Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our May Trip: Florida

We've been lucky as all get-out this year. First, we got to stay at my uncle's timeshare on Captiva Island, Florida. Uncle Tom offered his week (at the end of May) to my parents, and they asked Sue and me if we'd like to go with them. They didn't have to ask us twice!

The biggest deal there is the beach. Captiva and Sanibel islands are world famous for the huge numbers of shells that get washed up on their white sand beaches. That Captiva has mainly private homes and resorts means that the beaches are people-quiet and clean. Which is to say, relaxing and beautiful.

There really are gobs of shells on these beaches. This is me, performing the Captiva Island version of the famous "Sanibel stoop." It's hard to walk on the beaches without pausing every so often to stoop down to examine something. Here, I'm rinsing the sand off of some treasure the very first night we got there. (Those are my flip-flops in my pocket, by the way.)

On one of the days, Sue and I took a short day cruise northward to Cabbage Key, where one of the prime things for tourists (like us) to see is the restaurant. The place got famous because it provided Jimmy Buffet the inspiration for his "Cheeseburger in Paradise" song. Naturally, one of us had to get the cheeseburger.

They serve libations there, too. (Oh no I dih-unht!) (Oh yes I did!)

On our previous trips to Captiva, we had not visited the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, which has a natural history museum, several hiking trails, and native plant nursery. Very much worth seeing! I wish we'd gone there sooner. And what a great idea to combine the native plant nursery and sales with the environmental education: as the green world goes, the rest of nature follows.

This (below) is simply a view from along one of the trails.

Here's a view of Pine Island Sound, taken during the aforementioned boat trip.

Manatees are pretty much emblematic of southern Florida, and it seems that whenever one of these "sea cows" lifts its cute little nose out of the water to catch a breath, people gather around and watch. I'm glad that the education about manatee conservation has reached so many people.

Another new part of this trip was visiting the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers. The homes and grounds (actually, an arboretum) are well cared for, and the museum and its staff are professional and informative. Here's our docent/tour leader. She did a great job!

There is a statue of Edison under the huge banyan tree that was apparently planted in 1925. It's one of the largest banyans in the United States. Its lower limbs reach out sideways and send down aerial shoots like a mangrove tree. This single tree constitutes its own small "forest."

Here's the statue of Ford, which is located near his winter home. The homes were indeed fun to see, but I have to admit, I got more excited about the many tropical plants all over the grounds!

As with the last time we visited Florida, we made a trip to the Everglades. You know you're getting close when you stop at a rest stop and, when reentering the car, a half dozen mosquitoes fly in with you! This mosquito is squashed against my driver's side window. Well? It wouldn't leave on its own.

Another new place this trip was the Fruit and Spice Park, which is part of the Miami-Dade County parks system. It's in Homestead, Florida, and it's incredibly fun for anyone interested in food, botany, agriculture, or gardening. Yes, bug spray was a good thing, but then, what other botanical garden lets you eat (indeed, encourages you to eat!) the fruits lying on the ground?

I could go on and on about this place, but I'd better hold off. But if you're headed that way, make sure you visit it.

Banana flowers!

Bananas! (Yeah, they sent us away with some; it was late in the day and they were closing up shop: "Here, take these back to your motel with you.") I'm pretty sure this is the variety called "apple bananas," which you can purchase online at Robert Is Here. I had never eaten a banana that tasted so much like a . . . fruit. They were sort of creamy and juicy, but certainly not "overipe." A revelation!

Folks, that Fruit and Spice Park had jackfruit trees, too! You can see the huge, watermelon-sized fruits forming on the trees! They even let you stand under them! (For those of you who are into such things, the jackfruit is in the same family as the mulberry and the Osage orange. The jackfruit is more or less like a big huge edible Osage orange! Another point of interest: Jackfruit is the original flavoring for Juicy Fruit chewing gum!) These jackfruits were forming close to the ground, but others were high in the tree!

This here is a baby pineapple. A variegated or red-tinged one, I think.

. . . And a dragonfruit! Easily the coolest-looking of the tropical fruits down there, because of the nearly florescent magenta pulp color and the nifty green and red outer rind. How does it taste? It's actually pretty mild. The texture (including that of the edible little seeds) is a lot like a kiwi fruit. They're available June through November, and if you keep an eye out for them, your supermarket might get a few in the "nifty gourmet stuff" section of their produce department.

Then, the Everglades. This year, while we traveled, Sue and I read Marjory Stoneman Douglas's Everglades: River of Grass. It's pretty intense, but it really is a great crash course in what the Everglades are all about. Recommended reading for any American. You have to read it! You just have to!

This year we finally drove all the way to the last "stop" on the Everglades National Park scenic road, the Flamingo area, where land and water are no longer clearly defined. We took a guided natural history boat tour there (again, very worthwhile), and saw lots of neat stuff. Here, for example, was one of the baby crocodiles we saw!

Yes, a crocodile! At the very southern tip of the Everglades, there's an overlap in the ranges of the American alligator and the American crocodile! Ain't he cute?

Well, that's all for now. We had two days between the Florida trip and the one to California. Soon, I'll post some pictures from San Francisco!

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