This morning we dined again in the grand hall, with Sam opting for an a la carte breakfast option – Steak before 9am. Outside the skies were blue and temperatures rising, but the forecast told us the weather would cloud over, so we spent the morning by the pool while we could. Conway enthusiastically covered us all in sun lotion, and we coaxed him into the pool with his pink ball. We had hot dogs for lunch.
When the skies had turned grey we headed to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center – an operational vet and sanctuary (and very much not a zoo) in the grounds of Jekyll Island Club Resort. Conway has been learning macaton through Sing and Sign, and one of his favourite signs is the one for turtle. Turtles are very exciting right now, so a trip to see some real ones was a perfect little excursion.
Inside, we heard a talk about terrapins, and Conway got to see a little one up close. Around the walls we read about the different kinds of turtles, the problems they face, how they breed, how they lay eggs, who predates the eggs, and what they eat. High above were life sized models of each turtle species – a comparison showing just how big the Leatherback and Green turtles are. One tank holds a solitary turtle that mesmerises passers by, and a large window looks into the veterinary operating theatre.
The vets were at work – operating on a snake of all things. We held Conway up so he could see, “ssss” he said, shaking his hand, his word and sign for snake. They were taking blood from its tail end, while two people held it. It’s skin was beginning to flake off too, clearly ready to shed, the vets gave it a helping hand.
Out the doors at the back and around, we headed to the sanctuary – where pools held a variety of injured and recuperating sea turtles, mostly green turtles and loggerheads right now. Conway saw them, and did the turtle sign excitedly. A woman talked us through the ailments and story of each turtle; many are brought here from further north after getting caught out in cold water and suffering from shock, while others are injured by boats or other human causes.
For dinner we headed across the island to Eighty ocean. It’s a relaxed restaurant with a Table shuffleboard along one wall – a sand covered board with weights, a game like bowls where you send your weights from one end to the other with a delicate push. I held Conway at the right height, gathered up all the weights, showed him how to do it, then watched him practice, one at a time, then two at a time, my arm growing heavy as I hold him.
We sat near the back and watched the kitchen prepare plates. Conway shared a bit of each of our meals, mostly devouring my vermicelli noodles like they were spaghetti. We were a little too full after a delicious warm cheesecake dessert, with plenty of sugar and ice cream.
Eighty ocean backs onto a sandy beach that looks East, out onto the Atlantic. We took off our shoes and wandered out onto the sandy shores. Once again the island treated us to a spectacular sunset; the skies turned to fire – the clouds were like a wave of burning flames, before they turned a deep purple, like the world had oversaturated itself. By the sea we played in the soft waves, Conway giggled and shrieked when each wave touched his toes. The gentle sounds of the sea, birds, and laughter, a magical moment, and what holidays are made for.
Our last full day on Jekyll Island, tomorrow we’d be returning to Florida. So today we tried out somewhere new for breakfast – returning to Eighty Ocean for an a la carte option; scrambled eggs in spicy tacos, fried potatoes, omelette, pastries and a fruit bowl. We were stuffed.
Today we used the car to explore parts of the island we hadn’t seen yet – heading South to the tail end of the island first – and to St Andrew’s, a picnic area, and site of an atrocity. In 1858 a ship called The Wanderer landed here. It was an illegal slave ship, and it carried 487 Africans in horrific conditions for 42 days before arriving at Jekyll Island. Efforts have been made to find the survivors, and a walk along a sandy trail tells their story.
We followed the path and learnt their story; there were old instruments fashioned from available materials – which Conway played with, details of their cuisine – okra (or gumbo), a music box played “Watch that Star” – a song about following the North Star to escape the south – Conway danced to the tune.
We drove North again, and found Horton pond. It’s more of a small lake than a pond, and the perfect place to stop and look for wildlife, to listen to the sway of the trees and the songs of the birds, and to search for alligators. We’d keep Conway in the stroller.
As we arrived at the wooden platform overlooking the pond, we spied a ridged back in the water, heading our way. An alligator was coming right towards us. In the water too were terrapins and peculiar looking softshell turtles with long snouts. Through the water’s surface we could also see fish, some a few feet long. Egrets flew in the trees at the water’s edge.
