Following the wedding, and now that everything was done, on the calm morning after, we had one last group event – a quiet Sunday brunch. It was originally going to be at the house, but we rearranged to have it in our condo, which had plenty of space for everyone, and would be a little more chilled.
Bride and groom, bridesmaids, grandparents, mother of the groom, best man, an aunt and uncle – they all arrived in cars and joined us to eat the most fantastic American breakfast; freshly made pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, croissants, coffee, leftover macaroni cheese and fried chicken, biscuits and scones, and scrambled eggs.
Everyone left all at once, and in the early afternoon our condo was quiet again, the music playlist nonchalantly ended itself. There was enough food left over to feed us for days. Soon everyone would be departing Longboat key – going back home, near or far, or on a honeymoon or extended holiday.
Conway found an old box, he climbed in and we whizzed around on the carpet like a race car, “more, more” he said, as dad and grandad panted, taking turns to rest.
As the afternoon cooled, and when there was shade, we stood around in the swimming pool, Conway resumed his bath time activities of pouring water from one cup to another – an activity that occupies him endlessly. We played ball too, and took turns actually swimming. Egrets, herons and pelicans flew by, and weekend boaters returned to port.
It was our last evening with Grandad tonight, or “dad dad”, as Conway has begun calling him. I put on an evening jazz playlist, and once Conway was asleep we played a game of Carcassonne together – Samantha had managed to smuggle the pieces into our luggage without me knowing so I wouldn’t complain. With IPA beer and Sangria we sat at the large glass table and fought with meeples to win the most points.
Grandad’s flight wasn’t until late afternoon, if we were organised we could get up and out and have a day trip somewhere beforehand. Myakka state park was an hour away – that’s nearby in US terms – down to Sarasota and out East. We cooked up some pizzas and took them for lunch. Grandad – let’s go find some ’gators.
Myakka is one of the state’s biggest and oldest parks, but the majority of the visitor activities are concentrated along a scenic road in the north west. We bought our tickets and drove through, passing beneath the beautiful overhanging tree limbs, draped in southern Spanish moss, and stopping at the first bridge on advisement.
In the baking hot sunshine, lathered in sun lotion and sun hats on, we peered out over the edge of the concrete crossing, and down below us were the much anticipated wild alligators, three on the left bank, and one in the shade of a tree very close to us.
A little further on is the car park for a short nature trail and canopy walk. We faffed with the buggy and all the baby things, not quite sure how long it’d be, it’s not long, then we set out into the forest. Conway wore his explorer outfit, a pair of fake binoculars printed on his chest. The canopy walk sits 25 feet above the ground and is 100 feet along, apparently the first in North America – it was a little diminutive, but Conway enjoyed climbing its steps and peering out through the wooden slats. Sam was less au fait with the heights.
Grandad goes sailing most weekends, the prospect of a boat trip wasn’t exciting to him. We thought a boat would bring us closer to water birds and gators, it’d be exciting we argued. So when we arrived at the ticket office and saw one was just leaving, we didn’t really think and immediately boarded that tourist boat, one which goes out to the lake to spot things. But this was the dullest boat ride we’ve ever been on – in low tide the boat ran aground on entering the lake, 10 minutes later we were free, and chugging along at its ever so slow top speed across the water to where there might be some alligators. There were, in the distance, just about. The boat turned around and we headed back, very slowly.
It wasn’t all bad - it lulled Conway to sleep, he slept right through the whole thing. Our boat guide was a little dry, but he did tell us all about alligators – how and when they nest, how eggs near the top are males – those at the bottom female – the males get eaten by predators first, how many survive to adulthood, how big they get, and some bad jokes too. One wildlife sighting made it worth it – an Osprey flew overhead, looking for fish, a first for me to see one in the wild – a rare sight in the UK.
After our exhilarating boat journey we ate pizza and carried on along the scenic drive, to the north side of the lake where there’s a bird hide. Though not so much a hide, but a shelter from the sun that overlooked the distant water. Later in the year the lake would cover everything, but right now the water level was too low to see much.
With the clock nearing 2pm, we needed to head out and back north, to Tampa, to drop Grandad at the airport for his flight. Our drive out saw us pass a wild deer, and we stopped again at the bridge – where there were more gators, a crane, a stork, and amazingly for us – a bird top of our to see list – two roseate spoonbills.
With Grandad flying home to the UK, and nana leaving tomorrow (but we wouldn’t see her), the rest our our vacation would be just us. That quietness struck us on the drive home, no more extra adults to help with everything – Conway slept in the back of the Hyundai for the 2 hour drive back to Longboat key. We talked about what a fantastic time we’d had here on Florida’s west coast.
Our Airbnb rental was ending tomorrow, soon we’d be headed North to Jekyll island in Georgia, but first we had to plan the stop-over tomorrow night. Conveniently there was a SpaceX rocket launch planned from Cape Canaveral – a Falcon 9 takeoff, less conveniently it would be at 2am, two days from now.
For months I’d been following all the scheduled launches – I’d dearly hoped to see the Falcon Heavy take off on its first commercial mission, but that successfully rocketed into space a week before we arrived. This second launch was our best bet, and I’d originally bought tickets for a viewing on our first Thursday – this got delayed until Friday and moved to the early morning – all tickets got refunded. And now it’d been delayed again, until this Wednesday morning, the perfect morning for us to be there and see it. Any later and we’d be too far North in Georgia to get there.
With 1 day to go everything was still scheduled, the launch looked good, and we booked an overnight hotel in Cape Canaveral. We’d drive there first thing tomorrow. Wherein first thing turns out to be 11am after we’d spent all morning packing everything.