Key west and Dry Tortugas
My First Time

We drove from Ft. Lauderdale - too bad no one told me about that neat little turnpike that circumvents Miami... oh well, I always wanted to see ALL 412 streets of Interstate 1! I don't know, the map made it look like it was just a jaunt down 45 through Houston... So, five and half (or so) hours later we finally make it to Key West. I expected a little more of the drive - I thought Highway 1 would be more like a causeway the whole way down, instead there were times that we could not even see water (except for the moat on either side of the road).

Not planned as a dive trip, but once I figured out the opportunity existed, I decided to finally get my dive card. You can see the funny story about that process on my blog page. There were dive shops all the way down Highway 1, in fact the diving is much better in Key Largo. None the less, I found a super dive shop at the entrabce of Key West with some super friendly and helpful dive staff. They made my first time such a breeze. We dove five miles out on the barrier reef, Western Sambo and Eastern Dry Rocks in particular. On my first dive I saw a nurse shark, moon jellyfish, a lobster, barracuda, tons of diferent colorful fish, and even jawfish which they say is quite uncommon for a first timer to notice. They are these fantastically ferocious little fish as big as you finger the jut their heads out of holes on the bottom of the ocean floor. They have this amazingly large mouth and the snap at you much like a chihuahua installs fear in the masses... yea, I could so squash you and smash your little home, you cute, little bad ass! We also took a large Catamaran out and did some snorkeling, water sports, and parasailing. I feel really bad about all the Yellowtail sushi I have eaten over the years after meeting those cute little boogers.


I did have a chance to visit the Hemingway House and see all the cats, six-toed included. I was most amazed by the gardens.




The lighthouse shot was the view he had. I made it a point to sit in the really older benches in the gardens, hoping they may have the original benches Hemingway sat on. The cats were quite friendly, although it was an extremely hot, humid day and they were worn out from the attention. One looks like Charlie Chan - they are all named after someone famous. The patchwork of concrete reminiscent of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood were graves. There were little cat houses strewn all over the grounds - in fact, they ruined many a picture. His pool was salt water and there was a fantastic view looking down the stairs from his study back behind the house. At one time, it appropriately had a cat walk for access from his bedroom. The tile cat fountain is actually made from a urinal from his favorite bar Sloppy Joe's and a vase form Cuba. when they did rennovations at one time, he convinced the owner that he had spent enough money in the bar that he should at least get to keep a urinal. There was even evidence of some misbehaving cats of old.

Dry Tortugas
The most anticipated part of the trip was visiting the Dry Tortugas. I opted for the shorter visit which involved a short seaplane ride instead of a two hour long ferry ride each way. I ended up going by myself... good thing too. I am quite sure both of my friends would have freaked out on the seaplane, let alone a water landing and takeoff! The benefit of the seaplane which way outweighed the cost difference was that the flight was only 500 feet above the pristine waters west of the Keys. The Dry Tortugas are a clump of 7 islands 70 miles west and are named as such because there is no fresh water on the islands. You are given a small cooler when you board the plane with a couple of bottles of water and some ice - that is all you got while you are there, nothing for sale, no water fountains! The flight allowed you an excellent viewing opportunity for the countless sea turtles, the mangroves (trees that grow right out of the water), a couple of shipwrecks, and even a manatee in the shallow waters! What amazed me most was the rainbow of geen and blue hues caused by the sandbars. Back to the benefits of the seaplane... incredible aerial views of the fortress as we arrive.


Once on the island, you may play on the beach, snorkel around the moat wall and outerlying reefs, explore the Fort Jefferson, and even camp. Although, there are no restrooms either. Fort Jefferson was intended to protect the Gulf of Mexico but was never finished and eventually its design became obsolete with more modern cannons. Made from 16 million bricks, it is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. At one time it housed prisoners including Samuel Mudd and some others convicted of conspiracy in Lincoln's assassination. There is massive corosion from the salt water and the elements evident. You can even see the coral rock that was gathered by slaves from nearby islands to make the coral concrete. I asked a park ranger if the snorkelling was really worth the effort since I had been diving off the barrier reef, it was the promise of sea urchins along the moat wall that got me in the warter. Of course once I was in, I ventured further out and saw what is billed as some of the most unspoiled coral reef in North America ... including large conch shells and puffy sand dollars on the sea floor. Since we returned to the seaplane on time, we had some extra time to fly over Loggerhead Light which is on Loggerhead Key to the west. As we were leaving, probably the most sobering part of the trip, we walked by a rather robust metal boat identified as a Cuban refugee boat. As we taxied out into the waters of the seven Keys that make up The Dry Tortugas, our pilot pointed a rather large stack of boats and informed us that those were the boats of Cuban refugees from just this last WEEK! As we flew back to Key West, I noticed another one of these boats stranded on Marquesas Key... despaerate to reach our freedom that so many take for granted, they use whatever means necessary to steal or build a boat and take off into swift currents trying to navigate 90 miles.


Of course, I must mention how we had survived the Duval Crawl... it is the long walk back from the bars to your hotel in a drunken stupor. The puppy dog named Levi was the most popular girl at our hotel.


By the way, I must say if you ever have the chance to fly on September 11th with anyone who is uncomfortable at all about flying (and by uncomfortable I mean pills AND cocktails to ease the nerves and still maintain sweaty palms), don't miss the opportunity. It is funny as hell - especially when three Arabs follow each other in succession to the bathroom!

11 Sep 2006

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Susan N. Freeman