Monday, March 24, 2014

Our Trip to the Florida Keys

 March 5-12 Ken and I went on a trip to the Florida Keys. It was to celebrate our 15th Anniversary (which was actually in December). Since one of the reasons I like to blog is simply to journal our life here is a super long post full of pictures of our trip.

Wednesday, March 5th
 We were able to stay with Ken's cousin in the Twin Cities and early in the morning her husband took us to the airport. We flew into Fort Lauderdale that afternoon. After getting a rental vehicle we thought it would be fun to drive through and explore Miami a little bit. We had never been to Florida at all before so we were ready to explore and see what we could see. The picture above is taken downtown.

  It really rather felt like we were in another country with how very different the weather was as well as the different plants, a lot of architecture (not the photo above) that is unlike what you see in MN, seeing stuff being sold on the side of the road and then hearing many, many people speaking languages other than English (mostly in Spanish).

 We went to eat at a Cheesecake Factory for supper. We love cheesecake and were looking forward to having some for dessert. However I ordered this Beef Kabob dish and Ken also ordered a plateful (of pasta I believe) and when we had finished that we were far to full to order cheesecake. The Beef Kabobs were really yummy however.

 That night we stayed in a hotel in Homestead, Florida.

Thursday, March 6th
 It was so fun to see Coconuts growing all over the place!
 Flowers were blooming beautifully.
 We drove down to the Key Largo area as we were driving around I took a picture of this house which shows some of the very different style of architecture than what we are used to. This house is much nicer than most that we saw in the keys however.
 We decided to take a walk on the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park Birding Trail (aren't you impressed with the length of that name? I was!). It was a fun place to see unique trees and other plants that we don't have at home. We didn't see any birds but that probably was because it was afternoon and about to storm.
 We did see a bunch of these however, they were all over and super fast. We did also see a couple of pretty butterflies and a spider or two.

 After leaving the Birding Trail it started to have a huge downpour. We attempted to visit some shops during the rain.
 From there we traveled down to the place we were staying which was Ocean Point Suites in Tavernier. It was a pretty nice place and it felt good to settle in. We did have a view of the ocean from our rooms so that was fun.

Friday, March 7th
Great Blue Heron
  We thought it would be fun to get up in time to see the sunrise over the ocean so shortly after 6 am the alarm clock went off. Thankfully we had gone to bed in decent time. It was already fairly light out when we headed outside (we could have watched inside but outside is better) and we saw various birds by the water.
 It was rather cloudy but it was still pretty. I guess I don't have any real good sunrise pictures that day. I may have accidentally deleted them.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
 Another of the birds I had fun watching!

After the Sunrise we went back to our suite and I was able to have my morning quiet time and then I fixed breakfast in the kitchen. We had gone grocery shopping the night before so we ate all our breakfasts in our place rather than going out.

 After that we decided to head out for the day. We thought maybe it would work to go Kayaking but when we stopped to check they said that it was pretty much to windy that day.  So we decided to just head on down to Key West that day instead.
 On the way we did stop at Sombrero Beach and did a little wading and exploring. I saw these creatures of some sort living in the rocks. We also saw some dead Portuguese Man O' War Jellyfish on the beach but we didn't know what they were at the time.

Once we got to Key West we enjoyed going to the Eco-Discovery Center, a free natural history museum. It was fun to learn more about all the natural life that we were seeing.

Then we decided to go to West Martello Tower. It is the ruins of a Civil War era fort in which they have put a botanical garden. All the plants were beautiful and with the setting right on the ocean we found this a very fun place to look around at for an hour or so (I could have stayed longer but they were closing). This place was also free.
 The red brick was brought from Maine (in the 1800's) as they don't really have stuff to make bricks with in the Keys and this I believe was a Northern (not really North but on the Union side) fort and so they couldn't get their bricks from the Florida mainland.
 Here are a couple of the neat plants that we saw. They also had all different sorts of palms, cactus, orchids (even many growing in the trees) and much more.

