By Jorge A Barriere-Mendez
The set of words – Paradise Coast, always intrigued me, and so it became this month’s destination of choice. The area in question includes the city of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades City and the Everglades. My starting point will always be Miami, which is the place I chose as home, and away we went. We took Eighth Street west, Miami’s famous Calle Ocho, until it became Tamiami Trail. A google search will tell you that construction of this road was completed in 1928 and it united the city of Tampa and Miami, hence the name TAMIAMI. It says that this roadway ‘splits the Everglades’. . . . Now, sentences are so easily put together like that – it splits the Everglades. Linguists, politicians and writers have no problem with the fact that words are simply domesticated sounds. They never stop to think about the exact meaning of that which is contained within these sounds.
‘Split the Everglades’. That must have been a major project that one can only imagine.
The Everglades National Park covers 1,508,976 acres, throughout Dade, Monroe and Collier County here in South Florida. Simply put, the Everglades is a ‘network of wetland and forest’. The Everglades is the largest Tropical Wilderness in the United States and the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River. Just to put this in context in order to understand the magnitude, Everglade Park is the third largest park in the United States after only Death Valley and Yellowstone. . . . Let me just keep piling it on here: UNESCO listed the park as a World Heritage Site in 1979. Ramsar Convention included the park on the list of Wetland International Importance in 1987. The Everglades contains the largest mangrove Ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere.
And It gets even more unique and interesting:
36 protected species inhabit the park, roaming freely throughout it, and the list includes, Florida Panther, American Crocodile, the West Indian Manatee. More than 350 species of birds, over 40 species of mammals and 50 species of reptile call this park home. As you drive through it, you can see these animals when they approach the road, you can always hear their sounds as they insist that this property is theirs, that you are just violating their rights. You set your gaze on this extension of vast land and you have no other choice but to wonder at how it used to be before the Tamiami Trail was built, and you can only imagine what is happening underneath all those trees and low growing grassland right now. Inside those grassy rivers. The lawlessness of the wild. The deadly order that’s imposed by nature.
Humans have lived for thousands of years in or around the Everglades. They still do. Originally, two tribes inhabited The Everglades: The Tequesta and The Calusa tribes. The Everglades served as a natural boundary between them, as they lived at the edges of the wilderness near the coasts. When Spaniards arrived in the 16th Century, there were around 20,000 natives in the area. Both tribes disappeared by 1800 – disease, warfare and slavery eradicated both. In the 19th Century, Muscogee indigenous people from north Florida, escaped African slaves and other Indians from northern states formed the area’s Seminole Nation. At some point in the 1950s some natives split from Seminole Nation and organized as an independent tribe – The Miccosukee tribe. They continue to live within The Everglades Park boundaries. Because of the Tamiami Trail, these natives are sometimes referred to as the ‘Trail Indians’.
More than one million visitors roam this park yearly and once you hit the Everglades, it’s as if you enter virgin territory.
There’s something about that which is wild that connects with an inner something in man. It takes away boundaries, it makes you unafraid. Some part of you escape your mind’s stranglehold and suddenly remembers things you have not experienced, feelings that do not belong to you, or so it seems. After driving for about an hour in what is called Big Cypress National Preserve and surrounded on both sides of the road by this marvelous greenery, we stopped at Kirby Storter Roadside Park and we walked that man-made wooden walkway that takes us to the heart of this breathtaking place called The Everglades. Grassy rivers under you, bald cypresses coming out that water like giant’s legs, water plants in bloom, bromeliads, air plants, ferns and orchids perched on healthy trunks, a vegetation that extends as far as one can see. Wild turkeys, ibis, herons, white tail deer, Florida Panthers, Black Bears, my God! There’s no waivers to sign as you enter this trail into the backwoods; only one rule to follow: do not trespass on the animal’s territory. They won’t attack you, if you stay on those wooden planks. Yeah, a little dose of fear always makes things much more enjoyable. . . . When one hears the wilderness breathe, one realizes that under these same noises, civilization got started. These crickets and frogs and birds and wild animals serenated and hovered above those that initiated us. For the time being, or for as long as one remains here, that which is so important in one’s daily-ness, like alarm clocks and workplace rules and ever-present bosses, are not of much importance. These are precious moments that are spent in inner emotions. There’s a soundless conversation that takes place as you walk this walkway, a conversation without witnesses. A self-dialogue that’s as priceless as each heartbeat that resonates inside each one of us. And then you realize that Inside all these noises, the noise of your heartbeat is the loudest. It’s the acknowledgement that ‘This’, has always been this, and how precious is that!
