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Key West, May 2011 (Part 4)

Rock the Boat (Don't Rock the Boat, Baby)

sunny 90 °F

We slept in this morning. The hotel's resident rooster regularly timed his crack-of-dawn call for about 11am. We appreciated this style of alarm clock - very much.

Something happened to me in Key West that I still can't explain. Although I don't live on a farm, I do reside in a very agricultural area. Chickens are commonplace. I don't think about them from one moment to the next. I don't even really like them. I arrive in Key West and all of a sudden, I'm driving myself nuts trying to take pictures of chickens who would rather not be photographed. In their little chicken brains, they probably liken tourists such as myself to the infamous papparazzi. Chickens roam free in Key West. Several times we saw a hen and her chicks scratching in a flowerbed for bugs, crossing the street or meandering through a restaurant. One afternoon, I tried for a ridiculous amount of time to capture just one image of a little black hen and her three skittish babies. It was impossible! My only explanation for my behavior is that Key West chickens come in a lovely variety of colors and the families are so darn cute that pulling out the camera is almost irresistible. Key West chickens are not at all like the white bread chickens I usually see and smell here in the country. I will offer that this need to photograph farm aninamls could be a genetic anamoly on my part. The same thing happened to me on St. John. I suddenly felt compelled to take photos of feral goats, pigs, and donkeys - animals I see on a regular basis here at home and don't think twice about. Despite all my efforts, I managed very few good chicken photographs. Sigh.

Our Alarm Clock (Even this guy wasn't interested in smiling for the camera)
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The only thing we absolutely wanted to do this day was snorkel the reef at Looe Key. We chose to take the tour through Bahia Honda state park because it was reasonably priced and we also wanted to spend some time at the beaches there. Because the boat didn't leave until 1:30pm, we decided to sleep in and try the brunch at the hotel. This meal had quantity and quality. The buffet offered a variety of hot and cold items. The fresh fruit was delicious. With the buffet came a hot item from the kitchen - omelets, French toast, eggs, etc. And a bonus is that the Cafe is outside but shaded. We sat down with our first round of buffet food and - lo, and behold - there was a small brown chicken wandering around the tables and pecking for food. I almost had a panic attack because I left the room without my camera. What was I thinking?!? Jay basically had to tie me to my chair with napkins to keep my from running back upstairs. I did calm down enough to enjoy the rest of my breakfast and after awhile forgot the chicken was even there.

Bahia Honda is located at the lower end of Marathon about an hour's drive from Key West. Because we had to check in an hour and a half before the boat ride, we had plenty of time to explore the park. This park has quintessential natural Keys beauty, but it is very exposed. Besides the few pavilions on the smallest beach and the air-conditioned concession bar and gift shop, there is precious little shade. Also of note, the beaches are left in their natural state. This equates to lots of seagrass on the beach and heavy wrack (a floating seagrass mini-ecosystem) in the water at the edge of the beach. Bahia Honda was hopping with people. There were sunbathers, snorkelers, kayakers, boaters, fishermen, and campers. This would not be the place to visit if you were looking for privacy and seclusion. Our first order of business was to take the short trail up to the railroad bridge and have a look around. The color of the water ranged from aquamarine to peridot to azur. Breathtaking. And it was so clear that we could see to the bottom of the pilings from the bridge.

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We grabbed our snorkel gear and headed to the boat. Our captain was PT and Justin was the dive master for the trip. After all saftey information was dispersed and introductions made, we were underway. The snorkel site is six miles from shore in a dedicated marine sanctuary so the boat ride took about forty minutes. Neither Jay or I had ever snorkeled in open water before. We were both looking forward to it. Our snorkeling experiences are limited to a week in St. John where an underwater paradise can be found just a few feet from shore in very placid water. There were no swells and no rocking boats to deal with. I have trouble with motion sickness. I would never dream of getting on a boat without being appropriately medicated. I was also told that in rough seas, motion sickness can happen even to snorkelers. I was not unprepared. I took my Bonine earlier in the day. Perhaps I should have taken more than the recommended dose. All was well until the boat stopped moving and started rocking. Getting out of the boat and into the water helped at first. At Looe Key, the swells were reportedly 1 to 3 feet. It felt like more to me. We were tossed around like flotsum and jetsum. Once I got my mask on and my face in the water, the queasiness eased up. I was good for the next hour or so. As time went by, it seemed like the seas were getting rougher and the water murkier. The queasiness came back. But I didn't want to get back on the bobbing boat because that would still be worse than the undulating water. Just when I thought I was going to lose my buffet breakfast in my snorkel, they called us all back in. I climbed in and promptly laid myself down on a bench, closed my eyes, and remained that way for the rest of the trip. PT was very very nice and checked on me occasionally. I hated making a spectacle of myself, but throwing up in front of everyone would have been much worse. The ride back seemed like some kind of evil purgatory but I survived it with the contents of my stomach still in my stomach. I was never so happy to be back on terra firma!

