Cayo Costa is a remote, completely undeveloped island that is entirely a state park in southwest Florida. It is the outermost island off of the coast near Fort Myers. This island is about nine miles long north to south and only a couple of miles across east to west. The landscape consists of massive oak trees, sabal palms, various seagulls and waterfowl, and of course wide, pristine white beaches.
There is no electricity on the island. No electricity, no lighting, no vehicles, and no buildings.
Hell yes! This was an experience I craved for 22 years, and I assume many other people have as well. An island covered in palm trees and cut off from the world where we can sleep by the beach, dance in the moonlight, and be away from the retarded, miserable, chaotic world and all of its problems for a while. (Or maybe forever…)
Of course, I had already been quite sick for the past five days, </link> slightly detracting from the paradise fantasy, but I was dealing with it. After we parked the car in a gravel lot, we went to check in with the charter ferry that would take us to the island. The only way to the island is the charter ferry, or by a private boat.
We carried our bags across the parking lot and up to the highly luxurious lobby where passengers awaited the private yacht ferry over to the secluded island. I’m clearly full of shit.
The check-in desk wasn’t quite like the trip to the Dry Tortugas; I couldn’t even walk through the fucking door with my backpack on my back due to the fact that the rotting wooden shack was so luxuriously compact.
I attempted to enter the door by rotating sideways and sucking my stomach in while simultaneously reaching my arms fifty feet behind me to squeeze the backpack I was carrying inward in order to dip through the doorway. While this was happening, the spring-loaded door managed to repeatedly assault my left arm and my ass. The door was unquestionably cold and calculating.
Okay, I’ll just leave the damn backpack on the gravel outside. As soon as I got the pack off, Sarah came out and informed me that we would have to relocate the car nine inches to the left and put a tiny piece of paper in the windshield. No problem at all, except we’d have to carry all of our heavy ass shit back in order to accomplish this mundane task.
After reparking the car seven times thanks to the lot that was clearly designed for golf carts, we carried the shit back to the loading dock where we would be boarding our giant private super yacht fantasy. But first we would be forced to endure more waiting, so we sat down on a lovely picnic table where I nearly got a splinter in my ass and the enjoyed the breathtaking view of a wonderful portable toilet facility.
The portable toilet facility housed one person, was a slate gray color, and smelled of a decaying animal. Normally I would not remark on such a shitter, but we sat looking at it for nearly 45 minutes, much longer than originally expected. I was completely happy about the experience as it would make arriving at the gates of paradise that much better.
While patiently awaiting our yacht, several other groups of people arrived next to us, presumably ready for a week of fun and disconnection from society. After only a few minutes, I began to notice something fairly alarming. Everyone else had brought more stuff than us to take to the island.
Not a few more things, but well over ten times the amount of supplies we had brought. All we had was a single small backpack to each of us and a paper bag filled with individual plastic bags which contained each one of our meals for the next four days. Everyone else had several large bags, giant Tupperware containers overfilled with supplies, firewood, sleeping gear and who the hell knows what else. Some of people’s gear was stacked four feet high and five feet wide!
“Shit. Did I forget to pack something? Are we going to starve to death or get swallowed by snakes because I forgot snake repellant? Maybe these people are just going to be here for a couple of weeks!”
I realized, after mentally accounting for our possessions 17 times, we had basically everything we could need on the island with us, not including the various burning materials which I planned to harvest from around the island once we arrived. I may have forgotten some comforts, but why give a shit? We were going to be spending time on a remote island.
When the yacht finally arrived to pick us up, it was no fucking yacht. In fact, it more closely resembled a large piece of poorly painted plywood with another piece of plywood mounted to the top serving as a roof. It could be best described as an overgrown bookshelf painted with the color “Quaint Cotton Candy Blue” with an 80 peeled off finish and a couple of oscillating desk fans that had been duck-tapped to the stern (rear) that acted as engines.
The passengers arriving back to the mainland looked absolutely thrilled. As if they had just been crammed into the boat, the way you might attempt to cram your entire wardrobe of clothing and shoes into a daypack and then yank on the zippers so hard that the entire fabric threatened to explode.
