The Florida Keys

Hubby and I went to the Keys for our Honeymoon for a diving trip.  We had never been to Florida before but I knew I would love it.  It was A.MA.ZING.

We didn’t want to spend all our time in one place, so we kind of bounced down the Keys every couple of days. This is what we did:

We had an early flight to Miami, having to leave the house at 5am because it takes an hour to get to the airport, and of course security is fantastic, so you have to get to the airport 6 days before your flight.  And then they make you take off all your clothes (ok, shoes, belt, jacket, etc. but you still have to go through the body scanners and  get dressed in front of perfect strangers afterwards, so it feels like you have to take all your clothes off).  Our flight was fine, a little bumpier than usual, but I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me except for Hubby, so that was nice. 

As soon as we landed we got our crappy rental car (I love renting cars because it’s like a test drive so you can figure out that you will NEVER own whatever car it is that you just rented. It’s pretty much a guarantee), and headed to the Miami Metro Zoo.  Being a Tuesday , the zoo was empty which was great, but at the same time, I think they save all of their enclosure maintenance for the slow part of the week, so a lot of animals were off display. Bwoop.  But we got to see some cool stuff, like South American cockroaches swarming over their food (Yuck!) and a Harpy Eagle clutching a dead rat in her talons (So cool!).  See?!

See the rat?

After the zoo we headed out of Miami and to our hotel in Key Largo.  We went checked out the tiny “private beach” that we really just a little inlet for kids and then jumped into the pool.  The next day though, was the best!  We arrived at the dive shop at 8am to start our Advanced Open Water (AOW) course.  First you have to go over Knowledge reviews, making the instructor aware of how easily you can fill in the blanks word for word in the back of the chapters.  Public school, you did your job. Thank you.  That afternoon though, we went on our first dive in Florida, and it was great!  We dove in 2 places and both of them we pretty destroyed shipwrecks.  Before our very first dive, our instructor went over hand signals for us to know that she uses so we could more easily communicate under water.  It’s a bit of a pain to have to take your regulator out of your mouth and talk under water.  Stupid lungs…  Anyway, so we went over common hand signals, and then went over fish signals, so she could tell us the kind of fish we were looking at.  We saw a barracuda on our first dive, and it was classic – he had a giant fish hook in his mouth, and he was all by himself.  He was like a cartoon character!  He followed us around for a while, did a good job of freaking all of us out individually since we had to turn our backs to a fish with VERY large teeth, and then he went on his merry way. 

Our next dive was similar, but this time we saw 2 southern sting rays.  I heard our instructor shriek under water because she was so excited! 

Our Awesome Instructor

I love being around people who not only love their job, but love the wildlife that they get to see.  The rays were so cool!

They next day we went on 4 dives.  Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted at the end of the day, but it was totally worth it!

Me, having a blast

First we went to Spiegel Grove, which is a deep wreck dive.  We went to 103 feet deep!  The water was kind of choppy, so we had to descend down a mooring line to get to it.  Going down the line you move through a school of barracudas, and then we got to the wreck.  We went to our deepest depth first, and our instructor showed us what a tennis ball looks like at 100 feet (totally crushed in) and what an egg does at 100 feet (stays in the egg shape after you break the shell open).  Next we went into the Spiegel which was really neat. A lot of people get nervous going into structures or caves or something because it is such a small space, but it was so cool!  We also stopped and saw 2 Lion Fish that were hiding behind the door on the ship.  Lion Fish are invasive in the Caribbean, so our instructor tried to kill them but couldn’t reach them.  While we were going into the Spiegel one at a time, the current caught me and I ran into Fire Coral.  It got that name because it stings.  Like fire.  Now I am one with the ocean.  I’m okay with that.

See that lovely red ring on my knee? I'm ONE with the ocean.

 After the Spiegel we went to another wreck that was pretty well destroyed from different things, so there was nothing to really go in to.  It was pretty ripped apart. 

That afternoon we did 2 more dives, one at Eagle Ray Alley, where we saw no Eagle Rays, and Fire Coral Cave, where we saw lots of fire coral, and 3 eagle rays!  They were so amazing, and the four of us were the only ones out of like 30 divers that saw them!  We also worked on our search and recovery skills, which became helpful when my watch fell off during the dive, and I retraced my fin kicks (under water “steps,” get it?) and found it! 

