It was only supposed to be a three-hour tour , The game plan was simple: Take a short and scenic cruise over the sound of Pine Island, take a cheeseburger to paradise and catch a boat back home. A three-hour tour, five at most, just a small dose of local waterways, that's all we wanted.
Across the road from Sanibel we drove towards Marc McCarthy on Captiva Island. Not a cloud in the sky. Light traffic and lush, tropical foliage surrounded us. Glittering waters and calm beaches nestled between the trees and down side streets and driveways.
After reaching the marina, we visited the Captiva Cruises office, squeezing in discount coupons by half and reminiscing about how great it is to live in our little corner of paradise in the off-season. No crowds. No lines. Nothing but azure and emerald Florida in every direction.
Hand in hand, we relaxed on the dock, absorbing the quiet beauty. The birds were flying along the coast. A handful of fishermen jumpers tried their luck at the huge schools of silvery snook that flickered in the shallows below the pier. Waterfront residences, empty and uninhabited, called for our eyes and imaginations. Those who can afford such houses very rarely have time to occupy them. Those who would like to occupy them very rarely have the means to afford them. Capitalism and beauty seem to meet in paradox.
Lady Chadwick, Captiva Cruise's flagship, waited patiently for us at the end of the dock. Two or three staff members rushed in, preparing for the day trip. When the boarding time came, at 10:00, there were only a few others who needed to travel with us.
Lady Chadwick is a classic 65-foot cruise ship, with an air-conditioned main cabin and an upper deck with canopy. Both are carpet levels. It features a full-service cocktail bar and spacious men's and women's facilities. It was built to carry 148 passengers. There were only 12 other people on this cruise who traveled with us. With such a small group, it felt like a private charter.
Our ship was scheduled to meander through Pine Island Sound according to its two ports of call. The first stop would be Cabbage Key, an Old Florida island hideaway with a restaurant and an inn. The other was Useppa Island, a historic vacation and a private welfare club. Sometime during our long hour cruise, it became apparent that we were the only ones to get off the boat at Cabbage Key. Everyone else had tickets to tour Useppe, leaving us wondering if we had made the tragic mistake of choosing our path.
Two flashes of Bloody Mary from the ship's well-equipped bar left our anxieties to rest as we glided over the smooth sea sheets near Upper Captiva and Cayo Costa. The wonderful histories of spoken words of local importance have been passed on to us by the games. There were stories of destructive hurricanes, creative artists and free land divided on Sanibel Island.
We will arrive by 14:00 at the latest. If you are not on board the moment we sound the horn, they have some great rooms … you can spend the night on the island.
Before long, we locked the cabbage key. Several small cottages and docks teased the 85-acre mangrove coast. The fauna was thick with the palms of cabbage (which gives the island its name) and bougainville. We were expecting a quiet marina port with a small white boat and rested docks. The port warden, looking like a hot and tired Hemingway, led Lady Chadwick into a temporary passage. The ramp extended and we were escorted off the boat. Our cruisers waved goodbye as they retreated and headed to Useppa Island, leaving us behind.
The main focal point of Cabbage Key is the restaurant overlooking the harbor. The restaurant doubles as an inn with six overnights. Six detached cottages are also available. But a restaurant that attracts most of the 500 travelers who come for lunch every day of the season. That said … this is off season. The restaurant and inn are located in Calusa's huge 38-foot Native American Cemetery, quiet among several royal Poincian trees surrounding it.
Long told by local rumors, this restaurant stands out as the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett's song, "Cheeseburger in Paradise." While Jimmy Buffett visited this restaurant and probably even ate a cheeseburger, I'm afraid I should be the one to stop the perpetuation of this easily proven fact. Jimmy Buffett repeatedly placed * "Cheeseburger in Paradise" at a small bar in Roadtown, Tortola. At Cabbage Key, it's still a cheeseburger, and it's still paradise … but it's as close as a legend ever gets to the truth.
Our appetites dragged us through the shell to the front porch of the restaurant. Classic rock sang from outside speakers. A young busy man offered us the opportunity to sit indoors or outdoors.
"What do you suggest?"
"Our indoor seating is an interesting experience … the walls and ceilings are covered with billions of dollars."