After enduring the compaction, they were driven around the water in circles for 17 hours. It took quite a while for everyone on the boat to get off, and even longer for all of their stuff to be tossed off of the side by the two guys that paddled the boat and operated its rotary fan.
Hooray! Finally we were ready to board the boat. I had to hold onto a special piece of colored paper that had our scheduled return trip written on it. This acted as our return boarding pass, though seemingly unnecessary as they wouldn’t let us stay on any longer anyway.
Indeed, this boat was so small that everyone had to hand their luggage to the two crew members over the side of the boat while they played a massive game of Tetris without the music, which is of course the best part of playing Tetris.
The boat was finally in motion towards Cayo Costa and we were seated; we would be there in no time! In fact, the boat was moving so fast that I was sure I could jump out of the rear side and swim my way to the front and wave back to the captain. I wasn’t aware at first that the ride was supposed to be seventy minutes long.
SEVENTY MINUTES? Was Cayo Costa that far away?? I must have completely misjudged the map.
No, indeed it was not far away. In fact, the overlord Google Maps distance measuring tool shows that it was an astounding 4.3 miles from our departure dock to our arrival dock. That means we traveled at an average speed of a blistering 3.7mph (that’s just over THREE AND ONE HALF MILES PER HOUR.)
After researching this thoroughly, I am more than 100% confident that we could have made it to the island in half of the time had we just been able to toss our shit into a canoe and paddled our own asses the entire way there.
During the trip over there was a wonderfully behaved child, no more than five years old, who was running around the small cramped boat shoving through people, bumping into them, and playing with his little stuffed froggie. Adorable, right? Well, I’m not sure the old man who had the stuffed frog unexpectedly rammed into his face and screamed at by the child would agree.
When we finally arrived, we discovered the campsite was nearly two miles away from where the floating bookshelf had been docked. Lord, are we gonna have to carry all of this awkwardly packed shit across the entire island? Turned out, a tractor with a passenger trailer runs between the boat dock and the campsite. Also, a small store was located in the area next to the boat dock.
So apparently we wouldn’t be THAT remote. No electricity, but still a quick tractor ride away from the store…where we were required to *purchase* our firewood. I had to go inside of the store to check in to our campsite and sign the rule form which read “COLLECTING FIREWOOD PROHIBITED, BITCHES” on it.
Instead, you had to spend ten dollars to purchase four logs that were generously pre-soaked with water for your convenience. Damn it, these rules were detracting from the all-natural roughing purpose of the entire trip.
The campsites were…a little bit closer to other campers than we had anticipated; much closer than any reasonable person wanted. Our campsite was about 25 feet wide and maybe 40 feet deep. A thin wooden rail made out of a decapitated tree separated our area from our surrounding campers. Everyone was adjacent to another campsite, so we were able to hear everyone’s…..noise.
<noise Grinch link?>
Nothing to banter about. Sure, less secluded than we had originally hoped for, but I wasn’t about to throw a pussy fit in front of the palm trees. Besides, everyone else there had come to enjoy the seclusion and quiet too, right? Obviously! Peace and quiet was a certainty.
All of the setup chores required to prepare the campsite were complete and the day was quickly coming to a close. The time had finally come to go on a nice long walk on the warm, sunny beach.
What a wonderful beach it was. We walked nearly two miles alone down the shore with nothing in sight but powdery white sand, naturally placed Sabal palms, sea oats, and the salty Gulf of Mexico.
Oh, there were also about five million sea urchins that were scattered around on the shore. They sat there menacingly, planting a seething fear into my subconscious. “Yes, stomp right into the ocean with joy,” they spoke, staring directly into my eyes with their 17 inch long spikes which appear harder than diamonds, capable of puncturing a hole one foot deep into your thigh as if your flesh had the strength of a rotten tomato.
Alright, perhaps I was a little too alarmed by some dead sea balls. Anyways, our beautiful beach was actually rapidly becoming undeniably miserable. As the sun dipped below the horizon, I assume…did I mention it was completely overcast?
