Florida’s gulf beaches are (slowly) recovering from a devastating bloom of algae that both experts and locals refer to as red tide. Although this phenomenon has been around for years, rearing its ugly head in late summer or early fall, many insist it was more deadly than ever these past few months after hurricane Ian ravaged the same coastline.
What is Red Tide?
National Ocean Service refers to red tide as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The problem arises when this microscopic, naturally occurring, algae called Karenia Brevis rages out of control, spewing toxins into the water and air, killing fish and other water inhabitants. The airborne toxins cause respiratory concerns in humans such as coughing, burning nose and eyes.
This particular algae bloom is red in colour, which, when combined with the blue-green of clean ocean water, creates a grotesque, purplish-brown, sludge-like appearance. (think red paint added to green or blue paint) The ugly colour of the water and the carnage of dead, stinky sea life on the shores made the typically beautiful gulf coast beaches not so beautiful.
What Causes Red Tide
There are several theories on what causes Karenia Brevis to bloom out of control. The most plausible (due to the fact that this is occurring on an increasingly regular basis) blames human-generated pollution. The Mississippi River runs from north to south through many of the united states, collecting garbage, sewage, pesticides, fertilizers, and more, dumping it all into the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf currents moving north along the Texas shore gather pollutants, sweeping them across the gulf and south up the Florida coast. The algae feeds on this pollution, causing the outbreaks. In turn, the fish killed by the toxins the algae blooms release are left to rot on the shorelines. The tide then carries the rotting fish back into the water to refuel the expanding algae bloom.
The severity of this recent red tide outbreak is being blamed by some on hurricane Ian that destroyed many communities along the Florida gulf with heavy winds and flooding a few months ago. Many of the resorts and homes along the coast use septic systems which overflow under such extensive flooding. As a result, sewage and other algae fueling debris ended up in the gulf.
Getting Red Tide Under Control
Mother Nature does her part attempting to get the situation under control. The ebb and flow of tides, huge waves, constant currents, storms, and human clean-up teams all help to break up the algae bloom. Vultures and smaller birds do their part too, congregating to feast on the rotting flesh of the dead fish and crabs.
Fortunately for my vacation plans, Mother Nature appears to be winning the battle. We had to turn back on our first beach walk when my burning nose and eyes felt like I was sniffing hot peppers! Every day since has been better and now I am happy to report that the pristine beauty of our favourite, swim-in-the ocean-in-December beach is back!
Recently I travelled to Los Cabos, Mexico for my brother’s destination wedding. What an adventure it was! A week chock full of sunshine, warm weather, parties, great food and lots of margaritas, shared with a large group of cousins.
Two generations of cousins in fact were represented. Me, two of my brothers, andtwo of our (many) first cousins with all of our partners, as well as two of my sons and four of their first cousins, and a few partners. Unfortunately, many more were not able to make the trip.
Los Cabos Geography
Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are collectively known as Los Cabos, (or just Cabo). Although in Mexico, it is located on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula. Sporting dramatic views and rock formations of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range, Cabo is surrounded by the rugged Pacific Ocean to the west and the calmer Sea of Cortez to the east.
Los Cabos is a popular resort destination for winter vacationers seeking sunshine, warm weather, beaches, and adventure.
Wedding guests stayed at the adult-only Pacifica site of the Pueblo Bonito resort. This oceanfront paradise was the venue for the wedding ceremony and other social activities. It was perfect for the older set of cousins, myself included. The younger set loved the fact that they could visit the livelier neighbouring Sunset Beach site with a short shuttle ride or cactus-lined walk. Both resorts are located within the gated hillside community of Quivira.
We did not stay in any of his rentals, as the wedding and events were at the all-inclusive Pueblo Bonito Pacifica. We did, however, get to visit one of his beautiful houses…
Living locally, this brother (AKA Senor Dave) scouted out wedding venues and organized our group excursions outside of the resort. His knowledge of the area and connections within the community were invaluable, much appreciated by the bride and groom as well as their guests.
The portion of the Pacific Ocean that Pueblo Bonito Pacifica is situated on is not swimmer friendly due to dangerous undertow, strong currents, and drop-offs. However, the sandy shores made for wonderful morning walks, whale spotting, and glorious sunset views. They also have a baby sea turtle releasing event this time of year that some of us were able to experience; look closely to see them crawling towards the ocean in the beach picture with the setting sun…
Cerritos Beach, on the other hand, 45 minutes north of Los Cabos, is a beach-lover, swimmer and surfer paradise, with nothing but pristine beach visible for miles.
