this is my life … key west ’08

I keep telling myself, “This is my life … this is my life.”

My dad and I became SCUBA certified in February of this year on the fabulous island of Grand Cayman. 10 dives over a 3-day period had both of us longing for our next dive trip just as the return plane touched down at Reagan National Airport. After some thinking, we decided on Key West – somewhere with a reasonably short flight, domestic so our unpassported family members can join us, and most of all, lots of clear blue w-a-t-e-r!

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The end of May couldn’t come fast enough. There were 6 weeks to plan this getaway, and I had everything done in less than 2 weeks. Now that’s excitement!

In the meantime, our 6 person trip was reduced to 4 … mom elected to be the Daisy-sitter this time, and April had just gotten out of the hospital, so there was no chance she was going.

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So the time finally arrived, and from the start, I realized this would be 5 days of bliss. We stayed at a friend’s house on the island, and honestly, this place could not have been any nicer. He’s a neighbor to Jimmy Buffett, if that gives you any idea. Seriously. Of course, he’s only seen him once and never met him, and we couldn’t even figure out which house was his, so that part of the trip was sadly uneventful. Believe me, I wanted to meet the man! Maybe next time?

The diving in Key West was amazing. With our cert dives out of the way and the comfort factor on our side, we were totally at ease and able to take it all in … and I mean take it ALL in. Several nurse sharks, countless lobster, tarpon, barracuda and stoplight parrotfish. Our night dive introduced us to a couple of spotted eels and an amazing experience of phosphorescence.

In addition to diving, and as recommended by our host, we booked a fishing and snorkeling trip with Captain Chuck while we were there. Captain Chuck was awesome, as was the snorkeling and fishing. But here’s where things get interesting.

We head out on Captain Chuck’s boat and reach our first snorkeling destination, Marker 32. While in the water, we catch up with a sea turtle who’s in the mood for some fun. We all spend about 5 minutes with this guy, as Captain Chuck and I are swimming around him, freediving down to take pictures, and just following his lead. It was so fun! We saw lots of lobster and plenty of different species of fish. This was Alli’s first snorkeling experience, and after getting over the nervousness, she loved it! Justin on the other hand, found that his stomach didn’t agree with the saltwater. Needless to say, it was not pretty.

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Following our first snorkeling adventure, we headed to The Haystacks to do some fishing. We tried preparing an enticing meal for a barracuda that was making the underside of the boat his home, but he was far too smart for our tricks. All we ended up with were some yellowtail snapper that we had planned to feed to the tarpon back at the marina.

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Fishing was followed by more great snorkel time, and by now, we had over 100 pictures, several of them just great! Captain Chuck took us back to the marina, and we had planned to meet him over at the fish cleaning station – it’s where the tarpon hang out. They’re amazing down there – they jump clear out of the water to catch the guts thrown over by the fishermen. Oh, and did I mention they’re 300+ pounds and oh, maybe 8 feet long!? Awesome! We get down there with three fish, so I told dad, Alli and Justin to feed the fish while I take pictures. Dad fed the first fish, followed by Alli, who more or less threw the snapper to the tarpon. Justin was up next, but before it was his turn, Captain Chuck suggested I hold the camera underwater and video Justin feeding the fish. Awesome idea! He added a word of caution, however – keep the camera close to the dock. Okay, no problem.

We get the camera set on video mode, and I attach the lanyard tightly around my wrist and hold on to the camera. Once we’re ready, Justin feeds the tarpon. Well, not two seconds after the tarpon eats the snapper, another HUGE tarpon eats the camera right off my wrist!!! No joke! Yeah, it scared the s**t out of me! I’m lucky he didn’t eat me! Remember, these things are 300 lbs. and HUGE.

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We were told that they sometimes spit them up … they obviously can’t digest them! The marina manager was going to arrange for a search by their diver. That unfortunately came up short … no camera. We offered him a reward, and left him with contact information. A week later … no camera.

Two weeks later … guess what!? I get an e-mail with a picture that looks an awful lot like the barracuda hanging out under the boat on our snorkeling/fishing adventure. Wait a minute … it is! The camera, though now useless and terribly corroded, has been returned, and the pictures are back! Sweet!

Welcome to my life … always an adventure!

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