Visit Dry Tortugas NP Day 3

Photos of the day are here.

Day3 (1)We were excited about our planned ferry ride out to the Dry Tortugas National Park today. The tiny key, sometimes called the “Guardian of the Gulf” is about 70 miles west of Key West and only accessible by boat or sea plane. The group of tiny islands are famous for their bird life, but we were most excited about the clear waters and reportedly good snorkeling.

We booked our tickets on the Yankee Freedom when we first arrived in Key West, and even though the weather forecast called for clouds and rain, it was the only chance to go. The alarm rang at 6, time enough to walk to the docks in time for the 7:30 AM check in. Walking in the early morning darkness, we encountered a crew of workers cleaning up the street mess of the previous evening’s revels. Day3 The young man said that first a crew blows the debris into the streets, then another crew hoses down the sidewalks with disinfectant, and finally the street sweepers scoop it all up into trucks to be hauled away to the landfill. Comparing the evening party on Duval street to this early morning clean-up was eye-opening.

Once on board the Yankee Freedom we settled in to a table on the upper decks and enjoyed the included breakfast while we motored out of the harbor. It was a pretty morning, but as we continued west the haze and fog over the seas were a bit of a disappointment.

Day3 (16) After almost three hours at sea, we arrived at Fort Jefferson. From a distance, it is apparent that the fort encompasses almost the entire island, with just a few spits of sand and coral around the edges. Built in the mid-1800’s , the historic fort was constructed to protect the Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes, and was used as a prison during the Civil War. Constructed from more than 16 million bricks, with walls that are 8 feet thick, the fort was never actually completed. One of the most well known prisoners was Dr Samuel Mudd, who was convicted of participating in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln.

The islands were first discovered by Ponce De Leon in 1513 and named Las Tortugas because of the many turtles. It was called “Dry” because there was no fresh water on the islands. Our excursion included a tour of the fort and the guide told some great stories about the life of the more than 2000 people who lived there at one time. With the invention of the rifled cannon, the fort became obsolete because the thick walls could be penetrated. The Army abandoned the fort officially in 1974 and in 1908 Teddy Roosevelt established a wildlife refuge there to protect the many birds that used the tiny islands as a migratory resting place. It wasn’t until 1992 that Dry Tortugas became a National Park, one of the newest parks and one of the most remote.

Day3 (32) The fort is an imposing structure, and is surrounded by a large moat. It seems a bit strange to have a moat surrounding a fort in the middle of the ocean, but it made for great photo opportunities, with lovely reflections of the bricks and the sea in the background. Originally the moat was planned as an outlet for sewage from inside the fort, but the design didn’t take into account the lack of high enough tides to carry the effluent out to sea. In this area, the tides are less than a foot. One of the many difficulties of living in the fort was the stench, and the salt that found it’s way into all the drinking water because of the poor design.

After our tour of the fort grounds, we went to one of the tiny beaches to snorkel along the moat wall and around some pilings. The reef was shallow and the water was moderately clear, but there were few fish to be seen. After some time we finally did see a few barracudas and some tiny silver fish in huge schools darting through the sandy channels among the corals. The water was cold as well, and after an hour or so, we had enough. We have our own snorkel gear, except for fins, and today we used the fins that were supplied along with the tour gear. The fins wore me out, and I don’t like using them at all, but Mo might decide to use them again. The biggest fish of the day was a giant grouper, estimated at more than 400 pounds, that we saw just lazing around near the pilings under the boat.

Day3 (38)Lunch was provided with the trip as well, and it was really very good. As the boat left for Key West we found our upstairs table and settled in for the ride. This time our companions were an interesting family from the Midwest. I remember the woman most of all because she provided some crackers to me when I needed them most. I was sick, really uncomfortable with the rough ride home, and was freezing as well. I thought the trip back would never end. So much for me not getting sea sick anymore!

