Dave turned to me early in the summer and said, “I’d love for you to see Sanibel Island.” I excitedly replied “Yes! Let’s do it!” I had heard it had the best shells in the country. Admittedly in my head I had this romantic exaggerated image of a small, unpopulated island where the beaches were filled with tiny spiral shells, so much that you could just reach down and pull up handfuls of them. By the end of the summer I learned that I was only partially right.
On our last day of Key West we laid in our big, fluffy king sized bed, exhausted. Not from the day, but from the trip itself. Two weeks on the road, driving from state to state, getting up early to fill our days with culture and adventure and then going out at night, it really took a toll on us, especially since this was the first time we traveled since Dave and I were both involved in a near fatal motorcycle accident that left us struggling to get stronger and back to traveling.
Our initial plan was to continue onto New Orleans and make that our last stop in the South before we swung around back north towards Nashville and then home. We thought about all the driving, the heat, the adventuring in New Orleans (because I wanted to see A LOT), and it scared us. So we agreed together that after Sanibel Island we would head home, but stop each day in a place we had never been. Not a bad deal, right?
Instead of staying on Sanibel Island, which is over priced for obvious reasons, we stayed at a cute hotel in Fort Meyers Beach. A friend of mine who lives in Fort Meyers (the non-beach area of the city) described Fort Meyers as this: “It’s boring. There’s like, no culture here. No art scene, music scene. Just drunk white people from the mid-west who effed up their lives and moved here”. She’s lived there longer than me, obviously, so she has seen a side of it that I didn’t have the time to see. However, you really don’t see anyone staying in Sanibel because Fort Meyer’s is too expensive, ya know what I mean?
Casa Playa Resort is perfect for a long stay; comfortable, beachy bedroom with a large bathroom and a lot of storage. It had an enormous sliding glass wall connecting the living room/kitchen to a screened-in lanai that looked out onto the Gulf. Casa Playa was right in the center of Fort Meyers Beach, with bars, restaurants, touristy shopping and board walks, and only 5 or 10 minutes from Sanibel Island and it’s neighbor, Captiva Island.
Our first day we excitedly drove to Sanibel Island and had breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe, one of the best spots for breakfast on the island. The interior is covered in pictures of lighthouses from all over the world. I had an amazing seafood Eggs Benedict and Dave had his usual bagel with eggs and french fries. Boring!
Sanibel has free beaches scattered all over and you only pay to get onto the island. Having a vehicle is a must, since you drive from beach to beach. We found one on the gulf side that wasn’t too crowded and had an amazing view. It was exciting for me because it was the first time I swam in the Gulf of Mexico! I thought that was so cool. The water was warm and calm. Two things I noticed though. There were no beaches-made-of-shells like I had fantasized about, and I hadn’t seen the sun since the day before. Storm clouds were building from the other side of the Gulf and the wind was picking up. I had only just gotten out of the water when it started to rain. Everyone fled the beach, speeding away in their cars…you will swim in the ocean but rain will scare you away?
We hung out in the car for 15 minutes and emerged to a beach all to ourselves! The rest of the afternoon we floated in warm gulf water, digging up the occasional shell with our toes or a bucket a family had hurriedly left behind. That night we gussied up and went out in Fort Myers Beach to a place called Smokin’ Oyster Bar which was full of newly retired people talking about their boats and vacation houses. There we had way too much fried food and ate Gator Tail for the first time! I’m not too embarrassed to say I liked it!
That night, thunderstorms rolled in. I liked laying on the couch and watching the lightning over the ocean. I did not like that it was still there the next morning. We refused to let the rain ruin our day. Dave had been doing research and found a beach that was supposedly one of the best spots to shell. We packed our bags and headed out, this time to the bridge that connected Sanibel Island to Captiva Island, the more expensive island of the two. It seemed a lot of people had caught wind of the location as well; it was crowded. SPEAKING OF WIND…it was unbearably windy. Like, constant, 15-20mph steady wind. It was cloudy, rainy, the sea was choppy. For a moment I got super cranky and miserable but Dave, as always, made me see the bright side; we were going shell hunting.
I had come up with a strategy. I squatted down in the incredibly rough, waist high ocean and filled my bucket with sand from under my feet. Then I would slowly look for shells inside the bucket, letting the waves wash away some sand little by little, revealing conches, spiral shells, mermaid toe nails, and scallop shells. We did this over and over again, till our thighs were sore from bracing ourselves and our shells bags were full.
Next we got out, put on some dry shirts, and went exploring underneath the bridge that connected Captiva to Sanibel. The channel was calm, and since it was low tide, there were literally piles of shells and shell pieces all along the shore. There were so many we had to wear sandals so we didn’t cut our feet. Dave and I spent a long time digging in piles at least a foot deep. The spoils were sweet:
The rest of the day this “Florida Soaker” as the weather channel called it, soldiered on with not a minutes rest. We drove around Captiva, looking at all the enormous mansions and beautiful beaches. We had lunch and went back to the hotel, discussing the prospect of heading out the next morning, instead of staying an extra day like we had planned. This weather was supposed to continue.
By dusk the storm had subsided a bit and we went out for a walk. Right where you walk from the hotel to the beach, the rain water had collected into this giant pool of ankle deep water that was so cool and clear, and so still it looked like a mirror. We walked along the beach and talked the entire time. It was one of those moments where you remember what you did, what you saw, the smell of your surroundings and the feeling you had while in it. I will never forget that dusk walk on the beach.
We left Sanibel, our last destination of our Road Trip, and began our journey home with that little pang of excitement in our stomaches. It wasn’t the excitement that we had when we left New York, that excitement to discover something fresh and new. It was the excitement to discover something old but familiar; home.