Tag Archives: sand

Returning to Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach as seen from my room in the Hilton.

Daytona Beach lies just 90 miles south of my home, yet my only previous visit dates back to 1960. That’s a long time ago, but childhood memories remain vivid. I can picture the one-story motel on the edge of a seemingly endless beach. My brothers and I frolicked on the firmly packed sand and splashed through the rolling surf. Thanks to Mom’s careful budgeting, our Florida vacation became a reality and demonstrates the profound and lasting impact of travel.

Back in 1960, coastal Highway Route # 1 brimmed with Mom and Pop motels, most of which we’d now consider tacky. Their cinder block construction stood maybe two stories high, with room entrances on the exterior. The advertised swimming pool measured about the size of a hot tub. But, Daytona boasted the widest beach we’d ever seen.  We were thrilled.

Recently, I rediscovered Daytona and can happily report the expansive world famous beach still struts her stuff.  It’s flat and broad with waves surging strong enough to attract surfers. She’s perfect for walking,  biking and even driving. The famous auto race began on the hard sand  in the 1940’s. In addition, I uncovered a vibrant downtown, one’s that’s opposite the  ocean side of the causeway, but strangely named Beach Street. The promenade edges a brick paved road lined with palms, upscale shopping, ethnic restaurants and a luscious chocolate factory.

Downtown Daytona -- Beach Street
Downtown Daytona -- Beach Street

For lodging, I chose the elegant high-rise Hilton Oceanfront Resort.  When I opened the room’s sliding glass door, a symphony of repetitive waves calmed my senses, yet the view of the boardwalk and breeze carried  hints of excitement. In the morning, I strolled along the salty shore, studying a lacy edge of foam rolling in. I bent over to pick up shells as exercisers jogged past.

Hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jeanne rampaged the area in 2004, crumpling most of the old motels.  Many were abandoned while the newer, more substantial ones were rebuilt. Still, six years later, numerous empty lots dot the seaside. However, the county coffers prosper, thanks to the money spent by  hordes of visiting bikers and race fans. With generous tax revenues, Daytona County was able to purchase a few beachfront properties thus providing and protecting  public access and ocean views.

I also learned of  Daytona’s slower side during a kayak outing on  Cracker Creek. The stream barely flows, her water resembles day old cola, dark brown and  flat. Dip your paddle in and watch the wave motion gently travel to caress the languid lip. The Spruce Creek preserve is home to white ibis, egrets and sun worshiping turtles. Giant cypress trees, hundreds of years old, stretch their Spanish moss laden branches overhead, creating a shady canopy that humbles all. The cypress  knees (roots) protrude above water creating idyllic camouflage for critters.  And, there I spotted a gator hiding, not a big scary one, but not a baby either. I quietly paddled on the far side of the creek blessed to be in this thriving,  peaceful habitat.

Kayaking Cracker Creek
Kayaking Cracker Creek

Seeing the alligator once more flooded me with youthful flash backs. My brothers and I each selected stuffed taxidermy gators from a roadside stand, at the time our prized mementos from the trip. Today the highway is generally void of those kitschy Old Florida tourist stops. Currently travelers find yogurt emporiums and gift shops flaunting designer beach bags, over-sized towels and, of course, souvenir tees. Sorry, no more free Florida orange juice stands.

Returning to a cherished place after so many years is often fraught with anxiety and fear of  disappointment. But, I wasn’t disenchanted. Mother Nature continues to bless Daytona Beach with the gift of sunshine and sand. And the city today offers visitors much more variety: historic homes, a lighthouse,  museums and golf,  just to name a few. I found returning to my past lead to unexpected surprise and I will surely revisit again.  Next time, I won’t wait fifty years.

The World Famous Daytona Beach
The World Famous Daytona Beach
Beach at Sunrise
Beach at Sunrise

The Curious Incident of the Sand in the Night*

When you drive down US 1 heading toward Key West, you know you have arrived when you come to a city: a downtown with stop lights, shops and homes. That may seem like an obvious statement, but when you motor by the other islands or Keys (there are actually 1,700, thought most are tiny and uninhabited) you feel rather betwixt and between.  The landscape is a tad monotonous; a small strip of land surrounded by shimmering blue water, or patches of development with 1950’s style buildings.  I was feeling neither here nor there, more in a twilight zone of locations known simply by their numbered mile markers.

It was in just such a spot that my husband Jay and I stopped to photograph a at sunset.  So, it happened that we approached Islamorada near dark, when the sunset afterglow had disappeared into the waves. 

The original name, Isles Moradas, pronounced- eye-la-mor-rah-da, translates to purple isles. Pick the name derivation as no one knows if it’s from the purple-shelled snail or the colors in the orchid trees and bougainvillea. I found the place enigmatic, full of mystery and intrigue.

Night descended quickly and we drove past our lodging.  Realizing our mistake, we made a U-turn, then ventured in and registered. I would never have stayed at La Siesta Resort had I just driven by–not much in the way of street or curb appeal. But I’d been told, “Try it. You will like it, you will be surprised.” I was. 

