CHARMED BY SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

DEPENDING ON HOW IT WORKS ITS MAGIC ON YOU, SANIBEL IS­LAND IS IN THE SHAPE OF A SLICE OF GRAPEFRUIT OR A WIDE GRIN. SOMEHOW, WHILE LOOK­ING INTO THE GULF OF MEX­ICO FROM SANIBEL BEACH, ONE CAN VIEW BOTH SUNRISES AND SUNSETS.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY BRUCE SACH

A true, old-style, nat­u­ral par­adise awaits you on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

I’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to see­ing young peo­ple (and old) bliss­fully un­aware of their sur­round­ings and fo­cused on the screens of their cell phones. So, when I saw many peo­ple on Sanibel Beach peer­ing into the palm of their hands at 7:30 a.m., I naturally as­sumed the worst. Hap­pily, I was wrong. It turns out folks were in­tently ex­am­in­ing the seashells they’d har­vested at low tide. The ac­tiv­ity was free, with­out frills and cap­tured their at­ten­tion.

THE SIM­PLE LIFE

Shortly af­ter sun­rise, birds be­gan ar­riv­ing. Bird­ing is great on Sanibel Beach, with plenty of gulls, pel­i­cans, sand­pipers and the odd os­prey to keep en­thu­si­asts amused.

Ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude walk­ing along the gen­tly sloped beach, sun­bathing and, of course, seashell col­lect­ing—re­puted to be the best in North Amer­ica.

Peo­ple of all ages can be spot­ted at low tide crouched over in the Sanibel Stoop, try­ing to un­cover the per­fect seashell. In fact, if you find a rare junonia, you may get your pic­ture in the lo­cal pa­per. In some ar­eas, the shells are piled so thick you can col­lect a dozen in one hand­ful. Ev­ery­one car­ries a sack in which to hold them. Al­though col­lect­ing is

en­cour­aged, signs re­mind us that tak­ing live shells is pro­hib­ited.

This place is a true, old-style, nat­u­ral par­adise. Back in the 1970s, the area sep­a­rated from its neigh­bours so it could set its own rules re­gard­ing de­vel­op­ment. Two-thirds of the is­land will never be de­vel­oped, as it is part of a wildlife re­serve. No build­ings higher than the high­est native tree are al­lowed and nei­ther are chain restau­rants. Okay, there is an old-fash­ioned Dairy Queen, which was grand­fa­thered in, but there are truly no other fran­chise restau­rants—just mom-and-pop es­tab­lish­ments rang­ing from very sim­ple to high end. And the most com­mon mode of trans­porta­tion, for visitors at least, is the one-speed bi­cy­cle. And al­though your ho­tel can lend you a lock with your com­pli­men­tary bike, I never saw a sin­gle one in use.

MANGROVE WILDLIFE

On board a trol­ley in the J.N. Ding Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, we ob­served mi­gra­tory birds on a sand­bar in the es­tu­ary lead­ing into the Gulf of Mex­ico and Pine Is­land Sound. Among them were dou­ble­crested cor­morants, great blue herons, a roseate spoon­bill, egrets, white ibis and a huge flock of white pel­i­cans. The lat­ter are the ul­ti­mate snow­birds, who visit here about the same time as hordes of Cana­dian trav­ellers ar­rive in Florida.

Later, we ven­tured along paths that took us deeper into the man­groves to learn about three kinds of man­groves and the mangrove tree crabs, which, with­out a guide, we would have mis­taken for large spi­ders, had we spot­ted them at all.

While we con­stantly noted leap­ing mul­let fish, we never came across native al­li­ga­tors. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to our guide, a cou­ple of vis­it­ing South Amer­i­can croc­o­diles had taken up res­i­dence in the Refuge. Road signs with the un­usual “Go­pher Tor­toise Cross­ing” head­ing naturally piqued our cu­rios­ity.

