Big Island Volcanoes and the Kilauea Iki Trail

Visiting Hawaii was one trip that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to check off my bucket list, but as luck would have it, one of my cousins decided to move to Oahu and choose this lovely island as the place she would be married.  So in 2012, my husband, my parents, and my extended family made the eight hour flight across the Pacific Ocean.  And while I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Oahu, the best part of my Hawaiian adventure was a day trip to the Big Island to pay a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  

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I can’t drive past a sign without a photo op. This is outside the eastern entrance to the park.

My mom and I decided to plan the day out and surprise my dad.  We booked the first flight out on Hawaiian Airlines, and as we flew to our destination, the sun began its rise for the day.  One short hour later, we were getting our rental car and hitting Ken’s House of Pancakes for a little sustenance to start our day.

From Ken’s it was off to Rainbow Falls, a short car trip.  Here I hoped to see the light display the falls were named after, but it turned out to be a cloudy morning, and we were not lucky enough to see the rainbows promised on most early mornings.  All the same, the falls were lovely.  The lemon hibiscus that lined the paths were too much for me to ignore, and I had to pick one to shove behind my ear Hawaiian style.  After a quick photo shoot at the falls, we were on to our real destination, the volcanoes.

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Rainbow Falls lacking the rainbows.

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Me and my hibiscus

 

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Ready for a day of adventure on the Big Island

 

Hawaii is synonymous with volcanoes, and Kilauea has been continuously erupting for thirty years.  While it’s difficult to see the red-hot lava unless you are on a helicopter tour, we were able to see the steam vents in full force on our day trip.  Our arrival began with a stop at the visitor center where we were offered the best views of the steam plumes.

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Our first view of Pele at work.

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Unfortunately, this is the only lava I saw on our trip.

From there it was off to explore some lava tubes before stumbling upon an overlook of a giant crater of what was once a lava lake.  As we peered down to the crater floor, we saw people that looked to be the size of ants creeping along the caldera floor.  How did they get down there we all asked each other.  And slightly to our right we saw the trailhead, the Kilauea Iki Trail to be exact.

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Thurston Lava Tubes…lava used to run in rivers through this tunnel.

 “Hey, that looks like a fun, easy hike,” were the famous last words we heard before heading onto the four-mile-loop.  My mom had broken her foot earlier in the trip and was in a boot.  She was determined to get some hiking in, and the trail looked mostly flat, so we decided to tackle the four miles.

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View from the Kilauea Iki Trailhead.

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More views of the caldera we will hike down into.

We began the easy part, the downward descent.  The trail rolled through the rainforest slowly bringing us lower and lower to the crater floor.  Along the way we were enveloped by the lush green ferns and trees that I can’t even begin to pronounce.  Everything is vivid shades of green.  It’s hard to imagine that red-hot lava once shared the space below my feet.

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Fauna along our hike.

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Flora along our hike.

Emerging from the rainforest we felt like we had just landed on the moon, albeit a black one.  Shades of black, red, and brown razor sharp rocks replaced the lush verdant foliage.  And while these lava rocks looked like they weighed tons, the didn’t.  Upon picking up a rather large one, I was surprised to see how light it was.  Each of these remains were filled with numerous air holes causing them to weigh considerably less than what you might think.

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Inside the caldera with a view of cooled lava floes.

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A piece of surprisingly light lava rock

As we traversed the floor of what used to be a lava lake, I saw puffs of steam off to the left.  Rising through the cracks in the floor are steam vents reminding me that this is still a very active volcano.  While it would be pretty awesome to see hot lava, I was hoping that Pele wasn’t going to choose today to reemerge from the flowing lava underneath our feet.

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Walking along the floor

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Making our way out of the caldera

 

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Life in the strangest places

The temperature at the bottom of the crater was considerably hotter than at the top.  My taste buds were dry and craving a gulp of water, but we didn’t bring any with us.  So we ascended those 400 feet we had so easily traipsed down an hour earlier quite dehydrated.  This time all of our minds were on water so the ascent was quicker than I thought it would be, though somewhat challenging.  Along the way it was so easy to watch the landscape change from desolate to lush within the matter of steps.  Orchids and Fiddlehead Ferns dotted the trailside helping me forget my thirst.

