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Stick With Your Passion: Dry Tortugas

Decided to visit some friends in Miami and knock off three national parks (Everglades, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas). After a delayed flight, I finally made it to E’s house about 1:00 am (uff! So tired). His nephew was kindly waiting up for me (or perhaps just using my arrival as an excuse to play video games?). Then in the morning, N’s mom (mom and nephew were visiting from Wisconsin), made me pancakes and sausage! GREAT way to start off my vacation. Felt so spoiled.

Hit the road towards the Everglades and saw my first gator on the long stretch of road into the park. I laughed out loud in sheer joy. I love alligators! I was so excited. Drove into Shark Valley Visitor Center which was located on the north side of the park. Then rented a bike to ride a 15 mile loop (and it was only $9/hour!). I’m thinking the overcast, slightly rainy weather (or maybe it being a Thursday in mid May) was the reason there were so many bikes available to rent (online reviews said there’s normally a wait).

I switched shirts, used an insect repellent wipe on my person (advice: apply bug spray to your face and neck as well! I did not and was annoyingly attacked/surrounded, especially once I started sweating. Oops), and then started biking. There’s a sign 5 yards down the trail stating not to feed or disturb the gators. Underneath the sign? A gator! I took a double look, questioning whether it was real. This huge gator was literally 3 feet from the trail where I sat on my old-school pedal bike. Three feet! Oh man. My heart rate accelerated and I freaked out a bit. Then less than a minute later, I saw another one next to the trail and I was TWO feet from it. My heartbeat escalated in excitement but also a little in fear. It took about six or seven gator sightings before I felt more calm when I would see one. Even then, if I didn’t see it at first, and suddenly one would appear in the brush, my heart rate jumped. Ahh gators!

What I found to be INSANE were the people that chose to walk the path. These gators that lay two feet away could decide to attack and there’s nowhere to go. At least I could (possibly) out bike them. The walker? The walker might not be fast enough. One guy was hunched next to the gator while his girl took photos with a huge expensive looking camera (luckily nothing happened, but that’s not to say it couldn’t). UPDATE 6/12/2018: a Florida woman was killed by a gator yesterday. According to the article (view here), there are 5 steps to survive a gator attack (listed at the bottom of this article).

To be honest, I saw zero movement from the gators. A few were swimming in the deeper parts, but mostly they just planted themselves on the bank or partially in the water and showed no interest in the humans around them. Majority of the time, their eyes were closed as well. The park ranger said alligators are inherently lazy. They barely need to feed, can survive on one raccoon a week. Also, they stop eating when water temperature drops below 68 to 73 degrees (aka over winter). I'd love to not have to eat during winter. Easily would be ready for bikini season come April! 

I was driving towards Everglades Alligator Farm when I decided to pull into one of those airboat places and do a tour! I recommend doing the airboat tour before Shark Valley as we only saw a few in the water. Granted, it was awesome to be right next to the swimming gator. The boat touched one and it flipped out and jumped up a little bit, splashing all around. Best part: I got to hold a 3 year old gator! That was awesome. So soft. So precious. 

After the airboat tour, I drove the 113 mile Overseas Highway towards Key West (KW). People in Florida were such nice drivers. They let me over, they waved and smiled. Such happy people, living by the water. I bought a poncho at the airboat place because it was 50%+ chance of rain the entire time I would be in KW. Guess what? It never rained! Woot. Woot. 

After checking into my hotel, I walked to the end of the island and took the iconic photo of the most southern point of the continental USA! Then walked down Duval Street to Sunset Pier in time for the Sunset Celebration. One of street performers was a guy I recognized from my visit 11 years ago! It amused me but brought me joy. He said he’d been performing here for the last 42 years! Stick with your passion was his advice to the young and old.

After watching the sun set, I visited Sloppy Joes (on the recommendation of my mom’s friend). Mistakenly ordered the Havana nachos with sloppy joe mix on top. Blegh. Not yummy. Didn’t care for the Papa Dobles either. Even though it was a fail in the food/drink department, it was a success with company. This one lady came up to the bar and asked what brought me down to KW. 

Me: Dry Tortugas National Park.

Her:  “Ohhhhh, I have my pass, I love it. When my 12 year old daughter goes off to college, I’m gonna sell everything I own, buy a van and start traveling.”

