Matanzas Inlet before sunset

We drove up the A1A to Matanzas Inlet to determine whether it would be a good place for the maiden voyage of our new kayak. (And I think it will.) Matanzas Inlet is a channel that passes between two barrier islands and the mainland, just south of St. Augustine.

I could not believe the volume of shells remaining on this beach at the end of the day.

Matanzas Inlet has a fun (albeit gory) history:

Historic maps made by Spanish military engineers in the 18th century show that the inlet today has moved many hundreds of yards south of its location during the time of the Spanish Empire. In 1740, a British invasion force from Fort Frederica, Georgia blockaded this inlet, the southernmost access for boat travel between St. Augustine and Havana, Cuba. Shortly thereafter, in 1742, a coquina stone tower 50 feet (15 m) square by 30 feet (9.1 m) high, now called Fort Matanzas, was built by the Spanish authorities in Florida to safeguard this strategic inlet.

René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, in 1564, as a haven for Huguenot settlers. In response to the French encroachment on what Spain regarded as its territory, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine in 1565. Menéndez de Avilés quickly set out to attack Fort Caroline, traveling overland from St. Augustine. At the same time, the French sailed from Fort Caroline, intending to attack St. Augustine from the sea. The Spanish overwhelmed the lightly defended Fort Caroline, sparing only the women and children, although some 25 men were able to escape. The French fleet was driven off course by a storm, and many of the ships wrecked on the coast south of St. Augustine. When the Spanish found the main group of the French shipwreck survivors, Menéndez de Avilés ordered all of the Huguenots executed. The location became known as Matanzas (Spanish for “slaughters”).

So the part of the Intracoastal Waterway known as Matanzas River translates to Slaughter River. See also the Spanish assault on French Florida.

We did not stay for the full sunset, but this would certainly be a brilliant place to watch it. In the summertime, this area is one giant party thanks to all of the sandbars. (Floridians really put the “bar” in sandbar.) But it is calm enough now to take the kayak out, I think.

The best water shoes ever

As someone who lives in a beach town and tries to spend as much time outside as is humanly possible, I have a lot of opinions about water shoes.

Until recently, my favorite water-ready shoes were Teva sandals. I often wore them on hikes where I knew I would have to cross streams. They would dry almost instantly and were comfortable enough to trek relatively long distances in.

Well, we discovered something far better: Aleader Quick-Drying Aqua Water Shoes. Rodney bought a pair. We bought a pair for Elise (yes, they make children’s versions). We bought them for my in-laws who love sailing and need non-marking shoes with white soles. And I am on my third pair now.

(This is not a paid advertisement. I am simply in love with these particular shoes and had to share.)

The neat thing about these shoes is not that they dry quickly, but that they have a mesh top and tons of small holes in the soles that allow the shoes to DRAIN. This means you could walk/run for miles in the surf, and the water (and sand) just passes through your shoes. It’s a miracle.

I pretty much live in these shoes and my boat shoes now. When you are not walking through water, they make your feet feel breezy.

The shoes are not ideal for walking over serious rocky terrain. You will definitely feel the rocks through the lightweight soles. But they are light enough to throw in your backpack for a long hike that involves water crossings.

I also wear them a lot when I am gardening. They feel cool working out in the sun, and if they get dirty from digging or laying mulch, I can just hose them off or throw them in the wash machine.

Eating sea urchins and azalea season

We have been hard at work (and hard at play) this past week.

A few days ago, I was explaining to Elise how I would wade into the tide pools when I was a child in Southern California and poke at anemones and sea urchins. You could stick your finger into the sea anemones and they would suck on it, like a baby sucking its thumb. Urchins, however, you don’t really want to mess with. She has several sea urchin shells in her collection now. These stories made her very happy.

This, of course, prompted Rodney to suggest she try sea urchins at our neighborhood Thai restaurant. We made a trip to the restaurant solely for this purpose. When we arrived, the sushi chef said he had only enough urchin for one serving remaining. (Apparently, urchins are in high demand here…) So Elise ordered it, and very much enjoyed eating it.

