A Travellerspoint blog

Key West, May 2011 (Part 3a)

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

sunny 88 °F

For our first full day in Key West, we booked a four hour kayak tour with Lazy Dog, located on Stock Island just over the bridge from Key West. I cannot say enough good things about this tour. Our guide, Robin, was friendly and knowledgable and her love for the keys was evident. She was relaxed and toured at a comfortable pace. Besides Jay and me, there was one other person on the tour. It felt very much like a private expedition. Our tour buddy was a young guy from Montreal who was visiting Florida for 10 days with a friend. His friend went diving for the day so Yusef decided to come kayaking with us. He'd never kayaked before. He'd never snorkeled before. It also appeared that he'd never heard of sunscreen before. By the end of the trip every inch of his exposed lily white skin was fire engine red. I, however have no room to talk. I made two very poor choices this day and paid the price for it later. Somehow, in the process of lathering on the SPF, I completely missed my forearms. How!?!? An hour into the trip, just the lower half of my arms were flaming. Having not quite learned my lesson, I chose to snorkel without a rash guard after I had sweated out and rubbed off all the sunscreen on my back. Although my back wasn't as bad as my arms, I was feeling pretty crispy by lunchtime.

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Tandem kayaking with a spouse can be sketchy. I've actually heard these two person kayaks referred to as divorce boats. I admit that it is very difficult to give up control and just follow Jay's direction. In the past, it has taken me a good ten to fifteen minutes or so to settle in and follow commands without argument. This time, we were a well-oiled machine from the beginning. I think it must have been the fact that I was in island mode and feeling quite relaxed. I did have one encounter with a slimy prop root covered in muck because of poor communication with the captain. With that exception, it was all marital peace and harmony.

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This tour definitely had an ecological focus. We put in at Sugarloaf Key at the Bonefish Marina (I think that's what it was called). Before we even got in the water, we talked about the delicate balance between the islands, the mangroves, and the reefs. Once on the bay, Robin showed us how to tell the difference between red, black, and white mangroves and how each one eliminates salt from the water. Yes, we actually licked a black mangrove leaf - very salty. We looked at the sea grass beds and Robin pulled up different animals as she found them for us to touch and examine. We kayaked the mangrove waterways and spent some time wading in very shallow tidal pool-like areas. I loved this part. There was so much equatic life to touch and observe - sea anemones, sponges, sea slugs, snails, fish, sea cucmbers, tiny crabs. The wildlife was so abundant that I was afraid to move my feet for fear of stepping on some little creature. We snorkeled a bit over sea grass beds but didn't see much. There were just a few pin fish, grunts and juvenile yellowtail snapper. I did come across a large school of fry that shimmered in the sunlight like fairy dust. Finally, we did a hard push across the bay to get back to the marina. It was tough work but very invigorating. The whole adventure took about five hours.

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Upside Down Jellyfish (Cassiopea) This was a beautiful, delicate jelly.

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(Jay is notorious for stirring up the bottom so the pictures are a bit murky. The water was really crystal clear.)

From the highway, the mangroves just look like endless scrubby bushes. Upon closer inspection, they display an understated, peaceful beauty that is literally teeming with life. And their very existence guarantees the development of more keys and the protection of the reefs. Jay and I agree that kayaking is a great way to get up close and personal with the unique flora and fauna of the Florida keys.

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Posted by sjyoder 10:13 Archived in USA Tagged nature kayaking key_west Comments (0)

Key West, May 2011 (Part 2)

Ain't Looking For Nothin' But a Good Time (and it don't get better than this)

sunny 88 °F

Because we had never been to the Keys before, we decided to fly into Fort Lauderdale and do "the drive". I am so glad we did! This is what we saw for the majority of the road trip. Beautiful!

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A few things to note about cruising the Keys.

1. We found two great classic rock stations that took us all the way through the Keys. They were sister stations - 103.something for the upper Keys and 105.something for the lower Keys. Long sets of music with few commercials and an excellent variety of musicians and bands - what more could a girl on vaca ask for?

2. It's a good idea to drive the posted speed limit. Period. Not that we learned this from personal experience. However, we observed many other people learning from personal experience. For most of the drive, the speed limit is 45 mph. If you just can't rein it in, you might want to consider flying into Key West to save yourself some heartache. I was very impressed with Jay. He demonstrated monumental amounts of self-control by adhering to the speed limit. He would probably say he had no choice. The vehicles in front of him wouldn't allow him to go any faster.

3. Stop and eat a bite to break up the drive. We found two wonderful restaurants with ease and I am positive there are many others. We chose the Morada Bay Cafe in Islamorada for lunch on the way down. Five minutes at this spot and we were in full island mode. Seriously. The views were perfect. The live music added to the atmosphere and the food was delicious. Our waitress was pleasant and attentive but not over the top. All in all, a wonderful lunch. When we finished, we walked the beach area for a tiny little bit. It was HOT and our delicate Northern constitutions were not prepared for the extreme conditions.

