It was three or four months ago that we decided that we wanted, no, needed a vacation. We needed to get away from all our regular responsibilities and spend some restorative time as a family. In choosing the destination, we wanted a place near the ocean where we could explore the shoreline and sea life, but without all the commercialism that a typical beach vacation can entail. I remembered reading some time ago about Sanibel island off the coast of Florida, known for its exceptional shelling.
In 1974, the residents of Sanibel established the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan to maintain a balance between development and preservation of the island's ecology. As a result, more than half the island is made up of wildlife refuges. There are no billboards or streetlights, and buildings cannot be any taller than the nearest palm tree. Sanibel seemed like a perfect choice for our beach adventure.
Destination chosen, we then needed to decide whether we should fly or drive. We were worried that Noah would freak out on the airplane, given his melt-downs when we have tried to even go through a drive-thru carwash. In the end, considering Isaac's continuing hatred of carseats, we decided that 4 hours of in-flight torture versus 24 hours in a car would probably be the best choice.
To prepare Noah for our trip, we got a book called The Noisy Airplane Ride and read it over and over. Before long, Noah was talking all about the trip and airplane ride. We woke up early on the morning of our flight and headed to the airport with our pile of luggage. To our amazement, the boys both did much better than we expected on the airplane. One of the benefits of Noah not watching tv at home was that he sat in his carseat on the airplane entralled for an hour and a half watching a movie on our iPod. Isaac was restless at times, but all the while charming fellow passengers with his blue eyes, big toothy grin, and chubby legs. One stewardess even held him for a while when he was particularly restless. She didn't even seen to care when he spit-up on her sweater. Eventually we were able to get him swaddled so I could nurse him to sleep.
After arriving in Fort Myers, we trudged our way through the terminal with all of our luggage and kids in hand. Though we had taken Noah's carseat with us for the airplane ride, we decided to rent one for Isaac from the car rental company. We received a rather filthy seat, which took us about an hour to install into our rental car without the instruction manual. Fed up with the difficulty of putting the seat in the car, keeping the hungry, overtired kids calm in the heat, and controlling our own emotions, we drove off to start our adventure. We stopped at a local superstore to pick up some food and supplies for the week. Would you believe that we unable to find a simple bucket and shovel for playing on the beach? While looking for some potential sand toys, we walked past a new infant's car seat that was on sale for about a quarter of the cost it was to rent our smelly one for the week. Shaking our heads in disgust, we picked up some bananas, grapes, and a package of stale cookies and continued on our way to Sanibel.
Approaching the island of Sanibel, there's a beautiful bridge (the causeway) that takes you up and over the ocean. When driving up it, it looks as though you're driving into the clouds. The small resort we were staying at happened to be on the far side of the island, and we finally pulled up to where we were staying right as the sun was setting. The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of the car were the little lizards running around everywhere. We definitely were not in Wisconsin anymore. We dropped off our bags in our room and briskly walked down the sandy path to the beach to catch a glimpse of the sun. Even though it was only our first day and we had barely settled in, it was probably the most beautiful sunset we saw the entire vacation. Bright splashes of pinks, oranges, and yellows shimmered across the cool blues of the ocean. It was a nice reminder to clear our minds and enjoy the beauty of nature and the time we all had together. We headed back to our room to make some dinner and soon discovered that our "one bedroom apartment" was actually one large room with the "bedroom" being separated by a slatted door and a dividing wall that was open at the top and bottom. Once Curtis and I finally got the kids to sleep, we sat there in the dark in silence. Obviously I wasn't going to be getting much knitting or reading done after the kids went to sleep. It would be early bedtimes for all of us on this trip.Despite missing many of his naps during our trip, Isaac was eager to start each day. He also woke everyone up at midnight, 2am, 3:30am, 5:30am, and 7am. At home, we are able to ignore Isaac's early morning babble and he will doze off for another hour or two. However, with everyone sleeping together in such close quarters, and sharing a wall with our poor neighbors, his early morning babbles could not be ignored. We soon fell into a rhythm of eating breakfast in our room before heading out to explore the island, heading home for lunch and a nap (or an attempted nap) and walking up and down the beach, which was just a short walk from our room. Often we had almost the entire beach to ourselves, as we were staying on a particularly remote area of the island, away from other resorts and condos.