From the pond we headed out on a short trail, perhaps 2km, the Tupelo trail is a loop through the forest where placards told us about the flora; deerberries and sparkleberries (a wild blueberry), live oaks, water oaks, sand live oaks and black tupelo – hence the trail’s name. We pushed Conway along the leaf-strewn paths, wary of flying insects, and keeping to the shade. He slept and we enjoyed the peacefulness of nature.
Before leaving we stopped again at the pond’s platform, we found the alligator had returned, and a baby, perhaps a foot long, was swimming about too. It’s unlikely we could get much closer to a wild alligator, at least not safely. And as we left, another wildlife sighting, and one that left me glad that baby remained in the stroller; from the path I spotted a black raised head, motionless, like a dark tree branch, it was an adult banded water snake. We stopped and watched until it slithered back into the undergrowth.
All that walking at noon left us hot and sweaty; a function was happening at our hotel’s pool, so we went instead to the Jekyll Ocean club again, to use their swimming pool. Conway sat at the water’s edge with his cups, pouring water from one to the other, and back again, an activity that occupied him for a good hour.
For our last evening meal in Georgia we went to Driftwood bistro, a local place you can’t book in advance – first come first served, it offers “Low country cuisines and local shrimp dishes”. The walls are adorned with angular fish sculptures carved from old driftwood.
We got there early and sat down in the middle – just in time for Conway to nod off again – we’d be having a quiet dinner to ourselves. This was the perfect place to try a very good blackened shrimp and grits, and it was scrumptious.
“Wild Georgia shrimp and grits: White wine sauce with sautéed mushrooms, leeks, country ham and roasted peppers, over traditional garlic-cheddar cheese grits and topped with blackened wild Georgia shrimp, served with a signature side”
And the side was something special too: Sweet potato soufflé. Yes, soufflé. Back in Longboat key we’d been told about sweet potato casserole – a very sweet dish of sweet potato, almost like a dessert, but eaten as a side dish. This was similar – sugary sweet potato mash, a crumble-like topping and a dash of cinnamon, it was amazing.
Post-dinner we all headed to driftwood beach for some sunset photography. Of course the day we wanted to take pictures the sunset was rather average. We still made the most of it, posing for family portraits on a fallen oak, and getting shots of a tree growing from the waves, before dashing back to the car because of a freak rain shower. I returned shortly after to try a few more shots, which was a mistake if only because the rain had brought out the flies, and the no-see-ums as they’re called, covered my legs and left me with a good 20 bites. Yes, they bite, I’d assumed they didn’t. Still, it’s nice to help out the local ecology. Ha.
Our last day in Georgia, today we’d be driving south again, back to Orlando for our last couple of days. Just one more breakfast in the grand dining room – some more scrambled eggs and cheese, bacon, sausages, cheese grits, and so on. Outside a storm was passing through, rain hammered the windows, little waterfalls formed from the gutters. No golf today, the couple next to us looked dejected.
We packed up the last few bits, perused the shops and bought trinkets and toys from the Sea Turtle Center and subs from The Pantry as a lunchtime snack. We left around midday, and I stressed about hitting Orlando around rush hour – completely forgetting that it was Sunday.
Goodbye Jekyll island, goodbye Georgia, we pulled away and began our 3 hour drive south. Just after Jacksonville we hit rain – “this is pretty heavy” I thought, turning the wipers to top speed, spray killing the visibility. Florida gets heavier storms than us, I thought. Then the rain kicked up a notch, it hammered on the roof of the car, there was half a second between the wipers where I could see anything, surface water pooled on the road. This was getting difficult. Swish, swish, hammer, hammer – each bridge we passed under reminded us how noisy the rain was. Then the rain found another level – and now everyone slowed to a crawl, 20mph, hazards on. It lasted an hour, numerous cars had spun off onto the grassy verges, one car was upside down. Conway slept through it all.
We arrived at our hotel, Point Hotel and Suites, near Universal Blvd. On the TV the local news showed the extent of the spring storm – “Record rainfall in Daytona”, the newsreader said, “tornado touchdown”, I heard. Tomorrow’s forecast said sunshine.