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Big Changes for JenEric! Nov 09

Dear Friends and Family,

After years of dreaming and planning, we are finally doing it: Eric & Jeanette are moving into their RV and are going to travel full-time! We will be hitting the road to adventure in mid-December.

As we enter this final month of preparation, our emotions are all over the place. We’re both very excited about our new lifestyle and are happily completing some renovations to the RV that will make it a better full-time living space, but we’re also sad to be saying goodbye to our home and friends here in the Keys. We have each been living in the Keys longer than any other place in our lives. Our roots here go deep [well, as deep as they can in a caprock yard (inside Keys joke)] and there are people and places that we will miss terribly, but all of North America awaits us and there will be new places to explore and people to meet. We will still be just a phone call or e-mail away, and will be making regular updates to our blog (JenEricRamblings.com) as well as posting shorter notifications on Facebook and Google+ (both “JenEricRamblings”) so that you know what we’re up to.

Speaking of staying in touch, our cell phone numbers won’t change but we may not be reachable by cell 24/7 as coverage out west and further north is not 100%. To maximize the likelihood of some kind of coverage, we will have phones that will work on all 3 major networks, as well as WiFi hotspots on different networks for internet access. Physical or snail-mail will be a bit different. We will be shifting our Florida residency to a county in north Florida for easier long-term access, and will have a mail-forwarding service to send us our physical mail; however, we will only ask them to send our mail every few weeks so there will be a delay in getting it. [We’ll be sending out this physical mailing address a little later.] If you have anything larger than a card or letter to send us, let us know ahead of time and we’ll give you an address where we intend to be camping for several days. This might be a campground address or a post office General Delivery address. It will involve a little more effort to get to us, but not much! Just remember as you’re sending us things that our “house” is now quite a bit smaller, with everything we own contained in a space about the size of the average living room. We only have space for items that are absolutely necessary.

The first question that nearly everyone has asked is, “where are you headed first?” We’ll be heading to Virginia initially to visit with Jeanette’s family and take care of a few things there. We’ll spend Christmas there and then will be doing some driveway surfing with family members. Around the middle of January we’ll be heading back south before Karma freezes (yes, the cats are most definitely coming with us)! We’ll be making a few stops to visit friends in North Carolina and the Florida panhandle, before heading to Louisiana and then generally west. We won’t have a fixed itinerary or timetable: we’ll just be exploring as the mood strikes us.

Many people have assumed that we’re retiring, but we definitely are not. We’re just changing how much of our lives will be dedicated to running on that hamster wheel! Downsizing our “stuff” and simplifying our living will allow us to downsize our work time accordingly. Eric will continue to work part-time for Monroe County, and I hope to do the same for my current position with some freelance computer work too. We’ll still have desks, but the view from the windows will be awesome!

As we travel the country, we hope to be able to visit more with all of you. If your driveway is big enough, we can just park our house there for a couple of days. You won’t have to clean the spare bedroom or wash all those towels when we leave! We would also like to extend an invitation for you to come and camp with us. While the RV doesn’t have a “spare room”, we have a large screen room/tent that we can make available. For those seeking a bit more comfort, our Jeep will be coming along with us, so if you’d like to rent a travel trailer and camp alongside us we can tow it with the Jeep! So if there’s someplace you’ve always wanted to visit, get in touch and we’ll try to coordinate some vacation time! We would love to share a bit of our new lifestyle with you.

So big changes are afoot, but it’s all going to be great! We hope to see you soon (either your driveway or ours), and we won’t be leaving the Keys forever – we plan to be annoying snowbirds and will definitely be back to visit.

See you around!
Jeanette & Eric

What’s up with that duck??? Aug 22

We are often asked, “So what’s the deal with that duck??”  That duck hails from Britain and is a seasoned world traveler who has become such a part of our family that the bar in our house has been christened The Rubber Duck Pub.  So grab a pint or fill your glass and settle in for the story of Eddy Beer, the Danger Duck!

