Category: ‘Key Largo’

Spirit Journey & Manatees – Part 10, Finale

November 21, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

On the morning of our last day, we packed all of our stuff and piled it into the trunk of Phil’s caddy. We checked out of the Hungry Pelican, said good bye to the owner, and had our café Cubanos and drove north, leaving the keys.

This time the Cuban coffee kept me alert enough that we found the turn to head for Homestead for lunch. Homestead was lots of flat farmland separated by lines of shrubs or trees and not much of anything else. Apparently it was the country’s citrus belt.

We found the center of town which seemed to be modest one storey buildings.

It was only 10:30 am and we found a diner that was open and we went in. Sean ordered French toast, his favorite, and I ordered scrambled eggs with ham. We got to talking with our waitress and she reminisced about hurricane Andrew and how bad it was as Homestead had taken a direct hit.

Other locals chimed in too. They all recounted how there was a Publix that had to be torn down just right over there.

And how subdivisions were totally flooded.

This experience became part of our vacation too. Sharing the losses with these people was outside of our normal day. We departed about 2 hours later and headed across the Tamiami Trail for Estero Beach and Phil’s Condo. We didn’t get to see any gators on the way back either. Traffic was terrible heading up from Naples, but eventually we made it.

Wouldn’t you know it, Phil was sick as a dog with my sinusitis! We thanked him profusely for the use of his Cadillac. We all decided to have dinner at the Tampa Airport, since we had a late night flight back home. Phil took the wheel, and off we went to the airport. Maybe it was because Phil was ill, or they weren’t taking advantage of the experienced navigator in the back seat, but we got lost on the way there! Twice! Finally we got to the airport and only had time to grab something quick before our flight. But, you know, that’s all you really want sometimes at an airport. Sigh.

We both gave Phil a big hug, at least I did, and we boarded our flight. We took off, flew home, landed, and realized that it had snowed a couple of feet while we were gone. Shit! We caught our shuttle to the long term lot and couldn’t find the car under all of the snow. We couldn’t even tell what color the cars were. Nor were we appropriately dressed for the cold. At least a snowplow had been through. With my Blizzak tires on we could drive our way out of the snow pile in front of the car.

I had at least remembered the post I had parked near, and so we wiped bits of snow off of cars near there and finally found the GTI. Sean cleared off enough snow to get in and turn on the car to warm it up and put on the defrosters. Then he broke out the snow clearing equipment I keep in the car. The ice scraper, the snow brush, etc.. We both of us cleared the car as best we could, piled our bags into the hatchback, and then got in all shivering and wet through to our bones.

Sean gave me an, “are you ready?” kind of look, put my GTI in gear, and she sprang lightly from her snowy prison and took us safely home. Once we were warm in our very own bed together we fell into a deep and peaceful sleep as we were so tired from our wonderful vacation in Key Largo.


Spirit Journey & Manatees – Part 9

November 13, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

The next morning dawned cloudy and drizzly. It was our last day in the keys and Sean really wanted to go out and snorkel one more time. So did I, but the weather was ominous. We did not have a charter arranged, so we would have to rent a boat ourselves. We decided to go to the John Pennekamp Park again to rent a boat. It surely wasn’t far. We probably would have walked if it weren’t for all of our gear.

The docks at John Pennekamp State Park

When we arrived, we bought a dive and navigation chart and planned our voyage. There was a shallow wreck straight out from the Park that we were sure we couldn’t miss and we decided to head for there. We walked out onto the docks to look at the boats that were available. I don’t specifically remember the sizes, but we picked one out that was affordable. The staff kind of gave each other looks, and upgraded us to a bigger boat for free because of the bad weather. The water was a bit rough with peaky waves, but not white caps.

This one was not for rent and too big.

We threw all of our gear into the boat and fired her up. Sean has lots of experience piloting boats, so he was fine with taking her out. She plowed nicely through the waves but I was glad he was doing the driving. I prefer ideal conditions. We were both fine on the way out and found the proper mooring without any problems. I caught up the mooring and we were tethered before we knew it.

This is what it looks like heading out of the park on a nice day.

This is about the size boat we got, but ours was an open whaler.

