The second day near Panacea was cold and blustery, so we decided to drive out to have a look at the Florida State capital of Tallahassee.  We passed some interesting things on the way

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(OK, I know we passed these, but I am not entirely sure when, but I thought you might want to see them) and were mildly impressed by the fine buildings in the centre of the city, although all the car parks seemed to be multi story with entrances way too low to admit Camel.  We ended up doing a u-turn and heading back out of town without too much regret.  We passed the beautiful Capitol building, puzzling as to why the bureaucrats had spoilt it by shoving in such a monstrosity behind it.

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So we, also on our neighbour’s advice, headed down to the St Mark’s Lighthouse Wildlife Refuge to see what creatures could be sheltering there. (Apart from ducks, apparently, which  you can hunt with a permit.  Hardly seems fair, somehow.)   On the way I decided to test a theory about this being the real Bible Belt and counted churches.  Over the course of thirty miles I clocked up thirty different churches.  The names were a delightful mix of quirkiness, from the odd Catholic church to First Baptist to Church of God to The Cowboy Baptist Church to these two. 

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One church every mile may not seem like a lot, until you realise that about ninety five percent of the route was wilderness. 

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After all the dense Floridan forest it was a true delight to emerge below the wide open skies of St Marks.  The colours were beautiful, the air was fresh, the temperature was high enough to just wear one jacket and we loved the place. 

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We saw loads of the poor ducks, of all shapes and sizes, totally unaware of their fate as targets for happy huntsmen. An osprey flew so overhead, although I had to check the photos afterwards to check I had it right. 

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I saw this sign and thought it was making a fuss about nothing,

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until I ‘got my eye in’ and managed to start spotting gators lurking in the weeds. This one looked large enough to swallow us whole. 

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Its a magical place, where even an impatient bird watcher like me can see enough wildlife to be happy.  Even the tweety birds are spectacular, like this red cardinal.

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On the way home we saw a blue bird flash across the road, much to my delight.  (I always had a hunch they were imaginary cartoon characters.)  We had to call into a post office to get a money order for, wait for it, $1.25.  If you don’t have an electronic pass, or enough coins for the Florida tollroad booth, you pick up an envelope and then have to post off a money order or cheque for a really stupidly small amount.  It is a federal offence (bad, BAD BADDDD) not to pay a toll, but, what about the next clueless lot after us? We took the last envelope!  The nice thing about it was meeting Tim, the lovely post office guy. 

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He cheerfully (and with sympathy) sold us a money order that cost twice as much as the toll and then asked us about Top Gear (for you lucky people, who have never come across Jeremy Clarkson, stop reading now!).  He is a great fan of the program and wondered why,  Jeremy had been sacked (bashing his producer) and wanted to talk about the future of the programme.  He was concerned about the appointment of Matt Le Blanc but thrilled to hear that the feisty female German racing driver that did the Nurburgring so well was going to be one of the new presenters.  Good grief! I spent over ten minutes talking about my least favourite TV programme in the world.  That’s how nice Americans can be.

When we got back to the campsite our very helpful neighbour invited us to join her for a drink later, to both inaugurate her new fire pit and to help her come to terms with the funeral of her father, so after heading out to the local seafood place, just a step or two away under the local bridge, we came back and drank a glass of wine and chatted the rest of the evening away.  Our neighbour (sadly, we never got round to exchanging names) had had a tough old life, but things were going better for her nowadays.  She was definitely in the hate Obama camp and actually thought Trump had something useful to say….

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She was so nice that I almost forgave her for the THREE sets of wind chimes on her fifth wheel.

We also met Joe, who was just about to head off to watch the racing at Daytona Beach, insisting that it was actually worthwhile to watch the cars go round and round and round….  That made as much sense as a lot of American politics to me.

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The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed (late night drinking never works well when you are so far from the facilities, but, if you have to be up and doing, it sometimes helps…) and packed up and headed off, hoping that the campground I had found near Pensacola would be open.  We got there at a sensible hour and managed to find a pitch large enough to fit in the Tentipi.  We saw adverts for the Valentines Day Dinner Dance in the club house and we thought we might give it a go.  The food had already been paid for, but the community welcomed us and, unlike our rather chaste Thanksgiving experience, they said it was fine to bring a bottle of wine.  We introduced ourselves to the people we ended us sitting next to and Pat, Trey, Dreama and Jim were delightful company. 