OUTER ISLANDS

A vis­i­tor to Sanibel Is­land in­evitably makes his way to its sis­ter is­land, Cap­tiva. Here, tourists and lo­cals also col­lect shells, em­ploy­ing the so-called Cap­tiva Crunch to scoop up the pre­cious col­lectibles that ac­cu­mu­late on the western-fac­ing Gulf of Mex­ico side of the is­land. Not sur­pris­ingly, the coun­try’s only shell mu­seum is lo­cated on Sanibel Is­land.

We drove through Cap­tiva is­land to em­bark on a Cap­tiva Cruise to Cab­bage Key, a tiny 404,685-square-me­tre is­land (key) one hour away by boat. From the dock, we care­fully crossed the very shal­low Pine Is­land Sound, so shal­low that our guide causally men­tioned that if we ran aground, they’d open up the bar while we waited to be un­stuck by the Coast Guard!

Noth­ing un­to­ward oc­curred, how­ever we were oc­ca­sion­ally en­ter­tained by pods of de­light­fully play­ful and cu­ri­ous dol­phins. They love sounds and are at­tracted by the boat’s en­gine and any noise we cared to share.

Cab­bage Key cel­e­brates the Florida of 80 years ago when Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Mary Roberts Rine­hart built her win­ter res­i­dence here. It is now the only inn and restau­rant on the key. The an­cient, white, wooden water tower is home to a cou­ple of lo­cal os­preys, and, to our de­light, the bur­rows of many go­pher tor­toises are found at the tower’s base.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but at the Cab­bage Key Restau­rant it ap­pears to be com­ing out of the walls and flut­ters down like dead leaves from the ceil­ing where ban­knotes from around the world hang like moths. This odd phe­nom­e­non be­gan in the 1940s when a fish­er­man signed a dol­lar note and taped it be­hind the bar to prove he’d be good on his debt. The money, to­talling tens of thou­sands of dol­lars per year, is col­lected and given to char­ity.

MAINLAND HIGHLIGHTS

Southwest Florida’s Fort My­ers and Sanibel area is a nat­u­ral par­adise. Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the area’s spe­cial charm and nat­u­ral beauty be­gan well over one hun­dred years ago, when Thomas A. Edi­son, Henry Ford, Har­vey Fire­stone and John Bur­roughs came for win­ter stays to ap­pre­ci­ate the out­doors. Bur­roughs was as well-known as the other three, as he was a pop­u­lar me­dia star who sold mil­lions of na­ture books while the oth­ers amassed huge for­tunes in busi­ness.

At the Ford and Edi­son Es­tates near down­town Fort My­ers, I was sur­prised to see how humbly th­ese two Amer­i­can icons lived, con­sid­er­ing their vast wealth. Even more sur­pris­ing was the rea­son they came to Southwest Florida, which was to take part in ad­ven­tur­ous camp­ing trips on which they re­ally “roughed it” far from the com­forts of home and fam­ily.

An­other mag­i­cal mo­ment oc­curred at the But­ter­fly Es­tates in the heart of Fort My­ers, where we wit­nessed the care­ful breed­ing of lo­cal Florid­ian but­ter­flies at a con­ser­va­tory whose main goal is ed­u­ca­tion. The in­te­rior of the con­ser­va­tory fea­tures New Age mu­sic and elec­tric fans hum­ming to­gether as the just-re­leased but­ter­flies frolic about, hop­ing to mate. It is a true lovers’ par­adise, not just for but­ter­flies but also for those who ap­pre­ci­ate na­ture.

ABOVE: Cy­clists take a break to en­joy the surf along the Gulf of Mex­ico. The Beaches of Fort My­ers and Sanibel

ABOVE: White pel­i­cans at the J.N. Ding Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. © Ca­role Jobin BE­LOW: En­joy­ing a sun­set on Cap­tiva Is­land. The Beaches of Fort My­ers & Sanibel TOP RIGHT: Kayak­ing in Lee County. The Beaches of Fort My­ers & SanibelOPPOSITE TOP: Money cov­ers the wall and ceil­ing at the Cab­bage Key Restau­rant, Cab­bage Key.© Ca­role Jobin

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