Only later did we learn that the only edible part of sea urchins are their gonads. So in the past month, we’ve eaten veal brains and sea urchin gonads. I feel like I need to buy a sack of chicken nuggets for Elise just so she can experience some measure of normalcy.

We have mature hedges of purple azaleas all the way around our house. I look forward to the end of January / beginning of February to see them in bloom. And they really put on a show. I have some salmon-colored azaleas in the front of the house as well, and they have been blooming for over a month now. “Winter” in the Deep South is pretty special.

The bougainvilleas by one of our back doors have also taken off. I planted these when we moved in, and to be honest, I did not think they were ever going to bloom. They need a lot of light, and they are on the edge of an ancient magnolia and an ancient oak that is loaded with Spanish moss. But they finally bloomed, and they are spectacular.

This is a lovely little flower I saw in the dunes playing on the beach this morning. We spent our Sunday morning walking a few miles down the beach at low tide, came home for lunch, then went out for another six-mile walk down the Intracoastal Waterway. It felt like all of Florida was out enjoying a beautiful, clear day. We didn’t see any dolphins today, but we did meet a lot of high-quality dogs taking their humans for walks.

Not a bad view, eh?

A blustery morning

By early evening all the sky to the north had darkened and the spare terrain they trod had turned a neuter gray as far as the eye could see. They grouped in the road at the top of a rise and looked back. The storm front towered above them and the wind was cool on their sweating faces. They slumped bleary-eyed in their saddles and looked at one another. Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world.

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Nothing seemed to be going right this morning, so we decided to get out of the house and have lunch on the beach. We had to stop into one of the surf shops to get Elise a new sweatshirt. Having very much adapted to the Florida heat, we were all shivering in… 63-degree weather. One woman passed by us in a heavy coat and scarf though, so we weren’t the silliest people out by the water. All of the shops and restaurants had heaters on full-blast.

Some incredible winds started up last night, and the ocean has been roaring and churning so loudly you can hear it indoors. We decided to walk out on the pier after lunch to watch the waves, which were at least 6 feet high close to the shore. You could feel the violent water shaking the pier. It was really something.

I have a stack of books arriving in the mail today, so I am ready for days of showers. I’m often reminded of a book I read a couple years ago by a homeschooling couple in Arizona. They had a rule in their house that rainy days were reading days. They paused whatever curriculum they had for their kids those days and let the kids spend all day curled up with whatever book they wanted, watching the rain. Of course, we’d never get anything done if we had that rule here. (We have far more rainy days than they do in Phoenix.) But it still seems like a brilliant idea.

Fort Lauderdale, Part Two

After the first day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, we went to downtown Hollywood to eat dinner at Runa’s Peruvian restaurant, which I highly recommend. The area seems to be mostly folks from Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, and has many wonderful places to eat.

There is a lot of neat street art in downtown Hollywood – here are a couple shots.

The bar menu at Runa’s has a lot of Pisco cocktails. Pisco is a type of brandy that is produced in the wine-making regions of Peru and Chile, invented by Spanish settlers in the 16th century to replace orujo from Spain. It is fantastic.

I ordered a dish of beef tenderloin strips with risotto and a béchamel Huancaina paste, simply amazing. The mixed ceviche was out of this world too (with a wide variety of seafood, including octopus). Even before the food came out, Elise was thrilled that they brought out a dish of fried corn kernels to munch on.

A view of the Atlantic from Ft Lauderdale. The water was beautiful, but I have never seen so many jellyfish in my entire life. Needless to say, we did not spend much time swimming. (Though we live on the beach, so it’s not like it ruined our trip.)

This is pretty much the view anywhere along the ICW in Ft Lauderdale. Boats, boats, boats everywhere.

One of the yachts at the boat show. I was impressed by the balcony off of the stateroom.

So many screens.

On our way out of town, we grabbed some pastries and whatnot for breakfast. Elise was less interested in a croissant than orange mousse. Breakfast of champions.

I ordered what seems to be a Latin American version of baklava.

You know you are in South Florida when there are iguanas everywhere. Some are quite enormous and will run out in traffic.

And that’s the end of our long weekend in Ft Lauderdale.