Sunday, June 11, 2017

Escape to the Beach, a travel piece by Kathryn Webb


Most Canadians dream of saying adios to snow and cold and wintering somewhere warm. But with so many options, where to park your weather weary bones from January to March can be a dilemma. If your criterion includes a place within drivable distance, sunshine, palm trees, sandy beach and bikini weather, then Deerfield Beach is the place you wanna be.

This city, a shiny gem hangs on the Florida Gold Coast, between two exquisite shopping pearls, Fort Lauderdale to the south and the upscale West Palm Beach to the north. And like most Florida cities, it’s the beach strip that offers the best of the sunshine state; quaint and quiet most of the year but loud bustling crowds when the Artic highs are in full bloom.

The population swells exponentially during Snow Bird season, and during March school breaks, it is overtaken by a murmuration of buff, near naked bodies and boom boxes. Still interested?

Now, south Florida may sound like a long way away if you only have a week or two of vacation, as getting there and back will gobble up at least four days of your precious time off. That is, unless you are a marathon insomniac driver with supersonic night vision and a bladder of an elephant.

Image by Kathryn Webb
It is wise to invest $25 Canadian in a drivers guide book for the navigator to alert the blurry eyed, long distance driver to the hundreds of radar traps set to capture weary transiting tourists to boost the local treasuries. 

One welcoming flashing blue light in the rear-view mirror can be the equivalent cost of a seat in economy, with stewies, perhaps less intimidating as a surly traffic cop but about as helpful.

But don’t let that deter you, the price of gas is relatively cheap, although you have to be careful to only pump a reputable brand, as replacing your gas tank due to water contamination can be a pain when you’re rushing to avoid the avalanche of threatening snow. Rest assured the roads are well marked, except for the speed limit, hence the need for the guide book, and the roads are usually well paved, unless they are under construction, which is as dependable as super-sized portions of pancakes at Denny’s.

No worries about driving past and missing your beach destination, as you will be required to dramatically slow down when entering Deerfield Beach or risk losing the undercarriage of the trustworthy vehicle that got you there. Some say Mini Coopers have to trail a long rope tied to their rear bumper, in case they fall into a pothole.

Deerfield has abundant sunshine, as many of the tall stately palms have to be replaced after the annual torrential tropical storms, so they are never large enough to block out the sun. In fact, white-haired Quebecois seniors actually morph into a Crayola colour yet to be identified. Once discovered, it could be called burned toast or crust of Crème Brule.

To get the most of the sunshine, people in skimpy attire (often too skimpy), don backpack beach chairs and flip flop their way to the beach like clumsy sea turtles migrating. Parking near the beach is almost impossible unless you were lucky enough to find a spot the day before and survived sleeping overnight in your car.

Once arriving on the beach, people gravitate to their usual spot, like dogs that have marked out their territory. No one can actually see it, but they seem to instinctively know when they find their spot, not an easy task after the early morning raking of the beach by town staff.

After the strain of setting up the beach chair, and plunking the near bare sunburnt derriere into it, out comes the refreshing Coor’s light. Why wait for two-for-one happy hour? 

Palm trees seem to symbolize rest and relaxation. All of us have seen an image of a  hammock tied to two willing palms, and sighed, wish I was there. Well what you may not want to know is that abundant creatures live up those palm trees, rodents called Palm Rats. Now, see if you can fall asleep next time spread eagle on that welcoming swaying hammock.

Check out the garden perimeter of the tall white and pink plastered apartment buildings and cheesy restaurants and get a sense of how big these locals are. The black box traps you will see have large holes, big enough for a grown man’s fist. But, maybe it’s better that way, so if you keep your eyes open and scanning both trees, you should be able to see them coming. Maybe you need to reconsider the second rum punch if it makes you drowsy.

Everyone loves a sandy beach, and Deerfield sand is one of the best. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the sand gets regularly reclaimed by the greedy ocean and has to be replaced on an annual basis. It may seem like a futile effort but it employs a number of immigrants hauling sand in huge trucks from the interior and dumping onto the eroding beach.