On our way back into the harbor, we spent our time counting iguanas (there are a lot of invasive species in Florida) and telling dirty knock-knock jokes with the crew.  This we our last day in Key Largo, so after we bought t-shirts from the dive shop and got cleaned up, we headed to our next destination on Duck Key called Hawk’s Cay Resort. 

This place was swanky.  The entire key is the resort and they had dolphins that you can swim with (I wanted to but it was a little pricey, and they were booked).  Everything was way expensive, and I probably wouldn’t go there again, but it was nice.  Just not our style.  We did go on another couple dives while we were on Duck Key which was great.  On our way out to the dive site I saw something floating in the water at a distance, and as we got closer, we saw it was a huge dead sea turtle.  It was sad, but cool at the same time, because although it was the first wild sea turtle I had ever seen, there was a Tiger Shark feeding on it!  Pretty scary/cool to see a Tiger Shark right before you go diving! 

On our first dive on this day we saw a HUGE Puffer fish (aka Porcupine fish, but I like Puffer better) and two more Lion Fish, along with tons of other fish (Parrot, Hog, Sergeant Majors, and a bunch of Queen Angel fish). 

Puffer fish, aka Porcupine fish, and two Lion fish hiding in the background to the right

When we got back to the boat, we told the guides that we saw the Lion fish, so at our next destination they were prepared to kill any that we saw, but of course because they were now prepared for them, they didn’t see any.  On this dive we saw a few sea anemones which were really neat, and I saw a sea urchin but couldn’t get a picture of it.  That concluded our diving for the trip, but we had a bunch of other stuff we wanted to do too, so we were fine with that. 

On our way to Key West we stopped on Marathon Key at the Sea Turtle Hospital and went on a tour of the facility. 

The Turtle Hospital

There they treat sick and injured turtles and release as many as they can.  They said they have about a 70% release record, which is pretty good considering a lot of turtles go there because they are hit by boat propellers, which paralyzes their back flippers.  If they have 3 working limbs they can be released, but if 2 are no longer working, they are not strong enough to be in the wild, so they can never be released. 

The dark mark on his back is a set of weights, glued onto his back to help his swim correctly. Turtles that get hit by boats often develop air pockets in their shells, which cause other issues as well.

I took lots of pictures there, and there was a little girl who was on the tour with us that reminded me of me when I was her age.  She had all of the turtles’ names memorized because she had been to the hospital before and she could tell them all apart.  A couple of staff members came in with 2 small turtles for weight checks, and that little girl was starry-eyed and amazed by them.  I even got a couple pictures of her (on accident, not because I’m creepy like that) that captured her adoration for the turtles. 

                  

See?

Key West is pretty much a 24 hour tourist party.  There is Duval Street and Mallory Square, which are nothing but shops and bars.  Seriously.  We walked around that area a while, had a few drinks, went shopping…

IWANTITIWANTITIWANTIT

saw the Southernmost Point which is no longer the true southernmost point because the military has added landed to the base there, but they haven’t moved the marker, and we at lunch at the Southernmost Café. 

Hmmm.....nachos.....the perfect food...

We saw Hemmingway’s house but didn’t go in because it was crazy expensive and I really don’t care about Hemmingway that much.  The next day we got up early and went on a 1.5 hour jet ski tour of the island WHICH WAS AWESOME and we saw a school of stingrays swimming around under us when we stopped for a quick break! So cool!  After that we walked around Mallory Square again, went to the Treasure Museum and learned about treasure salving, and killed more time on Duval Street until 4pm when we went parasailing!! We had never done jet skis or parasailing before so it was a LOT of fun!  We were on a boat with about 10 people, and everyone went up in pairs.  It was amazing and scary at the same time.  The captain of the boat kept dunking us in the water (on purpose) and you could see for miles in every direction.  That night was our last night in Florida, so we had an early dinner, went to the movies, and went to bed a bit early since we had to get up and drive for 3.5 hours back to Miami the next day.

Ya, it’s 120 miles, but the speed limit is usually 45 MPH.  When you are from Texas and you have regular speeds of 65-75, it feels like you are CRAWLING down the highway. 

So my advice to you if you want to go to the keys is this:

If you want outdoor adventure, go to Key Largo.

If you want a fun, party atmosphere, go to Key West.

If you want to feel pretentious and spend a lot of money, go to Duck Key.

We are going back to Key Largo and the mainland next summer, so I’m sure I will have more snippets of info and travel tips in the future.

Sunset on Key Largo
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