This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Martin Wigert from America. Thanks for your entry Martin!
Is waking up with the sun rising to greet you and little to do other than consume some calories something appealing to you? Does standing on a dock in shorts with your morning cup of coffee in the middle of winter appeal to you? If you like these things, maybe you should visit Pine Island, Florida. It is an island in a protected harbor in Southwest Florida.
Pine Island is a place where the media’s image of Florida and the reality of the state collide. There are no luxury high rises; there are few beaches; celebrities don’t come here that I know of. There aren’t streets lined with designer shops and fancy restaurants, nightclubs, and bars. Pine Island is not glamorous, so it does not attract glamor. It didn’t fare well in the housing crisis. There are many reasons it is not the star of the gulf coast. None of them have much bearing on the peace and relaxation that can be found on the island.
I realize that the people who live here exist in a vacuum. They are not on vacation; they carry the everyday worries vacationers have left behind. Visitors to the island encounter a population that does not have tourism as its major economic driver. Many Pine Islanders make the drive into Fort Myers for work. Tourists won’t have touts in their face here and are often left to find their own entertainment. But this is not a strictly DIY vacation destination; there are many resources around the island for tourist activities.
After my plane lands at midnight, it always seems to land then, and the hour long car drive, I collapse into any bed I can find. The climate change itself is exhausting; I’ve come from a winter to a summer in a few hours. Still, early the next morning, I can’t help but explore my new surroundings.
I’ve arrived in Bokeelia, the northernmost of Pine Island’s four communities and the one I’ve come to love over so many years. I like to take a kayak out early in the morning; the air is crisp with a morning breeze requiring a jacket. Soon the sun is glaring, and my warm layers are shed. The water is often like glass before the winds pick up for the day, allowing excellent underwater views. There are many fish and sea creatures moving about in the shallow water. Mangroves are bush-like trees that dominate the overgrown shorelines. Paddling through them, I can find secret lagoons where it feels like I am the only person in the world. Occasionally, I stumble onto a sunken boat hidden in these lagoons and the sense of danger is raised to a new level. I begin listening for pirate song and cannon fire. Every sound of a fish jumping or a bird taking flight is magnified. When my imagination gets the better of me, it’s easy to retreat to civilization. Houses and boats are only ever a few yards away. Nevertheless, it feels as if countless miles and years have gone by in that short distance.
After docking, I take a walk down the street. The socio-economic mix here is amazing. On the same street are giant beach mansions, tiny cottages, and a trailer court or two. I walk up to the bridge, one of the highest points on the island to see if anyone is fishing off of it. This bridge has occasional fisherman, none today. Many boatless fisherfolk head back east to another island, Matlacha, for its drawbridge where people are always throwing a line in. Matlacha also has many gift shops, art galleries, a coffee shop, and a bar or two. Matlacha was shabby chic before shabby chic was cool. Returning to Bokeelia finds us walking along the north end of the island past a couple of its own art galleries.
The end of the road is marked by the Bokeelia Pier and Capt’n Con’s Restaurant. Capt’n Con’s is a Bokeelia institution where a lot of older gentleman meet to discuss things over coffee. The Bokeelia Pier is a wonderful place to throw your fishing line in and watch the sunset over Charlotte Harbor. It has the sea breeze, the waves lapping at the beach, and a giant plastic shark to get your picture taken next to.
An evening meal may find me at Capt’n Con’s or The Lazy Flamingo, another nearby bar and grille. But my preferred meal is a homemade dockside seafood feast. I’m lucky enough to have many accomplished cooks in my family, and delicious homemade food is not a rare occurrence. After a beer or two, I find myself back in bed drifting off and looking forward to the next day.
About the Author: Martin Wigert lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He and his wife, Jill, have traveled around Europe and are excited to move out of the country in 2014. He writes witticisms and humorous observations on twitter https://twitter.com/RandomCowboy