Leatherback, Loggerhead and Green sea turtles are also appreciative of the trucked-in sand, as they have chosen this location to lay their eggs. When the turtles are migrating to shore, some areas of the beach are off limits, and there is a ban on street lights and certain types of outdoor lights which may interfere with nature’s call.

They take conservation seriously in Florida, and anyone interfering with turtles may find themselves walking on eggshells of a different kind, with less money in their wallet. So if you dare take in a stroll on the boardwalk during nesting time, you may wish to carry a can of mace, just in case local hooligans think that bulge in your pocket is a wad of bills. Maybe wearing a Canadian flag pin on your hat or T-shirt could alert them to your status as an economic refugee.

Image by Kathryn Webb
If you prefer a somewhat safer stroll you can pay the $1.00 fee and walk the iconic Deerfield Beach pier. Here, early morning fisher people crowd on with chairs, multiple rods, rod holders and coolers to pass the time of day. Huge pelicans, the size of a small child, flock to the pier to steal bait or even the long awaited catch if the fisher person is not fast enough.

Dodging all the seagull excrement and fish innards on the pier can make for an interesting walk in flip flops, but don’t say it isn’t exciting. The view of the pier is best enjoyed on the beach where you can capture some great photos of the rising sun. That should be fairly easy if you remembered your camera and slept in your car the night before.

There is nothing like the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast. It’s warm and clean and provides many opportunities to explore sports like ocean fishing, paddle-boarding, even surfing, and who could forget beach volleyball?   It might be worthwhile to wear beach sandals such as Crocs as you make your way down the slope to the water’s edge as there are often beached Portuguese Man O War and abundance little blue bubbly button jelly fish things to dodge.

Fortunately the numerous lifeguards, about every quarter mile, hoist up flags to alert you to abundant aquatic life you may experience on any particular day. While most sunbathers can make out the muffled whistle blow by the lifeguards, most sea life, except for the trained dolphins at Sea World, wouldn’t pay much notice to the toot toot toots.

Image by Kathryn Webb
If you are interested in exotic sea life, the beach just south of Deerfield has reported Blue Sea Dragons, a type of sea slug which is usually something you’d normally see in the Ripley’s Aquarium. Unfortunately the Leafy Sea Dragon is extremely small and deadly poisonous and no one will be able to go anywhere near the water when they visit.

Did I forget to mention sharks? Sharks are also prevalent and have taken the occasional nibble of a human appetizer, sometimes more than a nibble, even in shallow water. So while you’re looking for the jelly life, check out for fins. Remember Jaws?  Look for the big one on top the water, all around you.

People watching has to be the most popular pastime in Deerfield Beach. The popularization of tattoos and piercing has also made this even more interesting. Add some weird yoga moves in a skimpy thong bikini and you get the picture. 

Even many Snowbirds find freedom in shedding layers and revealing more pink bits, than they ever would north of the Mason Dixon line.

While there are no nude beaches, there is often little left to the imagination. If anyone gets too frisky in public, though, they could land in prison with a more severe punishment than murdering your wife. So you might want to consider sleeping in your car alone.

The abundance of cheap restaurants and bars along the strip, makes eating out entertaining and interesting. The earthy smell of the seaweed being blown ashore by the constant breeze and occasional spray of sand from an overzealous volley-baller overflows the senses and adds to that the cacophony of competing reggae, hip hop,  and jazz. Food always tastes better outside and there are a number of options to explore a la fresco; that is, if you can eat with one hand and swat off the fearless dive bombing seagulls with the other.

Deerfield Beach is an all-time favourite mostly because there are so many Southern Ontario snowbirds who winter there. It is a place you can go back time and time again and expect the same but always learn something new. Like most places you have to get know your way around, and get to know people, but once you do, it is happy hour, most hours of the day. Visit there soon. It’ll be an education.

Kathryn Webb has travelled extensively since she left home at 18 and still has that wanderlust. She is a retired Health Care Professional who lives in Oakville with her husband John, a wanna-be Florida snowbird. An avid sailor, golfer, Kathryn enjoyed exploring the wonders of Deerfield Beach last winter.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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