Category Archives: tropical getaway

Wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida

As we enjoyed the sun and heat of February in Florida, we were on a perpetual quest to find friendly places where we could bring Skye-dog and allow her to walk with us without the fear of poison ivy, sand burrs, crazy oblivious tourist drivers and those with dog phobias.

We, like many others before us, made our pilgrimage to Sanibel Island (off the coast from Fort Myers on Florida’s gulf side), which is known for unparalleled shelling, white beaches and being friendly to visiting dogs.

Causeway to Sanibel Island (beware the afternoon rush hour!)

But we didn’t really care to spend much time on the beaches; temperatures in the 80s and all that made trekking in the hot sun brutal!  Especially with a black dog…

Miles of sand on Captiva Island, just north of Sanibel – doggie prints with dragging leash…shhh!

…and with no shade, unless you owned one of the mega-homes on either island and could sit on your covered porch, sipping a gin and tonic, you were on your own.

Come on in! Not.

Our destination ended up being the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which comprises over 6000 acres on the northern half of Sanibel Island.  Yes, the entire northern half of the island has remained free from builders!

This parcel of land, wetland, inlets, mud flats and mangrove was saved from development when conservationist, angler and hunter Jay Norwood Darling (who also happened to be a well-known political cartoonist) convinced President Harry Truman to ensure its protection.  Truman signed an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945 and in 1967, five years after Darling’s death, it was re-named the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge — ‘Ding’ was his ‘nom de plume’ (leaving off the ‘arl’ in his name).  Darling had twice won a Pulitzer Prize for his inspirational editorial cartoons (in 1924 and 1942) and in 1934, then president Franklin Roosevelt rewarded him by appointing him Director of the U.S. Biological Survey, the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Darling designed the national symbol for the refuge system called the Blue Goose, which Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring, conservationist, environmentalist and scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1932 to 1952) referenced here:

“Wherever you meet this sign, respect it.  It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”

Explore, discover and inspire!

The boardwalks here afford the visitor a view of the mangroves from above, a rare vantage point.  Entering the park, parking and walking along these peripheral trails is free — a bonus to entrance-fee weary travellers.

Bird and beast watching

There are many birds to set your eyes on here:  pelicans, egret, ibis, herons and more…

Handy identifier for folks like us, who haven’t a clue.

But what I really loved were the little suitcases placed along the handrails with what appeared to be life-like lumps of poo.

“Excuse me. Someone pooped on your briefcase.”

Charming to both young and old, the handle beckons.  So you dutifully open and find this …


AHA!  Scat.  Coyote poo.  This particular kind of thing will definitely come in handy.

And so you go along and make guesses.  What kind of poo is this?


I’d guess it is something large…..



What a wonderful interactive way of learning, for big and little kids.


Winter holiday 2014: Part II

With every day and every new snowflake that falls, Florida feels very far away.


But hold on a minute.

For all of you who haven’t had a chance to escape this wretched winter, I have something for you:


There.  Do you feel better?  There is indeed retribution for the gall we exhibited in leaving this frigid climate and seeking out some kind of paradise.

Yes, that’s right.  Poison ivy.  And if you missed it, you can read the label.


So you might ask, “How did you get it on your hand?”  Karma.  And the sheer impossibility that poison ivy would be growing WITH A LABEL alongside a path at the Calusa Heritage Trail within the Randall Research Center in Pineland, Florida.

On their website, it lists what to bring:

*  Hat

*  Sunglasses

*  Sunscreen

*  Insect repellent

*  Water

I would (somewhat sarcastically) add:

*  a Hazmat suit

No offence.  This spot was beautiful and taught me things about this area of Florida of which I had no idea.  For example, did you know that the Calusa were an early indigenous people that lived along the coast in southwest Florida.  They did not farm but rather fished, fashioning nets from palm webbing and patrolling the coast in dugout canoes made from cypress trees.  They even sailed as far away as Cuba.



This site is minimally managed but incorporates mown lawns, natural pathways, osprey platforms and scattered benches and picnic tables.  Dogs are allowed, mind you on leash, and we visited it many times during our holiday.  It was one of the only places within a 15 minute drive from our cottage where Skye could chill.


Despite my contact dermatitis, I do have good memories of this holiday.

This was the view from our waterside cottage.


And this was our neighbourhood resto-bar.


…where you could order and eat very, very slowly, home-made key lime pie…


When we weren’t eating –


(and drinking) –


– we were looking for places to walk Skye.  Like here:





But before you get the idea that we had little direct contact with the water, you will see that is not true.


My first kayak expedition.


Bliss.  Even for someone who doesn’t (really) swim and is afraid of sharks.


Soon after that paddle, we packed up the car again and set out to return home.  Goodbye blue skies.  Goodbye southern sun.  Goodbye sand.


Skye is happy again.  Traitor.


Winter holiday 2014: Part I


The morning of our last day in Ottawa before heading south…the blowing snow should have been a portend of things to come…


My biggest anxiety about crossing the border was our unusual doggie paperwork.  You see, Skye, our 11 1/2 year old border collie who accompanies us everywhere, continues to be in remission from lymphoma.  As such, she has not been vaccinated since before her diagnosis.  For anything.  Not even rabies.  This is apparently a problem if you want to cross the border.

There is something called the Rabies Challenge Fund and the website has a list of states that accept medical exemptions for rabies vaccinations.  New York is one of those states and the state into which we were crossing.  Your vet can fill out a form which indicates that although your dog is otherwise healthy, she is not healthy enough to receive vaccinations — cancer and other chronic illnesses compromise the immune system so much that this could spell disaster.

