A detour to one of our favorite places – Dauphin Island, AL

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Great Horned Owl

Since it’s still a bit early to continue our northward trek, we’re chillin’ for a couple of weeks at one of our favorite Gulf Coast stops, Dauphin Island.  Unfortunately, a severe weather system slammed the area just a day after our arrival, the worst storm we’ve endured since we began our travels.  It wasn’t just the buckets of rain, but also the lightning and fierce winds that made us hunker down in Betsy.  Our windshield cover even blew off in one of the wind gusts, and that’s never happened before.

Dauphin Island Beach Campground

Poor Steve had to wade out into the water in pouring rain to retrieve our windshield cover

Although this was an unplanned stop, we were excited to be back.  After a couple of weeks here we’ll move back to Gulf Shores, AL for a final three weeks on the shoreline.  That will take us up to May 1st, when it should be warm enough to head north and leave the beaches behind for quite a while.  Our pace will be more leisurely this summer, as we don’t see ourselves visiting as many historical and resort spots as last year.  In keeping with our goal of visiting all 49 states, we’re guessing we’ll be able to add 9 or 10 to the midsection of our map by the end of the year.

The planned route will take us to Michigan by mid-summer and back to Texas by December, where we plan to spend next winter.  The stops along the way will be determined as we move along, and by the end of our third year we will probably have visited at least 38 beautiful states.  Well, that’s the “jello plan” for now, we’ll see what surprises this part of the journey brings – hey, that’s the fun of it!

2014 planned route

Rough outline for our 2014 adventure route

Back to Dauphin Island.  Although we were here around the same time last year, there were a few things we missed during that short stay that we wanted to explore this time around.  Our first couple of days were spent waiting for better weather and doing fun things – like finalizing our taxes 😦  But we tend to get “cabin fever” fairly quickly, and we couldn’t wait to get out to breathe the fresh air and get moving again.  The good news is that our home base at Dauphin Island Campground had private access to the white sand beach, trails to the bird sanctuary and access to the bike path that runs the length of the island (8 miles).  There are other activities within walking/riding distance that made our car almost unneeded here – a pair of healthy legs were the only requirement!

 

Dauphin Island Beach

We’ll definitely be missing this in the months to come

So, what have we done so far?  Well, I did mention that the RV park had direct access to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, and that was my first destination.  Actually, the whole island is designated as a bird sanctuary, just for good measure.  Everywhere we went the birds could be seen and heard – heaven!  Steve even got caught up in the possibility of seeing new and beautiful birds, so he grabbed our binoculars and tagged along.

We were not disappointed. A great horned owl had established a nest by the beach and was nurturing her two young ones.

Great Horned Owl

This Osprey nest was taken over by a Great Horned Owl, and she and her owlets were the talk of the town

Great Horned Owl

They seem to be saying, “What’s all the fuss about?”  Aren’t they the cutest?

Dauphin Island is the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.  In inclement weather, the island has been known to receive large flocks of exhausted birds landing all at once, in what is called a “fall-out.”  Having my first Alabama bird-watching experience after that storm hit was quite amazing.  And that will be covered in my next post.

Finally, our first sunset taken at the west end of the island.

Dauphin Island Sunset

 

Next up:  Dauphin Island goes to the birds!


Hopping on a really big boat – final chapter

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Jewel of the Seas

This is the final post covering our southern caribbean cruise.

Bridgetown Barbados

Jewel of the SeasOur last port of call was Bridgetown, Barbados. Barbados is home to many beautiful beaches, the nicest ones we saw on this cruise.  A double-rainbow near the island on our arrival portended a day of fun ahead.  For this final stop we chose an excursion which included snorkeling, a beach break and an inland tour.  It was described as a “shipwreck snorkel experience from a boat, a beach swim and an exploration of the island’s beauty in a specially rigged 4×4 vehicle – combined into one amazing tour.”  We couldn’t wait to get underway that morning as the sun peeked out, the clouds parted and a beautiful sunny day began!

Brownes Beach, Barbados

There were eleven folks total on this excursion, and when it was time to begin snorkeling I waited until everyone else had left the boat as I felt a bit anxious.  Steve went ahead, thinking I’d be fine since we had snorkeled before.  Besides, I’m an island girl who’s not afraid of the water, right?  Well, I started to hyperventilate and was really breathing hard while swimming toward the group.  The captain noticed me struggling and signaled his assistant to watch me.  It felt like an eternity as I tried to catch up with the group.  I was so thankful that our guide calmed me down and asked me to hang on to a buoy as I tried to relax.