Then we began to feel the waves. Our little ship was tossed! We hurriedly got out of our warm dry clothes and donned our cold wetsuits. God, I felt so green in the cool breeze. Suddenly, Sean leaned over the side and tossed his cookies. That certainly did not help matters. I just had to get into the water. Sean got in before I did and said that it was really much better in the water. So, I got in and he was right. I did, however, throw up a bit in my mouth. The water felt warm and I could no longer feel the waves. I put my face in and with my snorkel mask there was an illusion of calm and the nausea went away. Thank god!

We set about trying to find the wreck. Sean spotted it first and directed me to it. It was really shallow and I could see it well. Even though it was kind of boring, I really wanted to stay in the water. I idly followed fish around to amuse myself. I certainly did not want to get back into that rocking boat and throw up my guts again.

Sean and I surfaced and we talked about it. He proposed that we could get on the boat and get going right away with our wetsuits still on and get changed when we got back to the park. My man is so smart sometimes. That is why I love him. So, that is what we did. Neither of us got sick again. It was great to be on dry land upon our return. The park staff eagerly asked if we had a good time, like they were expecting to hear horror stories, but instead we told them we did have a good time. We had an adventure together. We faced a challenge and together made it work out for the best.

Sunsets are best after storms.

Spirit Journey & Manatees – Part 8

November 6, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

The next day was cool, sunny and beautiful and I felt terrific. We gathered all of our dive and snorkel gear into the trunk of the caddy and drove to the Silent World part of the dock at Key Largo. Many other dive boats were docked there also. It brought to mind the California couple who were left behind last year in Key Largo and were stranded overnight, clinging to a steel light tower. Fortunately they both lived and were only suffering from exposure when found. Unfortunately they were both lawyers. Yeah, I guess if you were going to leave divers behind, lawyers would be my last choice. We got on the boat and were glad to see that the boat captain was doing a head count. Step one in not leaving anyone behind; know how many folks are on your boat when you start.

With all passengers aboard we launched and headed out of the marina. As we were heading out the dive plans were explained by our dive master. We were going to see Christ of the Abyss, the most famous dive site in all of the Keys. The statue was an exact replica of one that stands in the Mediterranean off Genoa and was placed in 1961. Also, we would not be able to moor very close to it because the water is quite shallow all around it with “dry rock” brain coral formations that are feeding grounds for an amazing variety of fish.

As we were motoring out, everyone was donning their wetsuits and so did I. It was the first time I had done so in public. But, I had my Speedo workout suit on and I am hardly shy so it was okay. My wetsuit is flattering. Besides, I certainly had the best body in the boat, except for some of the professional dive staff who were in the hunk category. There was this one blond in particular… oh, don’t want to get side tracked here now do we? It was kind of cool out, so I was glad to get my rubber covering on to warm me up. We moored and there weren’t too many boats there yet. Famous dive sites like this one can get crowded very quickly.

I entered the water and immediately I was cold. But, I knew I had to swim to stay warm and get to the statue. So I focused on where I was and what there was to see. I was surrounded by beautiful brain corals and I had to be careful not to get swept up onto them by the waves as I swam ahead. I swam between them, in the valleys, if you will. What fish I saw! Sean drew my attention to a passing turtle and we followed it for a while.

We saw a large French angel fish (ohhhh pretty!) and pretty much all of the same common fish we saw on Grand Cayman.

Again, I was mesmerized. I could spend my whole life snorkeling. The water softly rippling causing soft shawdos and the fish swimming slowly or darting quickly, but always with grace and all of the beautiful colors: I just love being underwater.

Finally we reached the statue. It was a bit deeper than I was willing to dive with my recent sinusitis, but awesome nonetheless.

On my way back to the boat I started to get cold again. I could feel the water coming into my wetsuit through the collar which tended to gape open a bit as I moved forward. By the time I got back onto the boat my teeth were chattering. I put my towel on my shoulders and there was some hot coffee and that helped warm me up a bit. Our next dive site was the elbow and a visit to the wreck of the City of Washington. I had no idea how I was going to get back into that cold water again. Oh well.

It was not far from where we were, and before we knew it we were there and catching our mooring. The divers were setting up to go in again. I was ready. So, I got in and all I could see of the wreck were the ribs of the boat. Pretty boring if you ask me.