In the fall of 2009, Eric & I spent 3 weeks in Britain, most of it with his brother and sister-in-law, Sterling and Teresa.  A good bit of the time we were on a car trip with them which took us through southwest England.  To say that we are all fans of beer in its many forms is a bit of an understatement, and so we spent many happy hours sampling local brews (often with colorful names like Old Hooky, Pigswill, The Dogs Bollocks, and Betty Stoggs) and staying in pubs rather than in boring hotels or bed & breakfasts.

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Viair 400P-RV Air Compressor Review Aug 11

Viair400P-RV

The tires on my 29′ Class A are 245/70R19.5 and need to be inflated to 100 to 110 PSI, depending on the load, so this is significantly more difficult than a normal 35 psi car tire. Many coin operated compressors at gas stations aren’t up to the task and we plan to camp in remote areas. If a tire had a leak, I might not find out until I’m already stranded. My RV does not carry a spare tire.

I understand that this compressor is quite expensive ( available from Amazon here for about $232 ), but I wanted something smaller than a 120V compressor to save on basement storage and 12V so I can use it to re-inflate my Jeep tires after a beach drive. Finally, I liked having the option of standing well away from the tire while filling them. Exploding tires may be really rare, but they make me nervous and it’s worth some of my money to not be there. As they say, your mileage may vary.

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Cedar Key for the Holidays Feb 24

I’m not the first one to say it, but there’s Something Special about Cedar Key, FL.  Originally, we were planning on just Christmas, but after hearing about the place from online friends and realizing we had the opportunity to meet a community of other travelers, we decided to stay for an extra week. We’re glad we did.

Cedar Key is a sleepy little fishing town.  Being from the Keys, Eric & I decided that Key West must have been like this 80 years ago.  It has a great energy, great restuarants, and some really cool bars.  Natural beauty is everywhere too, with huge grassy tidal flats and creeks, and offshore islands scattered like jewels all around.  We biked, we hiked, did some 4-wheel exploring in the Jeep, and took an awesome Christmas Day boat ride out to Seahorse Key.  But the people we met were by far the best thing Cedar Key had to offer.

Water over the trail in the Goethe State Forest. Take with Google Glass.

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Madrid and Final Thoughts Jul 15

June 22, 2012
We spend our last full day in Spain exploring in Madrid, the capital.  It’s a large, modern, bustling city.  We are frankly running out of steam and can’t do it the justice it deserves, so decide just to have a quiet sort of walkabout day.  We head for the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, and then head over to the Temple of Debod, walking through parks to enjoy the green space.  The Temple of Debod is an authentic Egyptian temple that was a gift to Spain for its help cataloging and moving antiquities which would be flooded by the Aswan dam.  It was brought over and reconstructed in the Parque de Oeste, and overlooks much of Madrid.  As we were enjoying the Park, we noticed a cable car and decided to check it out.  The cable car heads across the Manzanares River and up to Casa de Campo, one of Europe’s largest parks.  There are beautiful views of the Royal Palace & the Cathedral.  The Park is huge and appeared to be criss-crossed with a huge network of mountain bike trails.  The hillsides are covered with Spanish fir trees: they’re almost limbless until you get to the top and then POOF!  A big puff ball of tree!  We caught the cable car just as it was closing for siesta, and had to wait for an hour at Casa de Campo for it to reopen.  That hour of rest turned out to be just what we needed!  We walked about, lay in the grass with our shoes off, watched birds, and then had tinto de verano at the cafe.  I’m still not used to the meal schedule, but I think I might be getting the hang of this siesta thing!  We headed over to the Plaza Mayor and had a late lunch/early dinner.  Before we hopped back on the Metro to the hotel, we found a little market and got a few snacks to tide us over until breakfast.  There was so much to see here, but our lazy outdoorsie day was just what we needed.