I began getting my confidence back as the fear subsided.  I think I had a bit of claustrophobia after not wearing a mask for a long time, and I discovered that getting into the water off a boat is different than just walking into the ocean from shore. Anyway, the water was warm, clear and refreshing.  The colors and varieties of fish that swam around us were just breathtaking.  We snorkeled over two shallow shipwrecks, where those tropical fish were so tame that they swam right up to us and ate out of our hands!

As soon as I began having the time of my life we were called back to the boat.  It was entirely too short, but I really had a fantastic visit with all of those fish.  However, we now had to prepare for our next activity just a few yards away – a beach break with unlimited rum punch – Woohoo!  My goodness, it was only 9:30 in the morning!

Brownes Beach, Barbados

The happy beach babe, after snorkeling and a couple of rum punches

The “complimentary” rum punch started flowing as we headed to shore.  The captain told us not to leave the boat with less than a full glass, although I don’t know why since his helper offered plenty of refills.  They seemed to realize that getting everyone drunk was a sure way to get good tips.  We absolutely loved this beach – just look at the crystal clear azure water!

Brownes Beach, Barbados

After less than an hour on the beach, we were next herded to the specially-rigged 4×4 to explore the Barbados countryside.  This driver was more sane than the one we had in Dominica.  He was proud of his island and gave a continuous commentary on the history, culture, and folklore of Barbados.  The 4×4 allowed him to take us into some less accessible areas of the island’s interior, where we drove through the underbrush and a sugar cane field.  Unfortunately, they are unable to efficiently produce sugar here any longer and have lost that industry.  As we crossed a bridge, the guide described how it had been built by adding egg whites to white lime and sand to create a very strong cement.  Who knew?

Sugar Cane Plantation, St Joseph Barbados

Trekking through a former sugar cane plantation

We spent a few minutes gawking at this rock art, which was created by local schoolchildren:

Saint Joseph, Barbados

After a beautiful drive over the mountain, we arrived at Bathsheba on the rugged eastern shore of the island.  We were told that Barbados is the easternmost of the caribbean islands, and is technically in the Atlantic ocean.  And there is nothing but vast ocean for nearly 3,000 miles to the coast of Cape Verde, Africa.  We were warned not to swim even where the surf looked calm, as the undertow is vicious and has killed several very good swimmers.

Bathsheba Beach, Barbados

Bathsheba, Beach Barbados

Something on the beach caught our eye as we were walking, and it was tiny but very beautiful.  Then we noticed many of them had washed up onto the shore.  We were cautioned by some people not to touch them, as they can deliver a painful sting.

Man o War Jelly Fish, Barbados

Man o’ War Jelly Fish

It was a fun half-day trip, and we had a wonderful time.  For me, this was my favorite stop – the snorkeling experience was really awesome and we agreed that we’ll definitely return to Barbados for a longer stay.

wpid21131-2013-12-19-Caribbean-1250133.jpg

Goodbye beautiful Barbados!

We had only one day left on the cruise, a full day at sea as we steamed all the way back to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The cruise folks scheduled all kinds of activities every hour on the hour, and we had plenty of time to complete that always unpleasant part of a great trip – packing for the journey home!

Steve and I each finished two books on this trip, proving that we are not really the party-animal types anymore 😦

At our last dinner, the waiters – who had provided excellent service during the entire trip – sang for us in the dining room.  They know how to get good tips, too!

Tides Dining Room, Jewel of the Seas

One other thing the cruise line does a great job of is handling luggage.  As I mentioned previously, this is our sixth cruise with various cruise lines, and all of them have their act together when embarking and disembarking large numbers of people with a lot of luggage.  They do it fast, efficiently and orderly.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Customs and Immigration people.  The line of passengers waiting to leave the San Juan port was huge, since only two officers were on hand to check over 2000 passengers through.  What’s up with that?

San Juan Cruise Terminal, Puerto Rico

On our way back to Orlando, Florida, we witnessed the changing colors of the sky as the sun dipped slowly below the horizon.  All photographs below were taken by the lucky guy who always takes the window seat, my honeybunch.  Very cool!

Sunset viewed from plane

Sunset viewed from plane

Sunset viewed from plane

And that wraps up our 7-day southern caribbean cruise.  Whew!

Next up:  Fulltimers meet snowbirds

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