Me: Awesome!

Her: Where’s your favorite place?

“Oh so many. Mt Rainier, Glacier. Petrified Forest”

“Oh, where’s that?”

“Eastern Arizona but I think I loved it because I was in Sedona the day before and it put me at peace.”

“Oh my goooooodnessssss! Sedona is a magical place. I literally had a life epiphany there”


She had Fibromyalgia and cysts in her uterus that her doctor wanted to remove through surgery. A high school friend called her out of the blue and gave her the number to a shaman in Sedona. She visited Sedona 4 times and each time, 13 women performed chakra cleansing over her. After the 4th visit, she went to her doctor who ran tests and her uterus was 100% normal! Loved. It.  (A and I are now planning a trip to Sedona to clear our chakras! J).

Spent all day Saturday at the white bridge, hanging my feet over the edge, watching the fish swim by and so many people on jet skis and boats. Unfortunately, I burned my back (as I couldn’t reach a small section of it, and then silly me pulled my suit even lower, thinking I’d get a tan. Nope. Didn't happen.). Also burned my outer right thigh and the top of my left foot. Apparently, I don’t take the application of sunscreen seriously. And now I’m paying the pain. And random sweats as I can’t seem to cool down.

Went to Jack Flats and tried their Iguana Bait (a honey hibiscus kolsch beer brewed in Islamorada by the Florida Keys Brewing Company). Soooo good. Unfortunately, no place near home serves it.

Every menu in KW listed key lime as an active ingredient in at least one dish. Key lime shrimp. Key lime drinks. And of course key lime pie. I did a quick Google search and decided to go to Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe for some pie. Missed it the first night but made sure to arrive before 9:30 pm on night two.

Arrived and the girl behind the counter gave me a key lime taffy sample. It was so good, I decided to buy some for my Miami hosts and for D (as thanks for the airport ride). Hopefully, it’ll last until I make it back (I’ve been thinking about sneaking a piece or two since I bought them! but I digress. Pie. We were talking about pie). The girl said I’d have to eat it within the hour so I decided to go watch the sunset then return. 
Watched the sunset again and it was even more beautiful. Fun story: multiple tiki hut boats drove by. Picture a round tiki hut bar and about 8 people sitting on stools around the bar. Well, add a motor to the back and that’s what this boat was! They were doing 360 spins, laughing and hollering. Enjoying themselves. (I told my aunt she needs to make one of those in Galveston and go into business!)

Went back for the pie, then walked the mile+ back to my hotel. Ate it in the room and...was disappointed. Perhaps my fault for building up the tastiness in my head, but oh, what a let down. Decided to make an early night of it (was exhausted from the previous late night plus all the sun during the day). Asleep by 11:00 pm and up by 6:00 am for my Dry Tortugas tour!

This tour was a well oiled machine. These men have been doing this for decades and it showed. They knew the history, excelled at customer service, and loved their job. We left Key West at 8:00 am and they had a continental breakfast laid out for us (bagels, cereal, ham, fruit, milk/oj/tea/coffee, and other food items I can’t remember). Went to the bow for a bit and saw a flying fish! Beautiful. I'm >choosing< to believe I saw a turtle surface as well. 

Arrived at the island about 10:00 am and it was so much smaller than I expected. But gorgeous. The blue/green waters were stunning, then you see this massive fort and you question how they built this in the 1800’s and WHY they built this fort. Welll, Hollywood (our tour guide), explained that the world’s third largest coral barrier reef runs from Biscayne Bay (aka Miami) to the Dry Tortugas. So, anyone coming from the Gulf of Mexico side to the east coast side or even traveling back across the Atlantic to England or Spain, etc., wouldn’t be able to cross the reef until they traveled south beyond the Dry Tortugas. 

Soooo, this fort (apparently the largest and most fortified of any US fort ever built), was a strategic method of protecting the Gulf of Mexico. There was also something about it being the only natural harbor (definition according to Wikipedia: natural harbor is a landform where a part of a body of water is protected and deep enough to furnish anchorage. Many such harbors are rias. Natural harbors have long been of great strategic naval and economic importance, and many great cities of the world are located on them. Having a protected harbor reduces or eliminates the need for breakwaters as it will result in calmer waves inside the harbor), so ships can safely harbor here, eat some turtles, repair any damage, and be safe.