The temperature was about 59 degrees and the wind was gusting onto the shore to about 35 mph, and we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. If I didn’t already mention it, I was still sick from the previous few days.
On the horizon, menacing clouds crept up to shore, threatening to piss all over our beach love parade. We were shivering in the wind, expecting it to be in the mid-80s and instead facing wind chills around 48ºF. Surely this couldn’t be oceanfront south Florida in the middle of March.
Misery on Paradise Island. Yes, this was my perfect paradise that had wound up completely wrong. Here we are trudging back through the sand desperately trying to reach our tent. It feels like it’s 49ºF outside, the strong wind is blowing sand in our faces, and the clouds are about to pee on us. I’m sicker than shit, our feet are covered in blisters, and our ankles are torn up. This was exactly how I envisioned ‘paradise’ to be!
I immediately realized, similar to how I did in Key West, that paradise virtually never lives up to our [lofty] expectations, especially if we keep pushing those expectations too high. There always seems to be some sort of unforeseen circumstance longing to take the sunshine away from our beach.
It is our responsibility as human beings, if we wish to live a positive and fulfilling life, to accept the bad with the good. The yin and the yang. You must embrace discomfort, displeasure, and sometimes brutal disappointment if you are ever going to gain any sense of peace in your life. Ultimately, this is where real paradise can be found. It lives in your mind.
When we finally made it back to our campsite, we crawled into the tent and covered up with the one tiny blanket we had thankfully brought. Lying on the solid, awkwardly sloped and uneven ground felt like heaven. Unlike many of our neighbors, we did not bring a twelve inch thick self-inflating mattress to lounge on for our tent, we just used the Earth.
The next day was looking to be much more promising and positive. It was a cloudless sunny morning and warming up quickly. I still fought with a raspy throat, pathetically hoarse voice and a sinus infection.
I was anxious to inhale a gallon of saltwater into my nasal cavities and down to my lungs to help clear all of the snot garbage out. Nothing is quite as therapeutic as the ocean. From inhaling the salt to the many other remedies it provides.
Sometime later in the afternoon after we had finished our lunch, we were sitting in our campsite when the day’s batch of new campers began arriving to the island. We cringed with anticipation as to who our new neighbors might be, or if we would be lucky enough to not have anyone next to us at all.
In the midst of stalking the new campers while reading, I saw what we will call a mom and a dad each pulling a dolly of stuff that was overflowing from the bin. Did I mention the park offered dollies with nice big bouncy wheels for you to conveniently lug your entire life’s possessions onto the island?
This couple was notably struggling to pull these two huge wheelbarrow loads of ‘equipment’ to their campsite. As if this wasn’t noticeable enough, I started to enter a daze when I saw the woman return not once, not twice, but on four different trips with massive dolly loads of what at this point, I assumed had to be a bunch of useless shit.
The fact that the dollies were massively over stacked and never tipped over causing an earthquake still amazes me. Even after the dolly trips stopped, the woman came back again hand carrying two huge rubber containers stacked on top of each other, ready to burst open at any time. They were about as tall as she was and frankly, I couldn’t bear to witness the bewildering performance any longer.
“You know what would make this even more insane? If they were only staying here one night with all of that shit,” I leaned over and said to Sarah.
The rest of the day was picturesque perfect. We watched the sunset, she cooked dinner, and I sat by the fire and enjoyed the heated bliss. The fire was a bitch to start, about as difficult with a lighter and starters as one would normally expect with rubbing sticks.
“YOU CAN START ME UP START ME UP I’LL NEVER STOP NEVER STOP,” —What the hell is this shit?
It is now the second night on the remote island without electricity, the weather is actually cooperating and now we have a man, referred to at the time as “Douchebag” who is blasting the Rolling Stones from a large battery operated radio just adjacent to our campsite.
Not just playing it, but blasting it so loud that I cannot hear my thoughts. I would almost compare it to loud speakers at a football game. It was overpowering the fact that we were outside period; the sound waves were visible to the naked eye and blocking the moon.