 Above it Ken in the back part of the garden and below he is by one of the front gates.

 The Martello tower was basically on the beach and so we just walked from there out onto a long pier. There we saw a lot of birds (I think they may be Plovers?).
 Then we went and saw the Southernmost Point. There was quite a line to get your picture taken so we had fun visiting with other friendly tourists. Around this and down by the beach there were a bunch of chickens that were just living wild. That was kind of cool. You could hear roosters crowing all over and one hen had a bunch of chicks following her.

 Other things of interest in Key West were all the various buildings and the very crowded streets. What I was happy that I didn't see was much evidence of the very un-christian activities that I have heard go on down there. We were happy to skip out on that.
 We tried to make it to a restaurant that we could see the sunset from but just couldn't find a parking place in order to do that. Well we did find one but they were charging $25 for a couple of hours so we didn't take it. So we drove down by the Eco- museum where there was plenty of parking (as the museums down there were closed for the day) and were able to see the sunset there.

 After that we went to eat at a Cuban restaurant- El Siboney . The food was really good and the price was quite reasonable so I didn't mind that we hadn't made it to the expensive place on the bay. After supper we had a couple of hour drive back to our suite.

Saturday, March 8th
 We got up to watch the sunrise again. Beautiful as always.
 After breakfast Ken decided he should get a little work done on his computer and so I decided I would do a little exploring around the resort. I saw an Ibis while out on my walk. I also saw some other pretty birds in the Mangrove trees but they were a little shy for getting their picture taken.
  We baked a frozen pizza for lunch which we ate with some apples and then headed off to go on a snorkeling trip that we had made reservations for. (With Captian Slater out of Tavernier/Islamorada).
 We got outfitted with equipment and then headed out on a nice sized boat a mile or so to get over some coral reef.
 As we went we were able to look down and see various things in the water and enjoyed the beautiful blue! We saw quite a lot of fish while we traveled including a Barracuda and the most fascinating Flying Fish! I had not realized that something like them existed and it was so cool to see. God's creativity is way beyond amazing! Here is a video that I found of flying fish but it is in slow motion which is kind of unfortunate that all of it is that way.
   Snorkeling was pretty cool (in more ways than one!). Unfortunately we didn't get any pictures of me in my gear but maybe that is okay - it isn't necessarily the most attractive. The picture of Ken is above - he probably enjoyed it the most of everybody (we had a group of 14 -with two of them being divers) as he didn't get cold and was able to stay out the longest.

   The water was super clear and it totally felt like we were in a big aquarium with all sorts of fancy fish. The were in many colors and were all over the place. We also saw many different types of coral. I saw a Goliath Grouper which is a very big fish and a Yellow Sting Ray. Both were quite a ways below me. Others in our group (quite a few of them) said they saw a shark - the people that took us out said we didn't have to worry about the sharks or Barracudas at all - what we needed to watch out for was the Portuguese Man of War Jellyfish. We did see a bunch of some sort of little jellyfish that was a translucent white. Possibly it was a Fragile Comb jelly. Several of us did feel some little tingling feelings on our limbs and the thought was that it was quite likely from them. It didn't last long nor was it that bad so it wasn't a big deal.

  I did drink some cayenne pepper water before going snorkeling to see if it would help me stay warm as I really struggle to stay warm when swimming. I think it may have helped at first as I probably stayed in the water pretty happily for around 1/2 hour. After that though I would make myself go in but end up shaking so bad that I would get out again and try to warm up and then head back in again. The water temperature wasn't bad (around 89 degrees) but I just can't handle cold very well when I am not properly clothed. I joked that I probably spent more time shivering down there (what with getting in the water and then dressing in summer clothes and then it would get cooler in the evening and I wouldn't have enough to put on or because Ken was enjoying running the air conditioner) than I had up here in MN this winter.
  After snorkeling we cleaned up (taking a hot shower so I could get thoroughly warm!) and then headed out to eat supper at the Marker 88 restaurant. It was on the bayside so it was a good place to watch the sun go down. The restaurant had a neat atmosphere since it was right on the water and they had a lot of outdoor seating and live music. I tired Conch Chowder and a Tropical Salad which they served with hot bread (I don't remember what Ken had). It was good (not great) but it was fun to try something new. The service wasn't to wonderful and the price was high but the atmosphere was nice.
 We did enjoy watching the sun go down.

