Florida Keys Road Trip (Part 2)

posted in: Explore Florida, Road Trip | 8
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(To read part 1 of this story, go here)

So I woke up bright and early Thursday morning, and after checking, double checking, and then triple checking that I had all of my camera and dive gear in my bag- I loaded up my car and headed over to the White Street Pier (one of the locals suggested I go there) to hopefully catch a magnificent sunrise. The pier was only a few blocks from where I was staying, and had I not been heading off to Bahia Honda right afterwards- I would have ridden my bike there instead of driving. It was such a peaceful morning…the birds were singing, the roosters were crowing (there are a ton of roosters in Key West), and there was a warm ocean breeze rustling the palm fronds that lined the streets…paradise, really.

I arrived about 15 minutes before sunrise, and there were already quite a few people there perched on park benches awaiting daybreak…

White Street Pier Key West

White Street Pier Key West

The pier itself was really long, and I decided to walk all the way to the end of it and then climb on top of the cement railing thingy (technical term) to get a good view of the water below. Β As soon as I looked down into the water I was amazed at how crystal clear it was- it was just like peering into an aquarium, and not five seconds after I had turned my gaze to the water, a giant pufferfish swam right in front of me.

See him?

Puffer Fish

He came out kinda camouflage-y in the picture, so here’s a little help…

puffer1

Sometimes I forget that not everyone shares the same enthusiasm and appreciation for Mother Nature as I do, and oftentimes I end up making a spectacle of myself as a result, as was the case with this early morning puffer sighting…

“HOLY CRAP A PUFFERFISH!!!” I exclaimed loudly as I pointed down into the water with the wide-eyed excitement of a five year old on Christmas morning. I just kind of blurted it out without thinking about it, kinda like I do when I see a dolphin swimming out in the ocean and instantly feel like I need to alert everyone in the vicinity of its presence.

When I looked up, I expected at least one or two people to come over to the edge and check him out, but everyone who heard me was just kinda standing there looking at me like my head was on fire, and I kinda felt like Buddy the Elf must have felt when the department store manager made the Santa announcement and no one else really gave a crap…

So anyway, the sunrise turned out to be kind of a bust, but I still stayed up there on my concrete perch for 15 minutes or so watching the sky change color and periodically checking on my puffer friend to see what he was up to (swimming, mostly).

This was my view…

White Street Pier Sunrise

After I snapped a few more photos, I headed back to my car and took off for Bahia Honda State Park which was about an hour away. The guy who schedules the snorkeling trips out to Looe Key told me to be there no later than 8:15, which gave me just enough time to get there without having to rush.

I was a little bit worried that there wouldn’t be any spots available for the 9am trip, but once I got to the park and spoke with the guy in charge, he told me there would be no problem getting me on the boat since I was the first person on the standby list and there’s always at least a few people who are no-shows.

Turns out he was right and shortly after 9am I was boarding Captain Jack’s boat with about 30 other people and heading out to Looe Key. Thankfully I remembered to pop a couple of dramamine pills, because even though the ocean was super calm, I still felt a little queasy on the way out there (I get motion sick very easily) and nothing’s worse than getting seasick and losing your lunch with the exception of doing so in front of 30 strangers.

When we finally approached the reef and Captain Jack started slowing us down, I peered out over the edge of the boat to look at the water, and oh my word was it gorgeous! It was a ridiculously beautiful shade of blue, and you could see straight down into the coral reef below. I was in heaven!

After a brief safety speech and a rundown of what we could and couldn’t do in the water (no touching the coral!) and where we could and couldn’t snorkel, Captain Jack gave us the go ahead to gear up and jump on in the water.

I was the last one in because it took me a little while to get my camera crap situated (I was using my Watershot Pro Housing for my iPhone), plus I wanted to get a few shots of the water from the boat.

Looe Key

Looe5

Looe Key

A few seconds after I took the picture of me on the ladder, a young boy who had previously been submerged under the water shot up to the surface and yelled…”There’s a huge Goliath Grouper under the boat!”

