Sunday, December 16, 2012

50 Shades of Blue on Captiva Island

Say yes to this wedding arrangement, if you are crazy enough to tie the knot!
Who wouldn't want to get married or fall in love here?

The words "50 Shades of Blue" were emblazoned across the quaint trolley. “Does this have anything to do with the racy trilogy 50 Shades of Grey?” I asked. “No,” replied the media contact at South Seas Island Resort.

It’s a pity that the phrase "50 shades of something" -- insert your own fetish or preferred word here -- is associated with an erotic novel and a hilarious Lady Chatterly style parody with Selena Gomez. In fact, I shouldn’t even introduce this article with the phrase, but you know it would raise eyebrows, if not something else.

Because at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island on Florida's gulf coast, the phrase “50 Shades of Blue” is appropriate and not smutty at all, but lovely, tasteful, utterly elegant and very romantic, truly inspiring tranquility -- although, according to legend -- the island got its name most likely from semi-fictional pirate José Gaspar who is said to have dominated and kept female prisoners on the sandy strands for ransom.

50 shades of blue captiva south seas island resort
I wasn't kidding.

But let's forget about pirates, domination and submission and get back to the simple color blue.

Blue is everywhere. There’s the sky and the water, as well as the interior and exterior décor that celebrates blue, my favorite color -- think azure, cyan, turquoise -- every hue imaginable. Here, you'll be literally surrounded by many shades of blue and soothing, complimentary colors. Add to this canvas radiant tropical flowers, green lawns and outrageous sunsets of beaming oranges and reds, and the palette completes the experience -- shades of an Impressionist painting provided by Mother Nature and savvy designers.  If Paul Gauguin had been here during the reign of Calusa Indians, he may have been inspired.

South Seas sits on the tip of Captiva Island facing Redfish Pass and North Captiva: to the east, Pine Island Sound and to the west, the Gulf of Mexico.  The energy and power of water here is evident, as the tides dance their tango back and forth in between the sound and the gulf, with ripping, strong currents and eddies of shallow, calm waters.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Oleanders blooming on the lawn by the salty gulf.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
This heron never got spooked. It walked "with" me for about half an hour.

This is nature. Nature surrounded by luxury without abusing nature, calming to inner nature. Poet Derek Walcott once wrote "islands can only live if we have loved in them," and while he wasn't referring to Captiva, this particular island captures the sentiment.

Shelling at South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Low tide provides amazing shelling on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

It’s here where you’ll also find a sense of remoteness that would make any couple enjoy a quiet, intimate getaway. At night, there’s no light pollution. You can actually gaze upon a canopy of stars and no boom-boom music disturbs the moment in the background; it’s just the two of you with a deliciously cozy bed steps away and breezes as soundtrack.

Hold hands during a gulf coast sunset. Sip on cocktails as you watch dozens of dolphins corral baitfish close to shore – an amazing sight to behold. Go for long walks on the endless beach -- no high-rise condos or loud noises will interfere with your visual feast or sense of peace. Go shelling along Redfish Pass at low tide in the morning. Take a sunset cruise on a catamaran with Captiva Cruises.  Get a couple’s massage at the Kay Casperson Spa at Chadwick's Square.

Shelling at South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Redfish Pass is particularly beautiful.

Sailing with Captiva Cruises at Seas Island Resort, Captiva
A sunset cruise is a must for a romantic afternoon.

These handmade soaps smell SO good!
You'll want to take a few of these home, trust me.

And no matter what you do, make sure you buy some hand-made soaps at Captiva Provision Company to lather up good in that generously sized en-suite tub during your stay. The soaps are aromatic and leave the skin soft and smooth. The Himalayan Salt soap should not be rubbed directly on the skin, which -- wink, wink -- means you’ll need a partner and a pair of gentle hands to help you with the sensual bathing experience. This is a grand souvenir; I’ve been enjoying it every day since my trip in mid-November.