I could not even begin to wrap my mind around what was taking place. Who in the seventh layer of hell would spend the money to take an hour long ferry ride away from civilization, away from electricity, to a remote island, only to bring a giant boom box and blast a song that is played in literally every grocery store, every gas station and on nearly every TV commercial ever made??
I was trapped in a state of paralysis. It was as if the invisible matrix of society, the modern world, had reached out to me, wrapped its tentacles around my neck, squeezed tightly and said, “You cannot escape the petty annoyances of everyday life!”
But just then, I realized we could both A) not allow the atrocity of the radio to disturb our own thoughts and B) walk down to the beach away from all the noise of the other campers.
The warm tropical night was stolen straight from an Ocean Waves Soundtrack. The air was a mixture of salt, sand and sea oats. The sky was filled with stars and the moon was low in the sky, opposite of the ocean.
On our way back to the campsites, I could hear another Rolling Stones song well before we got near our tent. A brief subconscious sense of doom overwhelmed me, but then a ranger walked up and had Mr. Douchernozzle turn his volume WAY down. A peaceful sense of relief! I was about to walk over but obviously I was not the only one annoyed. The rest of the night was peaceful.
I felt a bit better the next morning and the arrival of sunrays on my face and salty air in my respiratory system further helped to relieve my sinuses. After a little time at the beach alone, I came back to the campsites, and what I witnessed next sent me into an uncontrollable laughing fit.
The couple from the prior afternoon, who easily brought seven times as much stuff to their campsite than I had ever owned in my entire life, so much stuff that it would fill a ten foot U-Haul trailer, was leaving!
I couldn’t fathom that they actually only stayed one night. What in the hell did they BRING with them? I only wish I would have slithered through the thorns like a sly snake to snoop at their shit.
That leads to a vital but always forgotten rule of traveling. PACK LIGHT! You don’t need your entire apartment for a three day camping trip, especially if you are going to be in a supervised area in a park such as Cayo Costa State Park or nearly any state park for that matter.
You should be able to fit everything you need into one seventy liter backpack. A good rule I have come across many times is, “Pack everything you think you absolutely need, and then remove half of it.”
I cackled about the ridiculous situation for a few minutes but also almost felt sorry for the ignorance of the couple. They spent their entire “camping” trip hauling in a truckload of useless items, setting them up and positioning them all perfectly in order, only to immediately take everything down and spend an hour in the morning struggling severely to haul them all back.
Above and beyond the whole situation, I was amazed at how they could fit all that shit onto the tiny boat powered by oscillating desk fans without it capsizing.
The remainder of the time on the island was about how I originally imagined it would be. The skies were crystal clear the last two days, the sunsets were picturesque, and thankfully I didn’t have a smartphone or camera with me to ruin the moment by taking pictures. It’s always much better to see scenic vistas, especially sunsets, as nature intended them as opposed to looking through a tiny screen.
We weren’t expecting any problems when returning to the mainland on the boat, but as you may know, life never fails to present the most random and miniscule of comedies.
Approximately forty of us that were departing the island were lined up, crammed together with all of our camping gear on the dock. The boat arrived and was tied up and the captain stepped over the side in order to begin loading everyone’s gear onboard the watercraft.
In the same manner as when we arrived on the island, everyone was going to hand their bags over to the captain. He would place them in the back for us in order to keep the boat stable and make boarding safer. Everyone cooperated without thought of hesitation except for one woman, who can only be described as “The Troll”.
She was 4 feet 11 inches tall, 300 pounds and had this look on her face that just spoke of misery and putridness. As the few people standing prior to her in line loaded their belongings, the captain turned to take The Troll’s stuff to put on the boat.
She snarled back immediately, “This stays with me!” while holding a large backpack in front of her and squeezing onto it like it was her only child.
“Excuse me?” the captain replied.
“I’m not giving you this it’s staying with me.” She spoke in the most hideous and disturbing manner that your brain could possibly interpret. Even for a troll this behavior was vile.
