The Northernmost Caribbean – Beach Daze

Today’s musings will be short. I want to mostly post a bunch of pics I took at the beach. But first… a bit about going to the beach.

I don’t care how old you are, a beach day makes you a teenager again… well, at least it does me. I want to go get a surfboard and wow everyone with my skills. ‘Cept I never had great surfer skills. I always went off to a secluded area where I could try to surf with no one watching. These days I look for a secluded area for different reasons… but that’s for another tale.

I got to be “OK” as a surfer, but never more than that. What was most important is that you were “cool” just carrying a surfboard… or “cool” sitting on the beach with a surfboard… or “cool” just driving around town with a surfboard. Maybe that’s what I’ll do now. I’ll get a surfboard to carry around to be cool. I’ll have to find a secluded beach to see if I can still even stand up on the surfboard…  of course knowing where a secluded beach is has other “advantages”.

In the past, part of the reason we all went to the beach was to get a tan. Today, going to the beach is vastly different for most folks… we are scared of bad things the sun can do to you. Everyone seems to slather SPF # ten-zillion all over themselves. Not me. I still go out and try to get “some sun”. I do carry Coppertone with me so that I don’t get sun burned, but protection isn’t the only reason for specifically using Coppertone… it’s because of the smell. Nothing says “Beach, Sun & Surf” to me more than the smell of Coppertone.

So… today I went down to the beach. I don’t have a surfboard, but I do have a “boogie board”. The surf is kinda flat in this region, so it’s about 50/50 if you would be able to go surfin’. But a “boogie board” is good about 90% of the time. The water was warm. I grabbed my “boogie board”…  flogged myself into the water… and I was a teenager again.

A "selfie" seems mandatory these days.

A “selfie” seems mandatory these days.

Surfin' USA

Surfin’ USA

 

A nice "ride"

A nice “ride”

 

Building castles

Building castles

 

A great day at the beach

A great day at the beach

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Arrrgggghhhh

Arrrgggghhhh

Coolness

Having a surfboard insures coolness.

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Surfer Girl

Surfer Girl

I am amazed at what can be done with skimboards these days.

I am amazed at what can be done with skimboards these days.

Wipeout

Wipeout

Day's End

Day’s End

 

 

 

The Northenmost Caribbean – Apartment Hunting

It’s really hard to believe it’s already the well into June. The last few weeks have been quite a whirlwind. Wow… barely four weeks ago I was living in California and now I’m living in the Northernmost Caribbean. Yeah… it’s been quite a few weeks.

Finding a place to live here turned out to be a challenge. First I had to drag a U-Haul trailer, with all the stuff I would need for survival, all the way across the country. I arrived in Fort Walton Beach on the evening of the 20th. Almost as soon as I arrived I couldn’t help myself… I had to go to the beach. So trailer and all I went down to the “Boardwalk”. That’s my favorite place in Fort Walton Beach. I just had to go see the sugar white, powder soft sand of the Northernmost Caribbean. Oh… those luscious white mounds at the Fort Walton Beach. Errrr…. mounds of sand.

My first order of business was to find a place to live… that is, after visiting the beach. That turned out to harder than I thought. I really, really wanted to be within walking distance from the beach… and crawling distance from a local watering hole. When I was in Key West last year, I could stumble out of my place into any of several watering holes down on Duval Street. This year it didn’t look as if it was going to work out that way.

Trying to find a place at the beginning of summer isn’t a good plan. Every place I went seemed to be overburdened with folks looking for a place to rent but they all seemed to want durations ranging  from a week to a month or two. But… in Florida, anything less than six months is considered a “hotel” and is taxed at 10.5%. So most of the “regular” places… apartments and such… require at least seven month long leases. I knew this from the beginning, but it seemed that thousands of people have descended on the area not knowing anything about this. So all of the places I was looking at were plagued with people clogging up the offices.

