Traveling through South West Florida one hot afternoon, the scorching sun was stinging my shoulders. However, after a frigid New Jersey winter, I was glad to feel the blood flowing back in my veins again.
With only a week to visit the beautiful beaches along the Gulf Coast, I headed off to my favorite islands, Sanibel and Captiva, where I picked up bright orange seashells, took boat rides in Tarpon bay to watch the egrets, herons and spoonbills resting on shell mounds and learned about the mangroves, gumbo-limbo trees and the surrounding ecosystem that relies on them.
To the east of Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach was more expansive than I had imagined. Even though a large crowd of young and old frolicked on the sand, there was enough room for everyone, without feeling overcrowded. The soft white powdery sand felt so good between the toes. In the distance, I could see white sailboats gliding towards the island of Sanibel and further beyond. In downtown Fort Myers, I strolled along the Caloosahatchee river (named after the Indian Caloosa tribe) and visited the revamped historic downtown district, complete with cobblestone streets, old-fashioned street lamps, theater, Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, several restaurants and modern shops. During my stay, I went back to Morgan House Restaurant three times to taste their delicious signature dish, a macadamia-encrusted tilapia in rum sauce. Along the riverfront, every so often wild dolphins swam parallel to the seawall, trying to catch small fish. After a while, I was able to spot a dolphin, even before it made its appearance on the surface of the water. The V-shaped ripples created by their dorsal fin, the occassional ‘hmmppf’ sound of their breath, and the small silvery fish jumping out of the water ahead of them, were a clear give away.
Driving through Cape Coral was shocking and disheartening to say the least. A ghost town replete with foreclosed, vandalized homes, a tree-less barren landscape, where no one seemed to care about the land or the people left behind.
On to Pine Island and Bokeelia, which were lush with vegetation and rows upon rows of pine trees, I ended up at the tip of Bokeelia just in time to enjoy the Fanta-colored sunset. In the silent glow of the twilight, steps away from the gentle lapping waves, a 400 year old Buttonwood with its gnarled branches, stood the test of time. Schools of small stingrays swam in the shallow clear water under the pier. The place was completely deserted, but as soon as the sun touched the horizon, out of nowhere, throngs of people showed up with their cameras to snap the golden orange sunset. As the sun disappeared, in an instant, the sky turned a cool violet blue. “Let’s go folks, the show is over,” a woman said. On cue, the crowd stampeded off the boardwalk as if they were outside Madison Square Garden trying to get through the evening rush hour. Once again, silence returned and the school of stingrays that had frantically scattered away, grouped back together again, continuing their journey westward.
During the last leg of my journey I headed up north on I-75 towards Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. Both towns have suffered the same fate as Cape Coral, with the exception of their waterfront areas.
Making way through Longboat Key, its grand villas, wide boulevards, and purple-pink bougainvillea which cascaded over the white limestone walls, reminded me of British colonial seaside towns like Hamilton in Bermuda. The aqua blue water and the pure white sand beaches were absolutely refreshing.
Driving further north into Amelia Island, I had very high expectations based on several reviews on the internet. Much to my dismay, the public beach was overcrowded, noisy and dirty. A marriage party, several barbecue fires, the nauseating smell of fried chicken, seagulls fighting over leftovers and rambunctious children didn’t help either.
Running out of time, I drove back to Fort Myers just in time for my flight to New Jersey. Disheartened to leave it all behind, I knew I would return someday. After all, a week in paradise just wasn’t enough to enjoy the beauty of nature and its Fanta-Sea.
Click here to see photos from this trip.
Travelogue: South West Florida