Kayaks, Manatees, and Shells….Oh My!

Ever since my first canoe trip with my parents down Sugar Creek in Turkey Run State Park,  I’ve loved being on the water.  Despite being crashed into by a Boy Scout Troop that dumped our canoe and left my brother trapped under it (he was rescued by my mom) and watching my dad wave good bye to his glasses as they floated away down the rushing creek, my love of water has never subsided, only grown.  Somewhere between the excitement of rushing rapids and the relaxing calm of the straightaway sections, a hobby was born. My husband, not one to shy away from any water activity, has gone canoeing with me numerous times.  We’ve spent many weekend days paddling up and down the Wekiva River.  But after a near run in with an alligator and her babies,  we decided to try a kayak instead.  Kayaks are much more stable and maneuverable than canoes.    From that first dip of the paddle, I loved being in the kayak.  It was considerably more comfortable than the unpredictable canoe. My love of kayaking followed me to Marco Island for my girls’ weekend trip with my friend Cori. This was our second time to Marco Island, but our first time kayaking there.  In fact Cori had never kayaked before, only paddle boarded.  So when looking for a place to kayak, I knew that they needed to be able to accommodate newbie kayakers. My search led me to Dreamlander Tours.  I knew from the moment that I send that first e-mail inquiring about availability that this tour would be worth every penny.  Kieu, one of the owners immediately responded to my query, and the next morning the three hour kayaking trip was all arranged.  We would spend about two hours paddling and one hour scouring a deserted beach for shells. We drove the five minutes from our hotel to Caxambas Park where we would launch the kayaks.  Kieu and Steven were quick to introduce themselves and make us feel quite at ease.  After a couple of quick swipes of credit cards, we were shaking hands with our guide Arturo.  Before we knew it, we were settled in our kayaks and paddling toward Bird Island.

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Florida Brown Pelicans on the edge of Bird Island

There were four of us on this tour plus Arturo.  Our first stop, Bird Island, was true to its name.  It was a short paddle from the dock and loaded with Florida Brown Pelicans, Snowy Egrets, and Double-crested Cormorants.  Here he told us all about the birds, the mangroves, the sea life, and people of Marco Island.  I could tell right away that Arturo is very passionate about nature and loves sharing this passion with the people he guides.  He truly is an expert and was easily able to handle any question we threw at him.  To add to his credibility, he was able to tell us when the paddling would be more difficult and exactly when it would ease up.  That was much appreciated since on our return trip we were really fighting the tide for awhile.

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Arturo, courtesy of Dreamlander Tours

One of the great things about Dreamlanders Tours is that Arturo was taking tons of pictures of our adventure.  He was a great photographer and the photos were e-mailed to us later that evening.  I, of course, brought my own camera with me, but it was nice to know that even if I hadn’t there would still be photos to document the trip.  In addition, they provided bottles of water.  Arturo made sure that we stayed hydrated on the very humid day They only thing that was lacking was a snack.  Cori and I didn’t eat a huge breakfast knowing we would be out on the water and beach for at least three hours.  We kept saying how we wished that we had brought some snacks with us.  We know for next time to pack a little something, but it would have been a really nice touch if the tour provided a little something like granola bars to snack on before the return paddle.

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Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

Upon arrival on the secluded beach,  we were provided with some bags to go shelling.  Well, Cori and I live for shelling, and we wasted no time scouring the beach.  Right away we found Banded Tulips, Horse Conch, Florida Cones, Lightning Whelks, Worm shells, and Apple Murex–it was a shelling paradise  For one hour we stood hunched over, eyes scanning the sand for little treasures to take back with us.

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Docked on the secluded beach for a little shelling.

 

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Selfie time!

 

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Our haul from the 10,000 Islands.

Too soon it was time to head back to the kayaks.  When we met back up with Arturo, we asked him how to find Sand Dollars since we are always looking for these elusive little gems.  He seemed surprised that we hadn’t found any and made it his mission to find us some.  So Arturo headed back to the sand bar while Cori and I spent some time cooling off in the ocean. As we floated and enjoyed the salty water, I noticed a baby manatee not more than 4 feet long and within arm’s reach of Cori.  She nervously moved my way, and we watched the orphaned baby (Arturo had told us to keep an eye out for him) for a few minutes before he disappeared into the vast blue before us. A few moments later Arturo was returning with six white Sand Dollars for us.  We split them up before he ushered us over to the point of the island where again we were lucky to see a mammoth of a manatee feeding on the sea grass below.  On the point there was a swing hanging over the water.  Here, we did a mini photo shoot before beginning our paddle back to shore.

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We love our girls’ weekend getaway! Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

The paddle back was much  harder than the paddle out, and we were forced to use all our upper body strength to fight the rising tide.  It made for a great upper body workout.  Too quickly our tour was over.  The only downfall to the morning was that we didn’t see any dolphins, and although they do “guarantee” dolphin sighting, we didn’t make it an issue since we had such a great time shelling and being out on the ocean.

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Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

Between being on the water, the manatees,  the great shelling, and Arturo, we definitely got our money’s worth on this tour.  If Cori and I ever get back to Marco Island again, I know we will be looking up Dreamlander Tours for an encore performance.

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Four hard working paddlers. Photo courtesy of Arturo at Dreamlander Tours

 

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The best view!

So, where do you think is the best place to paddle?

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