Sanibel Island is a small, heavily wooded island on the southern, Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s tranquil, quiet, the only sounds coming from the crashing of the waves and the hum of the passing cars. I have yet to see an aggressive driver lean on his (or her) horn impatiently because the car in front is turning. But then again, I’ve only been here for one full day.
At night, Sanibel Island is dark. Not the kind of dark where you can still see in front of you because of some dim street light in the back corner. No, I’m talking about the kind of dark that comes with no artificial lights (no street lights, no house lights) mingled with abundant vegetation. There are no outlines of houses or trees, or bridges. Only blackness. It’s the kind of darkness where you’re swallowed whole, or where you walk with your hands in front of you, trying to find the way because you can’t see. We arrived at Sanibel Island in this darkness, since the sun had already set when we drove through from the mainland and over the bridges – narrow, one-way bridges – and were engulfed in the darkness. I don’t like crossing on bridges over any body of water – possibly as a result of the flimsy, wooden bridge suspended over a river by ropes, that we’d always have to drive over to get to my uncle’s farm in Colombia, a bridge that sunk and rose and creaked, as if our weight were too much for its ropes and wooden planks – but I like less going over them in the dark, where I can’t see the waters below me.
Thank God for GPS on phones. With it, we maneuvered through the darkness and made our way to the hotel. Imagine our dismay when we arrived, tired, cranky, late, only to see that where we were staying was more akin to a motel on the beach, refuge for passerby’s, hitchhikers, and prostitutes. Our room was small and had the pungent scent of cigarette smoke and mildew covered up with air freshener. The one in-wall air conditioner hummed roughly. The carpet seemed dirty, with dry carcasses of centipedes, or worms. The white curtains had red stains on them, and they reminded me of a murder scene in a hotel room that’s been cleaned up, only they missed a spot. I could not stay there. No way, no how. I was not sleeping in this dirty and decaying room with my husband and son. I didn’t care if we had to sleep in the car. We were shown three other rooms, all in similar conditions, before I finally said: We’re looking for another hotel. Now.
At 10 PM at night, in the darkness that envelops Sanibel Island, we locked ourselves in our car, with my son in the back asking continuously “What are we doing?” and the rain falling furiously on our car, drowning out the country music radio station we were playing. We took out our phones and began searching for hotels in the area. The downfall was that unless we got to the place, and unless there was light, there would be no way to really see what kind of accommodations we were getting ourselves into. In our search, we came up with the Sundial and in that moment of desperation it clicked – we’d stayed there before and we’d liked it. We called, there were rooms available, and we drove the five minutes to our new hotel.
The new room was better. It was actually a one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, for only $30 more a night. We settled in restlessly, and shortly after midnight, fell asleep. It was a night of wakings, night terrors, and little sleep.