Our boat was called the Sundance. I thought maybe the Bob and Weave or the Barf Bucket was more appropriate. I suppose I could be a bit jaded.DSC_0028.jpg

Despite all that, the snorkeling was fantastic. We saw a school of barracuda and several large tarpon. The parrotfish were the largest I have ever seen and finding a midnight parrotfish was a first for us. It cracks me up how you can hear parrotfish crunching on the coral. There were blue tangs, grunts, french and queen angelfish, damselfish, yellowtail snapper and several species I couldn't identify. The sargent majors hung in the water in schools and liked to take peeks at us and then swim away. The sea walnuts (Comb jellies) were numerous but almost invisible. It was easy to look right past them without realizing they were there. There was an abundance of purple sea fans and elkhorn coral. I also saw one lonely sea urchin. Normally, snorkeling is one of the most meditative activites I can think of - floating around in a quiet environment, focusing on my breathing and enjoying the aquatic world. Because of the waves and my nausea, it wasn't as relaxing as I anticipated, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately, we have a scarcity of good photographs because it was too hard to hold the camera still. Jay did his best - he is the underwater photographer. It was a losing battle.

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After a soft pretzel and ice cold Coke at the only picnic table with shade, I felt capable of considering the plan for the rest of the day. We had originally decided to spend time on the beaches of Bahia Honda and stay for the sunset. Frankly, neither one of us felt like wading through the wrack to get back in the water to swim. And after hours in the sun, an air-conditoned hotel room was sounding mighty tempting. We didn't go directly back to the Inn, however. We first drove into town to purchase two Key Lime pie slices from Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shop for a our daily dose of sweet-tartness. We also grabbed some subs from Quizno's for supper and took them back to the room.

The Inn at Key West faces west. There is a nice view across the water from the walking path across the street from the hotel. The street just happens to be Route 1- a four lane highway that is heavily traveled. We took our lives in our hands crossing that road - the last bit of excitement I cared to experience for the day. The sunset was slightly obscured by a passing rain shower across the bay. This made for some interesting sunset photos and cloud formations. It was a sunset of understated beauty.

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We spent the rest of the evening at the hotel pool, reading, floating around, and enjoying the hot tub. The water temperature was exactly the temperature of the air. As I floated around, I couldn't tell where on my skin the water ended and the air began. It was a weird and wonderful feeling. I almost fell asleep on my raft, listening to the music, the waterfall and the muffled voices of people at the bar. (Pictures aren't that great because I was too lazy to get the little tri-pod).

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The tiki bar provided us with our fun drinks of the day. This turned out to be my biggest disappointment of the entire trip. I don't know if this is a reflection of my shallow thought processes or a reflection of the high caliber experience this trip was turning out to be. (I am obviously leaning toward the second explanation.) This experience is also a perfect illustration of how expectations can ruin what would normally be a perfectly acceptable experience. I wanted a strawberry daicquiri. In my mind I was envisioning crushed ice, pureed fresh strawberries, a mound of real whipped cream, and a big curvy glass. What I got was was an artificially flavored strawberry slushie with some rum poured on top and garnished with an orange slice and a cherry. There was an obvious mismatch between my expectation and my reality. It created a disappointment I found hard to surmount. (Can anyone say hyperbole?) Jay ordered a Presidential which was a strawberry daiquiri and pina colada mix. This equated to two different slushies mixed together with the same rum and garnishes. Although he had no burdensome preconceived notions, he was rather disappointed as well.

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We saved our Key Lime pie slices for a bedtime snack. Jay had to wake me up to eat mine - I fell asleep while he was in the shower. Our day obviously wore me out. The pie from Kermit's was yummy. It had more of a cheesecake-like, creamy texture with a nice balance of tart and sweet. It also had the traditional graham cracker crust and real whipped cream for garnish. It went down very easy. We gave it a two thumbs up. Was it better than the first two? I still can't say. Each pie has been different and delicious. It's beginning to feel like we are comparing apples to oranges to pears. I'm certainly enjoying every minute of the experiment.

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We fell asleep with the taste of pie on our tongues and images of reef fish in our heads. Despite the motion sickness and deep disappoinment over the adult beverages, it was a wonderful day spent in the Keys.

Posted by sjyoder 06:00 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes beaches sunsets key_west snorkeling

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