The vibrancy and frequency of that which is timeless, is an inner spectacle. A person needs this daily. Native plants and animals and native indigenous people know this. The civilized has chosen to ignore, and it’s a big part of the lost-ness and the detriment we all share as a ‘civilized species’.
But there was much more to explore, and we moved on to our next stop just west of the Everglades, Marco Island. Spanish explorers named the island after Gospel writer St. Mark. In the early 1900s, clam digging was a major industry here; now, tourism is what makes this place pulsate. First hotel opened in 1896, The Olde Marco, still as beautiful as ever. Others followed and now many stunning hotels and resorts stand like fortresses facing the beach – and what a beach it is. West coast beaches are whiter, cleaner, cooler, perhaps better than on the eastern side of the peninsula we call Florida. This is walkable sand. The ocean here allows you to look at your feet and see them clearly. The whispering of the water is crisp, the waves come into the beach with the intention of caressing. There’s a seductiveness to the scene, a splendor that impresses. Marco Island is in itself a tourist’s paradise.
(Some of our favorite accommodations in Marco Island: JW Marco Island Beach Resort, Marco Island Beach Resort, Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa)
Then it was on to Naples.
The City of Naples was founded in the late 1880s by a Confederate general and U.S Senator John Stuart Williams and a businessman Walter N. Haldeman. In order to attract investors and visitors, magazine articles and newspapers began to compare the area’s mild climate and gaming to ‘the sunny Italian peninsula – Naples’. The name caught on. The area flourished after railroad reached Naples in 1927 and the before mentioned Tamiami Trail in 1928. The city has a total area of 16.4 square miles and its economy is largely based on tourism. This last paragraph is all Wikipedia’s information.
But, let’s talk about Naples now.
It’s a wealthy city. But its wealth is not a pummeling one, not an obscene display of pretentiousness anywhere. It’s an elegant, stabled wellness that comes at you in waves of welcoming candor. The inhabitants of this city enjoy a visitor’s company, they love to share the prettiness that it’s exhibited on every corner of this prosperous and gorgeous city. 5th Avenue is a happening; there’s a handsomeness to the place that is far from being ostentatious and in fact, it feels like the opposite, it really feels like it can be had, that is available to anyone. That’s how Naples’ 5th Avenue makes you feel. And it’s the graciousness of its people that creates that aura of healthy involvement. The pace is the pace of leisure. The oxygen vitalizes you. The colorful windows to the businesses are always created by the hands of good taste. The cleanliness gets you. The flawless flowering hanging baskets on every corner. The perfectly placed sculptures. The welcoming precious hotels. The well-behaved traffic. The art galleries showing canvases with overflowing talent. The sounds of this city are the best sounds that civilization can offer. You see your reflection on these window panes, and you have a grim on your face and it’s because this city makes you feel happy and content.
And it’s not just 5th Avenue; Naples is a model city, the perfect place to live or come and retire. It’s as if viciousness and ill manners are not allowed. And what’s incredible about this city, is that you talk to the people here and they were not all equal at creation. Some were born into wealth; others created it. Some are just middle class that knew how to live, plan and save. They all seemed happy and pleased though. Such a contrast –The Everglades and Naples, the bookends of Paradise Coast.
Then we treated ourselves to a beautiful and soul-searching boat ride on the ‘Naples Princess’. A handsome three-deck vessel, just remodeled, and the newness was felt right away. Spotless in its whiteness. Flawless in its awesomeness. The soothing voice of the guide telling us Naples’ stories. Spectaculars mansions on both sides of the bay. Once we hit open sea, dolphins came to play. Seagulls flew by and saluted with their guttural and ancient calls. Reefs full of pelicans. Salty wind invading your nostrils. . . . The sound of the sea, as it’s parted in half and imposed on, is startling. The little waves of protests running away from the boat created a primal noise that linked us to everyone that existed and experienced the sea before us and it felt fine, just right, like water to the thirsty. That’s why we all closed our eyes at some point in this two-hour joyride and took a deep breath because life sometimes makes sense, and it usually happens when you are in the open sea and you leave domesticated land behind. Science tells us that millions of years ago something walked out of the water and in time became man, and it may be so, because when you face the ocean like that, there’s a match-ness of frequency that’s undeniable. And then you look down and the mystery that exists under those blue blankets we call oceans grab at you, and you become part of the mythology. Then, the Naples Princess came back to the docks too soon, and it was over. Too soon - only because we were enjoying it so much.