Sanibel's beaches are known for their abundance of sea shells. Piles upon piles could be found along the shoreline. Amongst piles of small and broken shells, the occasional larger, intact shell could be found. Shelling is somewhat addictive. You always want to look through just one more pile, or a few more yards of beachline, in search of a new variety or a particularly pretty shell. Noah, by the third day or so, began to appreciate all of the sand to dig in. Up until then, he would continually inform us that he had sandbox in his shoes. Keeping our laughter to a minimum, we told him that it was okay and that we could wash them off when we were ready to go inside. Isaac either rode along in his carrier as we walked up and down the beach or kept cool with Curtis as they lounged under a giant umbrella and he tried to keep him for eating fist fulls of sand. We saw a lot of birds while we were on our vacation. The island is home to over 220 varieties of native birds as well as the many more migratory birds that pass through on their way south. The white ibis was a common sighting on the shore, poking it's long beak into the sand, searching for food.
One day, while Isaac and I were napping, Noah and Curtis borrowed some sandtoys from our resort owner's stash and headed to the beach to make Noah's first sand castle. Five buckets of mud and a good 30 shells later and they had built a castle fit for a king crab, complete with a shell drawbridge. A few days after arriving, we left our room early (Isaac's idea) to do some shopping. After discovering that life on the island was very laid back, with pretty much nothing opening before 11:00 am, we continued to the other end of the island for a short hike see the Sanibel lighthouse.
We also spent some time on Captiva, a small island just North of Sanibel. We were amazed by the luxurious houses on this tiny island, set off the road, their grand staircases partially hidden in lush tropical vegetation. On Captiva, we lounged on the beach and splashed in the water. I discovered that the ocean is the world's best white noise machine, and Isaac dozed off in his carrier while I walked up and down the beach, watching the tiny living coquina shells frantically dig themselves back into the sand after each retreating wave left them exposed where I had been standing. This beach had fewer broken shells, so we were able to go barefoot and Noah and Curtis practiced wading amongst the waves in the shallow water. Noah was intimated by the big waves, but did pretty well as long as he was distracted by watching sailboat off in the distance. Near the end of our trip we went to the Bailey Matthews Shell Museum where we saw some exquisite shells from around the world. We left knowing much more about the various kinds of shells and their uses throughout history (a couple hundred years ago, you could buy a chicken with 50 cowries, or a bride for several thousand of the tiny shells!). Meanwhile, Curtis was silently hoping that a large broken shell I found on the beach was an artifact from a native tribe.
The weekend before our departure was the beginning of what is known as 'Ding Darling Days' in Sanibel. It's an annual celebration of the large nature preserve on the island, and there were a number of events and exhibits. We walked through a butterfly house, saw a bald eagle up close, made a stuffed manatee out of a pantyhose and some cardboard, and visited a touch tank with some sea stars and living shells. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to go on a guided boat ride in the mongrove estuary. We were lucky enough to see a few dolphins, the large nostrils of a manatee coming up for air, some fins of a shark, jumping fish, and plenty of birds.
The day before we left, we went on a nature tram tour through the reserve. We had a great time learning about all of the various trees and wildlife. That night, after catching one last sunset, I had a traditional meal of stone crab for our last dinner on the island. We took dessert "to go,"and after the kids were finally asleep and I opened my dessert box in the dark, I was delighted to find that they had accidentally given me not one, but two, pieces of key lime pie. I had to eat it all, of course, since it was our last night.
One more exhausting day of travel and we were almost home. Noah finally had the melt-down we had been expecting all along as we made our final landing in Madison. His tiredness and the pressure in his ears finally got the best of him. Despite the mountain of laundry that overtook our living room, we were so happy to be home and sleeping in our own beds.