(Most of) December in Sanibel

Our first week on Sanibel Island this Winter reminded us why we not only keep coming back, but also why we increase out stay time each year: we just love the place and all it provides.  Beautiful beaches, outstanding shelling, fun shops, excellent restaurants, miles of bike trails, vast nature preserves, easy access to The Big City (Fort Myers) and a great social atmosphere at Periwinkle Park.  With just over three weeks remaining in our month long stay, we tried to hit all the things we remembered loving and add a few new events and places to our experience.

 

We are now in the habit of timing our Winter visit such that it overlaps “Luminary,” an Island-wide annual event on the first Friday in December.  After stumbling across it two years ago, we ensure this fantastic evening is part of our early Winter.  Miles of bike paths are lined with paper, sand, and candle lanterns, many of the businesses along the route put out sample trays of their food, or provide wine, cheese, and other hors d’oeuvres, and a few locations provide live music.

 

We are much more prepared than our first year: our bikes have full lighting, we know the route, add a bit of flair to our clothes, and peddle hard to our furthest point and then making it a leisurely return with multiple stops before finishing the evening at Huxters, just outside Periwinkle Park, for the live band.  If you find yourself in SW Florida in early December, consider giving this event a run. 

We used our library membership to check out passes to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW.  They give a fun and informative talk about all they do, which by the name you can probably figure out involves taking injured animals, nursing them back to health, and if possible returning them to the wild.  They also do a lot of research and data collection for use by a wide range of organizations tracking wildlife populations and the like. 

Though we had big plans to hit several of the excellent restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva, our budget busting repairs from late October encouraged us to reel in our dining this month, particularly since we are already paying one of our steepest daily camping rates.  Thus we did not get to return to Island Cow or The Pecking Order, or try out Timbers or The Clam Shack.  We did hit our preferred pizza joint from past years, but something has gone amiss in their “by the slice” system, and we were very disappointed.  Ah well, we made up for this culinary austerity program with some wonderful stuff from the three farmers and artisans markets we did in Naples.

Speaking of which: we did three farmers and artisans markets in Naples.  One of the things we have always said about our market participation in various venues across the country is that even when we don’t make a lot of money, we still get to enjoy the locally produced goods, interact with locals and tourists alike, and get the skinny on things we should and should not do in these unfamiliar towns and cities.  I’m gonna come right out and admit that this positive attitude towards low performing markets has gotten harder to retain in light of our increasing expectations following some of our recent extraordinary successes. 

One of the more interesting sights from our Naples market.  Yes, hair dye, not clothing.

So yes, we were pretty disappointed with that first Naples event last month, but the second one was better, and then the third was, again, disappointing, but we closed out with a moderate bang on our fourth.  If, for whatever reason, we find ourselves staying in the Naples area, we will consider doing their Pine Ridge market again, but when in Sanibel next year, we will seek closer venues in Fort Myers.

Kind of rare for us to enjoy a sunrise, so at least we got that out of the market.

That said, we bought some wonderful stuff, and by stuff I mean food.  We would start off our day with a big glass of fresh juiced passion fruit.  My God, this stuff is amazing, like an explosion of flavor in your mouth.  Then it was, perhaps, a chocolate croissant for a late breakfast.   We took home blue cheese stuffed olives, pepper jelly, free range eggs, smoked fish dip (mullet is so much better than almost any other options) and specialty cheeses. 

Red shouldered hawk that let us get pretty close during a trip to Fort Myers.

In previous visits to Sanibel, about the only things that got us off the island were the Naples markets.  It just seemed inefficient to pay a $6 toll to go to wherever, when we were already paying that price on market days.  This year we worried less about that and enjoyed multiple day trips to various mainland spots.  It wasn’t all fun and games, one of the first non-market day Fort Myers trips was for me to get a Basal Cell Carcinoma nodule removed via “electrodessication.”

I’m fine, its one of the least dangerous skin things you can get, I am paying the wages of a misspent Florida youth along with some genetic predisposition (thanks Granddad!) and after consultation I elected the electrical burning of it off my arm rather than surgical excision.  The scar is probably a bit worse than the “cut it out” option, but it impacted my activity far less. 

The Basal Cell nodule I had removed.  Haha, no, its an octopus we rescued from a sea gull and returned to the ocean. 

