Richard Turen
Richard Turen

This vacation destination was not a location of my choosing. My family out-voted me, and so we are here, enjoying the sunshine, the nearby town and the animal life. It is supposed to be a relaxing sort of place, and I am doing my best.

There is a lake out back and beyond that, a savanna with flatlands punctuated by pockets of dense foliage controlled by early-morning teams of machete-bearing caretakers. They do their best to control the jungle growth. There are small sand dunes everywhere, and I do, I suppose, appreciate the mingling of the grass, the trees, the water, the sand and the horizon.

I don't look toward the horizon very often because it is too bright. In this part of the world, the sunlight has a speed-pass, bypassing anything that might block its path.

The first day on vacation we arrived in 93-degree heat, but that didn't bother me much until I heard a local forecaster say that it actually felt like 105 outside. On the way in from the surprisingly modern airport, I noticed a fair number of locals driving around in half-cars, their skin exposed to the broiling sun as if to scream, "Cancer, I dare you! I am immune."

The nearby village was less quaint than I had expected, and one could hear a number of accents. But German seemed to be the major language as the only international flight into this place is on Eurowings from Dusseldorf.

Walking through the village, I noticed that half of the locals seemed obsessed with baking their heads, from time to time, in some sort of oven. The local tribe seems to be into painting their toes, their fingers and their faces.

Then there were these medicine men and women who had huge billboards that promised to make you look like someone else. This didn't seem to be a religious thing; it was some sort of tribal ritual in which the elders tried to transform themselves into the previous generation. But this process rarely worked, and you could almost always identify those who had gone through the ritual on the street. They were always squinting or stretching their necks like giraffes in search of low-hanging fruit.

The food seemed plentiful, though expensive for what it was, but virtually none of it was really local. Instead, there were the usual combinations of Italian, continental and sushi places, although I noticed that none of the fish in the sushi seemed to come from local waters.

But, look, it was sufficient for a vacation and for what I had come to do here: relax as much as I could on my schedule. I am, you know, getting older. It is not for nothing that I have had to change my photo at Travel Weekly at least three times since we've been together. No sense pretending to be someone I'm not.

But as I age, I seem to take on more work. Our travel firm operates with a waiting list, I get to wrestle with issues often in this space, and I am editing five websites, three of them annoyingly popular. I need to relax. So this is the spot.

I enjoy spending my vacation reading in the back of my accommodation. From time to time, I glance up to see tribal elders beating the bushes with clubs and sticks. They seem to have made a game of it, but one has to be careful. The animals here are in charge and, from time to time, they try to make you aware of it.

We have brought our dogs with us, a Yorkie we rescued, and a Yorkiepoo we could only purchase after my papers were approved. But I can't let them loose because, in this strange place, they have giant poison toads.

The toads are about the size of two fists, they are black, and just for the enjoyment of tourists, they emit a powerful stream of poison that will kill a small dog soon after contact. We ran into a fellow guest who had lost her cocker spaniel to one of the toads soon after we arrived.

The toads are not, I should point out, always present. They only come out after the rains, when they litter the road in front of our accommodations. Driving back at night you try ­-- forgive me for this -- to drive over as many of them as you can before pulling into your driveway. They make a pleasantly crunchy sound.

But there is that thing called karma. The other morning I walked into the shower, reached out to turn the water on and, instead, grabbed the body of a huge poison toad perched on the spigot. He jumped on my face, knocking me down, and then proceeded to attack me while spraying me as much as he could before I smothered him with my towel.

The tourist brochures mention the animals but not in any major way, preferring to concentrate on how one can wander the beach in an idyllic state collecting seashells.

Well I suppose that image might be accurate, but I wouldn't know because I can't bring my family anywhere near the beach during this vacation. This place is experiencing its annual invasion of the "red tide," a proliferation of a harmful algae called Karenia brevis that produces toxins that can produce harmful effects in people, fish, mammals and even birds.

So no beach for the Turens, and now I know why the sushi has no local fish.

During our second week of vacation, my wife was driving back to our accommodations when she noticed a 6-foot-long alligator in the driveway headed for the front door. It was of sufficient size to be removed by the authorities, but had it been a foot or two shorter, they would not have taken him into custody.

You are advised to never allow children and small pets near the water because alligators will quickly emerge and carry them off. My daughter loves to fish, and I had envisioned a wonderful time with her in this exotic land, fishing in the local waters, but it turns out that is best done off a boat.

One day on vacation, I had just started to relax in the early evening after a hard day at work. I sat in a lounge chair facing the water, the sand and the jungle in front of me. I had a bloody mary on a table, some olives the size of tennis balls and the local newspaper.

I am, as you may recall, a strong advocate of the notion of reading the local papers before visiting an exotic destination. The lead story caught my interest. The local politicians had noticed that the law in this land forbids the carrying of a gun into a supermarket. They were moving to quickly overturn it. The people in this place are armed, which is, I suppose, not good news for the gators or the poison toads.

The second story had to do with the fact that tens of thousands of Burmese pythons were in the swamps not far from where I am vacationing, and they are eating their way toward civilization. The government organized a massive hunt with cash rewards for the largest dead python, but no one showed up for the hunt. So they are still headed this way.

The animal life does intrigue me; it is an eclectic mixture of creatures. Yesterday, we received a note from management that we should be extra vigilant walking about the resort. A "very large" black bear had been videotaped wandering the grounds.

I won't go on about the snake we found in the living room one evening or the family of water moccasins that lives in the pond directly outside our front door.

So this is a mixed vacation; not exactly as the tourist boards might describe it but, somehow, entertaining and exotic in its own way. I suppose I put up with it because I like it. You see, my vacation destination is also my full-time home, and the exotic locale is the lower southwest quadrant of the bizarre state of Florida. The local "village" is called Naples. I have not yet been offered a consulting position with the local tourism board.
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