Sunday, October 2, 2016

20 years! --Miami and Key Largo

For our 20 year anniversary I was really hoping I could finally visit Europe. However reality intruded in the form of our budget. We spent a lovely overnight in Park City right on our anniversary, then did a longer trip to Florida and the Keys to really celebrate. Such a funny story. It was Jeff's turn to plan the anniversary trip. He worked so hard on it --tracking flight prices for multiple locations, hotels and their amenities, excursions, weather, comparing prices with different websites --he worked on it for months. I started to get a bit impatient. Finally at the end of July, he gave me his summation report and turned it over to me. That week I found an open morning to sit down and book the whole thing. Sometimes all of the deals just paralyze you --keeping you from making a decision. I was a little worried about hurricane season back east this time of year, but just went for it and hoped for the best.

Our first hotel room in Miami was lovely --although I can't recommend it. The parking cost as much as a nice restaurant meal.

But it had a lovely view and was right on the beach. Of course we only went to the beach for a little while that evening. The next morning we drove down to Key Largo. Did you know it is only an hour and a half drive from Miami?
We checked into our Key Largo hotel, and immediately got our snorkeling stuff and ran to the John Pennekamp Coral reef state park, Jeff was trying to remember the name later while telling the story and called it the John Mellencamp park (I told him he forgot the "Cougar"). The water was pretty cloudy with all of the mangroves growing around the edge, but we still saw some pretty cool fish when we went out there. I saw something really...big. I don't know if it was a shark or a big barracuda. It's scarier when you can't tell! 
The most interesting things we saw were loads of jellyfish. These were the Cassiopea variety and don't have much of a sting. Most of them were upside down floating in the shallows  to help collect sunlight. They have a symbiotic relationship with the algae incorporated into their bodies that uses photosynthesis to live.

We cleaned up quickly and hurried to the Sundowners restaurant to catch the sunset while we ate. Walking in from the car, rain started to pelt my freshly washed and dried hair. Maybe that was bad luck, but it was exciting to see the storm come in and lash everything around on the restaurant patio, and their key lime pie was everything we had been promised by the friend who recommended it.

That night we discussed plans for the next day. We both had come to Florida and the Keys chiefly for the water. We both love to snorkel and scuba dive, but I have that open water phobia thing. Ever since the Caymans and my scare with the currents, I have been nervous about how I will react in open water. Our Hawaii trip was almost ruined by it a few years ago, our Monterey dive trip was kind of a mess because of it, and I haven't scuba'd since. I was hoping I was past freaking out, but who knows? I told Jeff to go ahead and book a scuba trip, and worst came to worst, I would sit in the boat. We used Rainbow Reef Divers, and I highly recommend them as being fully professional. They told us that since we hadn't done a dive in a few years, they would require us to do a refresher course before letting us go. I was FINE with that. We met McKenzie at the pool the next morning.

 I was surprisingly comfortable in the pool until I had to demonstrate taking my mask all the way off under water, replacing it and clearing it to use. I asked to go to the shallows in case I freaked. If you panic at depth while on scuba, you can really mess yourself up. I was able to do it fine in the shallows however, and felt more confident after that.
 On the boat that afternoon, my stomach started doing flips. A pool is one thing, but what if I lost control out in the open ocean? I tried to just listen to instructions, and go through the motions of getting my gear ready. If I pretend I'm all right I will be all right. Right?
 Everyone has a slot to slip into their BCD and tank and fins, and then when you get to where you are going you jump off the back of the boat.  We were doing a two tank trip, and used one tank at French reef, and the second at Molasses reef. We were so sorry not to have a gopro to take pictures under water! I wasn't ready to pony up the 400.00 for the camera on the spot at the shop, so McKenzie generously offered to bring hers and take pictures for us. It turned out she had trouble loading them onto her computer to send them, so she ended up just texting me a few, but I was glad to get them!

 The resolution does not do these dives justice! I had trouble with my mask leaking on the first dive, and was able to use my newly reacquired mask clearing skills. Along with my ears that gave me trouble clearing as I went down, I had a nervous few minutes, but surprisingly, after that I was PERFECT! No nerves at all. The warm water and great visibility helped loads I'm sure.

I wish McKenzie had sent pictures of all the cool things we saw. SO many cool fish --including trunk fish, eels, parrot fish, rays, etc.


I was so grateful my fear didn't keep me from this experience. I remember thinking about my kids, and how I hope they stay healthy so they can all do this someday. It is like another planet. So amazing. We slept well that night, and in the morning drove to Key West.


belann said...

What a memorable trip. I'm glad my fear of you diving with the sharks didn't keep you back either. :)

CowanTravels said...

LOVE the underwater pics! Good for you for overcoming that fear. Don't know about the sharks though....