Indoors there were, and there were dollar bills over 50,000. Walking through the piano bar and into the porch of the back screen at the back is like stepping into a cave made of money. Dollar bills wave in the island breeze, some turn yellow, some cover other banknotes, and they all have two things in common: names printed with black magic markers and lots and lots of masking strips.
Built in 1938 by the mysterious romanticist Mary Roberts Rinehart and her son, the restaurant and inn probably look the way they did almost 70 years ago. Everything is still in its original state, from the rough wooden floors to the rustic furniture. Even those banknotes are in those days gone by. The first bill was signed and recorded by the fisherman in 1941 as a way to provide him with the means to buy more alcohol on his return. The next time he arrived, he had money for reserves and left his account hanging where he was. Other buyers soon followed suit. Now, about 3,000 banknotes that are routinely dropped on the floor are all being donated to charity.
Over the years, some significant bills have emerged, including those signed by John F Kennedy Jr., Julia Roberts, creator Bart Simpson, Matt Groening, former president Jimmy Carter, and one of the cheeseburgers himself, Mr. Jimmy Buffet (his was the first the dollar bill so far written on the piano, but now framed behind the bar). Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, Sean Connery and Ernest Hemingway are also some of the many celebrities known to have had little space during their time at Cabbage Key.
Colored and wrinkled menus led us to order tropical mixed drinks and cheeseburgers. Cabbage caterpillars sealed our fate, pina colada mixed with rum and Kahlua floating. Two pieces of these coconut lubricants and spontaneity have become our destiny. Comments have become dangerous and are changing day by day. Peer pressure and a sense of adventure inspired by the island led to new plans.
" Imagine what it would be like to spend the night here ".
That was all it took to take our experience to the next level. Somewhere between a cheeseburger and a key lime pie, from the lively fog that the cabbage caterpillars made through our veins, the sleepless thought slowly became a reality. The waitress heard our conversation and sent it through the manager. A few minutes later, she walked us through a two-bedroom cabin, assuring us that she could arrange everything with Crutiva Cruises to prevent them from coming after us. She said she would make the necessary phone calls to pick us up tomorrow. Do we really do that? And before we knew it, we were downstairs in the white wooden boat shop, giddy, giving her our credit card to fill the cabin. I can't believe we're doing this. It was a done deal.
When alcohol started to disappear, we found ourselves all over the island, with no paved roads and no general trade. We have avoided punitive moisture, spread in a solid cabin, thanks to modern humanity on air conditioning. Television had three obscure channels. The radio had one broken speaker. There were several random news magazines from the past urgently shouting from the front pages. On the shelf was a Gideon Bible. Our cabin had a large screen porch with grandstands, front facing Pine Island Sound and rear facing mangrove swamp.
We walked the docks to a small pot shop, assuming they had to sell bottled water. They sell T-shirts, Christmas decorations and novels by Randy Wayne White and John D. Mills. That's it. You will not find any water or snacks here. The cemetery restaurant is the only game in town. They got you and they know it. Tropical spirits always lead to dehydration, and our quantity for the six bottles of 12 ounces of water we needed to bring back to our cabin was $ 15 before leaving the bartender.
It occurred to us that, around this time, we did not bring any change of clothing, hair care products, toothbrushes, deodorant, nothing but cameras and money. We were stuck with our dirty and sweaty eggs by 2pm the next day. Looking at the clock, I saw that it was 1:30 pm … just over 24 hours left.
The opposition heat limited our entertainment options. The denial came to our minds constantly, demanding that there must be somewhere to buy some of the things and drinks we were craving. If only we were ready , We talked about bringing a refrigerator full of water and soft drinks, extra clothing, hygiene products next time.
"What should we do now?"
"We could read some of these Bibles."
Let's go for a walk … they have nature trails. & # 39;
"You wanna walk in this heat?"
"We will stay here for a while and go for a walk when it cools down a bit."
The cabbage key forced us to talk and think. We talked to each other about the landscape. About nature. About the family. Oh, God. We talked and thought in ways we would never get stuck without an island and no way to leave. We have met our appetites. We thought about all the comforts we take for granted every day, drawing the lines between simple actions and the abundant comfort that those actions give us. Fresh clothes. Trip to the fridge. Our comfortable beds.
After 5pm the Cabbage Key went silent. Ship traffic ended and the island's population declined according to scarce overnight visitors and employees (who all live full-time there). Soothing calmness fell over the soil. A large turtle with pigeons, sensing the disappearance of tourists, got out of where they came from and started patrolling the wide lawn. Osprey on a nearby tree considered an impending condition. Dark clouds offered comfort from the sun. Lightning nearby offered eye candy. The air was filled with a faint thunder noise. The storms never came close.