Wooo!

As soon as I heard him say that, I jumped into the water as quickly as I could and sure enough there was a big fat grouper hanging out under the boat not more than ten feet from me…

Goliath Grouper Looe Key

Unfortunately the picture above is the only one that came out even remotely decent (that’s being generous), and although I was a little bit bummed that I didn’t get a better shot of him, the experience of swimming around with this bad boy all but made up for it…he was awesome, and stayed there under the boat for about 15 minutes before taking off for bluer seas. Captain Jack told me that there are five Goliaths that hang out at Looe Key all the time, and this one was the smallest of the group. The group of grouper. Heee.

So after my grouper encounter I swam around the reef and saw all kinds of cool marine life. I was really hoping I’d get to swim with a shark or two, but no such luck. A few of the other people in our group said they saw a shark and several barracuda, but I guess I missed them. Even so, I still had an amazing time in the water (which by the way was a comfortable 89 degrees) and could have stayed there all day swimming around and exploring the reef. Needless to say, after our two hours in the water was up- I was the very last one to get back on the boat, and I did so begrudgingly.

We made it back to the park at around 2pm, and after taking advantage of their outdoor freshwater showers (which were a Godsend by the way), I went off to explore the Bahia Honda Rail Bridge which is located partly within the park grounds. The bridge, which used to connect Bahia Honda Key to Spanish Key is now defunct, and when a replacement bridge was opened in 1972, a small section of the old bridge was removed to accommodate boat traffic.

Here’s a shot of it taken from the new bridge (I snapped this photo on my way to the park that morning)…

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge

And here’s oneΒ I took from the boat on our way out to Looe Key…

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge

You’re only allowed to go to a certain point on the bridge and then there’s a (short) fence up with a sign that says it’s unsafe to go any further, however, I took the sign as more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule and figured that if they really wanted to keep people off that part of the bridge they would have built a taller fence.

Plus, I really wanted to get a picture like this…

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge

I got photobombed by a boater while taking photos of my feet, but it was the good kind of photobomb…

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge
Happy trails, to you…

By the time I was finished with my picture-taking, it was around 3:30 ish, and holy hell was it HOT. So hot that my fingernails were sweating, in fact. Luckily I happen to enjoy the heat and humidity so it didn’t really bother me, but if you’re a person who doesn’t enjoy steamy tropical weather, then I’d advise staying out of the Keys during summer because you’ll most likely want to kill yourself (if you don’t drop dead from heat stroke first, that is). It’s really that hot.

I considered jumping in the ocean before heading back to my hotel, but much like the day before the beaches were kinda on the packed side and if you haven’t picked up on it already…I’m not really a big fan of crowds. Or a little fan, even.

So instead I packed it up, drove back to Key West, and after a shower and a glass of wine on my balcony, I took off on my rented bicycle to do some exploring and get a cocktail and a bite to eat.

Once on Duval Street, I asked one of locals where I should go to get some good food and he pointed to a shack-ish looking place on the corner and told me to get the conch fritters. I don’t really know what I was thinking when I ordered them, because I’ve tried conch fritters before and they really don’t do much for me, but I decided to try again anyway. When in Rome…

Conch Fritters Key West

Turns out I still don’t like conch fritters, although I was a big fan of the dipping sauce that came with them- it was super spicy and very delicious. I ended up eating a few of them (the conch fritters not the sauce), and then made fast friends with the guy in the picture below who apparently was a huge fan o’ the fritter…

Looe15
His mohawk is awesome.

 

Looe14
That was a test piece to see if he liked it. He did.

People were giving me dirty looks while I was feeding him, kinda like they do when I feed seagulls on the beach, but whatever. Roosters have to eat too, and also I don’t like wasting food, so they can take their disapproving looks and shove them.

After feeding my new rooster friend (who I named Randy), I went to a nearby Cuban restaurant and had one of the best Cuban sandwiches I’ve ever eaten in my life which unfortunately I did not take a picture of because I was too busy eating. It was delicious, though, as were the beans and rice that came with it and really what’s better than a good Cuban sandwich with black beans and yellow rice?