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Flamingo and Ibex and Hoopoe, OH MY! Jul 15

June 21, 2012
Sadly, it’s our last day with Sterling and Teresa.  We got an early start and headed off to the Reserva Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, a large, shallow saline lake which is home to one of the largest nesting colonies of flamingos in Europe.  During good years, upwards of 20,000 pair of flamingos breed and rear chicks here.  Sadly, this wasn’t a good year and the lake had nearly dried up.  Teresa was able to ascertain that the main body of the flock had left for an alternate nesting site, but there were several hundred birds still hanging around at the far end of the lake which was sadly inaccessible.  I had so been looking forward to seeing them and was extremely disappointed.  We could see a flock in the distance, but photos just showed a bunch of whitish birds.  :o(  But the day wasn’t a total loss, with lots of other birds such as avocet, black-necked stilts, terns and lapwings.  We were wandering around the Reserva when, low & behold, we found a small group of flamingos!  There were only about 10 of them and they actually weren’t very pink, but you still get to add them to your life list!  The pink coloration comes from food in the diet, so I suspect that these were either young birds, or adults that couldn’t find a mate because they weren’t the fittest of the bunch.  We were still able to get some photos of them in classic flamingo poses, although Jeanette was seriously wishing she’d lugged the really big camera lens along!  As we were leaving the Reserva, we were rewarded with another unexpected strange bird sighting: a hoopoe!  Sterling and Teresa had been talking about seeing hoopoe for the entire trip, but honestly we were starting to believe they were pulling our leg: no bird could be this silly looking!  But one flew right in front of the car as we were in the Reserva driveway, prompting shouts of “Hoopoe!!  Stop the car!! Where did it go??”.  We barely pulled off the road before people were jumping out.  We all got to see the bird, but it was too elusive for pictures.  Just as you were getting into camera range, it would fly off another 50 or 60 feet.  No matter, we know it’s real and it’s another for the life list.

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Ronda & Montajaque Jul 15

June 20, 2012
Today we’re off to visit Ronda.  Sterling and Teresa continue their excellent hosting – we would highly recommend their establishment to anyone (reviews from Mr. Angry of Dursley notwithstanding.  You know who you are…).  They’ve provided comfortable accommodations, taken time off to chauffeur us around, have translated for us, cooked excellent meals featuring lots of regional specialties, and made most excellent pitchers of sangria for toasting the sunset!  We really can’t thank them enough.  The trip has been much richer and more meaningful, not to mention they’re just a lot of fun to hang with!

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Back in Olvera Jul 15

June 19, 2012
Yesterday was spent mostly traveling back to Ceuta.  The trip down from the mountain is like fast-forwarding through time.  The closer to the coast we get, the more modern the infrastructure, towns and vehicles.  After the twisting narrow cobbled lanes of Chefchaouen, straight, paved wide roads seem odd and I think we’re all a little sad to be back in the hustle and bustle.  The ferry ride back to Algeciris and the drive to Olvera were uneventful.

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The Chefchaouen Laundromat Jul 15

The laundry facilities at Chefchaouen deserve their own post.  When the river from the ravine reaches town, it is first channeled into a water treatment and distribution facility which feeds the town.  The remaining water runs under the bridge at the top of town, where it splits into three channels: one down the center of the ravine and one to either side.  Along the side channels, women can be seen stomping laundry in tubs or spreading it over the rocks and scrubbing it with brushes.  To rinse, simply plop it back into the channel.  A little further down each channel they’ve built roofed sheds.  The water is channeled into a series of sinks with carved wash boards in them.  The center channel of the river has a very large poured concrete slab, and the water running over it is very shallow.  On the day we arrived in Chefchaouen, they were apparently having a laundry “festival” day to wash rugs.  Beautiful rugs were being scrubbed on the rocks and are then spread across the flat concrete slab for a rinse.  Then comes what I imagine to be the most fun part of the process: dragging that heavy wet rug up those steep hills and steps to a place it can be spread out to dry.  They are spread over the railings of the bridge, the roofs of the laundry sheds, and on the roofs of houses all across town.  It’s a beautiful view.