We did not have this form.  However, we did have certification from our vet that Skye had a rabies ‘titer’, which indicated that her immune system had high enough levels of antibodies against rabies for her to be protected.  Ever skeptical of bureaucracy, I also came armed with a million pieces of paper and websites in my brain.  What good they were in my brain, I don’t know.

As we approached the border, the sun shone as we clutched our passports and Skye’s paperwork.  Passing them out through the window to the sullen and scary customs agent, he was more concerned about whether we were bringing fruit across the border than a rabid dog.

And with that, we drove through.  The sun that had shone brightly suddenly turned to this.


And then this —


And then, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse —



This was the worst whiteout I had ever driven through.  Well, maybe not.  Once I was driving somewhere in Ontario and had to pull over on the shoulder because I COULDN’T SEE AT ALL.  When the whiteout subsided, the shoulder was filled with cars that had lined up like soldiers — one after the other — and no one had crashed into the one ahead.  It was a miracle.  As was this very slow drive along Highway I-81 S in upstate New York.


Fahrenheit and miles seem so strange to me now that I have to translate Celsius and kilometers first.  About minus 8-9 degrees Celsius = 15-16 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s not much different from where I left.  But I know it will get better….


The moment when I kicked the last piece of cr*ppy ice from the car’s wheel well was a cause for celebration.  Yes, I am petty.


I had forgotten that anywhere south of Virginia is land of the very small white fuzzy dog.  Skye was appearing increasingly out of place.


Hotels requiring dogs less than 10 pounds.  Rules requiring dogs to be on a leash no longer than six feet.  Heck, the distance a small white fuzzy dog can run between the end of that leash and your feet is enough to exhaust them.  But not Skye-dog.  She needs space to run.


Finally reaching Florida, we see evidence of the standard American grasp of the obvious.  Not to mention insistence on politeness.


Aaahh.  Sun and heat at last.


Vicarious interlude – a preamble

After re-reading my last post, I realize I don’t really want to push anyone over the edge right now, as the weather is doing a mighty fine job of that all by itself.

Let’s instead have some moments of calm, with heat and sun, shall we?  Get in the groove by closing your eyes for a moment, and then scroll on…


This was one of the beaches we visited on Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun, on Mexico’s east coast.  (Aside:  If you visit, you must spend some time cuddling puppies at Isla Animales.)


It was a beach lounge — you could stay all day if you spent about $50 in food and drinks.  A pleasure, I say.  As did my apparently chubby left foot.  When we were there, there were two ladies with massage tables set up on the far left, out of the picture.  Did I indulge?  You bet.


But if you want spectacular and spectacularly lush landscapes, then the Flower Forest in Barbados is the place to go.  Aren’t the trunks of those palms just pure serenity?


If you would like to lounge away in paradise, then my recommendation is the Grand Case Beach Club on the island of St-Martin.  But don’t count on the free upgrade; ensure you have a great room or you may be disappointed with your view.  *This* is what you want.


Or if it’s the joy of our climate, but in the steamy summer, do you remember these days?


cef - 2011 030

I know so far this post has been a terrible cheat:  places I’ve been, things I’ve seen…but we need to remember during these dark days the joys that come with summer memories and travel to distant places.

Speaking of which, I will be heading south soon and will let you follow on our travels.  With Skye-dog, of course.

The Crab Shack, Tybee Island

Repeat after me:  Yum.

This meal was called the “Half & Half”: 1/2 a pound of shrimp and 1/2 pound of snow crabs legs.

I’m not such a fan of the giant cup of melted butter, but I can tell you that nothing on this plate needed extra butter.  The shellfish was juicy and succulent and tasted of the ocean and the corn was already dripping.  Nothing extraneous here.  Well maybe the ‘Crabber Cocktail’.  Boy, was it all good ’cause I ate the whole thing!

This place is called The Crab Shack and is located on Tybee Island, just off the coast of Georgia about twenty minutes from Savannah.  According to their motto, it is “where the elite eat in their bare feet.”  While I didn’t see any movie stars without shoes on, I did see plenty of alligators in their “Gator Lagoon”.

The gators here are babies, raised in captivity, and are sent back to their breeder when they get too big.  Don’t know what happens to them then, but they seem to be well taken care of here.

It’s a combination ‘tiki’ Disneyland and laid-back seafood mecca.  When I say laid-back, I mean you throw your shells through the hole in the centre of your table and they fall into the garbage bin that’s underneath.  You sit in the dappled shade under the live oak tree, lazily watching everyone eating around you or at the gorgeous marshland and tidal pools just feet away.

Skye-dog managed to remain laid back too, even with the resident ‘rescue’ cats wandering around.

Florida snapshots

I had to share with you some more images from our time in the Citrus State, Florida.

These are the giant, multiple trunks of a Ficus benjamina tree on Anna Maria Island, off the coast of Florida, just south of St. Petersburg.

There were lizards everywhere.  This one clearly has wanderlust.

This beauty is Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri, colloquially known as the donkey ear plant, but it has many other common names: Giant Kalanchoe, Good Luck Leaf, Leaf of Life, Life Plant, Miracle Leaf, Palm Beachbells, Sprout Leaf Plant, Sprouting Leaf and Tree of Life.  Wow; it is not your little florist’s kalanchoe.  It is a monster that is native to Madagascar but will live practically anywhere, in a tropical climate, that is.

The flower spikes reach upwards to 2 and 3′, making themselves available to hungry hummingbirds.

What a striking partnership; this kalanchoe with Pennisetum setaceum, straw coloured but essentially evergreen by late winter in Florida.

Have you ever seen a bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata) so large?!  I actually looked under its ‘skirt’ of leaves to see if it was in a raised pot, but no, it wasn’t!

A Florida still-life.

And a living still-life.

Some trees just need a helping hand.

Honestly?  Talk about a balancing act… it would help if they had tails!