Once on shore, however, I recuperated quickly and enjoyed the walk home through town. We walked east on Simonton Street, another main road that we hadn’t managed to find previously. I saw a sign that said “Pelican Poop Shoppe” and couldn’t resist. What a magical find! Once inside the shop there were walls and walls of colorful metal sculptures, flags, flowers, fish, kitschy stuff but also quite lovely. A tiny sign led to the garden where a whole new world opened up before our eyes. The shop proprietor told the story of his father’s purchase of the building as a burned out, run down warehouse, and how he gutted it and rebuilt it. After 15 years of magic, the interior gardens have tropical plants that reach to the open sky, the old cistern is a deep reflecting pool, and the 21,000 square feet of living space around the garden houses 4 family members. It was a great example of the kind of artsy goofy people and places that can be hiding in Key West.

keys_iphone (30) After that treat we ambled down to Whiteside Street, and feeling very hungry and tired, started looking for a place to eat. Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West is an icon, and we had passed it a couple of times on our previous walks. This time, however, we decided to brave the noise and crowds and go in for our supper. It was great, if a bit raunchy, bawdy, and very loud. I ordered the Sloppy Joe made famous in this very bar and it tasted just like a good sloppy joe should taste. We had a drink and listened to the very loud band singing a bit in between very dirty jokes and waved at the webcam. It was fun to do once, but we surely don’t have to do it again, and probably wouldn’t recommend the place to anyone.

Our day ended happily with a stroll back to our soft little blue and yellow room up the narrow staircase. Once again we were too tired to take advantage of the delightful little pool in the gardens below our window.

Cabo San Lucas and our final day at Sea January 15 and 16

01_15_SeaDay (35)
Mo and I visited Cabo San Lucas on my daughter’s wedding cruise in 2006 and were unimpressed. On that cruise, we did a sea kayak trip to Lover’s Beach. It was crowded and the tandem sea kayak was heavy and unwieldy in the big waves compared to our sleek personal kayaks. We initially thought we would just stay on board this time and not bother doing anything in port. However, during our previous sea day we decided that another good snorkel trip would be fun, and probably more worthwhile than trying to find a place to snorkel on the crowded beaches on our own.

01_15_SeaDay (32) We signed up for a Zodiac boat trip to a snorkel site with a bit of whale-watching thrown in. What a day it turned out to be! The port at Cabo is touristy, busy, but still fun to walk and explore a bit. We saw what we could on foot, and then found a great little waterfront cafe for beer and snacks and people watching.
Our tour didn’t depart until afternoon, so we didn’t feel the least bit rushed. The Zodiac rubber boats are fast and stable, used for rescue work and tourists. By the time we boarded, the wind and waves were getting wilder, and we remembered kayaking through those waves the last time we were here. The boatman was a young, slim boy who seemed to be at home with the boat and as if he knew what he was doing. He took us over the big waves out to Lover’s Beach again, and then along the coast to our first beach snorkel site. The snorkeling here was excellent, with clear water and the waves were gentle. After 45 minutes, the guide took us to another beach where there were more fish. Again, the snorkling was decent, nothing too spectacular, and the water was a bit murky because of the wind and not very warm. We did see some beautiful schools , some Queen angels and other varieties, and there were more fish in this location because they were fed at this beach. By the time our guide whistled us back to the boat, the waves were big and strong and Mo and I were close to the beach. The swim back to the boat was wild and rough, and I was really glad I had a snorkel on or I would have swallowed a lot of water.

01_15_SeaDay (41)Back on the boat, we headed south along the shore, in the opposite direction of the port. It was obvious that the waves were so big that the boatman was afraid to turn around. He went a long way before finding just the right swell to turn us. We whipped around, bounced high, and held on tight. It was a very wild ride, and the next day our bodies were sore but not bruised from all the holding and bouncing. It was great fun.

