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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Florida Keys 2016

This winter break, we took the family over to the Florida's Keys area for a warm weather visit. There are a few reasons the Keys is attractive: first, it's in the continental US, so the flights are fairly easy, and the areas are familiar. Even stores like Costco and Target are available, which makes shopping for supplies much easier than some of the more exotic trips. Secondarily, it's almost at the Caribbean, which makes the water warm enough for swimming and snorkeling, as well as providing ideal location for a refresh dive. Added to the attractiveness is the idea that much of the Keys will be gone in a few decades as sea levels rise, so we should see it while we can! Houses in the area, for instance, are already built on stilts, with the idea that when floods and storms happen you would escape by car and abandon your garage/parking area to nature.

Neither Google nor Facebook no longer allow embedded slide shows of albums to blogger, so you now have to put up with a crummy web-link if you want to see the photo album.

Because it was our first time in the area, we screwed up a lot. First of all, we booked our rental house in Marathon, instead of Key West or Key Largo. When I looked at the map, I naively thought that Marathon being between Largo and West would make an ideal base from which to commute to both sides. What I didn't know was that traffic in the Keys is terrible, and Florida drivers are much worse than California drivers by several orders of magnitude. Commuting from Marathon to Key Largo was an ordeal during traffic hours, and there was one day when we abandoned a trip to Key West because there was a 4 hour traffic jam!

We did a dive trip from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. All those months spent teaching Bowen how to snorkel finally paid off as he enjoyed the water and loved looking at fishes. His limit was basically his ability to keep warm in the water. His favorite movie quickly became Finding Dory!

On New Year's Day, we went to Key West for the Yankee Freedom to ferry us to Dry Tortugas National Park. This place was touted as having the best snorkeling in the Keys and lived up to its reputation. While most tourists stayed near the beach, if you make it over to the coal pilings, it's like swimming in an aquarium!

We paid a visit to Bahia Honda State Park. Unfortunately, the wind and waves made it impossible to do any snorkeling, and the swimming was mediocre. Both kids enjoyed the sand and sun though.

One interesting feature of Marathon was that we could easily visit the Turtle Hospital. You need to make reservations for this, but it was all Bowen could talk about for a few days. The facilities were indeed impressive and it's interesting to see what sort of ailments are solutions the hospital developed. It's well worth visiting, and yes, some of the turtles were named after the mutant ninjas.

On our second visit to Key West, we visited the Hemingway House. At most museums you would avoid the dry, boring tour. Not here! The tours are led by funny guides who did a good job of making the writer's life interesting (not that any life which involved 4 marriages, several wars, and affairs needed a lot of help!).

We got to watch the sunset, but boy, the crowds were something as well. The house we were in had a dock, so we rented a tandem kayak to explore the area, and did some final snorkeling before leaving for the Orlando area.

If I had to do this trip all over again, I would either stay at Key Largo or Key West, preferably with a base in each area rather than trying to split the difference. The rest of it you're dependent very much on the weather anyway as to how good the snorkeling is. One thing worth trying is to rent a boat in Miami and sail/motor down to the Keys. It's not as pleasant as the BVIs, but there are enough anchorages that it would be prettier than trying to see the place by land.

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