You can also pick up a few provisions here, including fine wines, spirits, sandwiches and gourmet snacks. A mini-fridge is available in the room and you may also request a microwave.

Harbourside Grille - South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Blackened local red snapper with a tangy watermelon slaw.

For dining, go to Harbourside Grille and enjoy a romantic meal outdoors, which serves local fish in a sustainability program. Try the crab cake, fish spread and yes, I know fish is the focus here, but if you’re a meat lover, the filet mignon with broccolini, so tender in the mouth, made me say the “o” word out loud. Not that I’m shy about saying “orgasm,” but when I blurt it out, it’s because I really mean it!

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. South Seas is mainly a family-friendly resort, but for couples looking for an island escape, the best bet is to stay at the hotel at the Harbourside Marina section, walking distance from the beach, restaurants and amenities. Go in the fall, when kids are in school.

View of North Captiva from South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
South Seas also offers a sailing school, but who cares when you can smooch at this outlook?

There are many accommodations in Captiva, but bet you a dollar nothing beats a kiss on the north tip of the island. It’s just that damn beautiful.

If you’re looking for a South Beach experience, with obnoxious music, model types in thongs gorging on mojitos from a pitcher and dudes with gold chains hitting on babes, this isn’t the resort for you. Expect people with pasty skin and regular bodies here. Also expect civilized, respectful behavior.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Cabanas are available and include a mini-fridge, snacks and wi-fi.

For those who want a relaxed day poolside, rent a cabana. Appropriately attired pool boys serve cocktails and snacks. One of the pools has streaming fountains – perfect for a shoulder massage. But rug rats may be around. Just be forewarned.

And for parents with kids tagging along, there are plenty of activities to keep them busy while you have “me” and “us” time. A whole section of the resort is devoted to children’s activities, including an arcade as well as the eco-friendly Sanibel Sea School where wee ones, tweens and even grown-ups enjoy educational field trips in the resort, much of which is treated as a nature sanctuary.

In fact, while I was there, I tried to rescue an injured anhinga. Nearby, Sanibel also boasts one of southwest Florida's most impressive bird refuges, the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

South Seas also offers bike rentals, but they seemed rather wonky; the gears didn’t seem to work right. Take the trolley instead if you wish to roam about the resort, although you may be tempted to never leave the room or the beach area.  The resort fee includes chairs, towels and umbrellas, so the only thing you have to worry about is what cocktail to order. This is a no-cash resort, so the wallet doesn't come with.

Smile while you take the trolley, thinking about the phrase 50 shades of blue.

South Seas Island Resort, Captiva
Oh dear, what to do today?

This tropical paradise is just about a three-hour drive from Miami if you time it right and offers a great Florida getaway at a pristine location. While featuring luxe comfort, the resort is all about less is more -- feel your heart beat, listen to the surf, gaze at the stars as you get away from the hectic busyness of life. Indulge in moments of intimacy.

50 shades of blue, indeed.

To learn more, visit South Seas Island Resort.

More photos on Flickr.

Disclosure: some parts of this experience were sponsored by the resort, others paid out of my own pocket, including some of the room nights, meals, all personal purchases and transportation.  All opinions my own. I'd have written the same review even if it was completely sponsored.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Blood of Others is Our Own

Arjuna with Krishna leading the chariot in the Bhagavad Gita or "Lord's Song"

Maybe the Mayans were right. The world did come to and end, at least for a handful of folks in Connecticut yesterday after a 20-year old man named Adam Lanza allegedly shot children, staff and his own mother at an elementary school.

The massacre made me think of Joseph Campbell's insight into our archetypal connections. And that train of thought led me to Simone de Beauvoir's WWII novel, The Blood of Others, where no one is truly innocent, in the sense that we all have a communal responsibility to take care of each other; we have that conflict between freedom and community obligation. To disregard an issue is a form of acceptance.