To make a long story short… the place I really wanted to stay was full and the only thing I could do to get in there would be to get on a waiting list. Well, there was no way I could stay in a motel/hotel until some day in the future when something would be available. So, I expanded my search to other areas along the Emerald Coast.

Hummm…. the name, “Emerald Coast”, was dreamed up by the chambers of commerce all along the “Northernmost Caribbean”. They got together to come up with a name that would attract tourists. Before they came up with “Emerald Coast”, the only semi-official name was the “Miracle Strip”… and “Miracle Strip” was really only used for the area around Fort Walton Beach. The name people used a lot for the region and beaches along the ocean was the “Redneck Rivera”.

Well, the Chambers of Commerce couldn’t let it stay known as the “Redneck Rivera”. So, they went through a long campaign to make the name “Emerald Coast” stick. And the world “Emerald” does a good job of describing the color of the water just a few yards off the shore. So not only do we have those luscious white mounds… of sand, we also have the emerald water. Just the same, I like the “Northernmost Caribbean” better and that’s what I’ll use from now on.

Anyway… my search for a place to live went all along the Northernmost Caribbean from nearly Pensacola to the West and Panama City to the East. Finding a place to live was hard work so I had to stop in to have a frozen concoction to help me hang on.

 

A frozen concoction to help me hang on.

A frozen concoction to help me hang on.

 

Finally I found a place I could move into right away in Panama City Beach… the place where tens of thousands of college students flock every Spring Break. It meets all of my requirements… I can walk to the beach and crawl home from the nearby watering holes. I’m even close to a Margaritaville cafe… not close enough to crawl, but close enough to walk. Since they have live entertainment there every day, I suspect that I’ll be spending more than the occasional visit there to have a frozen concoction to help me hang on.

The place I ended up with is… well, paradise. This is my back yard. You can’t see it in this pic because it’s dark, but the tall buildings in this pic are right on the ocean.

My Backyard

My Backyard

I suspect I’ll have lots of visitors.

Northernmost Caribbean – Billy Bowlegs Attacks

NEWS FLASH – Avast! The dastardly pirate, Billy Bowlegs, be attacking the shores of the “Northernmost Caribbean” again. This year, like the fifty-eight years before, Billy and his krewe made their attack at the Fort Walton Beach Brooks Street Landing.

Billy was spotted off-shore early Friday evening. Rather than wait for the attack, the Honorable Mayor of Fort Walton Beach, Mike Anderson, decided to take matters in his own hands. He and the local militia surprised Capt’n Billy and captured him before any attack could begin. Bowlegs was put in a police car and taken away. However, most of the Bowlegs’ krewe escaped. The Mayor was worried that the krewe might spring him before he made it to the jail.

Arrrrgggghhhhh! Capt'n Morgan perhaps.

Arrrrgggghhhhh! Capt’n Morgan perhaps.

The Mayor had good reason to worry. Bowlegs was indeed “sprung” by the crew and there was a massive battle (aka fireworks) just a short ways off shore in the Santa Rosa Sound as Capt’n Billy made his escape. Then, on Saturday there was a massive attack and Bowlegs and his krewe came ashore in full force. It be hard to tell who won as “spirits” were high and everyone enjoyed the entertainment at hand. Arrrrggggghhhhh.

Dastardly pirates

Dastardly pirates

The local militia ready to defend the shores of Fort Walton Beach.

The local militia ready to defend the shores of Fort Walton Beach.

Ok… It’s kinda corny. The Billy Bowlegs festival has been going on for fifty-nine years. Each year it always proceeds in about the same way… pirates invade and are pushed back to sea… then pirates invade again and everyone joins the party. And what it really is… is something cooked up by the chamber of commerce to drum up business for local merchants. It is a little like a county fair… without being a county fair.

And there are bands providing entertainment through the day and evening… some pretty good and some… well, let’s say it is still fun. There are lots of vendors set up in the park to sell you all kinds of food. They cook it right there on the spot on barbecues and the like. This year I actually ate some for the first time… so far I have survived.

