Northern Florida and Georgia
February, 2001

St. Augustine, Florida is one of the country's oldest permanent settlements.  It was the landing site of Ponce de Leon in 1513 and where he searched for the Fountain of Youth.

The photo to the left is of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine.  It is the country's oldest surviving fortress and dates back to 1672.  The Spanish built this fort to protect their settlers and to fight off French, who wanted a piece of the new world for themselves.


St. Augustine is an interesting place, unfortunately, it's very touristy.  Locals claim that this building is the oldest schoolhouse in America.

We only spent two days in St. Augustine.  The weather wasn't very good and we were anxious to get out of Florida and see the rest of the Southern states.

The Okefenokee Swamp!  Now, there's a name that conjures up all kinds of childhood visions from old black and white TV shows.
The Okefenokee Swamp is the headwater of the Suwanne River.  As a kid I remember watching an episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom on the Okefenokee Swamp.  It seemed like a place more wild and outback than the Everglades. 

The roads and trails only penetrate a couple of miles into the swamp.  To really see the swamp as shown on TV one would have to pack up some gear and head into the heart of the swamp by boat.

So we did! Well, kind of anyway.  We took a tour boat about half a mile into the swamp. Our guide told us that you could float through the Okefenokee Swamp from Georgia all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  That is, if you know your way.

There are some signs posted along the narrow, winding channels, but you'd sure have to be careful and watch for them or you could get hopelessly lost. 

Here's a picture out of the front of the boat.  The channels are pretty narrow.  Our guide said that once in awhile a snake falls out of a tree into a tour boat.  He said that everybody usually gets pretty excited when this happens.
Speaking of snakes, here's the infamous Water Moccasin, A.K.A. Cottonmouth.

Throughout our visit to Florida we asked about the dangers of alligators.  We were always told not to worry about the gators; "just don't feed them and stay back 15 feet."  (I can't bring myself that close in the first place so it's no problem.)  But repeatedly, people would say "watch out for the Water Moccasins."  They would say, "when you go swimming . . . . . . .",  but I would interrupt and tell them that wouldn't be a problem either. 

Our guide told us that if we ever swam in muddy, swampy water then we have swam with Water Moccasins.  This water looked more like thin chocolate milk with a visibility of about 6 inches.  He said these snakes are everywhere.

Here is Max with Oscar in the background.  Oscar likes to hang out in this area.  He is 14 feet long and estimated to be nearly 100 years old. Cheryl and I were wondering if Oscar was real or just a prop for the tour. 

We pulled up closer and could see that the top of this gator was dry, dusty and looked cracked like old plaster.  We were pretty certain it was a prop now.  The boat became high centered on the mud and got stuck, so I help the guide push off the mud by using a long pole.

As we splashed about in the water, Oscar opened an eye to check out what we were doing.  OK, now we know for sure.

Along the way we became high centered on a log and stuck again.  I pushed against a tree but with everyone in the boat there was too much weight.  Another fellow and I jumped out and pushed the boat free.  He got in, but I got stranded.  The rest had fun telling me to "swim for it", "watch out for the snake in the tree", "a gator in the bush" and so on.

Very funny -- now let me back in!

There are a lot of old moonshine stills and cookers in this part of the country. Most tourist areas have a few sitting around.  I don't remember for sure, but this may actually be a syrup cooker for making turpentine.
Sitting along the bayou, playing harmonica and watching the sun come up.  Though the water is murky it reflects every color of the morning sky and botanical life around.  If you bend close to the water you can see your reflection as clearly as in a mirror.

But don't think for a minute that any of us did that.  We never did get over the sensation that a gator or snake was just inches away, hidden in the murky water.

Our next stop was Savannah Georgia, a city that Cheryl had been anxious to visit.  We had read about Savannah while studying about the 13 original colonies, (Georgia was the 13th.) Georgia's founder, James Oglethorpe and his settlers, laid out the design of the city in an unusual way.
Instead of a standard grid system, the city was set up with 24 squares, (parks,) with commercial and residential buildings around them.  As a result of this planning, Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in America. We were amazed at the size of the live oak trees that line the streets.  We've never seen such huge, old trees along city streets anywhere else in the country.  Spanish moss hangs down from every branch three or four feet, giving Savannah a true feeling of "Old South".

This is the river front in Savannah.  Most of the city is a story above the river but the river front road is just a few feet above the river. 

I found the concrete interesting.  It's a mixture containing about 20% seashells.  A lot of the old mortar was also made from the lime of powdered and baked seashells.

Did you know that Savannah, Georgia has the second largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the country?  A large percentage of its citizens that are of Irish decent.  (Your trivia for the day.) 

The Georgia state flag was being heavily debated in the state legislature while we were here.  I thought I'd better get a picture of the state flag, as this one might not be flying much longer.
A couple of ships came down the river.  Either they were enormous or I'm just used to seeing them in larger bodies of water (like in Seattle or San Francisco).  You can see Mitch and Max getting ready to race the ship.  When the front of the bridge aligned with them I yelled "go."  They ran about 150 yards and I was surprised that they actually came out ahead.

A bit of rot, but with a little work she'd be a beauty

When we saw this really neat old sailing ship, we thought about Cheryl's dad. He's a superb craftsman when it comes to wooden ships.  He's done some truly wonderful refurbishing jobs.  This one had his name written all over it.

But don't worry Joe, we know it would be too much for one guy to do alone.

So we guaranteed this fellow you'd hire him to help out.
This is an old taffy packaging machine.  A batch of taffy is place between the rollers and as it spins the taffy is slowly twisted and stretched.  Once it stretched to the length of the rollers the operator feeds it into the wrapping head and small pieces are cut and wrapped.  This batch was watermelon flavored. 
From here we head west to Atlanta to catch a plane to Yucatan.
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