Leaving the Forgotten Coast of the Florida panhandle and traveling south to the Sun Coast found me in Bonita Springs visiting my sister at her vacation home. My niece also stopped by for a few days to escape the snow and cold of Colorado.
I had to scramble to find a place to park my rig, Flo, because they certainly don’t allow RV’s through the gilded gateway of the exclusive community. Vasari is one of over 35 gated communities in the Bonita Springs/ Naples/Ft. Myers area with more being built on the remaining patches of open land. It is beautifully manicured and perfectly laid out around a challenging golf course with many lakes, tennis courts, and a clubhouse boasting a 3-star restaurant. The people are tan and fit and unapologetically wealthy. The owners of houses have pools and hot tubs in their screened enclosures in the rear that overlook the golf course or one of the small lakes, but the condo owners are forced to share a community pool. There are lots of dogs on-leash, golf carts zooming down cart paths to get to the next hole, and walkers trying to avoid getting run over by said zooming golf carts.
AND……there are rules about everything! My sister recently received an email outlining the appropriate way to store hoses on the pool deck which is in the back of the house; as if someone’s sensibilities might be offended by a tangled mess of garden hose. Sheesh! Despite the rules, many of which I am sure I violated while there, it was a lovely place to stay for the winter months while ice and snow storms raged through the rest of the country. I am also thankful that I decided to spend the winter in Florida and not Texas!
I found a place to park my rig about 5 miles from Cathey’s house which was very convenient and turned out to be very cheap- for $50/month, I could park in the grass on somebody’s property. I plugged the address in to Google maps and smiled at my great fortune all the way there.
As I drove into the entrance marked only by a break in the thick underbrush, and weirdly, two 15 foot high Doric columns on either side of the rutted gravel driveway, I wasn’t quite sure if I was in the right place. Soon, I broke through the dense jungle growth and found an open field with 5 RV”s and 2 boats parked in a row. Around the perimeter of the field were outbuildings, several houses, an apartment over the huge garage, and a single-wide trailer set permanently on blocks. As I got out and looked around, a woman about my age approached me from across the field. She introduced herself as Wendy, the property owner, and assured me that my rig would be safe because she lived on the property. Her house was nestled in the back corner surrounded by a mix of palm trees and hardwoods and the usual vine tangled undergrowth of Florida. She had a pool hidden back there somewhere, of course, because everyone in south Florida needs a pool in the summer.
I started unloading the RV of cats and dogs and food and clothes and gates and pet beds and everything that I would need for a month’s long stay; then I called my sister to pick me up. Gemini was happy to see Aunt Cathey, but the 2 cats were not amused-they cried all the way to her house and for the next day or so until they realized what luxurious accommodations they had.
In mid-February as I was working down the list of projects my sister left for me to do, I found myself in a quandary. My RV, Flo, was showing her age and in need of some expensive maintenance that I wasn’t anticipating for another year-new tires to the tune of $5,000.
I complained to my sister that I didn’t want to invest the money right now, but it was a safety issue. Being the problem-solver that she is, and being the generous person that she also is, she said, “Go get yourself a new RV and I will buy it for you for your birthday.”
So I did!
Introducing my new rv…………fortuna
Fortuna is the Roman goddess of fortune and the personification of luck! She is a 2020 Entegra Vision with only 1,500 miles on her big Ford V-10 gas powered engine. With 2 slide-outs the living area seems huge and the queen bed is big enough for me and the kitties. Gemini sleeps on the cushy double recliner chairs.
I spent the next 2 weeks unloading Flo, saying goodbye to the worthy steed, and hauling 7 carloads to my sister’s garage. I wish I had a picture of all my junk, I mean my precious mementos, that I haul around with me. My anxiety ramped up again waking me at 2 am on several mornings with the thought that I didn’t have enough room, even though Fortuna is 16 square feet bigger. I sorted and downsized again, then hauled 5 loads back to the new rig. Yes, I called the manager at Vasari to see if I could drive my RV to the house and load, but absolutely NO RV’s shall enter the exclusive property; so say the rules.
I moved out of Vasari and was invited to spend as long as I needed on Wendy’s property with my RV getting it ready to go back on the road. There were very few rules at Wendy’s compound: just cautions about alligators in the lake, bears roaming at night, and don’t let Gemini kill the chickens (FYI: He just chased them around a bit).
The only time Gemini had to be on-leash was on our daily walks around the alligator infested lake. Jayce, Wendy’s 7 year-old grandson took time off from riding his 4-wheeler to take a walk with us one evening and showed me how to spot the alligators in the lake. I thought that I was looking at rocks sticking up out of the water-Duh!
I also learned, the hard way about fire ants. I got 6 or 7 bites on my knee which were red and stinging the first day. Within 48 hours the red bites became swollen pustules that looked as if a 13th century plague had infested my knee! They didn’t hurt and cleared up within a week, but boy, did they look bad.
Solenopsis invicta (Fire Ants) are found in southern states and build nests in the ground that look like mounds of dirt. According to an insect researcher from the University of Florida, “They actually will bite you to hold themselves against your body, and then sting you with their back ends”. Some people have died from allergic reactions to the venom. Great, another thing that can kill you in Florida!
I was able to have a little fun in between all the packing, downsizing, loading and unloading. Wendy and her friend from college, Sandra, took me kayaking on the Imperial River which runs through the old downtown area of Bonita Springs. We had a lovely day and saw lots of birds, turtles and one alligator.
We also took a day trip to the beach and kayaked through the mangroves to the Gulf. After lunch on the beach, Wendy got busy catching fish. She caught a snapper and a sheepshead.
The Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) is common to the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Brazil, and can thrive in brackish waters especially at the confluence of rain water runoff with salty estuaries. In fact, the Sheepshead Bay in New York City is named after this fish. THE MOST STRIKING characteristic of the Sheepshead fish is it’s teeth which are surprisingly similar to human teeth- front incisors and rear molar teeth allow the fish to crush and grind shelled creatures it prefers to feed on.
Between Kayak trips, we took a power boat ride through Estero Bay to Ft. Meyers Beach. We saw 3 dolphins frolicking in the channel while we walked on the beach picking up Coquina shells. Then, we sped through the bay, jumping the wakes of other boats, passing towering hotels and luxury condos, we arrived at the restaurant for lunch on the deck overlooking the bay. After a lunch of fish tacos paired with an icy cold beer, I relaxed on the open bow enjoying the slow cruise back….Ahhhh……It’s good to be me!
There is nothing fancy about Wendy’s little 12-acre piece of heaven in the heart of Bonita Springs. It is a place where Gemini can run off-leash, chase the chickens, and play with the other dogs. It is a place where despite the alligators in the lake, fire ants, and occasional bear that wanders through at night tipping over trashcans; one can find quiet solitude and people of generous spirit.
I was sad to leave my new friends, but anxious to get on the road and test out my new RV. I left saying, “See you down the road” instead of “Goodbye” which seems too final.