Sunday, March 9th

On Sunday we went to church at the Church of Christ in Marathon. It was a nice friendly group of people to meet with. I love getting to meet other Christians when traveling. What made this time especially fun was that my brother and sister-in-law had friends from Missouri who were down in the Keys for a couple of months and they went to church there. My brother had alerted us to the fact so we made sure to meet them. They were very friendly and were willing to offer their friendship (and bikes and kayaks to use and lunch if we wanted) right on the spot.

  We said we would take them up on the bike offer but thought it would be fun to go to the Seafood Festival that was going on that weekend in Marathon for lunch. There we enjoyed some tropical smoothies, some stone crab (me) and a Conchwurst (Ken).  We also had fun looked at all the booths that were there.
 These paintings were some of my favorites of the artwork.
 There was also a guy selling bonsai and since Mara has been wanting one for a year or so and has been shopping around for them and since these were a pretty good deal ($15) I was able to get one for her. That did of course mean I had to transport it back but I managed it and she was pretty happy!

  After that we did head down to the family from church's home on Little Torch Key. When we got there they told us that a friend had just called to tell them that a Manatee was in a canal by some house not that far away - Did we want to go see it? Oh yes we did. We all piled in their van and off we went to see the manatee. That was something that I had totally wanted to see while in the Keys and so I was very happy that it worked out.
 The manatee was in a canal behind someone's house and when we asked if we could see it (the people we were with did have mutual friends with them) they were very willing to have us come in their backyard and watch the manatee. They even gave us lettuce to feed it. The manatee enjoyed drinking from their water hose. The manatee was very big and not at all scared or in the least aggressive. I did touch it just to see what it felt like.

My brother's friends also suggested going to the Blue Hole a pond in the Key Deer Reserve on Big Pine Key. There we were able to see a Key Deer (please excuse the fuzzy photo) which are basically just like our white tail deer except only about 1/2 of the size.

We also walked on the trail down to the pond and looked in and what did we see but an alligator just below the little dock thing just sunning himself. He/she wasn't really big but probably at least 5 feet long.
After that we went to the beach at Bahia Honda State Park in Bahia Honda Key.  There is a beautiful LONG beach there that wasn't very crowded. It was a nice warm day and we had fun playing in the water, looking for shells, watching the birds (Plovers - I think), and just walking along the shore.
Ken got a postcard perfect sunset picture here but my camera's battery died before the sun went down. I found Ken's picture though - it is below:

Photo: Sunset
Monday, March 10th
We went to Marathon this day and rented a Kayak to go through the Mangroves. We have been canoeing many times but never kayaking and never in mangroves. It was pretty cool. Before we got the hang of how to use the paddles I had lifted them to high many times and gotten myself very wet - but since it was pretty warm that didn't feel to bad at all. :-) In the Mangroves we often didn't need to paddle at all since the stream would be just wide enough many times to fit our kayak through - no room for a paddle. We just pulled ourselves along by the trees.
 We did not see much wildlife in the mangroves  but there were these Tree Crabs all over the place.

