~Friday, February 24, 2023~
Yay, we finally got our wish……a kayak day! But a guided one. We found an awesome kayak company out of Marco Island called Paddle Marco. They offer several tour experiences….one, that tours deserted barrier islands and sandbars through Caxambas Park and the other through mangrove tunnels, oyster bars and twisty waterways through Paddlecraft Park. We chose Paddlecraft Park.
Even though their website had an excellent description of what our experience would be, we had no idea that we’d see more of what lives below our kayaks than what’s above them. Our tour guide Lewis was a hoot, threatening us from the very beginning that if we weren’t out to have a good time and ask a lot of questions, he wouldn’t offer the best tour he could. Obviously, he feeds off his “audience”,
and he had a good one. In the end, he had the captive group he hoped for as all of us were inquisitive and genuinely interested in what he had to say. In turn, he gave us an ecology and marine biology lesson all in one (but in layman’s terms) with a lot of heart, soul and humor. He’s definitely passionate about what he does and raising awareness about the human impact on Florida’s wetlands.
Our group was the perfect size of about 7. One family was from Sweden, the other from Massachusetts. And then there was us; Lewis was absolutely fascinated with our nearly 3 years of full-time RV’ing, not owning a home. Little does he know, we’re about to set roots somewhere soon.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for paddling…..calm waters, very little wind, and clear as a bell, though a little cloud cover would have been nice. We also timed our tour perfectly as it coincided with low tide making it easier for Lewis to spot the marine life from his standing position on his fishing kayak.
As we headed into the mangrove tunnels at a quiet, slow pace, Lewis pointed out the 3 species that live in Florida’s marshlands……Red, Black and White. Red mangroves only grow in water, not mudflats or dirt and are easily identifiable by their “prop” roots, especially visible at low tide.
Black Mangroves grow from the soil, and white mangroves grow at a slightly higher elevation (close to sea level), and often lack visible roots. Without the centuries old mangrove forests on the Gulf Coast perimeter, Florida would definitely be in a whole lotta trouble in terms of flooding and erosion as these trees absorb storm surge impacts, especially during hurricanes. But they also help protect water quality by removing pollutants and other harmful chemicals as well as trapping sediments and absorbing nutrients. Equally important, they provide a critical habitat for adult fish and act as a nursery for juveniles. As Lewis talked about the importance of this unique vegetation, he couldn’t wait to show us the critters that live in this symbiotic world……the many crustaceans and shellfish that live on the sandy bottom. One of my favorites was the sea urchin which happens to load clam shells on their backs to keep cool from the sun. That is one resourceful crustacean. We also spotted starfish, sea slugs, tulip snails and tunicates.
Thankfully, since 1996, conservation and protection of these vital areas to Florida and its coasts have been protected by law to prevent further damage to habitats. Like so many things we’re hearing about these days in regards to the environment, “man” seems to be the biggest threat.
As we paddled back to the launch site, who better to give us a few lunch recommendations than Lewis. He couldn’t say enough about Island Gypsy Cafe, just 5 minutes down the road from where we ended our tour.
This would have never been on our radar had he not mentioned it. And we’re so glad he did. It was fantastic! We arrived right before the big lunch crowd descended on the joint and managed to get the best seat in the house, right next to the water. With my breakfast consisting of only coffee, I was starved as was Jeff.
We got things started with their famous, beer battered onion rings with a chipotle aioli. They must be popular since they appeared to be on every table in the place. Then we split a plate of spiced tuna sashimi with wasabi, sweet thai chili, pickled ginger, wakame (like seaweed) and sweet soy. The rum drinks known as Crazy Cubans only enhanced our tropical experience. And somehow, we managed to have room for their famous carrot cake. Now we are typically not big carrot cake people. But let me tell you. This was not just the best carrot cake we’d ever had, it was the best CAKE we’ve ever tasted. Evidently, the owner is from New Jersey, so they have a bakery from their hometown, ship this decadent, 4-layer treat. There wasn’t a bit of guilt on our part, since we don’t have these kinds of lunch meals very often. Needless to say, we didn’t have dinner. Isn’t it said that you should make lunch your biggest meal of the day? Well, we certainly did today and then some. And what better way to top off an afternoon at Gypsy’s than with a little shopping at Gypsy’s. Yep….they had a small clothes shop on the property with Island Gypsy apparel and accessories. So of course we couldn’t say no to adding another commemorative t-shirt to our collection. The tiny trailer drawers are definitely getting harder to shut. 😉