Medano Beach, on the Sea of Cortez, is smaller and less pristine than Cerritos. It offers lots of hotels, restaurants, souvenir vendors, several designated swimming areas with views of visiting cruise ships.
Deep Sea Fishing
A highlight for my youngest son on this trip was a deep-sea fishing excursion at sunrise one morning. I’m sure you can guess why by looking at these pictures; that’s a 110-pound sailfish he hauled in! They released it back into the sea; a sailfish is quite a rare catch.
His brother, father, and I (and others prone to seasickness) did not participate in this adventure. That was our loss, evident in their obvious enjoyment.
Here are a few videos of their fishing adventure, including dolphins and a sea lion following/leading the boat as well as the rookie reeling in the sailfish….
As well as its beautiful beaches, Cabo is also famous for El Arco, the Sea Arch, or Lover’s Rock. This rugged, distinctive landmark sits at the tip of the peninsula where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez.
We experienced an up-close and personal tour of this landmark and other majestic rock formations in a spectacular 90-foot yacht. Whale watching and frolicking in the buoyant, surprisingly warm, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez topped off the day.
Enroute to Cerritos Beach, we stopped for lunch and shopping in the tiny, rustic town of Todos Santos. Its claim to fame for tourists? Home of both the Hotel California and Tequila Sunrise. Contrary to popular opinion and speculation, the (musical group) Eagles have never been there. In fact, a recent lawsuit challenged the use of the famous Hotel California name.
Mexican Culinary Delights
Along with every flavour of margarita imaginable, we sampled lots of delicious food too. Seafood lovers or abstainers, vegans or carnivores all had lots of choices. All-day and (apparently) all night with 24-hour room service. All-inclusive featured daily breakfast buffets, (including an over the top Sunday Brunch buffet), poolside snacks, casual and formal dining.
Not an adventurous eater, but not too picky either, I tried a few new things. You know, when in Rome (Mexico). These delectables included sushi (with more than avocado and rice in it), sashimi and ceviche. Of course, I included lots of my favourite Mexican treat, fresh guacamole. The jarred stuff is just not going to cut it now.
I sipped on my share of margaritas on this trip; tequila appears to be the alcohol of choice in Mexico. That makes perfect sense as agaves grow in wild abandon there. Tequila shots, meant to be downed quickly and not sipped, are not my style. I prefer to sip at a beverage. My eldest son suggested a low carb, liqueur-less, “skinny” Margarita with a bit of pineapple juice….delicious!
I am no stranger to tequila and the endless variety of cocktails one can create from it. In fact, I concocted my own skinny version last winter when we were just dreaming of a winter vacation.
My brother (the Mexico dwelling one) swears tequila is good for you. According to this information from The Independent he may be right:
Research has found that tequila can help lower your blood sugar. Agavins are the sugars which occur naturally in the agave plant. They are non-digestible so they act as a dietary fibre. They also support growth of healthful microbes in the mouth and intestines.
The Independent, July 24, 2018
I consumed more alcohol in a week than I normally do in two months. No hangovers slowed me down though. Skinny Margaritas may become my new drink of choice here in Canada. Move over red wine!
Covid Precautions for the Destination Wedding
The travel industry is eager to welcome travellers back at (what we hope is) the end of the pandemic. All airlines, airports, transportation services, and resorts we visited were fully Covid compliant. All staff wore masks, we did too when not eating or drinking inside restaurants and bars. Masks outside were not necessary.
Restaurant menus within the resort were accessible through apps on our phones. Much like here at home.
My immediate family members and those of the bride and groom had to obtain an expensive PCR covid test to return to Canada. That was on top of the rapid antigen test (less expensive) to fly through the USA. I was also randomly selected to submit to an additional PCR test at the Edmonton airport on our return. Thankfully that was not at my expense. All results were negative. Travellers were all double vaccinated, symptom-free, with all test results negative. For those reasons, we did not have to quarantine on our return home.
As a sign of the (pandemic) times, the bride and groom included customized face masks in gift bags…
along with a bottle of tequila of course!
Romance in the Air!
The oceanside wedding ceremony was very romantic. My niece (daughter of the groom) got engaged in Cabo as well. Her fiance definitely chose a romantic theme.