Sean and I met up and decided to follow a lone barracuda to a nearby light tower to see if there would be more fish there. Off we swam together, enjoying each others’ company in our little adventure together. Hey look over there! It’s another barracuda! And another! I thought to myself. Suddenly we were in the middle of a huge school of them. They were circling the tower. I came to a dead stop and do did Sean. We were hugely out numbered and every fish was a monster bigger than me! There must have been thousands of them. I felt very small and prey like, just like an intruder in their world.

Sean and I surfaced and I said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” He nodded and off we swam. I grabbed onto him just so that our mass would seem bigger to any barracuda even thinking of coming in for a taste. (I know that barracuda are not known for attacking humans, but I was really scared and you would have been too.) We swam as quickly as possible for the dive boat which was pretty quick. I got out of the water; thank god it was for the last time today.

I squirmed out of my wetsuit and dried off, put on my dry clothes and fleece jacket. Oh to be warm again; what a great feeling. I was a bit distracted by the blond dive master stripping off his wetsuit. Thoughts of ‘take it all off’ came to mind. He had these really neat little reddish blond body hairs on his tanned chest, legs and arms. Yummy! I wanted to see much more. Okay, focus Sue, focus.

Why does it always seem like it takes so much longer to get back to the dock than it did to go out? Well eventually we got back, rinsed our gear in the fresh water troughs provided at the dock, and put it back in the trunk of the caddy. We were only out for two morning dives, but I felt as if I had been out for a whole day already I was so tired from being sick. Back we drove to the Hungry Pelican so I could report my successful dive to the owner. It’s nice to make someone proud and he was.

Next time – we go out in rough weather!

Spirit Journey & Manatees – Part 7

October 31, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

The next day we decided to drive down to Key West and see how far we could get. So into the car we got, early in the morning, after our café Cubanos (yum!), we hit the road.

At mile marker 93.6 at Tavernier we saw the Wild Bird Center, were curious and stopped for a tour.

It turns out that the WBC works with a surgical center in Marathon Key to rescue sick and injured birds, and rest and cure them for return to the wild if possible. Many of the “ambulatory” (or maybe that should be “wingulatory”) birds roam free, such as pelicans, and others who are worse off are caged in huge enclosures.

We were able to enter some of the large cages and see the less severely injured and friendlier birds, like pelicans. We were told about raptors being treated, like owls and hawks, but were not allowed to see them as they were not to be disturbed.

Sean and I wandered around the grounds and found lovely a dog cemetery for the center’s former pets and a really neat pristine little beach. We left a donation for the good work being done there before we left.

We would not have made it very far on this section of Route 1…

We continued with our drive on Route 1, a.k.a. the overseas highway, but only made it as far as Marathon Key, since we had spent so much time at the WBC.

We thought that we could drive there and back in one day since it was only 120 miles, but there is traffic at every island, er, key as well as things to do and see. And it got dark outside. So we stopped to have dinner at a fish place that had disposable plastic tablecloths. Sean had red snapper and I had tuna. We were both very impressed by the freshness of our fish and had a wonderful meal. Sean drove us back to the Hungry Pelican.

The next morning, I took my new wet suit for a test drive off the Pelican’s dock. The motel’s owner was cheering me on. Did I mention that it was a dive oriented Motel?

“You go girl! I told you you’d get into that water yet!” he cheered.

I did and man that water was fucking cold! I was so glad I bought a wet suit. I had my snorkel and fins on and paddled around the dock to see what I could. I could see some crabs and shy fish schooling, but that was all. I swam out a ways, but the larger fish seemed to elude me. It was like a tease. So, I came back to the dock and got out of the water. Tomorrow was our planned dive. I would rest until then. I managed to squirm and wriggle out of my wet suit, always a chore, and rinsed it and my other gear with a hose and hung it outside to dry.

Sean and I decided to take the Motel’s canoe and paddle out into the bay to look at the partially submerged wreck that was just visible from our dock. It turned out to be a tug boat and there were so many fish around it; we were amazed. We wished we had brought our snorkel gear. We hung around out there for a while, seeing what we could and then decided to check out the canals of Key Largo since that was where the manatees went. Maybe we would see one again there.

The canals were peaceful and beautiful. Most had houses and boats on both sides landscaped with tropical trees and shrubs that I just love. We also noticed lots of rental and for sale signs. So we began to talk about bringing our 36 foot motor boat (subject of another post – I promise) down and living on it part of the year and renting it out the rest of the year. The weather was gorgeous and we were alone together, peacefully paddling, dreaming of our happy future together; our own private bliss. We didn’t miss not seeing the manatee.

