RIVER CRUISE UP PEACE RIVER, PUNTA GORDA Dec, 2009
Finally the time came for our river cruise up Peace River with the local charter boat out of the marina. Did I say boat? Well I mean one of those funky lake boats, more precisely a flat platform on two pontoons with aluminum guard rails on all sides and a patio awning for the top. Plastic stackable chairs nailed down in tight rows were the seating. The “floating barge” was decorated with Christmas lights since it was the season.
PEAS OR PEACE?
It was pretty cold, unseasonably cold, so we took every warm piece of clothing we had to layer up and with Ziggy under arm we headed over to join about 12 other folks looking forward to a trip up the river. Peace River by the way isn’t named for anything that has to do with peace or war, but after wild peas that used to grow along the river edges. Go figure, only in Florida.
DOGGY’S NIGHT OUT?
Though we froze our bottoms off, it was really a neat cruise and we learned a lot of the local lore from the barefoot Captain. He’s a very dog friendly guy by the way and personally invited Ziggy to go along on today’s cruise. In fact since Ziggy was such a good boy on the cruise he was also invited to the special New Year’s Eve Doggie Cruise. I guess we could’ve signed up that one just to see what sort of people showed up but instead we were planning to go to Sarasota for the holidays, a chance to get off the boat for a few days.
We saw a bit of everything on that river cruise…an alligator, an anhinga, egrets, ibis, herons, trailer parks, a couple old houses (rare in Florida) and a group of dolphin that followed along playing with us for at least 15 minutes. It was a delightful little adventure but really cold, I mean reeeeally cold. It took me the whole day to get my bones back to normal temperature. Brrrr!
WHERE DO ALL THE DOLPHINS GO?
We learned, or maybe were hood winked into believing that captive dolphins by law can only remain captive for 10 years. Only? Who in the world makes up these crazy laws? Never heard of this before. Anyway…if you wonder if this is so... and what do they do with them when their time is up, when their “sentence” is over…well, according to Captain barefoot, they are all released in Charlotte Harbor right in this area! Sooo, he said, “It’s not infrequent to see dolphins in Charlotte Harbor doing tricks out in the bay, things like jumping clear out of the water and doing flips!” Can’t this really be true???? If so, I’ve got to see that!
The dolphins that we did see today on the river cruise were, I have to admit, very friendly, playful, almost tame, but we didn’t see any of them jumping through hoops or flittering across the water on their tails. It’s a wonderful thought but not sure it’s not just a fairy tale, a figment of a very fertile imagination. I googled the subject but couldn’t find any info, so you be the judge. One thing for sure, we will have our eyes peeled for these magic dolphins when we head back out the harbor to Gasparilla Island in a few days.
DR. JEKYLLE AND HYDE
The Captain’s nice demeanor quickly evaporated when one of the people on the boat threw some food to the dolphins. That put him in a rage. “DO NOT feed the wildlife!” he yelled. Then the tirade began as he explained the reason for not feeding the wildlife, and especially the alligators. He said that having grown up as a kid in Florida he’d been around alligators all his life. He said they were never a problem even he as a kid with his buddies would jump off the nearby railroad track trestle into the water where they’d safely swim with alligators nearby. Never had a mishap.
That is, he said until “the people” came and began to feed them. By “people,” he means the droves of snowbirds that have invaded Florida in the winter months and have over the past decades carved and scarred the land, diverting the natural flowing waters from reaching the Everglades and replacing wet habitats with concrete and asphalt as far as the eye can see. He said within a few short decades they had “a problem” because the invasion of people thought it was cute to feed alligators. Now alligators and other wildlife associate people with food and that is when statistics of human killings by alligators began and numbers continued to escalate. Point made.
It was a great trip, though cold, but full of fun tales and adventure and I would definitely recommend it but on a warmer day.
Across from us in the marina is the Iron Ox, a small shrimp boat. Just at sunset after everyone else is coming back from a day on the water, putting their boats back into the safety of the docks and then heading back to their houses for the night, that is when the Iron Ox heads out for a night of shrimpin’. We never saw him come back during the night but he was always there in the morning when we woke and just as the sun poled up over the horizon he’d hang up his little green flag that said “Fresh Shrimp For Sale Today”. It looked like he had a steady stream of local customers who would drive up in their cars, park, walk over and get a bag of shrimp along with some conversation. I guess it wasn’t an unusual sight in decades past to have 40 fishing boats in this harbor, but nowadays it’s just the old Iron Ox.
Finally one morning, we headed over to meet this old captain of the Iron Ox. He was a funny old guy and had two tin ears so you had to talk really loud for him to understand you and even then you weren’t real sure he actually heard what you said because he’d start off on some long explanation of something that he thought you had asked which you didn’t. It was okay though because it was interesting to listen to his stories. I think really he just repeated the same stories over and over, to whomever you happened to be and no matter what you happened to ask.
CAN’T EAT ONE
I couldn’t stand the thought of eating another shrimp after getting sick on some bad ones we ate in the Everglades last year even if these were the freshest around. Still we bought a pound out of kindness for his stories and listened to the details and his “science” of gathering shrimp. He pointed out these big huge metal blades on the cockpit of the boat that he uses to drag across the ocean floor. Stretched between the blades is a big net to catch the shrimp. These blades whisk past the tentacles of the shrimp, which is the only thing showing since they burrow their little bodies deep into the sand and use the tentacles for feelers above the surface (and he showed us with his hand what is exposed). As the blades go by the shrimp surface and get caught in the net. $7.00 a pound is a good price for shrimp for a lot of hard work in the dark lonely hours of the night but I still couldn’t manage to think about eating one.