We also went into a bay for a while where their were hundreds of sailboats anchored. We are now dreaming of owning a sailboat in retirement and going on trips to places like the Keys. We are wondering if we could travel down the Mississippi from the Twin Cities.
Pelicans were a common sight anywhere near the ocean. They are so fun looking.
 Over the course of the trip we also saw a lot of iguanas. They aren't the cuddliest looking animals but still a neat part of God's creation.
We saw these while kayaking through a canal (There are a lot of them between rows of houses).
When we were back in the Mangroves again but in sunny shallow areas we saw a bunch of these interesting looking creatures. They can in a variety of colors (see dark green above and a creamier color below and there was also light green, light yellow and kind of peach) and some of them had a variety of "flag" like things on them. When we flipped them over they looked a little like a jelly fish. When I researched them I found that they are called an "Upside down Jelly Fish".
God's creativity amazes me yet again!
Here was another interesting creature/plant? that we saw in the water.
If you wanted to get out the footing was a little interesting.
Out in the ocean! (But not very far). It was a very fun day of kayaking and we got a little more sun than our skin liked but we survived.
On our way back we stopped by this little stand and bought a couple of coconuts. I had been trying to find ones just laying around for free but all the ones I had found were bad so we got a couple here instead.

Tuesday, March 11th
Our last morning in the Keys. We got up early to watch the sunset again. Nicely we didn't have to get up quite so early as the time had changed over the weekend (because of Daylight Savings Time). I thought the sky and the lighted dock and gazebo at the resort looked rather pretty.
Here comes the sun!
Ken is all ready to go decked out in his new island shirt and wearing flip flops.
We head up to the mainland. Near Homestead, Florida we went to a produce stand called "Robert is Here".
It is a fun little place with all sorts of fruit many that I had never heard of before. Many are locally grown and in season. I bought a few of the local ones that we had never had before to take home and share with those at home. The one above was pretty unique but not bad.
They also had a bunch of honey for  sale with many different varieties. The beekeeper in me enjoyed looking them over. They also let you taste the various types which was fun. Some were flavored by adding natural flavorings and some had different tastes simply from what the bees collected their nectar from.
At "Robert is Here" they also had a lot of animals out back that you could go see that they fed their extra produce too and all the scraps from making smoothies with the fresh fruit. It was a very kid friendly place to visit and I though rather neat.

From their we drove North on a kind of back road that took us past a very agricultural area with roadside stands abounding, fields,  u-pick places and many different places that grew wholesale house plants. The florist/ homesteader in me really enjoyed driving by and seeing all of that.

Our next stop (after lunch at 5 Guys - one of Ken's favorite restaurants wherever we go) was Everglades Safari Park where we were able to take an airboat ride into the Everglades National Park. I feel kind of sad that our time in the National Park was so brief but we weren't sure what the best way was to experience it in just one day and this sounded good to us.
We did enjoy the airboat ride and were able to see quite a few alligators and birds out in the swamp - including the guy above.
Back at the Safari Park they had a show that we could go to the was educational about the Alligators and then we were able to walk around and see a bunch of alligators, crocodiles and caimans in captivity. There were also wild ones in the canal in the park that was right next to the walking path.
When traveling back to Fort Lauderdale we stopped to get gas and by the gas station there was a little stand selling smoothies that I could see were being made from fresh fruit. I thought that sounded good so I went over there. We I got their I found that the couple that were running it basically didn't speak any English (and I know very little Spanish) but with the help of their sign and another bilingual customer (a little girl) I was able to order. Then after they had left the man brought this coconut and laid it on the counter in front of me and said something to me (in Spanish). I was like "oh, coconut - yeah I like coconut" which I don't think he understood. Finally when another bilingual costumer came he was able to explain to me that the man wanted to give me the coconut. I graciously said "Gracias" and took my smoothie (I paid for that) and coconut and went on my way- I enjoyed them both.
Ken and I went to check out the beach in Fort Lauderdale - very nice and very windy.

We stayed in a hotel that night (an interesting experience - not a hotel that I would recommend) and were on our way by 5 in the morning. We had a pretty early flight.

It was a fun trip and I am very thankful that God blessed us to be able to go. I am thankful for my husband of 15 years, for opportunities to travel and explore, For many friendly people who crossed our path and for all the cool creation that God has made!

1 comment:

Amy and Mark said...


That manatee picture was beautiful!

I cannot believe that you were so close!

What a wonderful trip. Thank you for sharing! We have snow flurries today so it was nice to take a trip to Florida online! :)


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