The next time that the washing machine in my air-conditioned house breaks and I have to get in my air-conditioned car to drive to the local laundromat, I hope I’m given the grace to remember the Chefchaouen laundromat.  If I do, I will count my blessings while I sit in air-conditioned comfort and read a book as machines wash and dry my clothes.

Chefchaouen, or شفشاون/الشاون Jul 15

June 17 & 18, 2012

We spend a day exploring the town.  It is a maze of very narrow winding streets, and is set between 2 towering mountains.  In fact, a rough translation of the name is “goat’s horns” in reference to these sharp peaks.  A small river runs down the ravine between the peaks and supplies the town with its drinking water.  Because they are very narrow and often contain multiple flights of stairs, few streets are accessible by vehicle and we see donkeys bringing in wares in baskets.  At one point we hear clattering hooves and a herd of goats comes down the stairs ahead of us and wanders by us.  I point out that we’re walking down the street with a herd of goats and we all have a good giggle.  Spain is certainly very different than the U.S., but Morocco is a foreign country in almost every sense of the word.  We’ve read about the cultural differences but now they hit home: Islam is the dominant religion, and the call to prayer comes from the local mosques many times a day.  It is surprisingly soothing.  Other differences are less soothing.  Men should not touch women they are not related to, and there are sometimes noticeable course alterations to avoid contact.  Everywhere we go, Teresa and I are asked “is this your husband?”  In fact, we all had to sign forms when we checked in at the hotel with our passport numbers, addresses, etc.  The hotel filled them out for us, with the exception of the “occupation” block on Eric & Sterling’s forms, which they were asked to fill in.  However, the occupation block was  already filled in for Teresa & I.  I didn’t recognize the word, but am assuming it was something flattering like “wife” or “chattel.”  It is very clearly a man’s world and they are rarely observed doing menial labor.  Worst of all the differences for us, we can only find alcohol for sale at one place in town, and it’s not our hotel!!  It’s the hotel Parador, which is near the center of town.  After wandering and working up a good thirst, we’d pop in for a rejuvenating beverage – aaah.  Not so relaxing was the traditional mint tea.  Mint tea is served hot and is very sweet.  So sweet in fact that honey bees home in on it like they have missile tracking (I think the heat somehow makes it more aromatic to them).  The cafe proprietor brought us small plates to put on top of our glasses when we weren’t sipping, but drinking still involved a lot of coordinated choreography.

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Happy New Year Sterling! Jul 15

June 16, 2012

On the morning of the 16th, we caught a taxi to the Ceuta/Moroccan border, changed some Euros for dirham, and headed across the border.  It is Sterling’s birthday, which is noticed on his passport by the border guard who wishes him a “Happy New Year!”  Close enough!  The border is incredibly chaotic: signage is almost non-existent and the little there is is in Arabic.  There are lanes for cars and people, so we get into a people lane only to be told we’re not in the right one.  Touts are agressively trying to get you to pay for the short document you must fill out, even though they are free from officials.  Even though we firmly told him no numerous times, a gentleman named Mostafa attached himself to us and tried to talk us into going to his hometown instead of to Chefchaouen.  Gave us his cell phone number and told us to call him if we changed our minds!  We eventually make it through and hire a grand taxi for the roughly hour and ½  trip to Chefchaouen, nestled in the Rif mountains.  Grand in this sense refers to a “large” taxi, not to its make or model.  There’s a sea of taxis waiting on the Moroccan side of the border, and the grand taxis are almost exclusively 1980’s era Mercedes diesels.  Ours had no air conditioning and only one window crank, which we all passed around (“Eric, could you please pass the window crank?”)!  Our driver was friendly and pointed out things as best he could, including the Stork Tree.

