Time to catch up and the sun has come out so we could fold the car roof away electronically and commune with the cold, fresh air. We started the day with a long, fast walk on the beach, east towards Sanibel Lighthouse on the southern end of the island. It was a sunny day so the anorak-clad Stoopers were out in force and the beach a little crowded. We and the odd jogger had to be careful about collisions as you apparently don’t have to give a signal before stopping and backing up if you are preoccupied with seashells. Last time we were here was just after Hurricane Charley hit and forced a mandatory evacuation so we had a nose around to see what had changed. There was extensive damage and a lot has been rebuilt. The local community has taken the opportunity to refurbish many of the older properties so it’s looking very cheerful and refreshed in some parts. The meander along Captiva Drive that runs north off Sanibel on adjoining Captiva Island – a road that was simply made for convertibles – used to be, in my view, one of the best in the world. It was tall trees and palms overhanging the road; a deep, green tunnel through tropical vegetation and dappled sunlight. It was devastated by the hurricane and has lost a lot of its magic even though the vegetation is making a comeback. There are a huge number of Realtor signs there now; the crunch has affected people in a lot of places and I wonder if the hurricane broke a few hearts, too.
The Sanibel Bean is still going strong and Doc Ford’s sports bar, new last time, is established now. HD sports on the screens; chicken wings and ice-cold Sunset Ale at the bar. Some new housing, too.
We had to pick up some provisions. The things we’d picked-up at Jerry’s deli as we arrived needed supplementing so we headed to Bailey’s General Store, which is the main and biggest supermarket on the island. We’ve frequently used Traveller’s Cheques as a means of securing money on holiday but the lady in Travelex at Heathrow showed us the exciting new system [actually, I don’t know how new; it may be old hat now] of using a pin-protected debit card that you top up beforehand with your credit card. It has all the safeguards but you don’t have to go through the issues of signing cheques, having excess cash from large denominations, carrying passports and so on. Simple, no? We’d used it frequently in Miami and just had to swipe and sign the receipt – yes, dead easy but, er, couldn’t we do that with our credit cards anyway? Well, in Bailey’s they wanted us to enter the pin code and, of course, that was back in the car. I waited with the bags of provisions, trying to make conversation with the less-than-sharp check-out guy while Anna went to find it. It was clear that the couple following us in the queue – the guy, in cap, long shorts with turn-ups and belted waist, was huge – were just a little irritated as I explained to the check-out guy that we’d not needed a code thus far. His colleague, a pleasant but slightly bovine lad who had assisted in the packing was sympathetic – ‘I have one of those debit cards and they are always giving me problems’. I explained that there wasn’t a problem, but that the pin code was in the car; the debit card had replaced our Traveller’s Cheques. The check-out guy, trained in service etiquette, immediately offered to take a cheque and cancelled the card swipe. I explained that the card replaced the cheques, to which he replied, ‘You lost your travel cheques?’ I said I hadn’t; I needed a pin-code. He asked if I’d lost that and I said, ‘No, my wife has just gone to get it.’ His face clouded over and I think he suspected she’d gone back to our condo or even Heathrow for it and replied, ‘I am at the end of my shift and have to close this check-out.’ The couple behind grunted; I gave a ‘this is a misunderstanding and we’ll sort it out in a moment’ smile but received cold stares in return. They suggested they move to another check-out but the check-out guy just looked blank. His colleague told me again about how much trouble debit cards were as Anna arrived with the code. We duly punched it in and the transaction was rejected. The guy behind quietly mumbled something like ‘….the hell!’ I said to young Mr check-out guy, ‘Didn’t you cancel the transaction when you offered to take a cheque?’ He replied, ‘Oh yeah.’ So I swiped it again and again it was rejected. ‘It must have timed out.’ So I swiped and punched the code in again. The couple behind, who had started moving away, came back thinking that my punching in the code would end the affair. It failed again. I turned to Anna to check that I’d got the right code but she’d taken the trolley and left the store. The guy behind let out an exasperated groan and began moving off. I couldn’t raise a smile out of him or his wife in acknowledgement of the obvious problem I’d caused them so I swiped a credit card, which worked. That’s when the angry guy lost it and threw a lime at the check-out. It bounced with a clunk in front of me and I caught it [that part was pretty cool, actually] and handed it to the check-out guy. He looked at the counter, the lime I was handing him and then up at the roof – as did the packing guy – and said, ‘Where did that come from?’ I said I thought it belonged to the guy on the next check-out, the one who was waiting here. They clearly couldn’t work out how a lime belonging to a guy two check-outs over could fall from the ceiling so they shrugged and let it go. I grabbed my receipt and left, fast, leaving them debating where the lime had come from and looking skyward. I expect the couple behind us were just fed up with the cold weather spoiling their holiday but there was room for a little more humility.
On the brighter side my birding list is growing and without any serious efforts. Seventy-eight species in six days isn’t great but it’s not bad either. A couple of highlights – the Bald Eagles at the Bayous have two fledged eaglets in the nest that are about ready to fly and, on the windswept beach an immaculate Thayer’s Gull stopped by to watch the Stoopers. For those that care, you can just make out the pale underside to the primaries and the dark pink legs.