Fort Myers and the Gulf Coast (7th to 25th January 2010)

This is where our journey begins....a snowy exit from London Gatwick airport where Britain has been hit by a big freeze, making our 2.5 hour journey from home to the airport very interesting for our lovely cabbie friend Mark. Gatwick has had to close for a day and very little is leaving when we get there but fortunately Virgin Atlantic gets us off the ground for an uneventful 9 hr flight in to Orlando Florida. We've chosen to fly soon after the “underpant bomber” but security is pretty painless and immigration is what we expected.

We stay a couple of nights in Orlando to sleep, shop and drink too much before heading across Florida to the Gulf Coast and a couple of weeks in Fort Myers, Lee County.

I don't think we could have got a smaller hire car, nor one that goes quite as slowly. Anyway, 5 large bags get squished in the boot and back seats of this Toyota Yaris, I can just about see out the back, and we scream up the interstate at 60mph with what seems like only 3 gears – hmm, let's hope we can buy a car here or we are going to struggle.


Florida is COLD – they are having one of the coldest winters on record and there has been snow near Fort Myers, though it's fractionally warmer than Orlando. It's a big sprawling town, with a beautiful white sand beach and everything we could possibly need to get ourselves geared up for our trip. We're staying about 5 miles from the coast, amongst the usual highway shops and food chains. The suite we have is ideal with a full kitchen meaning we can avoid the hamburgers for a while.

The weather starts to improve and we take some walks on Fort Myers Beach – we've never seen sand so white and there are some great bars right on the beach. This place is renowned for its sunsets and we enjoy a few evening drinks watching the spectacle and the occasional dolphin pod that entertains us from the shore.


Top O'Mast is our local for a while, where Rich helps the DJ set up his PC with some british tunes – Richy Rock blaring out across the sand at sunset! Another venue is The Cottage which seems to be a middle aged pulling joint, but we meet some great people here and have a good giggle.

The cold has taken its toll on the sealife and there are loads of dead fish on the shoreline that have to be cleaned up. The news is reporting big threats to the citrus farms here as well – which is a key income for this area. Things are improving though, and we're getting some T-shirt days.


The big vehicle hunt begins here. After much investigation it seems that we can insure a car with our UK driving licence through a local broker. The vehicle registration just requires a local address, which we have, thanks to our friends Don and Carol. Richy is getting truck envy and we decide to go for a 4 seater Ford pickup which seems huge to us, but about average on the roads here. It gives us 4 seats for carrying any visitors around, and a large truck back for stowing all our camping gear and other stuff we seem to be accumulating. The truck is only a year old and has low mileage and still under Ford warranty, hopefully it will be good and sellable when we need to get rid of it at the end of our trip. We both have some fun getting used to driving a big automatic truck, with left hand drive on the right side of the road on strange highways, but it's not too scary – and we can ditch the ridiculous Yaris!




We have a little overnight excursion to Rotonda, up the coast, to visit Kay and Chris in their beautiful villa. They are in a peaceful area with wildlife out the back of the house, so we get to see our first alligator and turtle! Like in Fort Myers, we are the only Brits out in the local bars and we have a good laugh with the locals and spend the rest of the evening consuming perhaps a tad too much wine, beer, vodka, red bull .....well, it's gotta be done. We take a trip to Eaglewood where there is a gorgeous long stretch of beach where you can collect shells and shark's teeth. We even manage to get a bit sunburnt!



Sanibel Captiva islands


We drive over to Sanibel Captiva Islands for a day, to the JN Ding Darling Nature Reserve and walk the Indigo Trail and some of Wildlife Drive, only about 5 miles but it's good to get some exercise. We see lots of water birds... Tricoloured Herons, White Ibis, Little Green Herons, Black Cormorants, White pelicans, Pink Flamingos and a huge Wood Stork in a tree, White Egrets, Spoonbills, all sorts of ducks. The Indigo Trail runs through the mangrove swamps (only a handful of mossie bites!) then it opens out to a big estuary full of birds and fish – didn't see any gators or crocks, but some people did. We drive round the islands which are millionaire's paradise, a bit like Sandbanks but way nicer. Gorgeous white sand and a lovely sunset again.



Manatee Park – Fort Myers


Got up nice and early and headed out to Manatee Park for a day, a warm stretch of water where an electrical power plant discharges hot water – the manatees (or sea cows) like to hang out here. We thought about kayaking, but we woke up to thick fog. As the fog blew off it was replaced by ominous looking clouds. We walked up to the viewing area and saw loads of manatees, large and small, wallowing around in the water. It was tricky to see them as the water was bright and ripply. They move really slowly and pop their noses up for air very occasionally. You could hear them clicking and squeaking under the water through a special microphone. As we stood under a shelter there were a few spots of rain and next thing a torrential downpour! Glad we weren't out kayaking! Would love to get closer to them, hopefully we'll get the chance to kayak or swim with them at some point.

Back at the hotel, Rich spots a 5 foot alligator out the back where there is a swampy lake. He gets some photos, don't think he'll be wandering around there in the dark for a ciggie!





Richy braves it and drives us down the coast to Naples. It's about an hour's drive on the Highway and on smaller roads by the coast. We park up on a meter and wander along the lovely white beach to Naples Pier. There are some fabulous houses round here, looks like millionaire's row. We head inland a few roads and find a pretty high street with lots of shutter board shops and outdoor cafes. Some really classic cars are driving around, including a white Rolls Royce. There is a Mardi Paws parade on with lots of dogs dressed up in beads and costumes, very funny. We have a nice lunch at Tommy Bahamas, with a live singer and chilled bar. The sun is streaming, lovely breeze, we can sit out in our T-shirts in January – fab! Really like it here. We head back to the pier and walk out to the end to watch the pelicans and other seabirds fishing. Then we wander the palm tree lined beach and get our feet in the sea – a little chilly but not too bad.


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