By this time, it was around 7:30, and although I really wanted to catch another sunset at Mallory Square- the sun, saltwater and 90 degree heat from the day had pretty much wiped me out. I made one last stop at Green Parrot Pub because you can’t go to Key West without visiting the Green Parrot…

Green Parrot Pub Key West

After drinking a refreshing Stoli Vanilla and soda water with a squeeze of lime (deeeelicious!), I hopped on my bike and headed back towards my hotel so I could get a good night’s sleep and be bright-eyed and bushy tailed when I got up for sunrise in the morning.

My plan was to go straight back to the hotel after Green Parrot, but I ended up riding my bike around on the side streets for another hour or so because it was so dang nice out. There’s nothing quite like hot summer nights in Florida when the ocean breeze is blowing and you can smell the saltwater in the air. I just love it.

So I cruised around on the side streets of Key West, peddling as fast as I possibly could and then just sitting back on my bike and letting the tropical winds blow through my hair. I felt like a kid again and could’ve stayed out there all night, but knew I’d be a zombie in the morning if I didn’t get some sleep.

By the time I made it back to my room, I was too exhausted to even take a shower and after setting my alarm again for the crack of early, I laid my head down on my pillow and fell asleep with a giant albeit exhausted smile on my face… πŸ™‚

The end.

Stay tuned for part 3 of my Florida Keys adventure- coming your way soon…

P.S.
If you’re interested in taking the snorkeling trip out to Looe Key from Bahia Honda, click here for pricing, reservations, and more information. I give it two thumbs way up and plan on going back again next time I’m in the Keys.

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8 Responses

  1. Melodie
    | Reply

    Hey Steph! I just wanted to let you know how much I love your blog! You’re a great writer and talented photographer and I look forward to reading about more of your adventures.

    I live in Florida too and would not have never discovered Weeki Wachee or any of the other springs if it weren’t for you. Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work!

    Melodie in Pensacola, FL

    • Steph
      | Reply

      Hi Melodie,

      Thank you so much for the kind words- I really appreciate it and am happy that you got to experience Weeki Wachee- it’s one of my favorite spots in Florida!

      Have a great weekend, and thanks for stopping by!

      Steph πŸ™‚

  2. Lauren
    | Reply

    Love these pictures Steph!

    My husband and I are planning a trip to the Keys the first week of September and have just added Bahia Honda and Looe Key to our list of places to see while we’re there. Thanks so much for the information!

    Would you mind sharing the place you stayed while you were there? We’re looking for something affordable and it doesn’t have to be fancy. We’ll really just be using it to sleep and that’s it.

    Thank you! -Lauren

    • Steph
      | Reply

      Hi Lauren,

      That’s awesome that you’re going to check out Bahia and Looe Key- you won’t be disappointed!

      The place I stayed was called the Grand Guesthouse and I just loved it. The only drawback was that they didn’t have a pool, but if that’s not a big deal to you, I’d definitely recommend staying there. Here’s a link to their site: http://www.thegrandguesthouse.com/

      I hope you have a great time while you’re there!

      Steph πŸ™‚

  3. Katey Davito
    | Reply

    Hi Steph, just curious how long it took by boat to get to Looe Key from Bahia Honda. Thanks.

    Love your Instagram and your blog!

    • Steph
      | Reply

      Hi Katey,

      I believe it took around 40 minutes to get there.
      Definitely worth the trip if you like to snorkel or dive!

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Steph πŸ™‚

  4. Ana Lulsdorf
    | Reply

    In love with those photos… I can’t wait to go back to the Keys (after many years) πŸ™‚

    • Steph
      | Reply

      Thanks, Ana!

      When are you going again?

      We’re gonna be back down there the last week of August, so perhaps our paths will cross!

      Either way- I hope you have a great time and can’t wait to see your pics on Instagram! πŸ™‚

      Have a great weekend,
      Steph

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