Stranded on an island ... or the closest I might come to being stranded on an island was my first two days into the Florida panhandle. The bus broke down, again, but this time on Santa Rosa Island. I was only stranded for 24 hours waiting for tow trucks that could not find me. The bus stopped running, and when I realized I had lost power, I pulled off to the side of the road and got stuck in a sandy shoulder. I was lucky that a friendly couple driving a pick up truck pulled over and with a rope, were able to get the bus to the next beach turn out. When AAA couldn't locate me, I spent the night at the beach and got picked up the next day. The bus was lifted onto flat bed tow truck and taken to the only person in town who could fix the bus on a Sunday. I ended up in a trailer park getting work done. This guy fixed the bus from his front yard and did an amazing job finding the wire that was frayed, and barley charged me anything. Thanks to him I was able to continue on to Gainesville.
Aside from getting a little dose of nitrogen narcosis, we loved our cave diving experience. The water is 72 degrees feirenhight year round. I was surprised by how crystal clear the fresh water is basically, everywhere I stopped in Florida. Getting to dive in these waters was a treat. The squeeze throughs in the caves were very tight at some points, but a challenging dive is a fun dive for me.
After my sister jumped on a plane home, I headed south and made the tough decision not to drive all the way down to the Florida Keys, (though I wanted to so badly). It was time to head North. I kayaked some mangrove tunnels down on the west coast, then cut across Florida, camping for a few nights at Lake Okeechobee at a fabulous free campground with hot showers. Got the bus washed by a local girls basketball team during a fundraiser. I went spear fishing in West Palm Beach for the first time in my life. All I was looking to spearing was lion fish, because they're an invasive species harmful to the reefs. After West Palm Beach, it's driving north till I reach Maine.
I took a side trip from Florida to Cuba. I parked my bus at the airport and flew the short distance from Orlando to Havanna. Before I left I organized a fundraiser for art supplies. I purchased Crayons, markers, coloring books, etc. I brought the art supplies over with me to an elementary school in Havanna Central. I only spent three days in Havana but would highly recommend a visit to anyone. When I got back to Orlando, I visited the Jack Kerouac house, met some friendly people there, and then moved on north to Jacksonville. There, I took a Budwiser Brewery tour with 2 lovely locals. After a sobering nap in the bus, I drove up to St. Augustine. There I climbed the wind whipped St. Augustine lighthouse, roamed around the cute little town, got caught in a storm, and eventually crossed into Georgia. I hope to revisit Florida to see the Keys, Miami and Everglades.
Along the drive to Gainsville I swam, and stopped to take breaks in fresh water springs that dot the panhandle. I visited my good college friend Kenzy, who works for Rustic Pathways, and recommended me the La Chua Trail, where I saw wild horses and alligators. After that visit, I continued on to Tampa, to visit Hannah and Travis, two more college friends. Hannah and Travis took me to a Yacht Club, Dali Museum and to Oxford. I got to see Tampa city while waiting for my sister to arrive to spend her spring break with me in Florida.
While my sister was in Florida, we backtracked to Tarpon springs, a funky sponge "hunting" town, populated heavily by Greeks. After we went to Weeki Wachee for the Mermaid shows, an impressive display of under water dancing and breath holding. We camped outside of Crystal River, kayaked and swam with gentle Manatees in the springs. The next day we headed up to Devil's Den and Blue Grotto to go Scuba Diving.