I'm not particularly religious, in fact, I'm raised Catholic and consider myself a Christian, if you will, although I rarely go to church. But I'm going to bring to light the Bhagavad Gita now, a spiritual text that I studied during my yoga teacher training. The poem raises the question of how to wrap our minds around things are just so absolutely evil, immoral and wrong; it addresses a conflict of conscience.

The archetypal meaning of the poem is that within each of us a battle rages between selfish impulses that ignore the claims of justice and mercy and a realization that ultimately we are all connected in a unity that embraces all humanity and the whole world. Arjuna is our conscious mind, which must make the choice of how we will live. The wicked cousins are our impulses to self-centeredness and greed. Krishna is the divine spark within us, our higher Self, which is always available to rein in the horses of our feelings and thoughts and to guide us in the battle of life, if we will only seek that help.*
"If we will only seek that help."

Too bad Adam Lanza didn't.

Too bad he ignored the "claims of justice and mercy."

Let love and compassion grow from the roots of yesterday's massacre at Sandy Hook. It's the only way to move forward. I'm feeling this as painfully as 9/11. We Americans have reached the lowest of the low. Who needs terrorist enemies from the Middle East when we have a senseless killing like this of innocent children and their loving care takers in our own back yard?

The enemy is within. The enemy is our neighbor, our brother.

As unfathomable as this is, remember that horrible things happen to humans every day that are degrading and disrespectful of dignity and life -- sexual slavery, hunger, child and spousal abuse, etc;

Let's just always keep that in mind and act with compassion in every breath we take. Dedicate a moment to an act of kindness, no matter how small, sometime in the next few days to make up for this.  Or maybe just close your eyes and think about the slain children.

No, you didn't pull the trigger, but we are all responsible for the world we live in. What's done is done and this is the least we can do.

The blood of others is also our own.

*(Quote source: Theosophical Society. I am in no way associated with it and I don't follow it, but it's a good Cliff Notes for this post.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Charmed in Hialeah

Part four of several stories about Hialeah.

Damaris Aguiar, Miss Hialeah 2010

I first met beautiful Damaris Aguiar at a red carpet event last year on Miami Beach. When I mentioned my involvement with Yo Soy Hialeah, her eyes lit up.

At the tender age of 26, Aguiar has not only earned the title of Miss Hialeah 2010 and begun a successful modeling career, she has already started giving back to the community by helping younger women get a head start in life as they learn self-confidence and poise.

A native from Cuba, Aguiar was raised in Hialeah and still calls the city home. She taught dance at a Hialeah Adult Center before moving on to open her own dance and modeling studio in a strip mall near the Hialeah race track.

Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.

I’m not quite sure how Aguiar does it; she remains graceful and gorgeous while managing a studio with her co-owner partner and traveling for modeling gigs. Pilares Dance Studio offers dozens of classes and has hundreds of students who come as far as Pembroke Pines and distant Miami municipalities to study with Aguiar and other teachers.

My assistant for the day, Freddy Stebbins -- whom you may remember as the gut-busting comedian in front of the camera in my Bargain Shopping in Hialeah video -- helped me hold the boom mic while I tried to capture what was going on inside the studio. Both of us were so moved and impressed by Aguiar’s work in giving these young ladies the opportunity to feel good about themselves. “This shouldn't be just a three-minute vignette,” Stebbins said. “This should be an entire documentary on Hialeah culture.”

I’ll admit, I first thought it was going to be a rather fluffy topic about superficial beauty, but honestly, I left knowing that Aguiar is making an incredibly positive impact in the lives of young women.

She breaks the stereotype.

There’s more here than meets the eye beyond striking poses and sporting gowns. I see these little girls becoming doctors, lawyers and leaders some day -- women who will not only do good, but look damn good while doing it.

And I very much admire Aguiar for keeping her passion local while extending her own wings in the wider world of mainstream celebrity. This isn’t just a story about sitting pretty and flashing your pearly whites at a camera. The mothers I spoke to saw the value in teaching their daughters everything they need to get ahead in the world.

