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Sunday January 5, 2014: Tampa to Casey Key, Florida
The Ryndam slid into Tampa before dawn and we docked around 6 a.m., which was about when we awakened. We had breakfast and then relaxed in our room until shortly after 8 o'clock when the "Expedited Disembarkation" people, also describable as "Do It Yourselfers" were allowed as the first wave of passengers off the ship.
We were packed rather like camels; we each had to keep track of 4 things. I pulled my rolling suitcase while my bag of snorkeling equipment was suspended from my left shoulder, a backpack filled with dirty laundry was strapped to my back, and our laptop computer dangled under my right shoulder. Monika pulled her rolling suitcase, but she had her purse, a brown carry-on with three days supply of clean clothes, and her snorkeling gear back all over her left shoulder. I think she listed to port a bit as the sailors would say. Thus encumbered, we waddled down the gangplank shortly after dawn.
Although awkward, the good part of this DIY approach was that we didn't have to search for our luggage on the pier and once on shore we could simply walk right over to the lines for U.S. Customs. The Customs guy was welcoming and waved us through, which was nice as they can choose to check all your luggage, of course. When we got outside the terminal we called the Quality in for the shuttle back to the hotel, and that part of the journey went quite quickly. But then the Prius would not start. I thought the battery was dead and called Toyota Care roadside assistance and they scheduled assistance to come in about 45 minutes. But meanwhile I read in the Owner's Manual about Emergency Start procedures, and by trying the one where you touch the magic Toyota symbol on the back of the key fob to the miracle "Power" button that turns everything on, I did get it started although the remote key sensing system (another piece of Toyota magic) remained stubbornly inoperative. Still, we finally got the engine running and the car would move!
Once we were sure the engine would keep running, I canceled the roadside assistance call and we headed South through Tampa in the general direction of Naples, Florida. At first we took I-75 southwards, but as we reached the southern entrance to Tampa Bay we started to look for a route closer to the Gulf of Mexico. In the end, we shifted over onto US 301 and then US 41. I enjoyed rambling down the 4-lane divided highway despite the low speed limits ranging from 45 to 55 and the abundance of stoplights, because I got to see more of what was going on in the commercial strip along the road. The usual run of car dealerships, restaurants or fast-food places, motels, and small subdivisions were strung out along our route, as well as some areas with vacant storefronts, pawn shops, and small title-loan business that seem to me to indicate poorer areas.
Monika found a coupon for a decent-sounding motel on the beach on Casey Key, so we branched westward over to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico at that point. We found the motel and signed in for two nights. Zipping back out to US 41, we had a quick lunch at Subway by eating half of a 12-inch sub sandwich, shopped for groceries at Publix, and filled up the Prius after 500-plus miles (54 mpg!). Errands accomplished, we returned to the motel to sit out in the balmy air in the shade of the gazebos just up from the beach and watch the world go by as we used the motel's public Wifi connection.
Monika checked our email while I curled up with the Prius Chat discussion threads to try to find out how to get the key sensing system on our car, known as the SKS, working again. In the end, I found a fairly direct way to use the touch screen/GPS/radio display area to go through menus that would turn the system back on, and it all worked as planned. YAY! I was relieved and and could turn my attention to watching the boats and waterfowl in the inlet right in back of out motel room, which was fun.
We also took a barefoot walk on the beach for an hour or so. The water was a bit cold for swimming, but just fine for wading and looking for seashells, so we walked along the wave-lapped sand and shell beach as the sun dipped lower in the West out over the Gulf of Mexico. People sunned themselves on lounge chairs and enjoyed the balmy breezes, and we saw one girl paddling a board whilst standing up on it, which looked like fun. The sandy parts of the beach were softer on the soles of my feet but rather laborious to walk in, while the part of the beach formed from shell fragments and small shells felt firmer, but boy did it tend to abrade the bottoms of my feet! Free dermabrasion!
Still, we had fun on the beach and after eating the final 6 inches of our Subway sandwiches and some rolls and cheese for dinner, we returned to the gazebos for the pageant of the evening sunset. A light layer of clouds out West gave the sunset a really textured appearance, and the white criss-crossing of jet aircraft contrails in the deep blue sky gave a dramatic backdrop to the ruddy orange fireball of the setting sun. Very pretty indeed!
Finally we turned in to read our most recent book together, "Passing Through Paradise" by Susan Wiggs, and that held our interest for a couple of hours, after which I updated the journal and Monika played games on her Ipad until it was time to sleep.
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