We took many side trips to fill the time while the weather was not cooperating. Thank goodness we had the car to make that possible. For New Years eve we headed up to Sarasota hoping to escape the chaos of fireworks celebrations for Ziggy’s sake. We didn’t have much hope for a peaceful New Years though because everywhere we went in Florida, intersection after intersection, you saw make shift tents selling fireworks. You’d think we were on an Indian reservation. I was afraid all of Florida would be set in flames by the looks of the numbers of rockets and launchers being sold to the general public. Originally we had planned to head out to Cayo Costa Nature Reserve. We’d thought that would be a good quiet remote place to anchor and escape the madness but nature and the weather wouldn’t cooperate, so we hopped in the car and headed to Sarasota and a nice dog friendly hotel far from the sound of fireworks we hoped.
Sarasota is a beautiful city and the bay kind of reminded us of San Diego Bay. We walked the waterfront and marina, and visited Ringling Bros house, ate some great meals and window shopped at Armand’s Court. I love the Columbia restaurant there where I swear they serve the best salad I’ve eaten in a long time.
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We took long drive to the center of Florida, in the middle of nowhere to see a crazy monstrosity of a castle house called Solomon’s Castle. Can’t believe some goof ball artist spent all his time and effort to make this crazy house from old newspaper printing plates but it was a draw as we were surprised to see a bunch of other gullible folks like us there too gawking at this folly.
We drove north to see what they call the “nature coast” and visit our good friends Denise and Dave who live there now. We soaked in the beauty of their undeveloped shorelines filled with wildlife and estuaries as far as the eye can see. We told ourselves we must come back to see more of this area and spend more time with our friends on our way home.
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TAMPA OR TURKEY?
We spent a day and night in Tampa and were rewarded in the morning with an amazing view from our hotel as the sun was just coming up. Looking across the river you would have thought you were looking across the Bosporus River in Istanbul, when it only was the University of Florida.
We took a westerly turn on the drive back to Punta Gorda to see a bit of St. Petersburg. It too has a fascinating harbor and marina with the strangest pier we’ve ever seen. It looks like a space ship landed on it. The beautiful old Vinoy Hotel anchors the waterfront, reminiscent of times past but still keeping up and competing with the present. It is a dominant structure that competes only with the strange structure on the pier. We stepped back in time to have lunch in the elegant old hotel before we headed back finally to Punta Gorda again.
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ADDICTED TO CITRUS
We refilled out citrus supply and new addiction a couple times by driving inland 22 miles to Arcadia. Joshua Citrus, a local family owned farm was located just outside of Arcadia. They were working particularly hard when we dropped by trying to keep their crops from freezing. Other farmers we had heard were able to save the strawberry crops from freezing by running sprinklers nonstop day and night. It was tough times for the farmers. I think the last report was the citrus farmers lost about 30% of their crop.
CHEESE BURGER IN PARADISE
On one of these jaunts inland we happened on to Main Street of the old town of Arcadia, still looking like it did in the old days but the little storefronts now filled with antique and second hand stores instead of 5 and 10 cent department stores. We found a little café, small as a shoe box, on a side street to have lunch in. It was filled with locals, which is always a good sign. We asked one local what was good and they said “a hamburger and pie will do you fine” and they’ve been serving them up since 1926. Well, it was the best hamburger we’ve eaten ever and the peanut butter pie came in a close second. Who said Jimmy Buffet knows where the best cheeseburger in paradise is? Maybe he should stop by here sometime.
BIG CYPRESS SWAMP
We had to get one more fix of the Everglades before we headed to the East Coast of Florida. So off we went with camera in hand and hopes of getting some good pictures to remember what a fantastic place it is.
CRUISING WITH A CAR
Need I say more, we had a great time on the West side of Florida but it was time to move on. Having a car when cruising has it benefits and also its challenges. Now that the weather looked like it was going to be more hospitable for cruising we had to get the car to a place where it would be safe and where we could meet up with it again down the journey.
So we rented a car in Punta Gorda and I drove our car and Larry drove the rental all the way across the middle of Florida to Palm Beach. We made arrangements with the new Palm Harbor Marina to leave it there in their safe keeping. Larry and I then drove back together in the rental car on back roads, specifically hwy 74 and were rewarded with some spectacular countryside just like Florida used to be. We also drove the width of Lake Okeechobee which we will be crossing by water in a few days. We couldn’t see a thing behind the tall dike but next time we’ll be on the other side, the waterside and will report back. It was an all day event getting the car and coming back but now we were set to go.
A SHORT THAW
We spent the coldest three weeks ever here in Punta Gorda but as you can see, we made the most of it. The weather was going to let up for a few days. We had planned to head out to Gasparilla Island a few weeks ago, to stay at Boca Grande and then anchor at Cayo Costa reserve for a few days but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. The weather was bad everywhere evidenced by so many dead fish floating around and this time I think you could easily justify and point to the cold weather for their demise.
LEAVING OUR MARK
It was our moment to head out, our break, with a bit of warmth coming our way. So, it was not without leaving some frosty footprints on the docks that morning as we shoved off and headed back into Charlotte Harbor hoping to see some magical dolphins along the way. Our destination would be a short 2 hour cruise to Boca Grande.
Dave & Denise moved to Florida several years ago & this is the first time we have seen them in to many years...