And yes, manners, table etiquette and grace are very important. What I saw wasn’t some Pride and Prejudice “oh act this way so you can find a husband” scenario; this was an “act this way so you can believe in yourself” training. A bit more than just charm school, right?

Wish I had had this when I was a little girl.

This is a story about having the balls to be entrepreneurial in your own back yard. It’s a true modern-day Cinderella story, minus the prince. It’s a story of potential realized and growing -- all from Hialeah.

You may find Pilares School of Dance and Modeling at 555 East 25th Street, Suite 224. But watch out, they’re expanding and looking for another location.

After the shoot, Stebbins and I shared a repast. We kept chiding each other on how poor our manners actually were. Scoop and pinch? American or European style? Well, maybe we should enroll in Ms. Aguiar’s class!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas, Hialeah Style

I don't know about you, but I am ready to puke and throw a chancleta every time I walk into any retail store these days, overcome with sickeningly sweet Christmas music. It's like a mind-numbing injection of treacle. Also, why don't stores play Jewish music during Chanukkah as well? You know, just to shake things up a bit, because at least it has more ritmo thank Jingle Bells without being as obnoxious as reggaeton.

Luckily, the talented gente from Hialeah Haikus bring us The Twelve Days of Christmas, Hialeah style.

Yes, they went there.

I think I would pass on the Willy Chirino CD, but I would definitely want Raul Martinez' Lexus and five roasted pigs.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

If you aren't familiar with Hialeah Haikus, they are a veritably talented group of wordsmiths who identify with La Cuidad Que Progresa. Check out their book, which would make a great stocking stuffer.  Oh wait, we Cubans don't do that shit. We don't even stuff turkeys. OK, whatever, just go read!

Hat tip to Bohemian Babushka.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fishing Adventures in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands

Fishing Reel and Tackle
Fishing porn.

Since backcountry is my favorite type of fishing, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a full immersion weekend in the Everglades region of Florida’s gulf coast with Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing, which took place this past October. (As you may recall, I attended a similar seminar last year in Islamorada and fished with Captain Bob Jones.)

I set out before dawn, westward bound on Tamiami Trail.  Just after the sun rose and the mist lifted over the river of grass, I arrived at Port of the Islands, a resort that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, situated in between Marco Island and Everglades City, with water access to the 10,000 Islands via the 3.5 mile Faka Union Canal.

Pavillion Key, 10,000 Islands, Gulf of Mexico
A maze of islands makes up this area of the gulf.  Port of the Islands is just off Tamiami Trail. I fished out of Chokoloskee.

The 10,000 Islands are particularly special for me.

I know this place. Oh yeah.

Years ago, Sir Fish A Lot and I would trailer our Hewes Bonefisher out here. We called her the Cyan, because of the color of her hull. One day, on the way back from the pristine islands where, thankfully, there is no human civilization, our outboard engine failed mid-journey in the Faka Union Canal.

We went into survivor mode, long before there was even a TV show by that name. We were alone here -- no boat traffic, no cellphones.  And the radio? Battery had run out.

Every dog has his day and boy, this really just wasn’t our day.  Nothing seemed to be working.

Poor Sir Fish A Lot did his best. First, he tried to pole us back to port while standing on the flats boat platform, but the water was too deep and the tide was outgoing, current flowing against us -- a Herculean task, to say the least.

Then we lost the pole close to the banks of the channel. He jumped into the muddy oyster banks on the edge and waist-deep in the water, threw the anchor forward to drag the boat forward while I steered. 

Under the hazy colors of dusk, gators were floating nearby, mosquitoes were buzzing and biting, flies the size of quarters were crash-landing on our faces, but he remained stoic, steadily dragging the boat forward until – gasp! – we lost the anchor.

We drifted aimlessly along the current for what seemed like an eternity.

And then a miracle happened.

Another boat was also returning to port, with a biblical inscription about fishermen painted onto the hull. 