Photo Credit and Acknowledgement
I took very few of the gorgeous photos within this post. Most were taken on better cameras by more talented photographers, then shared amongst us on our wedding FB page.
In summary, the only downside to this adventure is that we had to come home to cold weather! I for one cannot wait to go back!
Recently returned from a vacation, I cannot help but notice how quickly reality reinstates itself. In fact, today the sight outside my window is decidedly whiter and frostier, my tropical view has disappeared…
not so tropical view
There were lots of tropical sightings throughout our two weeks immersed in the warm weather of Casey Key and its surrounding area on the gulf coast of Florida. These included the vegetation, local beaches, wildlife, sunsets, Christmas decorations and of course the margaritas.
As I’ve said before, you can take this gardening girl out of her gardens, but you can never take the (love for) gardens and plants out of this girl! Wherever my travels lead me, I cannot help but notice the variety of plants and the design of gardens. Succulents are my favourite, here in Canada and anywhere else I find them, although most plants do seem so much more spectacular in tropical climates. For example, I have planted yuccas (Adam’s Needle variety) here in my local gardens and their 4 foot stalks of white, bell-shaped blooms are beautiful. I did not witness their tropical cousins in bloom, but am willing to bet they definitely outshine (and outgrow) the northern varieties…
Adam’s Needle (northern variety) Yucca
Tropical Yucca Flower Stalk
I love all wildlife, but I find the tropical species especially interesting. The variety of birds alone kept my camera clicking, from pelicans to gulls, terns, ibis, sandpipers, egrets, herons and osprey. Their antics and routines were fascinating. The saying “birds of a feather flock together” was evident, especially at sundown.
I realize that some of these birds are not exclusive to tropical locales, but I have never before seen an osprey patiently waiting for fishermen to donate their catches. Apparently osprey were just removed from Florida’s endangered species list in January 2019. This particular beauty would perch on a nearby pole, emitting a piercing chirp occasionally to let his donors know he was there, and wait for the fishermen to leave a fish on the jetty. Much to their chagrin the more common pelicans and egrets hovering nearby were shooed away so the osprey could literally swoop in to retrieve the offering, then soar away…
grabbing the fish
flying away, above a swimmer
Other tropical wildlife species included dolphins, sea turtles and even more birds, all beautiful in their own way…
dolphin swimming off jetty
A great argument for preferring the west (Gulf) coast of Florida to the east (Atlantic) coast is the abundance of gorgeous sunsets. Every single night we watched the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico, with the cloud formations making each sunset unique…
The plentiful beaches along the Florida gulf coast are all spectacular, each featuring something different. Siesta Key, near Sarasota, offers an extra wide expanse of soft (my granddaughter called it “squishy”) white sand, with a firmly packed strip close to the water’s edge perfect for walking, biking, jogging, and even strollers or wheel chairs. This beach is lined with miles of hotels to choose from.
Nokomis Beach on Casey Key (20 minutes south of Sarasota) boasts miles of sandy shoreline, a rock jetty at one end, lots of seashells and spectacular waterfront homes to admire. We looked up one (smaller) home that is up for sale. A 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom fixer-upper located on the inland waterway side of the road with deeded access to the gulf is going for a cool $2.2 million USD. I can’t afford that, but if any of you can, I will promise to come visit! Many of these gorgeous homes were damaged in a 2018 storm, so many are still under renovation. One of the best features of Casey Key (we think) is that it is largely non-commercialized. Family owned homes and motels are restricted to two stories, supporting a more natural feel.
Venice Beach, 5 minutes further south, also sports miles of sandy shoreline as well as a massive wooden fishing jetty. It too is dotted with high rise apartments and hotels, but offers a quainter shopping district nearby.
Even the Christmas decorations have a tropical feel, although I had a hard time conjuring up any Christmas spirit without snow and cold weather. A Santa Claus parade featured decorated boats, ranging from tiny sailboats to huge luxury yachts, floating down the intracoastal waterway one evening. Many businesses, including our favourite Mexican food restaurant, are lit up for the holiday season too.
We were fortunate on this vacation as the weather was awesome, with the daytime temperatures hovering between 20 and 26 degrees Celsius. Definitely more tropical than the weather here in Canada. As you can see from some of the pictures, we did see lots of storm clouds, but only experienced rain on the very last day and even then only for a few moments.