We decided to break from the super rugged travel we were doing from January through April, and slow things down a bit. When traveling becomes too stressful, it’s difficult to enjoy, and if you can’t even enjoy it, what’s the point? Our Around the World tickets allow us to move dates for free, as long as we don’t change origins and destinations. Unfortunately, this apparently only works in theory right now. We’ve moved dates before (like when I was sick in Israel), but with Spring and Summer travel, it proved impossible to find new dates with award ticket availability. So, we had to do the unthinkable… and cancel the remainder of our tickets.L Supposedly if we can ever find the same combination of award flights available in the same order, we can have the ticket reissued for free. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
That left us with a new question – what next? Elliott said he wanted somewhere warm and relaxing. The answer was suddenly obvious – the Gulf Coast of Florida! It’s hot enough to swim there this time of year, and we got married on a beach there almost nine years ago, so there is no better place for us to relax and enjoy! I looked in my miles and points bank, and was able to get us flights and a hotel within a few hours.
The flight was easy to figure out. We have a Southwest Companion Pass, and Southwest recently acquired AirTran, so they now fly to Fort Myers, FL. This meant I could fly for free with the Southwest Points I have, and Elliott could fly for free as my companion.
Next – a hotel! This is very exciting indeed for a couple of backpackers. We chose the Candlewood Suites Fort Myers-Sanibel Gateway, which cost only 10,000 Priority Club points per night, and is located conveniently between the Fort Myers beaches and Sanibel . At only 10k points per night, we were able to get an entire week here, just from opening one credit card that had an 80k point bonus! (And hey, I’ve got 10k points left over.) We knew we had made the right choice when we arrived and found they have a pool, fitness room, free laundry, free movies and free popcorn! (Elliott would live here if he could, as long as the maid replenishes the popcorn pack in the microwave.) We also had a full kitchen so we stocked up on groceries the first day and I cooked up a delicious storm all week long.
On our first evening here, we drove to Fort Myers Beach, where we had never been, for a nice long walk and shell combing. There were lots of cool little conch shells in the shallow water – nothing like we’ve seen before – and they all had live creatures in them! (Elliott loves these shells but is conflicted as he is so grossed out by the slugs inside of them.) During our walk we congratulated a couple getting married on the beach, and got all giddy, remembering what it felt like for us. Then we played paddle ball and had a happy hour on the beach as we watched the sun set. This is one of my favorite things about the Gulf Coast; it’s always wonderful to see the sun set over the ocean, and a rare site indeed for a girl who grew up on the East Coast. The most electrifying moments, though, came when darkness arrived while we were still walking. Every building started to look like our pale orange landmark building, and as we traipsed back and forth a few times wondering if we had gone far enough or too far, I had amusing images in my head of us asking a police officer for help.
“Where did you park, m’am?”
“We’re not sure, but there was an orangish-colored house on the beach just after we took the path from the parking spot.”
“How far did you walk on the beach?”
“Didn’t you note the street name?”
“Um, no, but there was that orange-colored house…”
It didn’t help that Elliott later admitted he forgot we had a rental, and was looking for our charcoal-colored car from home! Oops. Luckily I was looking for a *black* car, and eventually we did find it!
The next day we drove to the little island just south of Fort Myers, Lover’s Key State Park. It was also new for us, but it seemed quite appropriately named. After all, did I mention we came back to this area because we got married on a nearby beach (wink)?
We took a short hike that followed along a winding “sister path” in the bay for kayakers. It was nice to be along the water as well as to see all the different plants and animals we’re not used to. Our favorites were the Gopher Tortoises who’d walk across the path ahead of us, and the Coontie Plant, a little palm that grows only three feet tall and has cone babies. Technically, there are separate male and female plants that each produce their own male and female cones, and then the male cone has to fertilize the female cone to produce a new plant! “Blah blah botany,“ says Elliott.
There were lots of other animals too, during and after our hike. We headed to the beaches in the park and found a huge gazebo to provide us plenty of shade for our lunch. Then it was time for a swim and more beach walking. The little conchs were out in full force, on a sand bar as well as in the shallow water here. Elliott had found more than one telltale way to know if there was a live creature inside so he didn’t have to flip it over. I looked closely and could see that all the little “mud tracks” were actually the paths these creatures had taken, each time they got thrown out by the surf, as they slowly dragged themselves back toward the water. We stepped back and looked at the beach, covered in these tracks, and both agreed, “Ewwww!”
All day we saw beautiful and familiar birds we now love, so typical of Florida. There were white herons and ibises and egrets and kestrels (cool little falcons). “Blah blah birdwatching,” says Elliott. (But he admits he really likes them.)
At the end of the day as we walked across the bridge over the brackish waterway, we were on the hunt for my favorite animal, the alligator! We figured they must be around, but we couldn’t find any. Instead, we saw some cool looking organisms that we could only guess were jellyfish – we didn’t expect those outside of the ocean! And in abundance was one of our favorite plants, famous for its ability to thrive in a mix of fresh/salt water, the mangrove.
While we were not “beaching,” and trying to recover from some of our extreme sun exposure, we decided to check out the local thrift shops. We noticed them while we were driving from the airport to our hotel – three of them, to be exact! And as we drove around to Fort Myers Beach and Lover’s Key, we found more. We couldn’t get over how many thrift shops were in such a small area, and we declared Fort Myers to be a thrift store haven. My treasures at the end of our shopping included two new dresses, two shirts, a fun pair of tights, a thermal bag to replace one we had left somewhere, a beach bag (to “replace” the one we forgot), and a magnet to represent one of the cities we visited on this trip.
The few times we’ve been to this area in the past, we concentrated on Sanibel Island, so it was nice to see a bit more of the local area. Between its nice beaches, parks, and thrifty shopping, Fort Myers is certainly not off the list of potential retirement destinations!
P.S. As I go to post this blog entry, I realize we were seriously lame with the photo-taking. No photo of the conch shell colonies, no photo of the enormo gazebo… I’m sure we’re missing other photos we wish we had taken. What can I say, we were relaxing for once! You’ll just have to trust me that we saw all this stuff.