Soon I came upon some cannons that had been put there from a shipwreck for people to explore. There were some fish swimming in and out of these objects. I was following one fish trying to get a nice photo of it when all of a sudden it took off. I didn’t move enough to cause it to disappear so what scared it. Immediately I looked behind me and saw what it was. A larger school of fish coming right at me. These fish were about 18 inches long or so and there were hundreds of them. At first I wasn’t sure if I should try and swim away quickly or if it was to late and they were going to hit me. After considering the situation for a few seconds I calmed down and just watched as I became a part of their school and they swam all around me. Above me, below, and on both sides. What an amazing experience something of which I have never been a part of before.
Once the school had vanished out of sight I quickly looked around for Karen who was snorkeling with me and could not find her. Popping my head above the surface I saw she was closer to shore and swam to talk to her. Excitedly I asked if she had seen the school of fish which see hadn’t however she did see one or two of them and wasn’t overly thrilled by it. She continued to explain that while she was watching a fish swim around a larger one came from behind and ate it. I realized at that point those fish had seeked us out because we were disturbing fish as we swam making them easier prey. I began to laugh at the circle of life and shared the experience of being engulfed in hundreds of fish. After a few minutes we continued swimming to see what else there may be to find and also search for a stingray if it was near.
There were some really interesting looking fish hiding out around the shipwreck pieces and around the ledge of the drop-off. I did build up the courage to go a little distance beyond this wall into the unknown but wasn’t really able to see much so returned to exploring shallower areas. After continuing on this little underwater adventure for awhile the school of fish returned and this time Karen also became part of the school. At first she was startled but then took it all in like I had the first time around. This time I was able to just enjoy the experience and take a few photographs. Once they had left Karen and I shared our experiences with each other for a few minutes and decided we have been shivering long enough that it was time to get out of the water and warm up.
While swimming back towards shore I was feeling extremely satisfied with the decision to enter the water in spite of the cold and potential disappointment of the area reserved for this. I also felt a little disappointed for those who were in the water before us and did not get to see the giant school of fish. We did mention it to another couple that had just entered the water in hopes they would get to experience becoming a part of a school if only for a few brief moments. We washed off and cleaned our gear allowing it to dry for a few minutes before walking saying good bye to the Florida Keys. In the end our decision to take to the water came down to one thing – would we regret it if we never tried to snorkel in this beautiful place? Without a doubt the answer would have been YES! Who knows if we will ever make it back to do it again and look at all the things we would have missed out on.
Out in the middle of this designated swimming/snorkeling area a stingray came flying above the surface and splashed down back into the water. I’ve read about this and heard about it but never actually saw it myself. Now the decision to stay dry didn’t seem as important. There was the possibility of swimming with stingrays again. After a few minutes of conversation and thought it was decided that we came all this way, we have the gear with us, let’s use it and warm up later. It’s not like the water was cold enough to produce hyperthermia … was it? So off to the car to fetch our equipment and change into swimming attire.
After getting set up to go into the water we got to the waters edge and then the cold hit. Motivation was waning. Another step in and stop to acclimate. Another step. And then another. Now I was in water almost to my waist and I wasn’t sure I could go any further. It had taken about 10 minutes just to get this far into the water. Knowing the afternoon was speeding by and time to leave would come faster than we wanted I was trying to push on and acclimate a little faster but my shivering was increasing in intensity pushing me to get out of the water. Finally I took another step into deeper water and stood there for a a minute or two more. The water kept moving higher on me taking my breath away with each wave. After deciding enough time had been wasted by slowly moving into the water along knowing there were sights under water that I was missing I took the plunge and dived in. It was painful and I couldn’t get above the surface fast enough to take in the warmth of the sun. Standing again for a minute or two I dove in again and this time took off swimming while looking for creatures of the deep (or at least underwater).
