Zihuatanejo. Apalachicola. Homosassa Springs. Thanks to my travels these difficult-to-pronounce places now roll off my tongue.
Zee-wah-tah-NEH-ho, as you may know, is a Mexican town on the part of the Pacific Coast known as the Costa Grande, about 150 miles northwest of Acapulco. I was there 25+ years ago on a family Club Med vacation, courtesy of my Mom. Ap·a·latch·cha·CO-la (best not to visualize the spelling because you’ll trip up by saying “Appalachia” and from there it’s impossible to recover), is a charming town in Florida that attracted our attention when we spotted Hillary signs posted on its outskirts, a rare sight indeed. This was pre-election and before the impending apocalypse. Ho-ma-SAS-sah Springs is the site of a nature preserve that met all of Suzi’s deepest desires apart from her oyster ‘Po Boy. In the Muskogee language, “sassa” means ”some there” and Homo means “pepper” (or “whiskey,” depending on whether your source is the Chamber of Commerce or the Seminole Indians, descendants of the Muskogee tribe). Cousin Suzi sought neither peppers nor whiskey, but The Dame refused to leave Florida until she saw alligators and manatees.
As you may recall, Suzi joined me in New Orleans and we traveled together along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; and the Florida Panhandle. I accomplished my mission: Suzi liked Florida.
After leaving New Orleans (Louisiana), then touring the Beauvoir Estate and eating at Slap ‘Ya Moma (in Mississippi), Suzi and I made our way to Gulf State Park on the Alabama barrier of island of Gulf Shore. It was here that we spotted a sign warning us not to approach, frighten or feed the alligators. Since we wondered who in their right mind would do ANY of these things, we of course warned each other not to take these actions whenever we encountered a situation that could possibly involve an alligator. Although such occasions arose frequently, we never grew tired of the joke. Well, at least I didn’t.
The roughly 100-mile stretch of land from South Alabama to Panama City, Florida, is known as the Emerald Coast. It was along this section that we pulled in after-hours (not to worry, Suzi was driving after sundown) at a truly nice resort in Navarre, Florida, listed as a Passport America half-price park. Waking up the next morning I thought it was too good to be true.
For whatever reason — probably because it was such a lovely park — the resort was no longer part of Passport America. Suzi and I had been viewing Facebook photos posted by close relatives who were in Hawaii and other exotic locations. Not to be outdone, we stayed another day so we could post our own resort photos on Facebook. Then we stayed yet another day when my Smartcar battery died. Apart from being towed to a place that didn’t service Smartcars, the entire incident was nothing more than a hiccup. The battery was old and was considerate enough to die at a convenient location.
Once the battery was replaced, we continued driving, leaving Florida’s Emerald Coast and entering the state’s Forgotten Coast. The term “Forgotten Coast” was promoted by (who else?) the regional Chamber of Commerce. The Forgotten Coast refers to a relatively undeveloped section of coastline stretching from Mexico Beach on the Gulf to St. Marks on Apalachee Bay. Whereas the Emerald Coast is an unofficial name, the Forgotten Coast is a registered trademark. Some regions take designations more seriously than others.
We stopped along the Forgotten Coast to take a walk on Mexico Beach. I am fond of Mexico Beach because three years ago I stopped here for a night and ended up staying several days on a local resident’s private property. I had a logo’d Mexico Beach sweatshirt for a couple of years but it met the same fate shared by my shoes, socks and pants: bleach spatters. As I recall, the incident involving the sweatshirt went way beyond splashing. It was more of a deluge. Here’s a helpful hint: Use a funnel when pouring bleach into your water holding tank to deodorize.
We decided based on the name alone not to camp at “Tate’s Hell State Forest.” We figured with an appellation like that the forest would likely include something called “Mosquito Swamp.” We later found out we weren’t far off. Turns out that in 1875, Cebe Tate entered the forest swamp with his hunting dogs and a shotgun in search of a panther killing his livestock. Tate was lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drank swamp water. When he emerged near Carrabelle, he murmured, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell,” and then died. In other words, we made the right decision to skip the forest, continuing on until we spotted the Hillary signs outside Apalachicola.
We stopped at the town’s Visitor’s Center and were directed to a parking lot under the Big Bend Scenic Coastal Trail Bridge (US Hwy 98) where RVs were welcome to dry camp for free. The following weekend Apalachicola was hosting the Florida Seafood Festival and our free camping spaces were going for $160 for three days. The bridge we parked under crossed the Apalachicola River, which emptied into Apalachicola Bay, which was created by St. George Barrier Island. Given its location along waterways, Apalachicola’s pre-Civil War economy was based on warehousing cotton.
We also visited St. George Island and swam in the Gulf. The island is beautiful, with Apalachicola Bay on one side the the Gulf of Mexico on the other.
As we continued along Hwy 98 we crossed the Suwannee River, at which point it’s traditional to sing, Way Down Upon the Suwannee River. We also stopped at the Suwannee River park, where we examined the old Fanning Springs Bridge. According to local lore, people danced all night on this bridge when it was first constructed across the Suwannee.
We continued our tradition of stopping for lunch at local BBQs and I discovered that pork ribs in the South are far too fatty for my taste. How very odd to travel 2,000+miles to find out I prefer Phil’s in San Diego to Southern BBQ. Go figure.
We arrived at my destination in Central Florida as scheduled on November 1. Suzi, having seen her alligators and manatees at Homosassa Springs wildlife center, flew back to Los Angeles from Orlando a few days later.
A good time was had by all.