The festival grew out of a water skiing festival held in 1953. Looking for a way to increase revenues the Chamber of Commerce came up with the pirate theme centered around the “notorious pirate” William Augustus Bowels”. Legend has it that Bowels piracy extended throughout the region of the Northernmost Caribbean… but then the legend is of “controversial authenticity”. The festival has continued to grow over the years and is now a huge event.

This is my fifth or sixth time to the Bowlegs festival. I can’t tell you why I keep coming back. Maybe it’s the “down home” feeling you get when you are there… maybe it’s the friendly atmosphere… or most likely it’s just that people there are all having fun. It has certainly become a way to spend a couple of afternoons for lots of people here in the “Northernmost”.

One of the things that attract throngs of people is the fireworks display. Now I have seen some very fine fireworks displays… Disneyland & Disney World put on great fireworks shows. That said, the fireworks at Bowlegs this year may have been the best I have ever seen. Literally, thousands of fireworks are shot into the night sky and they are orchestrated to put on an awesome display.

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Of course, there is the pirate atmosphere. Lots of people dress up in some kind of pirate garb and somehow everything always seem to be more fun with pirate festivities.

Whatever it is I’ll be back again.

Memorial Day Weekend in the Northernmost Caribbean

Finally, summer has begun… officially for me and those in the “Northernmost Caribbean”. For a lot of people it has been a long, cold winter. Memorial Day is sort of the un-official start to summer, but in the Northernmost Caribbean it is officially summer. Thousands of people flocked to the beaches this week-end… including me.  There is a commercial for charcoal that runs each year that is exactly how I feel as I emerge from the frozen tundra. (OK… I didn’t really live in the “frozen tundra” but I felt that way just the same.) Here’s a link to that commercial. Winter (YouTube link)

The great sugar white beaches are a great place to begin summer.

Memorial Day at the beach

Memorial Day at the beach

Warm water and sun make it a great place to spend the week-end

Warm water and sun make it a great place to spend the week-end

I spent at least some time every day, starting on Friday and going through Monday, at the beach. And I visited my favorite Tiki bar for a frozen concoction to help me hang on. This is actually at the Ramada Inn on Okaloosa Island, Fort Walton Beach. It is a big hotel right on the beach. If you stay there you literally can crawl from the Tiki bar back to your room. It’s really a nice place, but this time of year be prepared to indenture your first born son if you stay there very long.

Ramada Inn Tiki Bar right on the beach.

Ramada Inn Tiki Bar right on the beach.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night they had live entertainment right there at the Tiki Bar. John is the “one man band” that plays there in the afternoons every week-end of the summer. He has been playing there for years and people (like me) have been coming back to this Tiki Bar partly because of the party atmosphere and music John Brings with him.

It seems that there were a lot of people that had been having their frozen concoctions all day long. (Yes I have their permission to post this pic.)

Plenty of frozen concoctions to help you hang on at the Tiki bar

Plenty of frozen concoctions to help you hang on at the Tiki bar

Another of the big activities on Memorial Day week-end is the “boat party” at “Crab Island”. “Crab Island” isn’t really an island. Instead, it’s sort of a sand bar where the water is only a few feet deep. People with boats come there to party with a few thousand of their closest friends. Just drive your boat up and pop a cold one. Don’t worry if you don’t have a cold one. There are vendors that bring out “barges” to sell you something cold to drink. And don’t worry if you don’t know anyone because everyone there make friends very fast.

“Crab Island” is usually quite a sight… there are thousands of boats anchored on and around the sand bar. The water is warm enough this time of year that lots of people are in the water… standing on the sand bar. It’s only a little ways off shore and some people will just swim out. But don’t be fooled, there are tidal currents there and you have to be a very strong swimmer to get out to the party. You’ll also have to dodge the Coast Guard that has a station there. The Coast Guard tries to prevent swimmers going to Crab Island. So, if you want to join the party and don’t have a boat, there are plenty of watercraft (canoes, jet skis, pontoon boats, etc) nearby to rent.

