Day 10 – Apalachicola, the Boss Oyster

Day: 10

Miles: 150

Location: Perry, Florida to Apalachicola, Florida

This was our campsite. See the truck and trailer?

I guess there’s some places you go that just get under your skin. For Aaron and I we found just that sort of place in Apalachicola. “Our Apalach” humored us with friendship, with honesty, with a million details for visual feasting…and with that feeling you get when everything is right…settled, but still stimulated.

TannerOur gratitude to Tanner, for a perfect recommendation.

So, Apalach, as the locals say, is a place where the Oyster, the Sea and all that it gives is both legend and life – The shore is lined with little oyster skiffs and shrimp boats, who, once they put out of the “Ten Foot Hole” and reach open water, unfurl their 25 foot nets in both directions and at sunrise, it looks for all the world like the boat just sprouted wings. There is a bumper sticker on the antique store door which says “If you don’t know how to fish, you don’t know how to live” and if you ask any of the locals “So, do you fish?” they will look at you with surprise and maybe a little humor at your nievete and say “Don’t I live in Apalach?”. Apalachicola sits just West, beyond the crook of Florida’s peninsular arm and is known to those that live there as “The Forgotten Coast” – and maybe it is, or maybe they have an inferiority complex, but after talking to as many indigenous folk as we could, we find that maybe the rest of the world forgets, but for those who have it in their blood, they never will. We learned that the forgotten coast is responsible for 10 percent of all the seafood in the U.S. and Apalachicola itself produces 90% of all the oysters that come from Florida. Pretty impressive for a town with no traffic lights.

The first day we wandered around the old downtown, rife with seafood restaurants and fusion American mediterranean tapas cuisine at Tamaras (we met the chef, he is amazing!). There is a coffee shop which bakes all of their own pastries, the smell of which is the most buttery, yellow, melty, warm, experience (Although we hear that “Since Rosa left, the biscotti hasn’t been the same *woeful sigh* Rosa could make anything.”) – the architecture is brick and weathered grey wood and second story balconies, there is a boat, aged and wilted like a funny little man, which sits in a field of yellow flowers and there is Spongehouse Antiques, a historic old building whose backyard was my photographic playground. The family who owns it does sponge diving, so the interior of the store is wood, brick and sponge. We thoroughly enjoyed our day, finally going back to our little camping spot, a small patch of sand near the wharf and two, long lit piers, where sea grasses grow and the waves throw themselves on the rocks in soulful rhythm – we took our dogs for a long walk and enjoyed the sunset….(Note to future travelers, the city allows you to park there for free)

Our project the next day was a thorough exploration of the area. We got the motorcycle down and rode out to St. George’s Island, a mostly residential area with pretty beaches and interesting houses. It was a little grey and chilly (we don’t complain about the weather, though. We were on the motorcycle in November.) so we decided that coffee at the little coffee house and some good reading sounded right (Currently reading: Travels with Charley By John Steinbeck…tremendous, tremendous read so far. He’s going across country in an RV!).

Captain D

We got waylayed on our way by another wharf, tucked on the far side of town. Just as we pulled up, a man slipped up to the dock in a small skiff, giant 7 foot long tongs with huge wooden handles, like a post hole digger with rakes on the end propped up in his boat. I waved “Hi, have you been oyster fishing?” he chuckled and told me that yes, he’d been out “tonging” (for the record, this is the proper term for procuring oysters; tonging.) He asks us what we’re doing, so we tell him and next thing you know we find that he has a shrimp boat right here. So I decide to be even more presumptuous. “Do you think we could see it? We’d really enjoy getting to see one!” …and he agrees. His name is Dwight and he tells us (In that wonderful particular North Florida accent that we like so well) “My daddy was an oysterman, and his daddy was an oysterman. Either its in you blood or it ain’t. And if you want to work here, you’ve got to know how to do it all, fiberglassing, plumbing, carpentry, electricians work…” He’s a master of many things, having owned several businesses, he fends for himself, knowing he’ll always have something that he’s great at and more…in the case of fishing …something he loves. Everything he said about work and life just rang in our ears – speaking about how you can’t let your work make you miserable and burnt out and if it does, do something else. We just…smiled. He said he got married at 16 to Amy, his now wife of 25 years. He sings her praises the whole time – she drag races fearlessly, makes the best oyster stew, works at “The grill” and he is able to very specifically describe the sparkle in her eyes when she’s doing something she loves. On the topic of travel, he warns us “You never know, you just…never know” – he relays a story about how he once stayed in a hotel room with his wife and kids, only to find out later someone had been killed in that very room. “Never again!” he emphatically intones. I do not blame him at all and it makes us even more grateful for our little turtle home, which we tow along as we go. He gave us a tour of his boat and all the innerworkings, an overview of shrimping…he was a wealth of knowledge and stories and we enjoyed nearly 3 hours talking to him. We were so glad to meet you, Captain Dwight! (His boat is the Michael D)

We had heard so much about oyster stew that we were craving some, so we went to Boss Oyster and shared seafood gumbo and oyster stew….really ….really tasty. Finally, we decided to try again to find a place to sit and read, as it was a beautiful night, although starting to be late. So we’re walking through the downtown and there in the window of an incredible old building is a baby grand piano. (Causing me to press my nose to the glass and sigh) …Aaron says “You’re going to play it, come on”. Well, so I did, and next thing you know there are three other musicians playing along. Allan and Hakan and Derrick (Sorry if I spelled any of your names wrong, guys.) Derrick is a chef who has a dream of opening a restaurant with “feature rooms” …four seperate rooms each featuring the decor, ambiance and food of a different type. It’s very hard not to be contagiously excited about all things cuisine when you hear him talk. He’s apprenticing butchering at the Piggly Wiggly, and he currently works with a tremendous chef who has been well rated nation wide. Allan is a guitarist who has Apalach in his blood. Says he’s left before but as soon as he gets a whif of the sea he knows he’ll have to come back. By the end of the evening we also got to tour the houseboats we took pictures of…having met the owner, KJ…we got invited to the bon fire there…so now we have friends as well as great memories….and it feels for all the world like “our Apalach”…

Help yourself to the photo gallery…hope you enjoy….


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