When an opportunity arose for me to hitch a ride to Southwest Florida with my parents and younger brother and sister, I jumped at the chance, despite not having gone on a vacation with them in about a decade. We set out from chilly southwestern PA and headed south, stopping overnight near Savannah, Georgia. There is a large National Wildlife Refuge near where we stopped, and early in the morning before we headed out, my younger brother and I got up in time to walk around the wildlife refuge at sunrise. We saw alligators, a bald eagle, and several other birds of prey as we walked around the refuge, trying our best to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes that were also awakening. After a quick breakfast, it was back on the road with our sights set on Port Charlotte, where we'd be staying with my uncle.
I spent the next three and a half days taking in the local sights. Gasparilla Island was one of our first stops. Part of the island is a state park with white sand beaches, perfect for some mid-afternoon lounging. The next day, we stopped in the village of Placida to check out the local shops and walked around the fishing piers, where we saw several dolphins. We headed back to the beach at Gasparilla Island State Park. The warm shallows of the Gulf attracted a few manatees that were lounging around near the shore - at one point, one of them swam about ten feet away from me. We returned later that night to watch the sunset at the old pier on the island, which made for some beautiful photos.
The following day was spent walking around the village of Boca Grande and window shopping, then we went out on my uncle's boat and toured around the canals and Port Charlotte harbor, once again seeing alligators and dolphins. My last day in the area was spent on Sanibel Island, which is supposed to be one of the best beaches to find seashells in the world. After spending some time walking the beach, we headed over to the JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, where we saw huge groups of fiddler crabs, and flying fish leaping around the brackish ponds. Sadly, after a stop for a few drinks and a snack, it was time for me to head to the airport and back to Pittsburgh. Although my time in the Port Charlotte area was brief, it was a great escape for a few days.