What a great way to spend a few hours making friends.

On the way to "Crab Island"

On the way to “Crab Island”

Party with a few thousand of your friends

Party with a few thousand of your friends

 

The week-end, like all week-ends was over too fast. Now I’ve got to find a place to live.

The Northernmost Caribbean

I’m reporting to you from the Northernmost Caribbean. The next great adventure starts here. I moved here for the second time in June, 2009. Although I intended for that move to “stick”, circumstances took over and I moved away. This time I intend to stay here through late fall… and maybe forever.

When Jimmy Buffett talked about the “Northernmost Caribbean”, he was really talking the New Orleans and the area running along the coast to Gulfport, Mississippi & beyond. It’s logical that this extends all the way to at least Panama City in Florida. Geographically, it makes sense that if New  Orleans is in the Northernmost Caribbean, then certainly all of the Florida Panhandle is in the “Northernmost Caribbean” too.

But there’s more than just the same body of water connecting the Northernmost Caribbean to the regions in the more southerly Caribbean… there are a lot of other similarities. First there are the magnificent beaches. The beautiful sugar white sand beaches may be the best of anywhere in the Caribbean… Northernmost or otherwise. These beaches may be the biggest reason Panama City Beach has become “the” destination for “Spring Break”.

These are not just some kind of man-made beaches like a lot of the tourist spots in other areas of the Caribbean. These are natural and stretch hundreds of miles from Mississippi all the way to east of Panama City. The water is clearly Caribbean too. During the spring, summer, and fall months, the water is warm and inviting for every kind of water activity you can imagine.

The area has a lot of other similarities to more southern areas of the Caribbean. Tourism has become big business. When I first went to Destin many moons ago, there was a billboard just outside of town that proclaimed Destin as the “Luckiest Little Fishing Village in the World” and that’s just what it was… a little fishing village.

Well… that same sign is still there, but Destin has grown up. It is now similar to many of the cruise ports I have been to. There is a “Harbor Walk” area that has all of the tourist shops including a Del Sol T-shirt shop. Now all they need is a Diamonds International and they would rival any of the cruise ports in Cozumel, Grand Cayman or Roatan. Of course in Destin you can still charter fishing boats for a day on the ocean fishing like the “Old Man and the Sea”.

More than places or things, it’s the attitude that makes this a lot like the rest of the Caribbean. It leans toward the laid back, “no problem mon”, style. Certainly people here have to make a living and work most days. But the intensity is turned down. Most folks living here realize that they are living at least close to the Caribbean and their lives are more relaxed. A day on the beach or out fishing… or a frozen concoction to help you hang on…  is at least as important as days at work.

All along the coast you can rent everything from a little bungalow to a high-rise condo right on the beach. Those high rise condos have a stunning view of the ocean… and a stunning price. There’s also just about every kind of activity you can imagine… water-parks, go-kart parks, parasailing, boating, swimming, and just about everything you might want to do on a vacation.

Not far from here is Jellystone park. Yeah… really… Jellystone park. Of course they are capitalizing on Yogi’s fame, but just the same, I’m going to make a trip to Jellystone soon. Also the Swanee River… “how I love ya, how I love ya”… is not too far away. I’ve driven by there a lot of times and each time I do I say I’m going to stop there one day. Well, that day will be soon. Oh… the mouse place is only about six hours drive away so I’m sure I’ll be visiting there too.

“Stay tuned”… I’ll be reporting here on all the goings on in the region and as many adventures I can manage. I intend to post here at least once a week with pics and stories. I’ll also be posting little bits and pieces over on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KokomoManToo)

The Northernmost Caribbean

Caribbean

Bob – The Adventures Continue