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As the evening went on it became more and more ‘jolly’, with quizzes and a strange bingo game, where you had to fill in the grid with Valentines words. 

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The lovely feisty Liberal sitting oppose me came up with so many words for a certain male appendage that I was somewhat impressed, although romance seemed to be severely lacking.  Someone produced a large bag of jello shots (naughty, alcoholic jelly cups)

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and then produced something that looks like the thing you dose you chemical toilet with, but it contained a very pleasant bourbon. 

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Then out came some very nice cherries soaked in moonshine

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and then some truly disgusting moonshine that would probably strip pain off a car at seventy five paces.  I won a small prize for guessing a quote from a romantic film correctly

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(luckily I found some nice lady who had a grandchild to give the candy to).  Tim and I were the only couple to do a dance for that part of the dinner dance and then it all broke up (not due to our dancing, honest!).  We, yet again, came away feeling very welcome and that we had enjoyed ourselves immensely.

During our stay at the campground, we enjoyed watching all the other campers walking their dogs and many came to chat with us several times.  Bill, a delightfully friendly Canadian, with his lovely golden something or other (I am rubbish at remembering most dog breeds) Captain Morgan stayed for quite a while. 

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Bill has been through a very rough time recently, losing his wife and then his partner and then suffering ill health on top of that. The Captain has been his salvation, both providing excellent companionship and exercise.  Bill gave us lots of good ideas about where to travel next as we head west and then north. 

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We met Bev, a wonderfully down to earth Canadian lady (yes, Florida is chock full of Canadians this time of year, revelling in not being buried deep in snow) who trains cute little duck hunting dogs.  Apparently they splash about in the water making the ducks curious so they can come over and get shot.  They looked way too sweet to be so evil.  She said that she had three bitches who were all in heat at the same time, which was driving the dog nuts.  Fun times were being had by all.  

This guy came around and sang an Elvis song to us

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He needs to exercise his new knee joints so he walks around the campground singing to everyone.  He was jolly good!

As our second day in the campground wore on, we became aware that we had achieved minor celebrity in the camping community.  Comments like ‘Oh, you are the ones that were tearing up the floor last night’ and ‘It was YOUR husband that drank the moonshine, I have been dying to meet you two’ all pointed to the fact that we had made a bit of an impression.  Oops!  It really was a most friendly community and they had lots of stuff going on; I could see why people return year after year and stay for months.

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Tim was rather taken by this huge Pyrenean mountain dog cross

Our second day was spent in lazy slobbing about and short strolls to see the sea and, as it looked like bad weather on the third, we though we better go and do something.  We tried to visit Pensacola Historical Old Town, but, of course it was shut, being a Monday. 

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Tim went up to ask a woman that was in another car in the car park about paying for parking and then had to back off rapidly when he realised that she thought he was about to mug her.  She was being protective of her grandchildren, so we understood her caution.  We had a little wander and then went out to see the famous Pensacola beach, which was truly beautiful, despite the rough seas and threatening skies.  The sand was like sugar, pure white and very fine.

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We watched these dogs playing (no, they were not trying to kill each other, although the retriever pup nearly got rolled into the sea at least three times)

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The bridge over there was very long and narrow, but this seemed a little harsh

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We then went to have a look around the National Naval Aviation Museum, which is very good and informative and I enjoyed it for half an hour or so before settling down with my book reader, leaving Tim in his element.

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The rain, when it came, was torrential.  When we got back to the tent, we just sat in the car and waited for it to stop.  The good old Tentipi survived in very good shape, with a few minor leaks, although we were relieved that the threatened tornado tracked a few miles north of us.  We were not certain that the club house was strong enough to cope and there didn’t seem to be a root cellar anywhere.  The locals, however, didn’t seem the least bit concerned.  They seem that way about everything, along the lines of ‘It’s just a little black bear’ and ‘If you don’t feed the gators, they are just no problem at all’

The friendly locals would have loved us to stay longer, and it would have been very tempting but we had a booked a house through Airbnb in New Orleans, so we had to go.  It’s shame we won’t be there for their toga party in March, it sounds a hoot!

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