We were at Dinner Island (which I’ve since come to call Potter Pasture, since it’s been absolutely magical) because it’s free, remote, and free. But, once we got there, we realized how close to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation our magic pasture actually was.
I’ve always been fascinated with the history of Native Americans, from the Caddo in East Texas to the Sioux of the Great Plains, but I admittedly didn’t know much about the Seminole. Jordan shares my interests, marveling at the survival ability of both the native peoples (she calls them the real OGs) and their traditions in the face of European settlement, expansion and, of course, violence. We visited the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Reservation and remedied our ignorance on Seminole history. Unsurprisingly, the Seminole story plays out much like that of other Native Americans.
Under pressure of new, white settlers, the Seminole people (also known as Creek Indians in Georgia and Alabama) moved south into the Florida swamps. Florida was still a part of Spain at the time and the Spanish welcomed the Seminole as trading partners. Soon, however, the land was aquired by the United States, federal troops moved in, the Seminole Wars took place, and the majority of the natives were forced to reservations in the West. However, a small band of roughly 300 Seminole Indians continued to evade capture or death by pushing further into the Everglades. That band of Seminole gave birth to the modern tribes of South Florida that still exist today.
We met Pedro, a half-Seminole, half-Tejano wood carver who fashions canoes from cypress logs. We talked at length about the modernization of Seminole traditions, including the chickee structures which we saw everywhere in South Florida. Basically, a chickee is a thatched-roof hut with no walls. Seminole people use individual chickees for a specific designation (e.g. a cooking chickee, a social chickee, a sleeping chickee, etc.) Pedro’s mother grew up in a chickee, living without walls until she was 20-years-old. Even though most of the modern Seminole people live in houses, they all still have chickees in the yard.
We made excellent friends with the cows in the pasture next to ours. They proved to be curious companions and we enjoyed their company each afternoon during our stay. To add to the pasture’s mystique, Jordan received word while we were there that her macrame art is going to be on sale in Marfa in the coming weeks. Our friend and Marfa-businessman, Tatanka, has requested Jordan’s work as part of a retail shop he is opening. Tatanka already runs two successful restaurants in Marfa (Al Campo and La Playa), and we were thrilled he reached out to include Jordan in his latest venture. While he loves the macrame and the vibe that Jordan has created, he said he was equally interested in her story– living on the road, collecting materials throughout the country for her art, being married to such a handsome human, etc.
Anyway, we’re obviously excited. Having your art for sale in Marfa is like having your wine for sale in Italy. It’s an oasis for the creative, and I could not be more proud of myself… for landing a girl like Jordan who in turn landed her work in Marfa.
Things were going so well in Potter Pasture, it was tough to leave. We were spending zero dollars per day, working out two, sometimes three times per day, and the dogs were running wild with no one around to be bothered. I finished reading another novel, started reading “A History of Native American Religions,” and wrote two short-stories. We were also avoiding the flu by avoiding people (read: I don’t like being around people, and the flu is a great excuse to avoid them and not sound too anti-social). However, the fates aligned and what had previously been a completely booked state park in the Florida Keys became available for one night only (likely someone got the flu and had to cancel). Because of the damage from Hurricane Irma, coupled with the peak-season for old folks flocking to Florida to avoid the cold, tripled with the crazy expensive prices of everything in the Keys, there was only one place we could afford to stay in the Keys, and this was it. We booked our one night at Curry Hammock State Park and made preparations to depart from Dinner Island.
Honesty moment: I didn’t want to go. I loved the isolation of our pasture. I was convinced beaches are pretty much all the same, and I hated the idea of driving all the way to Marathon Key just to shell out almost $50 for a single night. But, I also really really like my wife, so off we went.
I realized we’d made the right call when we saw the first glimpse of the water. A majority of the Keys, if you’ve never been (like I hadn’t) is just a single road with ocean on both sides. The beaches aren’t big, but the sand is white and the water is outrageous. It’s a shade of blue/green I’ve never seen before. It was some Avatar stuff, bruh. And Curry Hammock State Park was legit AF. We begged for more nights, but were told just how lucky we’d been to get one in the first place. The park was super small (again, the Keys are tiny), but our spot had plenty of room, great hookups, and was about ten feet from the beach.
We had Sunday Funday at Sunset Grille and watched a local dude dance for like four hours straight during a DJ set. I crushed some coconut shrimp and Jordan, still on the Whole30, had some fresh ceviche. We watched the sunset on the beach back at the park, then laid on a blanket and did some stargazing pretty late into the night. But, seeing as how we only had about 22 hours in the Keys, we woke up with the sun and rented a kayak to explore the ocean.
Highlight of the kayak trip, and the Keys trip, and maybe our entire trip so far was seeing a hammerhead shark cruise right underneath us in the water. It wasn’t full grown, but I wouldn’t have wanted to feed it from my hand either.
