lauderdale. We passed huge private communities with glowing signs, gates, and fountains, and started to get nervous about whether or not we’d be able to stay there. Sure enough, once we arrived, the deadly “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING” sign littered the pristine Walmart parking lot. After calling six other Walmarts in the South Florida area, we realized that there was a chance that we might not sleep that night. Finally, one in Sunrise told us that we would be allowed to stay there, so we drove two hours (it only took that long because of traffic) to get there. The thing about driving a Land Rover is that it’s difficult to stop it quickly, especially in traffic, and it’s a workout to use the clutch and the steering wheel. Poor Drew had been doing this for about 12 hours, so it was time to settle down for the night.

The next day we decided that we needed a beach day, so we drove in to Fort Lauderdale on the interstate to avoid the traffic. Whether or not this was a good thing, we will never know. The Land Rover has a maximum speed of about 50 miles an hour, so the crazy drivers of the interstate were passing us in the same lane and cutting us off left, right and center (literally… there were four lanes of traffic). During our 30 minutes on the interstate we drive by two car accidents, and witnessed countless close calls.

We arrived at John U Lloyd State Park, and had a relaxing day (despite the constant airplanes taking off from the airport behind us) and basked in the sun and swam in the turquoise ocean. The drive back was just as crazy, so again, we needed an early night to settle our nerves. However, we decided that this place was just too crazy for us to stay another night. We looked up on the map which community was furthest on the outskirts of this zoo, and we decided Weston looked harmless enough. When we arrived, we passed “Horse Club Road”, “Tennis Club Road” and “Country Club Road” and it sunk in quickly that this might be the wealthiest community yet. But we were persistent. We snuck into a parking lot near a 24 hour gas station and McDonalds, and were able to sleep easy for the night.

We had to get the heck out of there, so we started our journey to the Florida Keys! And so the next morning our destination was south once again: to Florida City.

Ps: It’s been difficult to find internet that can upload all these pictures for us, so stay tuned for the posts about our trip to Key West, how we turned the Land Rover into a home for a week, and how we decorated the truck and the Boler for Christmas!

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