When we began planning our trip to Florida I wasn’t that thrilled. Nothing against Florida you understand, it’s just that I’m not someone who lives for theme parks, they mean money and energy—two things that I’d rather not have to worry about when I’m on vacation. I want to lie on the beach all day and theme parks with children usually mean 1. constantly scoping out the nearest bathroom 2. buying expensive food then spending time cutting it up for small mouths 3. tying and retying small shoes and 4. timing everything around naps.
But I’m kind of passed the pancake cutting-shoe tying-nap timing phase of life so since everyone was so keen on the roller coaster action there in the Sunshine State I decided to go along with the crowd. However, it wasn’t until a friend of mine suggested paying a visit to Sanibel Island that I got excited.
I’d never heard of the place and it took some time to locate it because I couldn’t spell it correctly: Santa Bell? San Ibel? San Ybel? Whatever. But what she told me convinced me that I wasn’t doing time at Disney unless I could get a shot at Sanibel as compensation.
Sanibel is off the west coast of Florida near Ft. Myers. It takes nearly three hours to drive there from Orlando on the east coast but it’s worth it. We didn’t stay on Sanibel proper as it’s a bit of a resort area and as such is rather expensive (though absolutely picturesque, the homes are gorgeous and it would be perfect for a romantic getaway). Instead we stayed at Shell Point right there at the bridge going from Ft. Myers to the island.
Ft. Myers beach is wide and long and has the most beautiful sand I’ve ever seen. Well, scratch that, it’s not really beautiful sand like pink, black, red or white beaches but the grey sand is incredibly soft and fine—if it’s dry it feels like flour and is perfect for sand castles (do you notice Spencer's sandy six pack in the top picture?) It’s the first time that I’ve loved just walking on the beach for the feeling of the sand alone. I ran my toes through it and couldn’t get enough of the powdery softness
Sanibel and nearby Captiva Island are famous for their beaches as well, not because they’re fine or pretty but because of the shelling. Supposedly they’re the second best place for finding sea shells in the entire world—THE WORLD! Kind of makes you wonder how Florida won the bid on that one doesn’t it? It’s not every place that can claim that kind of shelling capabilities. I bet someone high-up pulled some very big strings to get that whole thing set up.
When my friend told me about Sanibel she showed me some of the shells she’d found there and it blew me away. Four-inch conches that make you drool with the thrill of the hunt. I was sold. So the day after we arrived at Sanibel I was huffing and puffing, trying to rouse our crew out of bed at dawn to beat the crowds. Of course this was easier said than done so I had to settle for 8:30am. Sigh. Whatever, just get up!
We drove across the bridge (a six dollar toll round trip) and out to Lighthouse Beach with its tiny little cutie pie lighthouse but I realized as we drove into the parking lot (a two dollar fee) that we had arrived too late. The beaches were already fair teaming with shellers, all doing that Sanibel Stoop and picking off the best stuff long before we’d arrived at the scene.
It was still a great beach, there were birds everywhere and even more star fish. David tried collecting as many as he could then throwing them back into the water (the star fish that is, not the birds). When I asked Spencer why he didn’t join in he said, “Well you know, star fish really aren’t that much of a challenge—they just kind of lay there and they’re pretty easy to catch.” Can’t argue with logic like that.
But David was in his element, he found giant hideous sea slugs that covered his fingers in slug slime and enjoyed the thrill of threatening his sister with his gooey hands. Then he found a mermaid purse. “What’s this Mom?” he asked.
“Wow! That’s a mermaid purse—the nickname for a shark egg case. Some sharks have live births but some lay eggs and their egg sacs have these little spindly legs at the corners that attach to seaweed to keep them from washing away. Very cool.” I ought to get an honorary degree in biology after all the nature shows I’ve sat through with my kids.
The shelling was somewhat disappointing because we were late, but it was cute--Spencer and Andrew were so determined to fulfill my shelling dreams that right then and there they took a solemn pledge to wake up as early as I determined necessary so that the next day I could be there before the crowds and get my beloved shells. Then they sealed the promise in sea slug slime.
We spent the afternoon on a dolphin-viewing cruise going out to North Captiva Island where dolphins followed the boat for twenty minutes. Manatees by the dock, pelicans skimming the water—it was a wildlife paradise I tell you. Couldn’t have been better.
The next day low tide was at 3:30 am and we were up at 6:00 am to cross the bridge and make the half hour drive to the end of the island in the dark. Success! We were the second car in the lot.
We walked down a half-mile or so then waited for the sun to rise. As it came up we assumed the pose and began scouring. Sure enough, I picked up the best shells I’ve ever found. Each one was a little treasure and our bag filled until it was hard to carry. Pictured here clockwise from the top are Paper Figs, Fighting Conches, Florida Cones, a Banded Tulip and Lightning Whelks.
Sharks, shells, dolphins, pelicans, sea slugs, cranes, manatees, sea stars, sea urchins, sunrises, soft sand—we couldn’t have asked for more. If you're thinking of Florida, put Sanibel at the top of your list.
Congratulations to Vicki of Oviedo, Florida (and no, I didn't cheat on this one, the fact she's from Florida was completely a coincidence) for winning this Saturday's Giveaway from Outside the Box go check out her grand opening and see what's there for yourself!
Don't forget, Wednesday is the final day for submitting an entry into this month's Write-Away Contest. Just a couple days left!
Technorati tags: Florida, travel, motherhood