Still on a high from the shark sighting, we threw down brunch at Island Fish Co. where we got to hang with some wild iguanas and overgrown pelicans. We begged the park one last time before accepting our fate and heading back toward the mainland. But, the Keys had one last surprise for us. As we headed over one of the dozens of bridges it take to get back, Jordan spotted a dolphin doing jumps. The sun and the water and dolphin and the Cherub Pandora station… the beach wasn’t so bad.
Next stop: Miami-ish. Apparently Miami is a pretty cool place and, like most pretty cool places that aren’t in National Parks, you have to pay a lot to be there. UNLESS you do what we did and find the nearest Casino (25 minutes) and park for free in their parking lot. Thank you Mikosukee Indian Gaming Resort. They even gave us two free $30 credits to play with (which we lost in roughly 17 minutes). But, alas, we weren’t there to gamble.
We had dinner at FINKA, where the food was decent but the cocktail I had was r’awesome. It was their take on an Old Fashioned called Black is the New Orange (they added walnut bitters and used a super dark bourbon as the base). We were pretty worn out, so we hit the sack early and saved Miami proper for the next day.
How do you do Miami in one day? Well, first you wake up early and go eat some authentic empanadas while drinking a cappuccino. Or, if you’re Jordan, you have black coffee with unsweetened almond milk and eat an egg scramble. I typically try not to make her feel bad about “missing out” on delicious food, but holy empanada I was in heaven. I had a Venezuelan recipe that included plantains, beef, beans, rice, peppers, onions, sauce… is it getting hot in here? I took the barista’s recommendation and also double-dipped with a Philly Empanada (steak, cheese, peppers). Both were amazing.
Next step, head to downtown Miami. Don’t worry about the people staring at their phones instead of the road, or driving 70 in a 45, or cutting you off for no reason– apparently that’s just Miami. If you survive the drive, you can try to pick the appropriate parking garage out of a street full of parking garages that all say: PARKING. But be careful, there is literally only one that you can park in without having someone yell at you. Eventually make your way to the the fanciest, deuschey mall you’ve ever seen, look at all the crap you can’t afford and wouldn’t buy even if you could, then wait half-an-hour for a guy at the Apple Store to tell you that if you want your computer fixed, it will cost you $800. Tell him, “no, thank you,” then bail.
Girls with their butts hanging out, guys wearing shades inside. Miami wasn’t looking too appealing, but fortunately we had it on good authority (shout out Katy Mac) that Wynwood was the place to be. And it was. It really was.
The art was everywhere. Murals on every single wall, graffiti on the sidewalks, crazy shops and stands. The laid back vibe and super-high ratio of bars to buildings made us a little homesick for Austin. We grabbed drinks at Gramp’s– an island-vibe bar with outdoor seating and a handful of food trucks– then headed to the main attraction.
The Wynwood Walls are essentially a sprawling outdoor art installment of giant murals, and we were digging on the variety of work. Drink dos was a couple of mojitos in a jungle-themed cabana. A few blocks later we were back on the road and ready to make an afternoon departure.
Pulling the rig later in the day poses a few risks, the main one being: if the place you’re going isn’t what you thought it was, it’s tough to find a new spot in the dark. We knew this risk going in and, sure enough, the first free spot we tried to navigate to was now private land. The second spot we hit was right at sundown. It was free camping, but the catch was you had to register with the Florida Wildlife Management folks in order to get a permit. Well, we tried, but the website wasn’t loading and the phone number just took us to a recording. So, we pulled in, thinking we would call first thing in the morning to register. Unfortunately, the jackhole in charge of the park met us halfway down the road and told us to GTFO. Almost everyone we’ve met in the RV or park or travel community has been over-friendly, helpful, and awesome. This guy was none of those things. He said, in the most Donald Trump voice, that it wasn’t the website that wasn’t working, it was our service provider (apparently Florida and AT&T are having web security issues with one another?). When we asked if we could borrow a non-AT&T phone or computer to obtain our COMPLETELY FREE permit, he shook his head. Luckily, he was outside of Jordan’s window, because I was ready to put this guy to sleep for a few minutes. Long story short, we left, and left the gate open, because f*@k that guy.
Plan C? Walmart. Fast, free, and we needed a few grocery items. Done and done. We filled the propane at Tractor Supply the next morning, then headed north to the Ocala National Forest. We had to try a few different dirt roads before we found one friendly enough for the rig, but eventually we set up near Delancy Lake for the night.
After spending a couple of weeks in Florida, we were ready for something new, so we decided our next stop would be in “the real South” (Legend of Bagger Vance, anyone?). We posted up at Fort McCallister Park just outside of Savannah, where rebel pride is as abundant as the Confederate flags on sale in the gift shop. On an unrelated note, I had a poem accepted for publication later this year. Normally I stick to the prose, but every now and then you gotta do some new ish. More to come.