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Wild orchid on the return trip up the side of the crater

 

Then we were emerging from the crater with our car in view.  Four miles down into an old lava lake was definitely something that was bucket list worthy, but none of us could think of that at the moment,  all we wanted was water.  As I gulped from the container in the car, I had a vague sense of deja vu to backpacking in the Grand Canyon.  Didn’t we once do a hike before without enough water?  I guess we never learn.

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Four miles completed and not too worse for the wear

 What I did learn was that I must make a trip back to Hawaii to the Big Island.  One long day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was not nearly enough time.  There were so many more trails to explore, the coast to view, and Mauna Kea to drive up.  Yes, I think another trip to the islands sounds perfect.

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I can’t wait to go back!

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Kayaks, Manatees, and Shells….Oh My!

Ever since my first canoe trip with my parents down Sugar Creek in Turkey Run State Park,  I’ve loved being on the water.  Despite being crashed into by a Boy Scout Troop that dumped our canoe and left my brother trapped under it (he was rescued by my mom) and watching my dad wave good bye to his glasses as they floated away down the rushing creek, my love of water has never subsided, only grown.  Somewhere between the excitement of rushing rapids and the relaxing calm of the straightaway sections, a hobby was born. My husband, not one to shy away from any water activity, has gone canoeing with me numerous times.  We’ve spent many weekend days paddling up and down the Wekiva River.  But after a near run in with an alligator and her babies,  we decided to try a kayak instead.  Kayaks are much more stable and maneuverable than canoes.    From that first dip of the paddle, I loved being in the kayak.  It was considerably more comfortable than the unpredictable canoe. My love of kayaking followed me to Marco Island for my girls’ weekend trip with my friend Cori. This was our second time to Marco Island, but our first time kayaking there.  In fact Cori had never kayaked before, only paddle boarded.  So when looking for a place to kayak, I knew that they needed to be able to accommodate newbie kayakers. My search led me to Dreamlander Tours.  I knew from the moment that I send that first e-mail inquiring about availability that this tour would be worth every penny.  Kieu, one of the owners immediately responded to my query, and the next morning the three hour kayaking trip was all arranged.  We would spend about two hours paddling and one hour scouring a deserted beach for shells. We drove the five minutes from our hotel to Caxambas Park where we would launch the kayaks.  Kieu and Steven were quick to introduce themselves and make us feel quite at ease.  After a couple of quick swipes of credit cards, we were shaking hands with our guide Arturo.  Before we knew it, we were settled in our kayaks and paddling toward Bird Island.

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Florida Brown Pelicans on the edge of Bird Island

There were four of us on this tour plus Arturo.  Our first stop, Bird Island, was true to its name.  It was a short paddle from the dock and loaded with Florida Brown Pelicans, Snowy Egrets, and Double-crested Cormorants.  Here he told us all about the birds, the mangroves, the sea life, and people of Marco Island.  I could tell right away that Arturo is very passionate about nature and loves sharing this passion with the people he guides.  He truly is an expert and was easily able to handle any question we threw at him.  To add to his credibility, he was able to tell us when the paddling would be more difficult and exactly when it would ease up.  That was much appreciated since on our return trip we were really fighting the tide for awhile.

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Arturo, courtesy of Dreamlander Tours

One of the great things about Dreamlanders Tours is that Arturo was taking tons of pictures of our adventure.  He was a great photographer and the photos were e-mailed to us later that evening.  I, of course, brought my own camera with me, but it was nice to know that even if I hadn’t there would still be photos to document the trip.  In addition, they provided bottles of water.  Arturo made sure that we stayed hydrated on the very humid day They only thing that was lacking was a snack.  Cori and I didn’t eat a huge breakfast knowing we would be out on the water and beach for at least three hours.  We kept saying how we wished that we had brought some snacks with us.  We know for next time to pack a little something, but it would have been a really nice touch if the tour provided a little something like granola bars to snack on before the return paddle.

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Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

Upon arrival on the secluded beach,  we were provided with some bags to go shelling.  Well, Cori and I live for shelling, and we wasted no time scouring the beach.  Right away we found Banded Tulips, Horse Conch, Florida Cones, Lightning Whelks, Worm shells, and Apple Murex–it was a shelling paradise  For one hour we stood hunched over, eyes scanning the sand for little treasures to take back with us.

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Docked on the secluded beach for a little shelling.