The lady had a good deal of shit stacked around her and the captain had a certain way of packing the tiny boat in order to fit everyone’s hoarding piles onto it. He carried on his duties without a fuss and took a few more items from others before needing to take this woman’s piles in order to pack the boat correctly.
She stood firm with a scowl on her face.
“LADY, I don’t know what your problem is, but people are waiting to leave and no one is going anywhere until we can get the boat packed,” the captain spoke very firmly.
“I’m always the last one off the boat and that’s not happening this time!” she snarled and snorted back.
She didn’t budge. After nearly an additional ten minutes had drifted away forever since the mini-standoff began, I was really starting to lose my patience and tolerance for human stupidity.
I had a brief flashback to the douchnozzle that was blasting gas station music for the entire island to hear, ruining many people’s peaceful retreat.
I thought about the people next to us that were having scream battles with their children almost every night.
Now an ogre is preventing all of the people, tired of holding their equipment and standing in the hot sun on the dock, from getting onto the boat and on with their lives. All this simply because she can’t stand the idea of the captain taking her backpack for seven seconds and placing it six feet away from her on the boat.
The captain made one more remark and she continued to send a scowl straight from the depths of hell. I could sense that he was extremely annoyed and even furious at this point. I could feel his frustration from twenty feet away. He’s just trying to do the basics of his job and one sour puss, who has the delusion that she is the most important ogre on earth, is causing an uproar.
I finally burst out, four feet from her face where I had been standing, “Just give him the damn bag so everyone can get on the fucking boat!”
“Shut up!” she immediately snapped back, showing her fangs and the maggots and termites that lived in her mouth, followed by a very dull murmur to herself, “unless you want to go overboard.”
I looked back at her exactly like the classic U SERIOUS meme seen all over the internet. I was no longer frustrated at all, just completely stunned and somewhat amused for a few moments before realizing the reality of the situation.
First of all, there was no way this poor wretch was knocking me off the boat, unless it was because I was laughing too hard about the ridiculousness of the entire situation. Second of all, this woman was MISERABLE.
I mean completely, unequivocally miserable and angry at the world. I felt a moment of sympathy amongst all the tantrums of the moment. This woman had just spent time on a remote island and was acting as if she was in line for the gulag.
Yet, I wasn’t much better for shouting at her. Sure, I felt that I was voicing the frustrations of the captain and all of the other campers, or at the very least myself and Sarah, but spewing profanity at a miserable hag wasn’t making anyone happier.
I actually wondered for a moment why this woman was so angry and if she had ever had any happy moments at all in her life, because putting a backpack on a boat was certainly not worth all of this anger and a ten minute standoff in front of forty people.
We finally all boarded the cereal box of a boat and the little bumper boat motor very slowly propelled us back towards the mainland. I scanned the sights around the water and at the various shorelines from the nearby barrier islands.
There were large house and mini mansions along the shores, with many small boats docked nearby and the great Florida sabal palms everywhere. Birds of all shapes and sizes were searching for fish on this most gorgeous of sunny days.
I then noticed that lady in another corner of the boat. She was sitting there scowling down at the floor, motionless and clearly angry. Why, on such a beautiful day?
The boat had no cell service, so there was nothing to do other than relax and enjoy the scenery of the large channel of water abundant with wildlife and sunshine for the hour long boat ride. Instead, this person chose to spend the ride in anger, presumably over a backpack, but surely something else we can’t possibly know about was to blame.
Every moment we spend in anger or frustration over the most trivial of issues, or those we cannot control, is time wasted that could have been better spent in almost any way.
The present moment is all we have in life. Even if you are angry about some event in the past or deeply worried about that meeting next week, it is a tragedy to waste your present moment dwelling on it, especially when you are on a boat on vacation!
Have you ever had a vacation or camping trip not live up to your expectations? Did you make the most of your time or get upset about the things that went wrong? Have you ever seen someone throw a tantrum or cause a standoff in the most miniscule of circumstances?