After a blissfully long sleep I was up at 6am to do some writing. The rest of the gang started to surface around 7:30 and Ana told me that she had been contacted by our friends Jacquie and David, who have a winter property in Sanibel Island, and they invited us down for a visit. Since we had absolutely no plan for the day, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to see them.
We hit the road and drove along the I-275 interstate all the way down to Fort Myers, which took a couple of hours. Magnus was keen to check out a gaming store for Magic cards so we pulled over at a mall and were happy to find a Total Wine and a TJ Max nearby. Total Wine is fantasy land for adults as they seem stock every beer, wine, spirit and mixer ever made. This particular store also had a humidor with a lovely selection of cigars so I loaded up with stogies, bought some drinks for our hosts, and left feeling quite sad that we weren’t going to be in Florida long enough to sample a lager selection of fine liquors. But it sure was fun being the youngest customers in the store by at least 20 years. Florida is one of only two places in the world where you can be 60 years and have people in shops refer to you as "young fella". The other is Japan, but there you can be 70 and still be labelled as a whippersnapper.
We arrived at our friends’ place on Sanibel island shortly after 1pm and got huge hugs and kisses from Jacquie. David was still on the golf course when we arrived, but he pulled up in his golf cart shortly afterwards. It was great to see them both, as it had been three years since we’d met and spent some time together cruising around in the North Channel on Lake Huron. We were also happy to see their dog Parker - a black lab, but he had slowed down considerably since we last saw him. I had bought Parker a cool chew duck at the TJ Max, but after seeing the trouble he was having getting around, I suggested to Jacquie that she throw it for David instead, to keep him in great shape.
We jumped in the car with Jacquie and drove down to the Lighthouse restaurant, located right in the Port Sanibel Marina, then sat down and enjoyed drinks and a delicious lunch on the outside patio. We were in a perfect position where the light wind was blocked and the sun was beating down, making the 15 degree day feel much warmer. We caught up on our news over lunch and then Jacquie took us for a tour around Sanibel while David returned to the house to do a few things. We went first to see the lighthouse, and then went for a long walk on the nature trails and then the beach where we saw many ospreys and picked up a bunch of shells. We then drove to the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge - a huge nature reserve where we were treated to a low tide, which meant hundreds of birds and other creatures were easily seen picking around in the mangroves. Ana and the kids were especially impressed with the beautiful, pink spoonbills preening themselves and putting quite the show for the onlookers. I spent most of my time hanging around the local fishermen who were catching fish called sheepshead. A couple of the fisherman had strong, southern American accents that were very tough to understand, but were laughing wildly at times and having a lot of fun. On the way out of the reserve Jacquie spotted a wild alligator sunning itself just off the shoreline, so she pulled the car over and we were able to get quite close to it, in fact too close for Jacquie’s comfort as she didn’t want us to get eaten, so we stood back and watched it from a safer distance.
As dusk was approaching, Jacquie called up David to have him meet us on one of the more remote beaches for a sundowner. Of course the west facing beaches in this part of Florida offer amazing sunsets if you are lucky enough to get a clear day, which we had. We arrived earlier so took a long walk on the shell-covered beach and picked up a few nice ones. David showed up with a bag of goodies so we poured glasses of wine, pulled out the popcorn, and chatted on the beach as we watched the sun slowly sink down into the horizon. Of course, it was an amazing sunset, and after the sun had dropped, a hot pink flame-shaped light appeared where the sun had been so we took a few pictures to capture the moment. Every sunset is unique, but this one was especially good!
With the sky starting to darken, we gathered up our things and drove back to the house, taking care to watch for tortoises that like to cross the road at night. Greater than half of the island is preserved as a wildlife refuge and the locals are adamant about nature preservation, even discouraging streetlights so as not to interfere with turtle nesting.
They had invited us to stay overnight, but because we wanted to get an early start Sunday, we instead settled for drinks and some delicious pizza at their house. They had bought the house over ten years ago and then stripped it down to the guts and completely remodeled it, creating a modern, spacious, and very comfortable living space. While we enjoyed gin and tonics, Stella worked on David's puzzle in progress and Magnus mostly hung out with the dog. At one point Jacquie asked him to take Parker out back to relieve himself, but didn't realize that the yard was not fenced and Parker disappeared! A frantic search ensued, and belive me when I tell you that it is not easy trying to find a black lab at night on an island with no light. Fortunately, he didn't get too far and I caught sight of two white doggy eyeballs that revealed his location. I'm not sure if he had time to relive himself, but our shoes came up clean so perhaps not.
We said our goodbyes and promised to visit them soon back at their home in Toronto. It was only about 9:30 when we left, but the drive back to St. Petersburg was hallucinogenic, as both Ana and I were so tired we could barely keep our eyes open so had to encourage each other on as we took turns driving. We sang songs, ate sunflower seeds, sprayed water on our faces, did car yoga, and poked each other in sensitive areas. The techniques worked and we did not crash into an alligator swamp, but made it back to the hotel by 11:30. Because Magnus and Stella slept the entire way, they had enough energy left for a huge argument about which side of the bed they were entitled to. In the end Stella won, but instead of winning gracefully she then suggested Magnus sleep with me and she offered the “good” side of the bed to her mom, which enraged Magnus, but he internalized the fury, hopped in with me, and that was it for Saturday.