That evening, we found a sushi restaurant, Sushi Nami, within walking distance of the Hungry Pelican. Service was slow, but the fish was fresh and fabulous. I love eating sushi. I start with green tea. How civilized is that? Then I usually have miso or clear soup. Since I was recovering from sinusitis, hot fluids really were just what the doctor ordered. Then I will order what ever the sushi chef recommends as fresh (though I do not like octopus). The only cooked sushi I eat is unagi (freshwater eel), but I prefer anago (saltwater eel), because they cannot give you parasites. We ate there whenever we could.

Then, we would cross the street to the Baskins-Robbins 31 and get ice cream cones for desert. My favorite flavor was jamoca® almond fudge. Ah, vacation; the only way to live.

Stay tuned for the next post, when I will snorkel Key Largo!

Spirit Journey & Manatees – Part 6

October 18, 2006 Posted by fairviewsue

I spent the next couple of days recovering on a chaise lounge on the dock of the Hungry Pelican motel. The owner regaled me with stories about how the snowy egret came to the motel the first time and never left after he was fed, and how the “hungry” pelicans came and never left, and how the pair of red shouldered hawks came to nest in the large pin oak at the motel. I could hear the hawks screeching above, just like our Cooper’s Hawks at home.

Red Shouldered Hawk

I watched as the owner fed the egret and pelicans twice a day. I got used to his routine. He would go into the freezer in the motel office, grab a frozen block of bait, and let it defrost. Then he would fill two buckets and carry them out to the dock. He would sit on a certain chair that was “his”, like a throne under a palm thatched roof. Each bird would take its own position on the dock prior to feeding time. From there, he would feed the birds by throwing the fish out singly to each bird at his own position on the dock and criticize them if they stole from each other, which happened pretty often, especially when the gulls came around. No one stole from the egret, however, all the birds kept their distance from him. The owner kept a good sense of humor about it though, chuckling to himself. It was amusing to say the least.

He also told me about how when hurricane Andrew came in 1992, all of the water was sucked out of the bay towards Florida and he knew that something really bad was going to happen. He was told to evacuate and decided to stay anyhow. It was really bad, but Homestead was hit the worst. When the water came back, it covered Key Largo and they lost some trees. Smaller keys, like Soldier Key (15 miles south of Miami Beach) were inundated and all but wiped clean of houses, trees and structures by the hurricane in no time. (See before and after photos below.) But it could have been worse, far worse, if Andrew had hit Miami.

Soldier Key Before

Soldier Key After

While I was on the mend, Sean was out exploring. He found a Cuban Café right next to our motel that served café Cubano and other Cuban delicacies. When I recovered, we went there daily for our morning fare.

Sean went to Silent World Dive Shop, which turned out to be only a block or so from our motel, and arranged for us to go on a dive with them later (I would be snorkeling) in the week. They were having a half price sale on wetsuits, he had one and I didn’t, so I needed to go try one on. So, one day when I thought I was feeling up to it, we went there and I went into the dressing room with the suit. If you have never donned a wetsuit, they are not easy to put on. I had broken out into a full sweat by the time I wriggled and wrestled myself into the thing on and zipped up. But, it fit like a (rubber) glove, so we bought it. By the time I squirmed my way out of the thing, I was completely exhausted and we went back to the motel for me to hit the chaise and see the pelicans get fed some more.

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was just across Route 1 and down and the road a piece from our motel and they had two short hiking trails there, so we decided to test my energy level there. The trails were beautiful, winding their way through the mangrove swamps, with tamarind trees and glimpses of gorgeous beach and kayakers. I was energetic at first, but then got so tired that I had to sit on the elevated board walk for a minute to rest. That was not a good sign. I guess we were going to have to take it easy for a couple more days before we hit the water.

We could see folks snorkeling off the beach, but we never had the time to do this. Another reason to go back.

The elevated boardwalks were to protect the environment. We didn’t get to kayak either.

A mangrove cuckoo. We didn’t see one, but we could have…

So, it was back to the chaise and the hungry pelicans. The owner was disappointed to see me back there and gave me some words of encouragement.

“You’ll get into that water soon, Hon!”