 

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Selfie time!

 

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Our haul from the 10,000 Islands.

Too soon it was time to head back to the kayaks.  When we met back up with Arturo, we asked him how to find Sand Dollars since we are always looking for these elusive little gems.  He seemed surprised that we hadn’t found any and made it his mission to find us some.  So Arturo headed back to the sand bar while Cori and I spent some time cooling off in the ocean. As we floated and enjoyed the salty water, I noticed a baby manatee not more than 4 feet long and within arm’s reach of Cori.  She nervously moved my way, and we watched the orphaned baby (Arturo had told us to keep an eye out for him) for a few minutes before he disappeared into the vast blue before us. A few moments later Arturo was returning with six white Sand Dollars for us.  We split them up before he ushered us over to the point of the island where again we were lucky to see a mammoth of a manatee feeding on the sea grass below.  On the point there was a swing hanging over the water.  Here, we did a mini photo shoot before beginning our paddle back to shore.

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We love our girls’ weekend getaway! Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

The paddle back was much  harder than the paddle out, and we were forced to use all our upper body strength to fight the rising tide.  It made for a great upper body workout.  Too quickly our tour was over.  The only downfall to the morning was that we didn’t see any dolphins, and although they do “guarantee” dolphin sighting, we didn’t make it an issue since we had such a great time shelling and being out on the ocean.

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Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

Between being on the water, the manatees,  the great shelling, and Arturo, we definitely got our money’s worth on this tour.  If Cori and I ever get back to Marco Island again, I know we will be looking up Dreamlander Tours for an encore performance.

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Four hard working paddlers. Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

 

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The best view!

So, where do you think is the best place to paddle?

Run Disney’s Glass Slipper Challenge

It’s a little (insert sarcasm) known fact that I love Disney.  And since I love Disney, why wouldn’t I love to run at Disney.  It’s the perfect opportunity to get some exercise, dress up like your favorite character, and commune with other Disney freaks like yourself.  So in 2010, my running buddy and I signed up for our first Disney race, the Royal Family 5k held during the Disney Princess Marathon weekend.

At that time, I could barely wrap my head around walking a mile let alone running three point one of them.  And we walked and jogged the course stopping for pictures and generally having a great time.  But that finishing time of 58 minutes was not okay.  So we trained, built up our endurance and by 2014 we had run 10 Disney races, two of them being half marathons, my friend at much faster pace, and me at a little bit faster pace.

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This was me and my running buddy in 2010. It was our very first Disney race and very first 5k.

After getting two half marathons under the belt, I was ready for a more difficult challenge, but was most definitely not ready to commit to a full marathon.  Who runs 26.2 miles for fun?  So when Run Disney opened up the Glass Slipper Challenge it was the perfect combination of challenge, fun, and bling.

This picture was taken before my very first half marathon in 2012.

I spent three months seriously training and finally the weekend had arrived.  We started off by going to the Expo to pick up our race packets, t-shirts, and pins.  We walked around the vendors, and I had to purchase a track jacket commemorating the weekend for the bargain basement price of $70. Disney is no fool about marketing.  Our race shirts actually fit us thanks to the accurate sizing and the switch to Champion Tech Shirts.  Since I was running the challenge, there were three shirts, white for the 10k, gray for the half, and blue for the challenge.  At the Expo, there were characters to snap a few photos with as well.

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Me sporting my 10k medal and 10k shirt on a return trip to the Expo.

Fast forward to Saturday at 2:00 A.M. when my alarm was blaring at me telling me it was time to run!  So I got into my running costume, Snow White for today, ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and a banana and left to pick up my running buddy.

We pulled into the EPCOT parking lot about 3:30 and proceeded to relax in the car for about 45 minutes.  During that time our conversation went something like this:

“Oh, I love her fairy wings.”

“Those are no fun to run in, they whack you in the head.”

“I love her pink Nike’s.”

“I really need to get some compression socks.  I hear they really work.”

And on and on as we watched the parade of runners pass our car.  Pinning our bibs on our shirts, we too left the car and joined that parade on the way to the corrals.  Since this wasn’t our first rodeo race, we followed our normal routine.  Hang out by the DJ for awhile, comment on other people’s costumes, takes some obligatory pre-race photos and post them to Facebook, hit the porta-potties, and get in the corrals.

