I may be a footloose independent traveler who prefers rural areas, but it was hard to leave the emotional comfort and amenities of my loving sister and brother-in-law’s place near BWI (Baltimore Washington International Airport). Their subdivision borders a nature trail of large old trees overlooking wetlands full of ducks and geese. A short drive away is an indoor swimming pool heated to 83 degrees; a lap-swimmer's nirvana. And on my way home from the pool, I'd stop at a wonderfully unique Mexican indoor grocery store that resembles a crowded Spanish-speaking outdoor market. I loved that store! During my month-long visit, I also spent time with my parents who live in assisted memory care, visited briefly with good friends Grace and Ron from Pennsylvania, and met Amanda, my nephew Bill's fiancee.
But my next adventure was beckoning me. In two weeks time, I had to be at MIA (Miami International Airport), will explain further on down. On the secondary roads south, I saw thousands of acres of cotton crops. In high school, we all read history books about slaves picking cotton in the South during the Colonial period, but I didn’t realize it was still a major crop in the South. Everywhere was acres of plump soon-to-be-harvested or already-harvested cotton from North Carolina to Florida.
The most interesting story about my travels south however, is about two of our Presidents, Washington and Jefferson. I stopped at Mount Vernon, home of our first president George Washington. The day I stopped was special because there were volunteer horseback riders demonstrating Washington’s favorite sport – a fox hunt with hounds.
Although I had toured Mount Vernon eons ago when I was a teenager, none of it soaked into my pea-size brain back then. What I do remember is that Mount Vernon looks like a palatial home befitting a President of the United States.
While I waited for “my group mansion tour”, I walked around the impressive farm and lawn overlooking the Potomac River. No independent footloose tourists are permitted inside the mansion, each visitor picks a tour time, and reservations are highly recommended.
Once my group tour began, we were told "no chewing gum, no food or beverages, and no photographs allowed inside Washington’s home." This very informative sign (see photograph below) greeted us at the beginning of the mansion tour.
When I studied the exterior of Mount Vernon, I was amazed. The “grandeur” of Mount Vernon is all an illusion made with Southern pine trees. It sure looks like stone and masonry! I suspect the illusion, however, was high maintenance. Part of the varnish, paint and sand mixture breaks apart eventually. Here's the frame of a door . . . .
Washington’s preference for illusions also extended to the inside of Mount Vernon. Inside, the solid wood doors and solid wood wall panels are the best grainy cuts of Southern pine, stained to look like red oak and it's a beautiful well-done illusion! And although the roof looks like red clay tiles, it’s red stained cypress wood!
Inside Mount Vernon, the room sizes are very small in comparison to new homes today. The tour guide told us that the Washingtons made-do with interchanging the dining room and parlor depending on the number of guests and relatives spending meals and nights at Mount Vernon. Washington’s “mansion” is far from grandiose, it was quite homey and humble. Even his every-day carriage was humble, just a chair affixed on a slanted board.
Washington wasn’t a poor man who had to economize. He married a wealthy widow Martha, and he acquired several neighboring farms near Mount Vernon, totaling about 8,000 acres of farmland and forest. He planted many trees, including several Tulip Poplar trees like this one which was planted about 1766. I asked a nearby little girl (with her parent’s permission) to stand in front of the tree to show a size perspective.
On my travels south, I also stopped at Monticello, which was President Thomas Jefferson’s home. I didn’t tour the mansion (arrived too late for a tour time slot) but I watched their promotional film about Jefferson's mansion. Unlike George Washington who didn’t travel overseas, Jefferson spent many years in France, Spain and England as an American ambassador of sorts and Secretary of the State under Washington's presidency. Jefferson circulated among the opulence of castles and cathedrals made of stone, marble and masonry materials in the Roman and Greek architectural styles. So when Jefferson returned home to Monticello, his humble little abode, he began re-designing and re-building to reflect the more impressive architecture of the Italians and Greeks. As a result, Monticello has more grandeur than Mount Vernon.
Continuing further south and arriving to Satellite Beach, Florida, I spent a night in the driveway of fellow Boondockers. This service is a great service supported entirely by us travelers. I've spent three nights with Boondockers, and each host is very welcoming and interesting. At Satellite Beach, the host was a chess player and creative cook like myself, and so we got along instantly. They also filled my water tank! It was pleasant spending a night along the very breezy Atlantic Ocean (red arrow points to surfer).
At Palm Bay, Florida, I stopped at a library to use WiFi and to my surprise, the library adjoined a wildlife sanctuary. I walked almost two miles of boardwalk at this wonderful gem in the rough.
It was a peaceful, scenic place to walk a couple of hours in solitude.
In about 30 hours, I'll be boarding a 100-foot sailboat for the Turks and then fly back to MIA to pick up LaLair from the long-term parking lot. If you're not familiar with SCUBA dive tours, here's my analysis. There are basically two methods. You can spend ten days in luxury at a resort with a regular bed, television, Internet, long hot showers, and walk to the dock to meet a boat every day, or you can stay and sleep on a berth in a boat that rocks for ten days (totally losing your land legs), limit your salt-water showers to three minutes and fresh water rinse to one minute, pump the toilet for one minute to flush, no Internet and no television, and dive about four or five times daily at a different reef each time, each day. Plus you can talk with the chef while he’s/she’s cooking in the galley, and help stir the pot.