(Favorite accommodations in Naples: Inn on Fifth)
We still had the two and a half hour drive back to Miami ahead of us, but it was okay, because we were going to be driving through the Everglades again. The wet forest on both sides on the Tamiami Trail. The sounds of the wild triggering emotions that I thought lost, made it enjoyable once more. We saw the smallest Post Office in the United States to the right near the road: A little shag that once housed a water pump, a flag pole with its flag and a plague that told its curious story. We saw alligators the size of horses taking in the sun also near the road. Birds with spread wings of all colors hoping for dryness. . . . Paradise Coast has a lot to offer, like the alphabet: you go from A to Z here – from the absolutely wild, to the totally civilized.
About the Author
Jorge A Barriere-Mendez is a published author with several short stories published
in magazines and periodicals. He has published four books with the last one being a
novel – Papi’s Lover, a crime-drama love story. Visit BarriereMendez.com to learn more about this versatile, controversial, creative and talented writer.
Click below for other Barriere-Mendez's articles.
Visit Marco Island, Naples, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau for information on hotels, resorts, restaurants and places of interest to plan your trip!
Emily James is a resident of Naples, Florida. Many of her artwork has been inspired by the beautiful Paradise Coast. She has received recognition for her talent through numerous awards and honors. She enjoys painting landscapes, seascapes, abstracts, and contemporary works. Emily specializes in creating custom artwork with the feeling, colors, and subject the owner will enjoy viewing. To learn more about this award-winning artist, click on the link below for more information.
We are not surprised that the first on the list of Travel Channel's selection of the 10 road trips you can take over a weekend starts with Miami to Key West. Although these may not be in any order of preference, it sure is one of our favorites! But check out their weekend road trip suggestions. They even offer routes and their suggestions of must-stops and where to stay along the way.
By Mj Muino
There’s a city in Lake County, Florida, just about an hour outside of the Metropolitan Orlando-Kissimmee area full of small-town charm welcoming couples who enjoy a myriad of activities. Easy to get to from nearby airports (Orlando Sanford International Airport – SFB or Orlando International Airport – MCO) and highways, this lovely gem is Mount Dora. But don’t let the name fool you, you won’t be hiking any mountain as there aren’t any in the area. However, you will be able to find yourself enjoying a number of water activities including fishing (centralfloridabasscharters.com), jet skiing (tavareswatersports.com), kayaking (Kayakcentralflorida.com) and going on lake cruises (RustyAnchorTours.com).
Downtown Mt. Dora itself overlooks Lake Dora, where you will find Florida’s most historic hotel, the Lakeside Inn built in 1883. The 134-year-old inn is the last one standing of the Victorian Era hotels that once were prevalent in the Central Florida Lakes region. This quiet five-acre property offers a relaxing private beach and swimming pool with a gorgeous view of the lake. The resident restaurant, The Beauclaire Room offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a scrumptious Sunday champagne brunch for an experience of fine dining in Southern cuisine. Tremain’s Tavern features a menu of classic cocktails, appetizers, and a weekly schedule of live entertainment. The Inn is within walking distance to just about everything in downtown Mt. Dora and the parks around the lake.
If you would prefer the intimacy of a Bed & Breakfast, the beautiful Adora Inn is highly recommended. Conveniently located in the downtown area, it is within walking distance to all the local restaurants, shops, parks, festivals and events. Built in 1916, the inn whispers its history throughout the building, with a modern-day influence. Innkeepers Arthur and John are very sociable. Both professional chefs, Arthur and John use the freshest best quality ingredients to prepare a daily multi-course breakfast accompanied by a variety of coffees and teas, all served in the dining room or on the front porch. Go to their website and click on “Cuisine & Extras” for a full view of comestibles and additional services.
You will find that downtown is brimming with outdoor cafes and restaurants. Stop in at the Village Coffee Pot for the most authentic cappuccino and gelato you can find this side of Roma, or try their amazing ice cream. The friendly staff is happy to placate your cravings.
You don’t need to go all the way down to Miami for delicious Cuban food.