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Day one of the Glass Slipper Challenge. Boy have we come a long way since we started running in 2010.

For the 10k, there were 5 or 6 corrals and we were in D.  Meaning I would have a nice cushion of runners ahead and behind me.  At this point is when my stomach started rumbling.  This is the worst feeling on race day especially since our corral was the next to go.  I began a little mental pep talk to myself about starting slow, and the rumbles would stop once I got into the race.

The fireworks exploded and our corral surged forward.  I stayed to the outside knowing I would be going slower than normal.  The 10k course is fantastic.  It starts with a lap around the EPCOT parking lot before entering into Mexico.  Then the course proceeds to follow around all of the countries in the World Showcase, many of which have character stops.  At Great Britian, the race is diverted out of EPCOT and around the Boardwalk area before returning to EPCOT and finishing back outside of the park.

Unfortunately the only park entrance that you get this day is the part when you are running through it.  If you want to return to the park later you must shell out more money for admission to reenter.  Having been to Disney hundreds of times, we decided not to enter the park and return home to rest up for the half the next morning.

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A little bling for a job well done.

So at 2:00 A.M.  Sunday morning, the whole process repeats again.  Today I began in corral K, so it was quite a bit of time before the fireworks sent me on my way.  I was feeling much better today and was really excited to run through the Magic Kingdom despite the fact that it was very foggy.

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Day two Glass Slipper Challenge

Mile one progressed nicely with me staying strictly to my preplanned running and walking paces.  I was so excited to see that in the first mile and a half our entertainment was Elsa from Frozen.  She was standing on the bridge we were all passing under offering words of encouragement and of course making it snow.

From there it’s a long stretch of road running with a few water/Powerade stops and character interactions along the way.  At mile five and a half or so is when I entered the Magic Kingdom.  Nothing is more exciting to me than making  the right turn down Main Street and seeing the castle in distance.  Even though the course is very narrow here, there are so many spectators cheering you own, you can’t help but feel proud.

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It feels kind of eerie seeing all this fog upon entering the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

The path winds into Tomorrowland, back through Fantasyland, and down through the castle.  There, you can continue to the right onto the race or left for a quick picture in front of the castle.  I took the few minutes to stop for the picture.  This is the one line for pictures that actually goes quickly.  Lines for characters can sometimes take up to 10 minutes or more.  Being a slower runner, I did not stop on this race very often for pictures since I was trying to improve my time.

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This has to be one of my favorite views in Magic Kingdom. It’s on the bridge into Tomorrowland.

Leaving Cinderella’s Castle, the route takes a twist through Frontierland and then backstage before leading onto the road that passes in front of the Grand Floridian hotel.

Passing in front of the Grand Floridian is about the halfway point of the race.  I checked my watch and it told me that I was on pace to finish about 30 minutes faster than my previous halfs.  This is because I hadn’t been stopping, and I had been sticking to my pacing.  Feeling proud, I continued on to “Let It Go” blaring from the DJ.

The fog still hadn’t subsided, and I ran the long road back toward EPCOT.  At mile 8 there is a  Gu Energy Gel station.  I like Powerade Performance Energy Blasts, so I didn’t eat the Gu.  In fact, I was eating about three gummies every 40 minutes and alternating Powerade and water at every station.  This seemed to work really well for me because at mile 10, I didn’t hit my usual wall.  Instead I felt really good.  From there the route goes up an onramp to an overpass.  Besides the castle, this is also my favorite part of the race because I was able to see all the runners that were still behind me, no being swept on this race.

Miles 11 and 12 passed without incident, and soon I was back inside of EPCOT running behind the giant sphere.  From there it a short quarter mile to the finish line.  I checked my watch one more time seeing that I was going to finish about 3:12.  I picked up the pace and and sprinted when I saw that 13 mile sign.  Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line, arms in the air.  My third half marathon under my belt.  Not only that, but I had shaved nearly 30 minutes off my time, and I had just run 19.3 miles in two days.  It was quite the accomplishment.

I swung through the finish line chute, grabbed my medal, Powerade, water, Glass Slipper Challenge medal, and food box before collapsing on the ground in exhaustion.  I found my running buddy and told her I just might be up for that full marathon she keeps talking about.  Perhaps that was just the “runner’s high” talking or perhaps it wasn’t.

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Since I was doing so well with my time, I allowed myself one quick character photo during the race.

