When many people think of Florida, beaches, amusement park rides, and speed racing come to mind. But Central Florida—what Hipcamp Host Dennis M. calls “the real Florida”—is something entirely different.
Here, crystal blue springs feed wild rivers where manatees and alligators swim side by side, turtles bathe in the pockets of sunlight that poke through the thick canopy of cypress trees, and owls hoot loudly into the night sky. This Florida is a far cry away from the bustling city centers and neon-lit strip malls that dominate a lot of the state. And this is just how Dennis likes it.
Dennis and his wife Julia operate Rasayana Cove, an eco-retreat an hour east of Sarasota that is part-campground, part-Ayurvedic retreat. After studying the ancient practices of Ayurveda in India, Dennis and Julia returned to the States to open a retreat based on its principles in 1994.
When one of their guests told them about Hipcamp, Dennis and Julia opened up two unused cabins on their property to start welcoming Hipcampers.
Dennis said that because Hipcamp does a lot of the heavy lifting—advertising, booking, and payouts—he and his wife are able to share more of their land with visitors without spreading their time and resources too thin.
Dennis: Rasayana Cove is a 25-acre rural property located on Horse Creek, a major tributary of the Peace River, the main watershed in this part of Florida. The property is characterized by a natural “bayhead” and “cypress head”—perennial wetlands—in its middle-lower half, and its entire eastern border lies in the flood plain of Horse Creek. At the back of the property, between the bayhead and the creek is the old fish camp, now a full-service campground with two cabins we call the Tree House and the Hermitage Cabin.
There are several hundred yards of riverine trails, which afford campers access to enjoy the shady environs of the creek and observe the wild creatures that use this natural corridor: egrets, herons, limpkins, ibis, kingfishers, hawks, owls, and turkeys, as well as common songbirds. It is not unusual to see alligators, otters, turtles, or bobcats.
Dennis: Ayurveda is the holistic self-healing science of ancient India. It is still practiced by natural healers all over the world. It embraces lifestyle, massage, diet, meditation, pulse-reading, herbalism, and internal cleansing, as well as other modalities. My wife Julia and I studied the science of Ayurveda extensively when we were younger. We made several trips to India to see how it was applied in its place of origin. When we came back to North America, we were seeking to establish a practice.
We were not interested in practicing in a shopping mall or any other urban center. Since Ayurveda is concerned with balancing the fundamental elements of life (space, wind, fire, water, and earth) we wanted to locate in a natural setting where our clients could enjoy the healing power of nature. Through a series of circumstances, we were led to Rasayana Cove.
Dennis: It may appear that we’re running two businesses, but from our perspective, it’s only one business. We’re in the business of selling retreats. The Ayurvedic retreats include meals, accommodations, massage therapy, counseling, cooking, and meditation. That is where we make our living because we are able to charge for all of those elements. That also preoccupies us both with providing the services, cleaning ,and maintenance.
With Hipcamp, we offer a retreat without the services—only accommodations. In fact, we ask Hipcampers to provide their own bedding so that we are not burdened with laundry. The only thing Hipcamp requires of us is to have our two buildings clean and functional with some firewood on hand.
Administratively, my wife looks after booking the Ayurvedic retreats, which require much more time, negotiation, and personal attention. I take care of the Hipcamp bookings, which require much less. I may exchange texts with potential campers, but Hipcamp takes care of the booking, advertising, and scheduling, as well as collecting the money and payouts. So, in effect, the two aspects of our business are actually combined and complement each other.
“I may exchange texts with potential campers, but Hipcamp takes care of the booking, advertising, and scheduling, as well as collecting the money and payouts.”
If we weren’t using the extra cabins for Hipcamp, then they would remain idle. Fortunately, our property is large enough that everyone can enjoy relative privacy. The extra income we get from Hipcamp is welcome and helps our bottom line.
Dennis: Yes, unfortunately over the past few decades, the coastal communities of the Florida peninsula have become very congested, commercialized, and overdeveloped, populated by retirees. Having grown up in Central Florida, I was aware of the simple natural beauty of the woods, the cattle pastures, and orange groves in the lesser known parts of the state.
Dennis: My wife and I were never interested in an urban lifestyle where everyone is driving and rushing around. We are, by nature, meditative individuals. We both have practical self-reliance skills and are accustomed to forging our own path.
We’re of the Whole Earth Catalog generation. If we require the kind of experience that you can only find in a larger city, like concerts, museums, or Major League Baseball, we are willing to drive an hour or so to get there. Our retreat, isolated as it may seem, is only a little more than an hour from Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland, Sebring, or the beaches.
Dennis: Campers can expect a lovely, quiet cabin in the woods surrounded by the sights and sounds of the natural environment and the abundance of nature. It’s what we call “Real Florida.” This is not a commercial public campground. It is an exclusively private setting. There is pure drinking water, fern-shrouded sprawling oak trees, and towering cypress.
Dennis: I have no advice for other hosts except to be impeccable in your word, and make sure that you fulfill the terms and meet the expectations of your clients.
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