We walked the nature trail, towards the depths of the island. Gumbo limbo, a sea cemetery, live oak and more mangroves climbed the sides of the trail, in some cases providing a canopy of greenery. Salty mud and organic decay filled the air, damaging perfumes in times of tide, death, rebirth and the food chain. Geckos and potato crabs glided across the road, plunging into the undergrowth and holes in the swamp as we approached. A wrong turn on a poorly marked path led us to a far and overgrown shell scattered with shells.
Dinner reservations are made at check-in. Owners need to know the intended meal is a psychological balm in this environment. Ours was at 7:30. We got in at 7:00 and headed to the restaurant.
Darker and illuminated by small glittering lights, the evening scents of the blossoming of the night blossom through the seedy dining room. The dinner menu is limited and somewhat expensive. Beverage stuffing is never free on a cabbage key. Thick with the atmosphere and the dull hum of a few others among us, we ordered our food. The meals are cooked to perfection. An armored door in armor was found in this restaurant. The service was not commensurate with either the ambiance or the prices payable. The errors in the final account were many and long lasting inconveniences. With just a few busy tables, there was no justified excuse.
Making the most of it, we put our dinner experience behind us and went to sit on the empty docks. The port warden was sitting in a dark corner leading an animated conversation on his cellphone about the approaching tropical storm. Imagine a storm surviving here. These moments felt cinematic noir, with the cinematic-perfect island surrounding us, the dim lighting of the overbearing restaurant, the dark motionless seawater at our feet, and the Key Largo palms bent in tropical form.
Back in the cabin, the conversation soon turned into ghost stories surrounding the cabbage key. Printed on the Internet and in hunter books, legend often shows the apparition in Room # 3 of the main inn. As the story goes, a Rhinehart guest contracted tuberculosis in New York and came to the inn for recovery. As she waited for her family to join her, she died of complications from the disease. Now, those who stay in this room are often awakened by a woman entering from a private tiled area. She is said to have long, dark hair and is dressed in a blue skirt and white blouse with long sleeves. As he wanders in, he often looks at those in bed before retreating to the tiled part of the yard without ever opening the door.
Staff members were known to tell other cool stories regarding the physical manifestations of ghosts at the main inn. Some include objects that range from significant distances and are never touched by anyone. There are more in other stories about the Calusa Indian Cemetery. However, as the people find out, current owners do not want to be told gruesome stories and will be denied when asked. Information must be collected from employees who work there, and even then, when the owners do not see it anywhere.
Turning off the lights around midnight, the darkness was darker than at home. There was a strong breeze outside, and the cabin felt itself gently swinging on the nettles. Images of spirits and indecent shadows were smeared on the inside of our heads in murky colors of the mind. I wish we had a night light , Spiders and alligators roamed the imaginary terrain that surrounds our beds. The door locks were triple checked. This is the closest I've ever stayed at home and the farthest I've ever felt.
We woke up to forgotten dreams and a new day, clear sun streaming through the windows. There were blue skies and damp clouds over our heads as we took traditional and affordable breakfasts on the open veranda. The sun-foaming waves heightened our mood, and those around us, a terrified vegan family and a romantic getaway couple. I wonder if their experience last night was anything like ours? The staff were bright-eyed and talked.
Another spontaneous idea and a phone call to the customers of Captiva Cruise Conscious Users, they have again received our adrenaline rush. They agreed to pick us up while key cabbage guests were leaving today. They would take us to Useppa Island and then return home without extra cost. Those cards halfway away got us off the road.
Before the ship arrived to take us to the Book of Usepp books and our fabulous lunch at the Collier Hotel, we climbed the water tower located at the highest point of the embankment on Cabbage Key. At 60 feet, we stared at the green bulges protruding in batches all over Pine Island Sound, small islands where plants and animals grow as seamlessly as they did before the existence of human beings. We have not talked, but I am pretty sure that every sharp praise has settled in us, understanding that in the last 24 hours we have learned more than we realized, by running a routine mode of action we have allowed ourselves to grow, live and create a lasting memory that has continued to form as we sat silent with the late morning sun on our smiling faces.