Thursday, April 04, 2013

1000 Islands, Marco Island, Naples & Port Charlotte. Days 3-7

March 27th, 2013 (Day3)

After 3 days and 3 nights it was about time to leave Big Cypress and continue the exploration before I wore out my welcome. Driving out the dusty gravel road I had the opportunity to stop for a few more photo ops, including one for a really nice sized alligator. 

It wasn't very long at all before I was pulling into "1000 Islands Park". This place actually had the most bang for the buck as far as wildlife sightings. At an actual cost of $0 you can even save that buck for later spending.  It seemed almost as if the critters there were lining up to have their pictures taken! It was laid out perfectly for bird watching and it too had a few big gators sunning themselves along the grassy shores. I quickly ran out of film, or would have if I wasn't shooting digital, and continued on down the road.

Marco Island must be very lonely for the Gophers and Tortoises!
It's hard not to island hop especially when you don't need to take a ferry so I couldn't resist having a jaunt around Marco Island. The south end was your nice but typically overdeveloped beach area of ritzy hotels and condominiums of the rich and not so famous. The north end less so and much more palatable to my tastes.

Moving on into Naples I took a nice long walk along Bonita Beach and later in the day was fortunate enough to stumble upon "Freedom Park". A wild life conservatory of around fifty acres which not only serves as an animal sanctuary, but was built to act as a huge water filter funneling the areas storm water and running it through multiple ponds. The end result, of course, is cleaner water for the residents and needless to say some more great opportunities to view wildlife and fauna. I was particularly pleased to get some tight shots of a pair of Black Vultures. The dark nature  the name "vulture" conjures up really does a disservice to these flyers. They really are quite magnificent birds.

The following day I had arranged to meet my first Couchsurfing host, a young lady named Jessica. What is a "Couchsurfing host", you ask? Well it originates from a website I recently joined (www. which is  basically a meet up site, pairing travelers and those sympathetic to the plights of travelers who can either give some local advice on what to do and see or even open up their homes and play host. 

While I'm traveling in the van I assume I won't be doing too much hosting myself unless the "hostee" is really cute, petite, and knows how to spoon without stealing the blanket, but I figure it will be a great way to meet interesting people, gain some local insight and maybe receive the gift of an occasional hot shower or water tank top off. 

I am happy to report that it is off to a good start. Meeting Jessica, we agreed to hop on the water taxi and  see the town that way to start. She's a walker, which is good because my exercise regiment has fallen off a bit, so after a lap on the water we walked through the "Rodeo Drive" (Actually 5th Ave) part of town down to the beach.  

Then just to make it a real workout we hiked up the beach quite a way to a beach front bar/restaurant/resort to have a drink and wait for the "Meet Up" group to arrive. "Meet Up" is another website which organizes..... yeah, you guessed it, "Meet Ups". However, she must have missed an update because no matter where we looked we couldn't find the group. All in all, a nice way to pass the afternoon with some company ending with another repetition of the walking workout.

The following day I had the opportunity to meet the second "Couchsurfing Connection". However, I had the morning and afternoon to kill so I did some more exploring. I started with Englewood Beach and later found what I would have to consider the most beautiful "Beach Road" (notwithstanding ones with water views) I have seen to date. It's official name is Casey Key Road, unofficially it's called "Canopy Road". Aptly named for the long stretches with wonderful trees draping over atop the road, you forget that the ocean and bay are no more than 200 feet to each side. 
I had one last nature site on my list for the day, "Ollies Pond".  A really lovely little neighborhood gem that anyone would be ecstatic to have in their backyard. As long as you don't mind a few small alligators. It is another bird magnet which would help motivate anyone to get their daily exercise walking a lap or two around it every day. 

I just happened to time my visit to find a man and his 15 year old grandson there unloading a canoe from his pick up truck. As I got out of the van he bellowed over my way, "You want to go for a canoe ride?". I was a little surprised by the invite, but since I had time to kill before the  light settled down for some photos, I inquired further. It seemed the older gentlemen was 75 and not quite up for the task, but he just bought the canoe and wanted someone to go out with his grandson to give it a test drive and make sure it was "Pond Worthy".  

I agreed and later was glad I neglected my Skipper's duty by not insisting on life jackets since the pond wasn't more than knee deep at its deepest! In fact, we only got about 200 yards before we hopelessly hit ground and had to turn around. We did however prove that it didn't leak. As a side note, the van's outdoor shower definitely came in handy after I sank shin deep in pond mud pulling the canoe ashore.

The time had come to make the acquaintance of my next Couchsurfing connection. I met Devashis for coffee at his neighborhood Starbucks and we swapped stories of our travels into the night. He had a full house, but was kind enough to let me park in their driveway. And kinder still the next morning, allowing me to have a hot shower followed by more coffee and conversation. We probably could have went on much longer, but I didn't want to take up his whole day. We promised to keep in touch and before I left he said that I had inspired a bunch of his friends. I pulled out of the driveway wondering what the karma is for possibly helping to create a bunch of young homeless kids who "Live IN A VAN, DOWN BY THE RIVER". (sic-Chris Farley).

And the beat goes on......