The kind gentlemen on board towed us back to safety. I'm not particularly religious,  but I'm pretty sure this is what Jesus would have done.

Once back at Port of the the Islands, Sir Fish A Lot and I fell utterly exhausted into bed, too tired to even consider supper.  A day of complete frustration, with no fish caught, but certainly much courage and pluck mustered.

We may have not stayed a couple forever, but I do count this as one day where I thought we could get through anything.

So, dear readers, imagine my connection to Port of the Islands when I arrived at the seminar!

The first day at Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing was chock full of learning through a no-stress, pleasant series of lectures and hands-on mini-workshops. About 40 women attended talks on backcountry fishing led by local guides, as well as sessions by representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, who discussed conservation policies. Our afternoon “skill stations” included de-hooking fish, venting fish, casting light tackle, net casting, boat handling, knot tying and even kayak fishing, among other techniques.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
To the left, Barbara Evans, a licensed Captain, practicing ultralight rod casting techniques with Mary Fink of Island Girl Charters, to the right.

Kayak Fishing
Jean McElroy, the redhead on the left, is pro staff at Ocean Kayak in Palm Beach County and a master at kayak fishing. Pretty ballsy if you ask me!

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission representatives taught us much about conservation and proper handling of fish.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
A participant learning how to tie a clinch knot from Captain Mark Worley. I tried it as well, but already forgot.  I need to keep fishing lines and knot books by the can -- the most recommended way of practicing.

Betty Bauman, founder of Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing, demonstrated the proper reeling technique for catching large game fish:  rod holder belt on, squat, straighten your back, let the fish run then reel in when it relaxes.

I raised my hand. “Betty, what happens when the fish feels like a Mac truck at the end of the line?” I asked. “I hooked a beast two weeks ago and couldn’t even wind the reel.”

“Just practice, Maria.” She replied.

And practice I would. I didn’t know what I was in for.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Everglades Seminar
It's all about physics.  Even a petite, slim lady can catch a big fish.

The next day, I was up at 4 am to get ready for fishing with Betty, her husband, Captain Chuck – the inspiration behind the “no-yelling” school of fishing – and a photographer from a gulf coast newspaper. Other ladies went fishing as well, but with different guides, some even on kayaks.

The journey seemed long although we weren’t far from the marina in Chokoloskee. I was so eager to be on the water with rod in hand.

So was Captain Chuck. Just after sunrise, we finally blazed across the flats of the 10,000 Islands, remote waters he knows intimately.

I knew it was going to be a good day when after anchoring off Pavillion Key, Captain Chuck rigged a spinning rod with a gold spoon and -- bam! -- first cast resulted in a keeper redfish, which I hooked and landed.  Folks, for those of you who aren’t familiar with fishing in the backcountry, this rarely, if ever happens. First cast? No way.

Redfish Fishing - Everglades and 10,000 Islands
Not bad for the first catch of the day.

Pavilion Key, 10,000 Islands, Gulf of Mexico
Captain Chuck cast netting for pilchards around pristine Pavillion Key, which is close to the wide open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We also saw a few campers who had reached the remote area by canoe.

We spent much of the morning fishing and cast netting along the shore of the key for bait. In the meantime, I hooked what was probably a ray, which gave me a good fight. Captain Chuck didn’t let me land it because he said it would spook other fish.

When we finally had enough ladyfish in the live well, we headed to an area more densely populated with mangrove islands.

“Now let’s do some real fishing,” said Captain Chuck.

We cast for snook along the mangroves but didn’t have much luck.  “I wouldn’t have picked this day for this kind of fishing,” Captain Chuck explained. “Tides and conditions aren’t right.”

But wherever we anchored, Captain Chuck put out a conventional reel with a ladyfish on the hook for me, while we fished with spinning rods along the shores. Twice “my rod” squealed and twice a big one got away.

Rabbit Key - 10,000 Islands
One of the spots where we fished. Camping is an option at Rabbit Key, part of the Everglades National Park system.

