Friday, December 4, 2009

Paradise found again: the rain is ended

 Tomorrow we will be heading home again. The past few days have been full of fun and laughter and sunshine. Some of the days were rather colder than we hoped for, but we took our adventures wherever we found them and are ending this vacation with a satisfied feeling.

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The pool finally warmed up to where we could enjoy it, although the air was still a bit too cool when we came out of the water.

 We had hoped to go fishing aboard the "Sea Squared" but the weather did not cooperate on the dates we had planned. However, that loss was more than made up for (at least by my measure) when we joined Capt. Chris Johnson and wife Chrissy aboard the "Sea Squared" for a delightful sunset cruise. I cannot recommend this adventure highly enough. There were five adults and our toddler grandson on the boat witnessing the most important ritual of the Florida Keys: Sunset. Every sunset in the Keys is unique and memorable and this one was no exception.

We found that the Marathon Lady was going out for a half-day of fishing even though they had only seven people paying to go out. The catch was enough to feed the four of us twice and we still have leftovers to freeze and take home.  We always seem to go fishing on the Lady at least once each visit. In the summer, the night trips are great for those who can't tolerate the heat and/or sun.

We had lobster tails TWICE! Our oldest son and daughter stopped to buy fresh lobster on the way to the house the first night and prepared a delicous dinner for us here at the rental house. The next day was Thanksgiving and we ate dinner at one of our favorite restaurants on Marathon, the Island Fish Co and Tiki Bar. My son and I each enjoyed a very generous portion of coconut fried lobster tails while our daughter and my husband enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner complete with pumpkin pie.

We visited the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center just north of Marathon on Grassy Key. The facility once was home to the original "Flipper" TV show popular in the 1950s. Some of Flipper's descendants still live and perform there and the guides say that the skill of these dolphins outshines that of the newer residents. The facility has been improved a lot in recent years and now boasts a winding nature trail and a childrens discovery area as well as new piers and benches along the viewing areas.

This adventure is a must see every time we visit the Florida Keys. They do offer a "dolphin encounter" but it tends to be booked up as much as a year ahead  A very few people each day are allowed to swim with the dolphins after attending a training session that teaches them to approach the dolphins in a respectful manner.  The dolphins had not seen many people since it is off-season and we were encouraged to pay attention to them, talk, clap, and whistle to interact with these beautiful animals. When we arrived about 9am, the wind was about 30 knots out of the north and the temperature hovered around 45-50 degrees. We wore layers of shirts since we hadn't  brought jackets. It was too cold to stay very long but we had our hands stamped so we could come back later. As it turned out, Darren and I were able to return while the others went on the half-day fishing excursion.  By mid-afternoon the weather had improved and the wind died down so we were able to spend more time watching the new baby dolphin, born less than a week ago, as her mother and help-mother swam beside her helping her to surface and breath.

Next day, we went to another favorite spot, Bahia Honda State Park, just across the famous Seven-Mile bridge south of Marathon. The guys were all about fishing under the bridge there while we girls and the grandbaby enjoyed the beach and toured the Discovery Center and the butterfly garden. Bahia Honda won the distinctive title of Best Beach in America at least once. There are camping facilities for tents and RVs as well as a few cabins which tend to be booked a year in advance. We camped there in an RV in August 2008 and despite the relentless heat and omnipresent mosquitoes, we had a wonderful time. 

We found the wonderful Field of Dreams Rotary childrens playground that was tightly spiraled to include children from toddler age to tween-agers all having fun in and around each other. A perfect family experience and shady too. That is practically a miracle in itself here in sunny Florida. Not a problem with the weather so cool, but it is always a plus here where sunburns are a real danger all year round.

We stopped at the Turtle Hospital since the little one loves turtles so much. But it turns out that the tour is prefaced by a rather long video and talk that the volunteers didn't think he would be able to sit through. Since this was required prior to the tour, we had to be satisfied with looking at the displays in the entry area/giftshop. Several huge sea turtle shells were mounted there and we were all amazed at the size of them.

The kids enjoyed kayaking in the canal behind the house yesterday and this morning the ultimate kayaking experience... the ocean. Dad was fishing nearby, while grandson Darren and I explored the beautiful Sombrero Beach and the playground there.

My first-born said he could not face his friends unless he at least drove through Key West so off we went. The round-trip journey which included one stop for latte on the way in and a stop for soft drinks on the way out took about two and a half hours since we made the broad circle around the outer perimeter of the island. This time of year the pedestrians and scooter riders were few and we didn't see a single chicken downtown.

The kids all left on Sunday leaving Dad and me to say goodbye to paradise. The weather by then was absolutely perfect so we were able to make a little side trip to Pigeon Key. Pigeon Key is a mysterious little island only accessible by boat, bicycle or on foot over a long span of the old seven-mile bridge that once connected Marathon to what is now Bahia Honda State park. Each time we see the island in passing we plan to go but our plans never worked out until this year. We were transported to the island by boat, a trip of about 15 minutes and greeted by a guide who walked us through the main points of the island explaining its various lifetimes of service. Originally used as housing for workers  by Henry Flagler for the legendary railroad that made Key West accessible by land. In the 1970s it served as oceanographic study site for the University of Miami and now stands as a museum and memorial to that vast project. The island is only about 5 acres and houses about a dozen buildings that once served the workers. A ramp from the island leads up to the old seven-mile bridge and offers a wonderful view. Many families take a lunch, snorkling gear or fishing equipment and spend the day on the island. We spent nearly 3 hours enjoying the area before catching the hourly boat back to Marathon. This is one of the best and least expensive adventures in the area, costing only $11 apiece including the boat ride.

We managed to have seafood every day of our vacation even though my husband was hankering for a big old hamburger, but I didn't want to break the spell. We decided to have our last meal at Keys Fisheries, a place I had been wanting to check out on the Gulf side at 35th street. There we found a concession stand order window where I was happy to order lobster salad wrap. I was so fascinated by this beautiful big red pepper wrap stuffed with delicious lobster salad (for the price of a hamburger), I didn't even notice what he ordered! Persistent gulls had to be chased away from the big picnic tables where we were  enjoying our lunch by one of the servers. Huge tarpon swimming in the water beside us tempted people to share their lunch, which attracted the unwanted birds. As we left we exchanged cameras with another couple and had typical tourist pictures taken.

One more thing and we were on our way. We had to stop at the front of the Keys Fisheries and buy lobster tails and stone crab claws to have when we got back home.

1 comment:

Danna Crawford said...

Oh what great fun I can see you had! Good for you to be able to spend time with your family!!!! xo