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Because this trip was a rather short one (only five days), we only set two goals for ourselves. Goal # 1 was to try a different Key Lime pie every day for the duration of the vacation. Goal #2 was to have one fun drink a day. I am happy to report that we met our goals with ease and came home happy and content in our success. Our virgin Key Lime pie experience happened at Morada Bay. It was a traditional pie with graham cracker crust and whipped cream. The consistency was like a flan or firm custard. The lime flavor was very mellow and was complemented perfectly by the raspberry sauce. Eating it with the blueberries and black raspberries took the experience to a sublime level. Have I used enough adjectives? We both agreed this was a delicious pie.

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Initially, our plan was to spend some time at Pigeon Key. That was before we truly understood what 90 degrees and 95% humidity meant. Thank goodness the welcome center was closed. It allowed us to save face so that we didn't have to bail out for being wimpy about the heat. We arrived in Key West around 4:30 pm after leaving FFL airport at 11:30am with a hour stop for lunch.

We stayed at the Inn at Key West which is located in the newer part of town right on Route 1. Why did we choose this place? The price was right, it had a very nice pool, and it received great reviews on Tripadvisor. I'm happy to report that the hotel did not disappoint. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The room was clean and the bed was comfy. The landscaping was very lush and the pool remained open until very late in the evening. It was a quality hotel at a very reasonable price. I suppose because I wasn't expecting the Waldorf Astoria for $150.00 I wasn't headed for disappointment.

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After a rejuvenating rest in our air-conditioned room, we headed to Old Town for some dinner. We intended to go to Colombian Grace but I forgot the directions and we were unable to find it on our own. Instead, we parked and headed toward Duval. Fogarty's, across from the Bull and Whistle, became our final destination. The food was a pleasant surprise. Jay had grilled yellowtail snapper and could not stop talking about how good it was. I had petit filet and it was prepared just right. Of course, we ate outside so the people watching was fantastic entertainment. It was here at Fogarty's that we had our first fun drink of the vacation. We both decided on a Rum Runner. This drink is just like a Slushie I would buy at the local Turkey Hill Mini Market only gooder and badder. And it comes in a 'free" keepsake cup. I'm a very light weight when it comes to alcohol. What a drink! After a couple of swigs on my grown-up Slushie, I couldn't feel the tip of my tongue and started having trouble talking. But it was such a refreshing drink I couldn't stop slurping it. Along the back of the Flying Monkey, which is the bar attached to Fogarty's, there must be ten or twelve different slushie machines of varying colors and flavors of alcoholic beverages. I wanted to get a photograph to show the kids (who are slushie connoisseurs) but Jay thought that would look too touristy. Hmmm, a tourist in Key West. Imagine that. I don't think I could have managed the walk to the bar at that point anyway so I guess it is a moot argument.

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We ended the evening at the hotel pool. It was pure relaxation floating around, looking at the stars. The area was pretty much deserted. It felt like we had the world to ourselves. What a way to end our first day in the Keys.

Posted by sjyoder 21:02 Archived in USA Tagged beaches food seascapes key_west florida_keys Comments (0)

Key West, May 2011 (Part 1)

Begin At the Beginning

Jay and I love to travel. We both feel that we don't get to do it often enough. When we were younger and had the time, our income limited us. Now that money is no longer an issue, time has become the limiting factor. For the first time in our lives, summer is no longer a viable option for family trips. With camps, sports, and band requirements, every week and part of each weekend is booked for the entire summer. I practically had to bribe the band director for permission to take my daughter to the Outer Banks for half a week in August for our bi-annual extended family vacation. I suppose I am whining and I apologize for it. I just have not been able to embrace this season of our lives with much gusto. It is crimping my style and I'm not happy about it.

This Key West trip is about as spontaneous as we get. I am a planner. As a matter of fact, I get almost as much pleasure out of researching and planning trips as I do going on them. If my sister is reading this, she is probably rolling her eyes right about now. I planned a Disney trip for my entire family a few years ago and pretty much ran everyone ragged. She might have even called me the Disney commando or Nazi or some other very sisterly term like that. I like to have months of preparation time for planning and saving money. This Key West trip was different. About February of this year, I was sick of life. It was a brutally cold winter. I had written approximately twenty-five papers of various styles and subjects related to my accelerated degree program. Our home looked like a war zone from remodeling projects. The family schedule was out of control and relentless. And I was beginning to get cranky because I hadn't been on an adventure that was longer than a weekend in over a year.

And so it came to pass that I began whispering sweet nothings into Jay's ear. Things like warm sunshine, snorkeling, quick flight, cheap airfare, uninterrupted relaxation, no kids. He is so easy! It was like selling cream-filled doughnuts to a carb addict. By the end of the month, we had purchased our airfare and made hotel reservations. And I still had a few months to lurk on the Tripadvisor forums for the best Florida Keys advice on activites and restaurants. Bliss! We were a bit careless in choosing the dates for the trip, unknowingly picking the five busiest days of May for our vacation. It took the skills of an air traffic controller to make sure the kids were cared for and chauffered to baseball games and formals. It all came togther in the end with the help of family and friends. For their efforts, we are eternally grateful.

Some Reasons Why Key West Became a Necessary Measure to Maintain My Sanity

1. Family Drama
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2. Home Renovations
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3. Dedicated Guitar Player with Very Loud Amp
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4. Crazy Scedule
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Posted by sjyoder 18:50 Archived in USA Tagged key_west Comments (0)

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