By 3:30 PM, when we were obligated to return to port, Captain Chuck asked us to stop casting. As we were getting organized to speed across the flats, my rod screeched.

“Grab it, Maria! Grab it!” said Captain Chuck.

In that moment of haste, my heart started pounding. Fishing can be incredibly boring, followed by rushes of adrenaline.

“Could this be it?” I thought.

What I felt at the end of that line was similar to whatever I had hooked in Cape Sable. A mammoth that could speed like it was racing at the Indianapolis 500 yet also become a dead weight, a concrete boulder.

It never jumped.

“It’s not a tarpon,” said Captain Chuck. “Keep reeling.”

There was no rod belt holder on board. I placed the butt end of the rod on my thighs near my crotch and prepared for what I knew would be a strenuous experience for my body. Within minutes, biceps were burning, hands felt feeble, fingers weak.

Something funny happens when you attempt to land a big fish. You wonder: why the hell did I sign up for this? Am I crazy?

I remembered my experience near Cape Sable and what Betty had taught us the day before about catching big fish.

The fish ran. I let it run. The fish stopped, I reeled in as hard as I could. My rod was constantly bent.

About 15 minutes into the fight, Betty asked me if I was OK. I had started inhaling and exhaling deeply -- my yoga practice in service here, to focus and be present in the moment, to get past the pain in my muscles. Think of it like a Lamaze exercise for a kind of labor that isn’t about giving birth.

Then Captain Chuck chimed in. “You can let it go if you need to.”

I didn’t miss a beat.

“Captain Chuck, I still have energy left in me. I’m not going to give up.”

“Atta girl! That’s what I want to hear!” he said joyfully. His face lit up. “You’re doing such a great job!”

That did it for me. No yelling here. And no way in hell was I going to give up. I was in the zone.

About another 15 minutes passed. Eventually, we spotted a 6-foot long fish on the surface. Captain Chuck grabbed the leader and and let the line snap.  

“That was a 200 pound bull shark,” he said as he patted me on the back. “I am so proud of you, Maria.  Really. Very, very proud of you.”

My body felt a huge sense of relief. My spirit soared. It was almost surreal. Had I really done this?

Captain Chuck is the kind of old salt who will tell it to you like it is. There's no fussy, girly nonsense on his boat. He’ll be honest when something isn’t right so you can get it right.

It’s not that I was fishing for approval from a fatherly figure. It just happened. I made it happen. I manifested this insane desire to practice the sport. And although I had received instruction and encouragement from mentors, when it came down to battle, I did it all with my own hands.

I really did it.

I caught and released my first big shark.

“This was the big one that didn’t get away!” I exclaimed. “Whew!”

Photo courtesy of via Lindsay Terry.  Click here to read the full article.

As we headed back to Chokoloskee, the islands took on a mystical quality behind my polarized sunglasses, which intensify shades of green and blue. Maybe it was the lactic acid in my muscles or maybe it was my mind trying to fathom what I had just accomplished.

 And then I reminisced about Sir Fish A Lot, finding ourselves astray in the Faka Union Canal and how he had been an inspiration for me, showing dogged resolve to get us through a rough patch.

Fishing is never just about the fish. It’s a test of the faith and strength in yourself.

Although I really, truly should practice tying my knots.


Visit Ladies, Let's Go Fishing to learn more about their education programs, which are open to all women -- novice and experienced alike.  It's not just about fishing skills; participants also enjoy great camaraderie. To inquire about fishing or camping excursions with Captain Chuck, please utilize the contact form on the website, which also features a curated list fishing guides in the Southwest area of Florida.  More photos from the weekend seminar on Flickr.

As always, I encourage anglers to be educated and practice catch and release. Know your regulations and only keep what you're going to eat within a day or two.  Learn more about fishing rules at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

National Geographic has a good spread on bull sharks.

Learn how to dehook a fish.