Snowbirding? Here, adventures, discoveries, and getaway ideas from Zoomer‘s Vivian Vassos.
Sailing Away / Bahamas
I’ve just opened my eyes, and I’m looking straight up into a cloudless sky. The yellow-orange rays, just breaking the dawn, are mingling with the blue, streaming through the skylight. Slowly, in a way that nature does, I’m rising with the sun. I’ve slept seven hours — straight. The grey, sunless winter of 2019 took its toll on me, the lack of vitamin D draining my energy and making me restless. For months.
I’m on a boat. Yet, it’s not just any boat. It’s a catamaran, built for cruising but on a very intimate level. The Moorings, to which this catamaran belongs, has been chartering yachts all over the world since 1969, everything from sail-it-yourself bareboat yachts to all-inclusive – and staffed with a captain and a chef — power yachts, like the Moorings 5800 double-decker we’re sailing.
We’re in the Bahamas, and today I really do feel it’s better here. The plan is to sail from Nassau to the Exumas, one of the many chains of lesser-travelled islands that make up the archipelago. The ship features five cabins with ensuite baths, two cosy suites above deck and three larger suites below, along with crew quarters. Each cabin has closets and cubbys to store clothes, shoes, luggage. Not that we really need much of anything. My mother would be laughing — I never wore shoes if I could help it. A good thing, as from the minute I’m on board, the shoes come off, and I’m at home. The feeling of peeling off the layers and simply putting on a swimsuit and going barefoot, a luxury in itself — the sun and the sea breeze on my skin, a tonic that mixes well with my psyche.
Afternoon gin and tonics on the upper deck by our captain, Will, didn’t hurt either. He’d mix us up something tropical, then set sail while our chef, Nicole, would prep healthy snacks. The daily menu would be discussed at breakfast, and it was varied and healthy: ocean-fresh fish and seafood, barbecued steaks, loads of veggies and fruits, vegetarian and vegan options. Midway through the trip, Will asked if we liked lobster. Yes, sir. Later that day, he arrived, after taking the dinghy for a spin, holding up a pair of large spiny crustaceans, sporting a grin almost as big. He’d set out traps the night before and struck it rich.
Stop and take a dive off the back of the boat? Why not? Snorkel into the grotto where scenes from Thunderball were shot or explore an underwater reef created by a sunken DC10 airplane? Yes, please. An animal lover? How’d you like to try swimming with the pigs that make their home at Staniel Cay? I laughed out loud, splashing around with these amazing creatures while tossing them carrots. How about an up-close feeding on Allen’s Cay with the endangered Northern Bahamian rock iguanas, found only here? On that beach, Nicole fed birds out of her hand, while they perched on her fingers. Pure joy. www.moorings.com
So-Cal Coolin’ It / San Diego
The world is spinning. In a strip mall in a liquor store — but I haven’t overindulged. Just for a moment, a James-Bondian moment, it’s going round, from one world to another. One minute, I’m in a wooden armchair leaning against the wall by a faux fireplace, admiring the selection of spirits. The next, the wall spins inward, on a half turn. Voilà! A secret, a hidden speakeasy with a circular bar, dim lighting just so, conversation humming. I’m at Raised By Wolves, in La Jolla, just north of San Diego.
The birthplace of California, San Diego is unabashedly celebrating its 250th birthday this year, yet the city is also experiencing a rebirth of these once-forbidden dens of whiskey-soaked conviviality. Underground caverns, through hippy-dippy beaded curtains, behind spinning walls, even shrunken head-lined corridors (at one, False Idol, they’ve cottoned onto the tiki bar trend as well), it’s a game of hide-and-seek that everyone gets to play.
And play we do because what’s a birthday without it? It’s San Diego, after all, and that means taking in this town’s natural beauty, where practically every day is a perfect 24 C. A clear day calls for a hike above the city, to the top of Presidio Hill in Old Town, where it all started in 1769. I discover the Junipero Serra Museum, which is named after Father Serra, a Franciscan friar and the founder of California’s first mission, right here on this spot. For the uninitiated, the state was built around its 21 Catholic missions on a trail that starts here and meanders all the way to San Francisco. The building, built in the 1920s, is a nod to mission architecture, its whitewashed exterior familiar in that old movie Zorro sort of way.
From here, there are also gardens to visit, a view of San Diego Bay and, further on, La Jolla. The area was the home of Theodor Geisel (that’s Dr. Seuss to you and me), RuPaul (of DragRace and MAC Cosmetics fame) and Grace and Frankie (the characters that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play in the hit TV show of the same name).
Back at street level, my mission: to look for the new. Liberty Station, San Diego’s just-minted arts district, is just the ticket. In one small space, a silver-haired beauty and her paintings have caught my eye. Peggy Fischbeck’s saturated landscapes, ballerinas in the throes of a pose and children frolicking in the waves of the Pacific line the walls. Her painter’s apron is nearly as white as her hair, free from the paint smears I’d expect. Travel is her inspiration, and she doesn’t hide the joy that painting brings to her life. She speaks easy about it all, a pride in her work that gives her purpose.
4 New Things To Experience Now / Florida
1. If you’re an avid birder, try the Sports Coast
An hour’s drive north of Tampa and a couple of hours west of Orlando, there’s a bit of the Gulf of Mexico coastline that offers up two state parks, great for birding and hiking or, if you’re looking to go off-piste, you can paddle to Anclote Key Preserve State Park for seven miles of the sandy stuff and more than 8,000 nesting shore birds. In other words, you’ll need your binoculars.www.flsportscoast.com
2. If you’re a history buff who likes the water, try Florida’s Panhandle
On the curve of the coast, where Pensacola meets the Gulf of Mexico, there’s treasure to be found under the sea. Follow the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, where a dozen wrecks can be found, perfect for divers or snorkellers. Among them, 22 miles from Pensacola, is the purposely sunken USS Oriskany. As a result, the site is the largest artificial barrier reef on the planet. Dive in. visitpensacola.com
3. For the eco-conscious, try Crystal River, the manatee capital of the world, on the Gulf of Mexico
The Three Sisters Springs refuge is part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It offers land tours where you can spot wild manatee as well as supervised swims with these gentle “sea cows.” www.threesistersspringsvisitor.org;www.plantationoncrystalriver.com
4. For forest bathers and nature seekers, try Ocala in Marion County, north of Orlando
About a half hour from Ocala (a.k.a. the horse capital of the world) lies the Ocala National Forest. The largest sand pine scrub forest in the world is a hiker’s and cyclist’s dream, with everything from brief boardwalk jaunts to 100 miles of trails that criss-cross this natural phenomenon. Reward yourself with a refreshing dip in the forest’s Juniper Springs, where the water stays a bracing 72 F year round. Heck, the Scandinavians do it for health. You should, too. ocalamarion.com
A version of this article appeared in the September/October 2019 issue with the headline, “The World is Your Oyster,” p. 72-74.