We located our unit, a small single story building, more than accommodating.  I could have lived there for a week– or longer, a king-sized bed, full kitchenette, dining table and den with sleeper/sofa and wall-mounted flat screen TV.   

But, we were hungry.  We dropped out bags and left for dinner, choosing the Islamorada Fish Company, attached to the Bass Pro Shop. Arriving around 8:30pm, I thought we’d get a table, but found the sprawling restaurant full.  Our names were added to a list and we were given one of those vibrating light-up disks, so off we went for a drink. We waited; we enjoyed our margaritas; we were the last ones at the bar.  Finally the hostess came over, said she had tried to contact us, but our communicator wasn’t communicating. Gee, the margaritas had been refreshing and the view lovely, guess I was getting into “island time,” that kick-backed nature of The Keys.  Nonetheless, my stomach was starting to growl, I was ready for food. We soon ended up with lovely yellowtail snapper and grouper for dinner.  

Morning Sand at La Siesta
Afterward, we fell asleep early; the sea air must have tuckered us out. On the other hand, when the mornings’ ochre rays filtered into the room, I immediately awoke.  I crept to the double security sliding glass door, opened the drape and found, well….an amazing site. A hammock rested on the patio and a huge swirl of sand like a labyrinth garden lay beyond.

I wanted to enter and follow the path, but hesitated- my foot steps would desecrate the pattern, like making tracks through freshly fallen snow.  But, I couldn’t resist; I paced round to the middle and realized it wasn’t the middle. No, this was the beginning.  Of course, whoever created it started in the center. Hmm. I felt the need to sit and meditate or try a yoga pose. However, like being knocked on the head with a coconut (which could have actually happened), I realized I was barefoot, standing in the open hotel complex in my pajamas– with a camera strung around my neck.

I returned to my room to dress and discovered Jay slowly coming to life.  He doesn’t do mornings very well, at least not before his coffee.  I left him in his post-dawn stupor and went back outside.  Some fisherman had arrived on the scene. I watched as they loaded their boat with about twenty fishing lines and then took off. However, they shared a secret– coffee and Danish were being served by the pool.  This was indeed good news, especially to Jay. 

A little later in the morning, I drove a few miles to the kayak rental shop at Robbie’s Mariana.  I was expecting to be expected, as travel writers frequently are, but I wasn’t.  Nonetheless, I arranged for a kayak and went in search of a crocodile, one I was told would make a great photo.  Alas, he wasn’t there. Now I admit, I don’t have the best sense of direction, and the map handed me looked somewhat like a drawing of my first-grade grandson, but it led me astray. Perhaps my car’s GPS has spoiled me—I needed a voice to tell me, turn here—NOW. I was lost in the lush mangroves.

Then, I ran into three other kayakers who were, shall we say, off-course. Mind you, two of them were college professors, and we all four attempted to get to a point on the map; and we all got lost together.  I thought it rather funny and decided it was time to retrace my outing and return my boat.

So, I ate some lunch and returned to La Siesta Resort and took an afternoon nap, a siesta, in the hammock at La Siesta! That evening, Jay and I went to dinner at The Hungry Tarpon.  The outside looked like a breakfast diner and it was, but it also had an outdoor patio strung with Christmas lights, which was actually an awesome gourmet restaurant (if you can call an “old Keys-style marina and fish shack”a gourmet restaurant). The chef, Joseph Sassine, came out to talk to us, but couldn’t stay long because he said his assistant needed supervising.  The assistant was rather new on the job, he added, just been working at it for five years. 

After another restful night, I awoke to find the same curious pattern created in the sand during the night.  I rather enjoyed the mystery and never inquired. Somethings are best left alone. 

Nonetheless, I convinced Jay to go back to the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant in the morning, even though we weren’t hungry.  I wanted to feed the famous jumping fish that I’d learned about the night before. Tarpon usually like deep water but these tarpon were different.  The tarpon at Robbie’s Marina like to swim near the surface and be fed by human hand.  Wouldn’t you know, on this morning, the hungry tarpon were neither hungry nor jumpy. The prehistoric-looking denizens must have felt the cold air, as a recent spell of artic air had chilled Florida. And so the curious happenings continued. 

Hungry Tarpon Chef & Manager

“Enough,” said Jay, “time to drive home.” One last time I insisted on stopping.  “I must photograph Betsy, the lobster,” I begged.  Betsy is a huge roadside attraction, the type of thing that was popular back in the 60’s when drivers traveled Route 66. So, for the record, here she is, a real beauty.        

What more could one wish for on a trip to the quirky Keys and an interlude on Islamorada? 

If You Go:

La Siesta Resort, Mile Marker 80.5, Islamorada, FL offers 1,2 and 3 bedrooms suites, a 3 bedroom vacation house and 5 bedroom executive house. Marina slips are also available. www.lasiestaresort.com

The Hungry Tarpon Restaurant at Mile Marker 77.5, 305 664 0535, www.hungrytarpon.com, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner reservations suggested. 

Florida Keys Kayak, 305 664 4878, Kayak Shack at Robbies Marina. www.robbies.com

Islamorada Seafood Company, Mile Marker 81.5, 305-664-9271, www.fishcompany.com

* Article title with apologies to novelist Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.