So, maybe, Hollywood convinced me that the building of Jefferson Fort was not an idiotic decision. Alas, not a single cannon was fired in defense or attack. Perhaps the presence of the fort was enough to diffuse an attack before it started? Or maybe this fort that was never finished was only useful as a prison and today as a national park.

Snorkeled through these clear waters and saw schools of fish. Sadly, no turtles, sharks, or gators, even though the sign said to be aware of them. (Okay, I’m only slightly sad; I couldn’t imagine the freak out I’d experience if I was snorkeling and saw a shark or gator.). I figured there were too many of us and it scared these animals away. 175 people on board, not to mention the ones that were camping on the island (maybe about 10+ tents plus the quarters for the park rangers as well as those on the island for study purposes). They said it’s beautiful at night. So clear and peaceful.

They provided a cold spread for lunch (sandwiches with meat, tuna salad or egg salad, strawberries and watermelon, chips, cookies for dessert). Overall, an excellent tour and an enjoyable time. The bar opened at 2:00 pm and kept up a steady service until 4:45 pm.

On the return trip, I sat next to a lovely older woman and engaged in conversation that inspired me to continue on my current path. We were discussing my next work endeavor and she said I should definitely do it as I “sparkle” when I talked about it. We’ve traveled to a lot of the same places, have similar views on life, and just connected with an easy flow of conversation. When saying g’bye, she told me I’d given her hope for the future. Not sure if she meant in the general “younger generations are ruining the world” or a little more localized, referring to her own future. Either way, she made the 2.5 hrs traveling back to KW enjoyable and the time passed quickly.

Walked the 1.1 miles back to my car then hit the road towards Miami. Arrived at E&N’s about 10:00 pm, showered then crashed. Was great to not wake up to the sound of roosters crowing or loud trucks driving by that sounded like they were about to bulldoze through the outer wall.

I spent a leisurely Sunday at the house, with a visit to the local movie theater to watch Avengers: Infinity War (excellllent). Monday, I drove to Biscayne Bay National Park (I’d love to return during beautiful weather and kayak or boat to one of the islands. Weather was horrible though) and the south entrance to the Everglades. The southern trails and activities at the Everglades were gator filled as well, but I’d still recommend Shark Valley due to the number of gators and how close you’re able to get to them.

Two videos from the Royal Palm Anhinga Trail: 

Oh, I forgot to mention that halfway on the bike loop, there’s an observation tower. You’re able to see down into a deeper water area where there were at least 25 gators swimming about. Also, on clear days, you can see the south side of the park. Unfortunately, each day I spent in the Miami area was drizzly and overcast. Where’s the sunshine, Florida?  

Made it home on Tuesday and decided that flying to a location, spending a week exploring, then returning to a home base is much better than driving continuously for two months.

Next trip: Nashville!

UPDATE [6/12/2018]:
How to Survive a Gator Attack (View Article)
Step 1: Run - If you happen to lock eyes with an alligator on land, forget running in a zigzag. Run away as fast as you can in a straight line. Alligators will typically chase a human only to defend their territory. “When you run back and forth, you are in fact exposing yourself to attack for a longer period of time than if you just ran in a straight direction and got out of there. Once you’re no longer a threat, it has no interest in you.”

Step 2: Fight back - If a gator grabs hold of you...don’t give up. “Fight like hell. Don’t go willingly,” Mazziotti said. “The bigger fight you put up, the more likely it’s going to let you go."

Step 3: Smack the snout - Rather than try to open a gator’s jaws, which are extremely powerful, aim for where the animal is most vulnerable, like its snout.“Pop them on the snout. The tip of their snout is very sensitive. That might be able to get them to release you,” Magill said.

Step 4: Gouge the eyes - Jabbing a gator in the eyes may also make it release its bite, even for just a moment, allowing you to get away before it pulls you underwater. “The thing you want to stop them from doing is turning. They’ll grab, and they’ll start rolling to try to break off pieces to eat, and that’s the key thing,” Magill said on “GMA.” “You’ve got to hold on as hard as you can. And the other is to try to poke your fingers in their eyes. That’s easier said than done in that situation, of course, but that’s the best chance you have.”


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