Anyway, whenever I was off island I incorporated Geocaching into the day.  Before my dermatology procedure, I did 25 or so caches in southern Fort Myers.  On another quite day I did another score or so on Cape Coral.  Rosemarie and I did a few during a windy visit to Fort Myers Beach, where we also visited yet another Moose Lodge, our 24th, for a few drinks.  We hit a handful of local thrift shops during our ventures, scoring low cost items for ourselves and gifts for others. 

One of many osprey’s on Sanibel.

One of the things we will need to seriously consider before our next Sanibel visit is the possible purchase of a LeeWay transponder.  Like most toll transponders, it provides the convenience of not having to actually stop at toll booths along with automatic payment via a registered account.  Apparently LeeWay is connected to SunPass (Florida-wide toll system,) E-Pass (Central Florida Expressway system,) Peach Pass (Georgia) and Quick Pass (North Carolina.) 

Typical Sanibel shell mound.

The advantage LeeWay offers over Sunpass is a major discount for the Sanibel Causeway: for a flat $50 fee the $6 toll is reduced to $2 for a six month period (either Nov 1 to Apr 30, or May 1 to Oct 31.)  You can get a full year of this discount for $67, but we really don’t see ourselves in the region outside that late Fall, Winter, early Spring period, so the math is thus: will we cross the causeway 13 times or more during this window?  During our one month stay this year we crossed 10 times, and will probably visit again in late March.  That is right on the edge, but I think we will do it next season just so we don’t feel constrained.

Finally, let’s talk about the shelling, after all, this is one of the primary things Sanibel is known for.  Every day is different, every beach is variable, and we accept and adjust for these changes.  Some days we would hit Bowman’s beach and walk north, away from the crowds, until we hit the major shell piles a mile from the popular areas.  Others we would start at Blind Pass, the cut between Sanibel and Captiva islands, and head south. Several evenings we rode our bikes to Lighthouse Point on the eastern tip of Sanibel to watch the sunset, observe the near shore dolphin hunting, and enjoy the surprisingly good shelling following some heavy weather. 

Part of Rosemarie’s Sanibel shell haul.

We found a lot of beautiful shells: Florida Fighting Conchs of course, Lightning Whelks, Banded Tulips, True Tulips, Apple Murex, Lace Muriex, Shark Eyes, Alphabet Cones, various Scallops, Angel Wings, Florida Cones, Olives, Kings Crowns, Jingles, Worm Shells, Pearl Whelks, etc, etc.  Truly a wonderful shell haul.  But Rosemarie kept reading about the shelling excursions on the Ten Thousand Islands near Marcos Island.  This would be a boating trip to some of the uninhabited islands off the southwest coast with some experienced shelling guides.

We sprung for a shelling tour for Rosemarie with Treasure Seekers Shell Tours.  For $100 she would get a 45 minute boat ride from a Goodland, FL marina, to one of those islands,  three or so hours of professionally guided shelling, light snacks, and the ride back.  A few days before Rosemarie’s trip the weather turned sour, and with a phone call we rescheduled to the day after the bad weather, which would be our last full day in the area.

Shelling on the Ten Thousand Islands is quite different than walking the pristine beaches of Sanibel.  This amazing mound exists partly due to the storms, and partly due to so few people making it out here to pick through it.

Oh what luck.  The stormy days had kicked up an unusually large bounty of shells, and Rosemarie came back with a stunning array, including a very rare variant of the already rare Junonia, a “Chocolate” Junonia, so named because of the much darker and wider spots on this version.   Another woman in her group found a standard Junonia, the sort we now look down our noses at.  In all seriousness, the storm kicked up so many Junonias that we were getting reports of a handful more found by members of the shell tour over the next couple of days.  Someone joked that the Gulf Coast was going to have to come up with another Holy Grail of Shells since Junonias were getting too common. 

Chocolate Junonia (center)

That was a heck of a way to close out our Sanibel stay.  We will be back for sure, hopefully this Spring before we begin our travels out of Florida. 

This beautiful hermit crab gets to keep his shell.  

Up next: Family, family, family as we do pre-Christmas with the cousins, a Christmas day run back to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.

A collection of the best finds from the group of six on this tour.

 

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