01_15_SeaDay (4) Our final day at sea was quiet and relaxing, with our usual schedule of eating, walking, playing cards, sunning, reading, and knitting. The morning walk was especially beautiful as we rose before sunrise to see the sun coming up in the eastern sky over the ocean. The rest of the day was sweet. The cruise was a long one, but every single day was a treat, and the extra sea days gave me the chance to really, fully, completely relax. What a great beginning to my life of retirement!
The rest of the photos of Cabo San Lucas are here.

A Sea Day and Huatulco, Mexico January 11 and 12

01_11_SeaDay (3) This morning we awakened at 2 am with very high seas. Even though I haven’t been sick at all on this trip, I thought maybe I should be prepared and put on half a prevention patch. I probably could have done without it, though, and by 7:30 I took it off. They just make me feel too strange. The waves were so high that they sloshed all the water out of the swimming pool! We went to the library and I picked up a couple of books, then decided to do our sunning in the morning before lunch so it wouldn’t be so blazingly hot. We tried lunch in the San Marcos restaurant for a change, but were seated at a huge table for 10 and it was so weird that we got up and left and went instead to our usual salad buffet at the Seaside.

Another day of walking, checking email in the computer lab, playing cards in the Champagne Bar, and knitting. Lovely. After another evening walk we listened to some nice music as the sun set. We previously purchased an excursion for Huatulco that included another crocodile river trip, but decided to trade it for a snorkeling excursion. Neither of us particularly wanted to see more crocodiles, and we knew that good snorkeling might not be easy to find on our own. At first the excursion personnel said we would have to take our chances, but within an hour they sold our old tickets and sent new tickets to our cabin. Excellent service. After dinner we went to the casino, and decided to skip the theater show in favor of an early evening.  Our stop in Huatulco was to be a short one, with the ship landing at noon and our snorkel excursion at 1 pm. We skipped breakfast because there was another big brunch planned for the day from 10 to 2. This time we knew what to expect, and how to decide what to eat and where to find it in the midst of all the extravagant offerings.

01_12_Huatulco (37)The city of Huatulco is a perfect little port, perfect little town, perfect weather. It is situated near the older town of Santa Cruz on one of nine beach-ringed bays along 20 miles of pristine coastline. It is part of the Mexican government’s first eco-tourism resort, with an ecologically sensitive plan including strict building codes. Seventy percent of the area is held in ecological reserves to preserve the natural habitat. There was no sewage visible, no pollution going into the bay, and all the drinking water is distilled from sea water. Huatulco was the first port we visited that required a tender to go ashore, but the ride was short and interesting as we traveled into the coves and harbors of the main port. Everything seemed clean and fresh, including the air, with crystal blue skies. Mo and I both said we would enjoy spending some more extended time in the future.

01_12_Huatulco (47) Our tour was via an open air bus/van and instead of just snorkeling, the guide took us to the lighthouse so that we could have a view of the Sierra Madre mountains in the east and the ocean. It was lovely, warm and windy. We then traveled to a small bay with an open air restaurant where we snorkeled with the guide. We saw some queen angel fish, Achilles tangs, blue damsels, and parrot fish, but again the fish weren’t anything as wonderful as what we saw in Kauai last year. The guide led the group into an underwater cave but I had no desire to do that so I just swam back on my own. It was nice to swim without a life vest or fins, and I really enjoyed the snorkeling and the clear water.

After a beer at the beachside restaurant, we went shopping for some nice cotton dresses, and then headed back to the ship. We missed our formal dinner seating and instead had a great burger and fries at the poolside deck. Since a big tropical pool party was planned for 11 pm, we went back to our room for a nap. Our trusty alarm woke us in time to head up to the top deck for the party. The deck was decorated with trees, flowers, palm leaves, and a fabulous fruit buffet.
We had a great time at the party, enjoying the good music

and fresh fruit. I even joined in the obligatory Conga line, and had a great time dancing. The photo is blurry, I know, but I was dancing so fast, as the old saying goes, “As if No One Was Watching”. We didn’t get to sleep until after 2 AM.

More photos of Huatulco are here.