A visit to the very tropical Copacabana Cuban Café will have your mouth doing the Mambo! The Cuban Sandwiches are just right, never too salty, and the fried Snapper is highly recommended. Their children’s menu has a variety of choices to mollify the most finicky kid. The drinks are fantastic and happy hour prices make it easy on the wallet. The owner’s friendliness trickles down to the serving staff ensuring you an enjoyable meal served by nice people where the live music makes for a spirited and entertaining atmosphere.
For a special evening, 1921 by Chef Norman Van Aken, the Father of Fusion is a five-star experience. The restaurant is set in a 1921 home serving in multiple rooms as well as a courtyard. The neighboring Modernism Museum keeps the place decorated with loaned pieces on rotation. The bar offers classics as well as contemporary concoctions. With a welcoming atmosphere, hand crafted furniture, gorgeous artwork, top shelf service, and delectable dishes, 1921 is an experience in sophistication that you must put on your list of things to do in Mt. Dora.
If you are an antique enthusiast you will find that Mt. Dora is brimming with wonderful places where you can enter the delightful hunt for valuable antiques and collectibles, estate jewelry, and items full of such nostalgia that their presence will transport you to a time long ago. In the downtown area on the infamous Donnelly Street you’ll find High Falootin Junk, Pak Ratz 3rd Ave, as well as Oliver Twists Antiques & Appraisers. If you’d like to browse in the shade or out of the rain you can make your way on a four minute walk or a two minute drive to the Village Antique Mall at 405 Highland Street off of 5th Avenue where you will find over 60 quality antique vendors under 12,000 square feet of air conditioned roof.
If you want to continue your antiquing away from the downtown area, it is just a four minute drive to the antique store row right on US Highway 441, where you will find a great number of antique dealers such as The Antique Browsery, Better With Age Antiques Interiors, Confederate Yankee Antiques, Victorian Gallery, A Bird In A Hand Antiques and Appraisers, Taylor’s Treasure, and Florida Twin Markets.
As if Mt. Dora doesn’t have enough to do on any given day they also have a string of yearly festivals on an almost monthly rotation. Kicking the year off, January begins the hosting with the Florida Highwaymen Art Show where admission is free. You can contact Heron Cay at 352-383-4050 for additional information. The Renninger's Antique Extravaganza is one of the largest congregations of antique dealers in the south with an attendance of over 1500 dealers present. The Lakeside Inn is the venue for the Florida Storytelling Festival where you will partake in Storytelling concerts, competitions, swaps and workshops.
In February the Mount Dora Center for the Arts organizes the Annual Arts Festival now 43 years and running. This nationally ranked fine arts festival presents more than 285 artists from around the world. Call 352-383-0880 or visit MountDoraArtsFestival.org for more information.
And that’s not all. There are multiple festivals almost monthly. Be sure to learn about the collection of additional festivals that Mount Dora offers by visiting Mount Dora's Chamber's list of Major Events & Festivals. There are garden festivals, a food and casino night, a sail boat regatta, a seafood festival, bicycles, crafts, marathons, more art festivals and a myriad of Christmas activities culminating in an outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration with food, drinks, live entertainment and fireworks at midnight over Lake Dora.
As you can see, this sweet little town in the Florida Lakelands, that aesthetically carries you to days gone by is anything but sleepy, with a diverse numbering of activities to keep you entertained year around.
Wherever you go, go with all your heart! – Confucius
Happy Road Tripping!
100 N. Alexander Street
Mount Dora, FL 32757
26216 County Road 448A
Mount Dora, FL 32757
Learn more about Lake County and all its beautiful area by visiting this website. Just click below.
5010 US Highway 27
Clermont, FL 34714
Mount Dora, FL 32757
The Big Dog Saloon a sports bar with high definition satellite TVs, Buzztime Trivia / Poker Tables, dartboard, juke box, two pool tables, bar top computer game and drink and shot specials daily and Karaoke seven nights a week.
Mermaid Juice is a full service craft bar with 23 drafts committed to craft beer and over 200+ bottles and cans. They claim to have the largest selections of craft beer in Central Florida. They also offer a full selection of wines, with rare and unique vintages, and mead, ciders, and hard soda. Music to entertain you
More than just a bar, Froggers Grill & Bar in Altamonte Springs is approximately half hour from Mount Dora, but if you happen to be driving by, it may be a good place to stop for a bite, drink and a leisurely pool table game or dartboard challenge.