At first there were several small fish without much color but not a lot to view as had been mentioned other snorkelers. Swimming further out from shore I came upon a huge drop-off where the ground gave away and I could barely see a bottom. This caught me by surprise as a drop-off of this magnitude was not expected this close to shore. I couldn’t bring myself to go over the edge of this underwater wall because I couldn’t see the bottom. What if another stingray made its’ way to the surface and smacked into me? Or worse, what if something scared the stingray to the surface and that was still down there? No, I’m definitely staying where I can see what’s going on.
Continue on to the next post to read about the most spectacular experience of this afternoon….
Our arrival in Key West was in plenty of time to check in at the hotel, find a place to park, and even look for a few souvenirs all before the sunset experience in Mallory Square. I will do a complete post on Mallory Square later so not many details will be shared here. While at Mallory Square we witnessed a couple miss their cruise ship requiring them to chase the ship down in a small boat and climb aboard using a rope ladder all while the ship was backing out of the harbor and a gorgeous sunset. While on a past cruise I had the pleasure of catching the last tender boat out to the ship as I tend to want to explore as long as possible (my father-in-law has more stories of that). While watching the couple chase the ship I was asked how much of a chance I would take on another cruise if that is a possible result of being too late. To me, this would be a fun experience which I may try on the next cruise so this show had the opposite effect on me than desired by my wife. In her defense, she thought I missed the ship so has already had a taste of what that feels like and would prefer not to experience that again. Only time will tell I guess. I may try to take her with me while missing the ship. This photo of the sunset reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean.
The next morning there was the pleasure of an alarm clock. This was never intended however the noise coming from this chicken made it a little difficult to sleep. Being awakened at sunrise was not in the plans but apparently was necessary. While laying there wanting to go back to sleep I couldn’t decide whether I had the desire to go out and feed the animals or have chicken for lunch. A word of caution, chickens are quite common on Key West so there is a greater chance that this will happen. After getting up and deciding to eat breakfast there was still a crowing close by. I decided to find this chicken so intent on waking us up. Once it was spotted all I could do was smile as I showed it to Karen who was equally irritated with this chicken. I smiled because I knew once she caught sight of the little baby chicks with the hen this rooster was protecting she would instantly forget about her irritations. How can you stay made at the cute little baby chickens?
By the way, we did end up eating chicken later that day!
During our journey to Key West we enjoyed a number of activities along the way. A year ago while driving out to Key West for the first time I had read about this place called Robbie’s Marina. If you’re interested you can read the post describing potential activities in the keys here. On that trip we never found Robbie’s. As it turns out, it was dark by the time we got to Islamorada which is why I never saw it. This time, however, we made the trip during the middle of the day in order to enjoy more of the sights along US 1 and just as we crossed the bridge to Islamorada, there it was – a sign for Robbie’s. I quickly slammed on the breaks and made the turn into the marina. It was never our intention to stop but there it was so we at least had to check it out.
I was amazed at how busy it was. There were some open air shops along with a restaurant and the marina. It costs $1.00 per person to enter the docks for the famous tarpon feeding. We paid our fee along with purchasing some food for the fish and on to the designated spot we went. There are some hazards you encounter before getting to the fish. These “hazards” are the pelicans. Not only do the fish like an easy meal but so do these feathered friends. They are not shy about chasing you and trying to steal your bucket of fish food (bait fish). Once getting past the gauntlet of birds we moved quickly to the feeding area set up to keep them out. I was advised not to get to close to the water as the fish take whatever appears and smells like food. All in all we spent about an hour at Robbie’s and enjoyed the sights. At their website they have webcams available to view the tarpon and pelicans. It’s a good reminder for us of our short time there.
After this fun experience we continued onward toward Key West. Fortunately along the way there are several places you can pull off and enjoy the scenery or go fishing. We decided it was time to eat so we happened by this great park right by US 1. There was cold pizza and fruit in the trunk from previous meals and we each had a drink with us so a nice spot with a little shade to eat and then enjoy some sun was in order. We could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon here as the temperatures were near 80 0F with a slight breeze but our ultimate goal was to get to Key West in time to experience the sunset there so back on the road for the remainder of the trip. Looking at the photo below can you blame us for wanting to stay longer?
For more bits and pieces from the keys click here…