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And now for something completely different: Africa! Jul 15

June 15, 2012

We spent yesterday having a complete slob day, resting and doing laundry.  Today we headed off to Algeciras and the ferry to Morocco!  Before we started planning this trip, we had no idea just how close Africa is to Spain: 8.9 miles at the Straits of Gibraltar! You can clearly see Africa from the ferry terminal.  We took a fast ferry from Algeciras to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa (northern coast of Africa is just like the southern coast of Spain: conquer and re-conquer.  The actual Rock of Gibraltar: still British territory.), about a 1/2 hour trip.  We arrived in Ceuta in the afternoon and wandered around the old fort for a bit, getting some great pics of Gibraltar in the distance.  We were hot and the hotel pool looked too inviting, so after a rejuvenating beverage that’s where we headed.  The water was cold but it felt good!  We ventured out later for dinner and had walked quite a ways without finding a suitable place to eat when we stumbled upon a nice-looking Italian restaurant.  Yes, an Italian restaurant in a Spanish city on the north coast of Africa.  Having clearly not learned our lesson in Seville, we tried it anyway and were very pleasantly surprised [although Teresa’s mixed salad was topped with (wait for it…) tuna].  In fact, Sterling and Eric pronounced it “very fine” and even thought about eating there again on the way home.  Wine on the balcony of the hotel looking out over the Mediterranean topped off the day.

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Gryffons, Castles and Cathedrals Jul 15

June 13, 2012

After breakfast we visited the Reál (Royal) Alcazar and the Seville Cathedral.  Seville is another of those Johnny-come-lately cities that’s only been around since about 700.  BC, that is.  It was important because of its location on a major shipping route (the Guadalquivir river), and so it was conquered time & again over the years.  The current Reál Alcazar was built as a stronghold in the 11th century and reflects that checkered past. After the addition of an entire Gothic wing in the 1200’s, Peter the 1st (a huge fan of the Alhambra) extensively remodeled the Alcazar.  He brought together the best Islamic artists and craftsmen of the day, but added some Christian touches.  And gryffons, looots of gryffons.   This style is known as Mudejar, of which the Alcazar is the best example.  All we know is that it’s absolutely beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that Jeanette alone took 537 pictures there.  (Yes, I know I have a problem but it’s cheaper than a gambling addiction and healthier than drug addiction.)  Intricate carving covers nearly every square inch of the walls and ceilings, with mosaic tiles or veined marble on the floor.  It’s enough to make you dizzy.  You could spend an entire day in one room and still miss details.  Trying to tour the whole place just makes you numb after awhile: your brain can only take so much splendor!  Luckily the gardens are equally beautiful but less overwhelming.  With our heads spinning, we exited into the main plaza to sit in the shade of the Seville cathedral.  After some refreshing ice cream, we felt ready to tackle the cathedral.

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Road Trip! Jul 15

June 12, 2012

We set out Tuesday for Seville.  On the way we went by a large solar array.  Hundreds of large mirrors (heliostats) are focused onto a single receiving area on a 50-story tower which is filled with water.  The heat generated by the focused beam flash-vaporizes the water, and that steam turns the turbines to generate electricity.  Disturbingly, it also seems to incinerate things that fly in front of the tower.  We were hoping the puffs were insects and not small birds, but couldn’t really tell.  Eeek.  Luckily, a newer and more efficient design has large mirrored troughs or half-pipes with a tube of water inside the half-pipe.  The whole structure isn’t much over 30 feet tall, and since the heat stays inside the pipe it should be much less risky to birds.  This type of solar power generation is much more efficient than the first solar arrays and this facility generates enough power to supply all of Seville.  That’s a lot of watts.

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Walks with vultures Jul 15

June 11, 2012

Our first full day at Sterling and Teresa’s.  We spend the  morning exploring Olvera.  Southern Spain was contested territory for years, going back & forth between Moorish and Spanish control.  As a result, nearly every village was built near the crest of a hill and has a castle or fort and was walled in for protection.  Yes, another vertical hill!  We don’t know why Olvera doesn’t get with the times and put in an escalator…  It’s a very nice town: amenities and local markets within walking distance, but a large supermarket for more extensive shopping and lots of good restaurants, etc.

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