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My costume inspiration, Rapunzel, was found at the after race party.

Despite the high race fee and sometimes crowded course, I love running Disney.  I would recommend that anyone that loves to run try out one of their races at least once.  And with the new Star Wars and Avengers themed races, these races aren’t just for Disney fanatics anymore.

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19.3 miles, one personal record, and 3 awesome medals.

 

 

 

Looking for Pocahontas

From their housing, to their crafts, to their struggles, I have always had a fascination with all things Native American. This interest really began in high school when we were asked to read creation stories. It was fun imagining the Apache’s trickster coyote causing trouble, and seeing the Spider Woman of the Hopi creating the flora, fauna, and mankind.

Around the time of my enchantment with all things Native American, Disney released Pocahontas, and I was hooked.  Now I realized that there is little truth in the Disney film, but I loved that sound track.  I spent the entire summer of 1995 blasting it on my boom box and creating some weird interpretive dance in my backyard to “Colors of the Wind”.  (My mom still reminds me of the season-long entertainment my graceless dancing provided for the family.)  If that wasn’t bad enough, my three-year-old brother and I collected every action figure from McDonald’s happy meals and reenacted scenes from the film.  I think it’s safe to say I was a teeny bit obsessed.

So when my husband and I decided to take a road trip to visit some family in the Washington D.C. area,  I told him we just had to make the two and half hour detour to stop in Jamestown on the way back.  He conceded and we were off  to explore one of my childhood obsessions.

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As we were driving I saw this sign and we just had to stop for a photo op.

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Arrival at the fort

Upon arrival, the cherry trees were in full blossom, and when the wind shook the limbs, the blossoms would float to the ground like snow flurries.  It was pure beauty to watch.  But, alas, I was there to see Pocahontas, not cherry trees, so we continued on to the entrance.

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Cherry blossoms on a chilly morning.

After making our payment we went out into to fort proper, and we walked into a ranger who had just begun his talk.  While listening to park ranger go on and on about the history of the area was not my idea of fun–I wanted to start exploring–he was so dynamic to listen to that we ended up spending over an hour listening to him describe the life of the Powhatan tribe the settlers.  As he spoke, he stood in front of a Pocahontas statue.  The one thing that I distinctly remember from his talk was that the statute we were all looking at was not historically accurate.  Pocahontas was wearing the clothing of a Plains Indian.  The ranger informed us that Pocahontas would have only wore a skirt since she was being portrayed in her summer attire.  Well, patrons of the statue found that a topless Pocahontas would be inappropriate  for the public to view and would commission the statue of Pocahontas if she was appropriately attired.

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Pocahontas in her non-traditional dress.

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Everyone deeply engrossed by the park ranger’s stories.

Realizing that we had spent so much time listening to the ranger, we decided it was time to move on to the Powhatan village.  In the village there were replicas of housing, farming, canoemaking, games, and all sorts of other lifestyle elements of the Powhatan.

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One of the “natives” creates a dugout canoe.

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Trying my hand at one of the traditional Powhatan games.

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Demonstration of how fishing nets were made

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Inside of a wigwam

After exploring the Powhatan village, it was on to the fort.  Inside the fort were similar types of replicas–housing, weapons, armor, etc.    The mattresses were so thin and often infested with mice and insects.  It made my skin crawl to think about these sleeping conditions.

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My own personal John Smith.

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Settler’s sleeping quarters

Finally we were off to see the replica ships.  We were able to embark on The Discovery.  When I thought of the ships that carried these explorers across the ocean to America, what I was standing on did not fit what I had imagined.  I could walk the entire ship in about fifty steps.  After being on cruise ships,  it was incredibly hard to believe that these vessels were sea worthy enough to make that voyage.  There were definitely not the luxury accommodations of a cruise ship.   I would have hated to hit a hurricane in this little matchbox of a ship.

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The Discovery

All too soon we were heading back to our car to make the long drive back to Orlando.  But before we left the settlement, we came upon the man himself.  John Smith’s statue stood overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.  What a disappointment to see this statute did not look like the Mel Gibson inspired John Smith from the Disney film. He wasn’t even a very nice guy.  So with my distorted image of John Smith corrected, we left banks of the Chesapeake Bay with me thinking, “you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”

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The man. The myth. The legend.