Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paradise Found

Dry Tortugas National Park lies 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The park consists of several TINY islands (or, keys) so named because Ponce De Leon, the spanish explorer who discovered them, saw an abundance of sea turtles (tortugas, en espanol). Later the "dry" was added to indicate that none of the Tortugas had sources of fresh water. Fort Jefferson was built as a naval base in the mid 1800's. It's purpose was two fold: to discourage piracy and hostile forces, and to prevent hostile forces from occupying this important piece of land thereby controlling gulf shipping channels. The fort was never completed, though it was used. Its construction was halted when the weight of its 16 million plus bricks began to sink.
Visitors to the park can tour the fort and investigate all of its nooks and crannies (except for those occupied by the park rangers who live there 30 days on, 4 days off). The fort covers most of the little island, but there is a strip of pristine beach which is ideal for lounging on. Just off the beach, visitors can snorkel along the moat wall. Jason and I experienced some of the most vibrant and varied marine life we've ever seen snorkeling there.
Only accessable by sea plane, ferry, or catamaran, the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson are a spectacular day trip. We went by catamaran and the trip was 2 1/2 hours each way. The islands are still dry, but if we ever go again, Jason and I will camp there so we can spend two full days investigating the history and ecology of this American treasure.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away...

Our first day in Key West started out WAY too early even though we slept until almost nine. Jason hit the shower first while I languished in bed under the guise that I was going to try to find the weather channel. After only a few minutes in the shower, Jason hollered for me. "See if you can figure out how to get this water hot," he said. I, naturally, assumed this was a ploy designed to eventually get me into the shower with him, but when I stuck my hand under the spray I found that it was actually quite cold. Jason had the handle cranked all the way to the "hot" side. I thought maybe the handle was reversed, but when I twisted it toward the "cold" side, it actually got colder. I was filled with righteous indignation as I took my barely luke warm shower. I griped and railed as I shivered. When I fiddled with the knob again to turn off the shower, I discovered that the cold water was caused by a scald guard. I twisted it just a bit further toward the "cold" side and was rewarded with blissfully hot water!
We met David and Paula and drove through the blinding rain to IHOP where we stuffed ourselves for brunch. It was still pouring when we left the restaurant, so we cruised around a little (and laughed at the tourists who had foolishly rented bikes or mopeds for the day...fools!), shopped (Dave bought swim trunks, Paula & I bought shoes), visited the southern most point in the continental United States (snapped some photos), walked on the beach (and took a long walk on an equally long pier), and prayed for the rain to stop. Finally, the rain eased to a mere sprinkle. We decided to go on a sunset snorkel cruise. We bought our tickets and by the time we had boarded the catamaran, the rain had completely stopped.
Although it was still cloudy, the boat ride to the coral reef was beautiful and relaxing. The snorkeling at our first stop was good and we saw lots of tropical fish and a few jellyfish as well. After about an hour of snorkeling, we boarded the boat and cruised to a second location. The snorkeling at the second site wasn't quite as good, but we were just all glad to be doing something vacation-y. As we motored back in to Key West, we got to watch a beautiful sunset.
We were all ravenous by the time we got ashore. Our last meal had been at ten in the morning and it was now 7:30 p.m. We decided to go to dinner as we were (damp, disheveled, and smelly...well, Dave was smelly) and headed over to Outback. Bellies full, we set the plan for the following day and turned in.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting There

After days (as opposed to weeks, months, or even years) of careful planning, Jason and I joined David & Paula on a couples get-away to the Florida Keys. At seven o'clock Friday morning, we pulled our luggage out to the driveway and sat in our camp chairs until the Biffles pulled up. We chucked the luggage in the back of the truck, then we were off! We made great time to Tulsa and were all settled in on our first flight before we knew it. We had a three hour layover in Dallas which was going to put us into Miami later than we had hoped to be there, but all of our flights were great. The "fun" began in Miami airport.
If you've never been in Miami International, count your blessings. Not only is MIA huge and crowded, but it is also filthy and an completely un-user friendly. In order to get to baggage claim, we walked approximately two miles, then stood for twenty minutes or so waiting for our bags to arrive via carousel. Thankfully they were there! Of course, our "on site" rental car agency wasn't actually at the airport, so we stood outside with our bags and waited and waited and waited for the Thrifty shuttle to collect us. Meanwhile, four (count them, FOUR) Enterprise shuttles, Two Hertz shuttles, and Two Budget Shuttles passed by before our ship came in. We loaded in and prayed all the way to the rental car agency as our driver ignored both traffic laws and common sense during the ten minute drive.
I don't know why this is, but renting a car is never painless. It is a ridiculously laborious process, even when everything goes smoothly. Which, in our case, it did not. The three seats located inside the shop were filthy and occupied, so we stood as Jason stood in the long and impossibly slow moving line. By the time he reached the counter I had actually secured one of the disgusting chairs and had plopped my exhausted self in it. He seemed to be haggling at the counter even longer than one usually does when renting a car, so I moseyed on up to check on his progress. I arrived at the counter just in time to hear the sale's person tell Jason that the only car she had available was going to run $62 a day. Knowing that our reservation was for a car that would cost $22 a day, I butted in. Apparently, they couldn't find our reservation. I insisted that we had a reservation and a confirmation number. Regardless, she kicked us out of line. I called Hannah and had her open my email in search of the confirmation. She found it...with Enterprise. Enterprise! Enterprise which we could no longer get to. Crap! We called the reservation desk and secured a reservation for a car (that would run between $22/day and $62/day, but beggars can't be choosers and all that). Then, Jason spent another 30 minutes in line. We finally pulled out of Thrifty in our Journey near 10:30 p.m. We still had a three hour drive ahead of us.
We arrived in Key West at just after two a.m. and checked our bleary eyed selves into the surprisingly nice hotel. We decided to sleep in the next morning and parted ways. Jason and I tromped up to our room, slid the key into the slot and...nothing. If at first you don't succeed...slid the key into the slot and...nothing. J wearily hiked back down to the front desk and the night manager re-coded the keys. He returned ten minutes later, slid the key into the slot and...nothing. You've got to be kidding me! He crawled back downstairs and returned (after another ten minutes) with the night manager who unlocked our door with his master key. He explained that the lock must be low on batteries and assured us that they would be replaced in the morning. We were in! We slung ourselves onto the bed and remained unconscious until our alarms rudely woke us up at nine. We were still tired, it was pouring rain, but we were in Key West!