Monday, May 12, 2008

Vacation Wrap-Up

I fell woefully behind in keeping you updated on my vacation activities. In the end, there was just too much going on, too much fun and merriment, and too much to be taken in to be able to write about it as it happened.

We ended the vacation with a big trip via sea plane to The Dry Tortugas, the pictures of which I posted in the previous post without text so the images would all be clickable for larger versions. The Tortuga's are a chain of seven islands located in the Gulf of Mexico 70 miles from Key West. The largest island, and the one we visited, is actually the most remote national park in the US, accessible only by boat or sea plane. The US government began construction of a military fort on the island in the 1840's hauling millions of bricks via ship to the location. As you can see from the aerial photo I took, the fort is shaped much like the pentagon and is surrounded on all sides by a brick sea wall that forms a moat.

For some reason, construction of the fort was abandoned and the incomplete fort was then used to house Civil War POW's (in the 1860's) and then later, as a regular prison eventually becoming the national park and bird sanctuary it is today.

The flight out to the island was a scenic one, only 500 feet above the ocean and 40 minutes in duration. Lou, our pilot, pointed out and flew even lower over various locations of interest like a private island and several of Mel Fisher's multi-million dollar shipwreck finds which I dutifully snapped photos of (I'd post the shipwreck photos, but they only look like shadows in the water).

Looking through the viewfinder eventually made me very nauseous prone as I am to motion sickness in the first place. I had to spend the remaining 20 minutes of the flight like a dog with my nose pressed as close to the tiny window air vent as possible and praying my roiling stomach (full of my usual lunch time margarita--what was I THINKING?) wouldn't get the best of me. Fortunately for everyone, it didn't.

Landing on the water went surprisingly well and, once I slogged on to the beach after gratefully scrambling out of the plane, my sickness was quickly forgotten. Because, oh my goodness. It was just like Gilligan's Island. If there had been a fort there. We headed for the visitor center and watched a short video about the history of the island and then headed to the snorkeling beach.

My companion, a snorkeling enthusiast, had packed gear to do that with and at the airport, the sea plane people asked me if I needed any. Although I told them no, they packed me some on the plane anyway. And once standing on the completely unspoiled and near empty white sand beach (also pictured in the previous post) and gazing into the crystal clear water under a gorgeous azure sky, I knew I'd be insane not to at least give snorkeling a try.

Why would I be so afraid of snorkeling you ask? That would be nearly 100% attributable to an unforgettable viewing of this at a VERY impressionable age (age three if you're wondering). I've never as much as contemplated sticking even a toe in the ocean without the soundtrack going off in an endless terrifying loop in my head. Plus? How many tragic ocean stories have you read that began, "While snorkeling off the coast of --fill in the blank--a terrified couple were attacked by a--shark/man eating squid/rabid alligator/two-headed sea monster/web footed lava lizard/whatever terrifying creature you can think of--". You know. That sort of thing.

Still...I was in a tropical paradise (I told myself). So, I took a big girl pill and agreed to give it a try. Once suited up (and can I say again? thank GOD I got contacts) with my flippers and mask and inflatable vest I felt as though all I was missing was a large flashing sign across my ass reading "SHARK DINNER". Nevertheless, I bravely flopped across the beach and into the water where, the first time the water got up to my neck I hysterically screamed "HELP!" through my snorkel tube. Like, maybe three times. Or ten.

I was instructed to just put my face in the water. Many times. And then? I just did it. I put my face in the water. And I was completely weightless and all I could hear was the sound of my own breath in my ears and all I could feel was the cool ocean water against my skin and the sun on my back and everything before my eyes looked just like an aquarium. Only the aquarium was endless and everywhere. There was coral and shells and fish. I kicked a flipper and glided across the water double quick.

And just like that? I was hooked.

We snorkeled for maybe a quarter of a mile around the island. It was magical and amazing and I only was scared once, when a lone guy who had walked out on the moat wall to fish shouted out and told us there was a five-foot barracuda swimming near where he was standing (maybe 15 feet from where I was). I responded by shouting back, "Don't say the b-word, okay? Just don't say it!" And we swam on and I never saw a barracuda. Just small friendly-sized fish (I know one kind was a parrot fish) that dart around coral like you see in salt water aquariums and such. We probably snorkeled for an hour and a half, but I could have stayed in much longer.

By the time we emerged, we didn't have much time left before the plane was to leave, and we spent it walking out on the sea wall which is when I got the shot of the sea turtle you can see in my picture post. I actually have about eight great shots of him every bit as good as the one I posted thanks to my trusty camera.

Those who know me and the fact that I have skin that generally stays fish-belly white year-round, are likely wondering if I fried in the tropical sun to a deep shade of lobster red. And the answer to that is I WOULD have, were it not for Neutrogena's latest sun block which now is up to an amazing SPF of SEVENTY. Yes, SPF 70 for fair, vampire-ish maidens such as myself. I am burnt in places that I missed with the screen and am otherwise mostly just tanned. Yes! Tanned! Simply amazing.

I actually did lots more on my trip that I could write about, but I feel the moment has passed. Suffice it to say I had a wonderful, incredible time and I can't think of a better way to end up my hiatus from work.



Brenda said...

OMG....a five-foot barracuda??? Thank god I didn't know THAT!

ChristaD said...

An enthralling post! I felt as if I were drifting along right there with you! What a glorious vacation.

Anonymous said...

Ahh. Wish I could've been there. At least for the margarita part. Please email me and give me the scoop on the upcoming job (when you have time)!

Please post a photo of you all tanned. I gotta see this.