Saturday, May 12, 2012

Really the Florida Keys

OK, so we just about got the the Keys last time, but what did I do there?  I really only had two activities in mind.  One was a kayak trip and the other was sitting on the beach.  For reasons I will explain in due time, I achieved one of these!  I had a hotel room booking in Marathon, which is about halfway between Key Largo (the first Key) and Key West (at the end of the line).  Right before you arrive in Marathon there is a state park called Curry Hammock.  I had read that you can rent a kayak there, and preferred to do that than try to find a commercial outfitter.

One of the joys of motorcycle travel is getting to change clothes in parking lots.  I had cleverly worn a pair of swim shorts under my jeans, so didn't have to go butt naked to get ready for water sports but the park ranger probably thought I was cuckoo as I stripped out of my riding gear and emerged in shorts and flip-flops ready to hit the beach.  The particularly attractive thing about renting a kayak at this state park was that you could paddle though a mangrove tunnel.  The ranger gave me a laminated map and showed me the best way to go around the island with the current tidal conditions.  Unfortunately I had arrived at the beginning of low tide so it was hard going in shallow water.  I kept scooping up seaweed and flinging it into my hair!  However I was making much better headway that a pair of couples that were in tandem kayaks and drew too much water to negotiate the shallows.  After a period of basically punting myself along I finally reached some deeper water at the back of the island.

You can see in the second photo the entrance to the tunnel.  Other than a small sign you would have no idea there was a path through the trees.  The ranger had set me right, there was a good current flowing through the tunnel and I was able to ride along making small course corrections but not really having to paddle.  A good thing, because there was no room to be swinging the paddle around.  The picture is a more open section were I was able to snap a picture without crashing into the jungle.  The craziest part was that there were thousands of crabs on the mangrove roots.  I mean, they were everywhere!  I feared that if my kayak brushed against a root then an army of crabs would board my vessel and devour me.  This really was one of the coolest experience of my life.  It was like a carnival ride but completely a product of nature.

Once I reached the tunnel exit I was almost back to my starting point.  I had about half of my allotted time left, so paddled out to a sand bar about a quarter mile off shore.   Beaching my kayak on the white sands was like arriving at my own private island.  After relaxing for a few minutes it was time to return.  I did make a short detour down a channel that the ranger had mentioned in relation to iguanas.  Sure enough, on the top of a well weathered telegraph pole was sitting a content iguana.  Apparently they are escaped pets that have started a colony in that particular area.

Once I had returned my kayaking equipment it was about check in time at the hotel so I figured I would go there and take stock of my situation.  I was only a few miles down the road so after swapping my flip-flops for trainers I rode in shorts and a vest feeling very biker.  On arrival at the hotel it became apparent that I may had gotten every so slightly sunburned.  I certainly had a bad case of panda eyes, and my arms were a little tender, but worst off were the backs of my hands from being on the bike with no gloves on.  Anyway, sitting on the beach was definitely out of the question.  I had hoped that some fun activities would be within walking distance but this was not really the case.  Luckily there was a tiki bar right across the street, so I stopped in for my tropical beer of choice, Red Stripe.  After some lounging around it had begun to cool off so I took the bike out to ride some more of the overseas highway.  I wondered if I would be able to make it down to Key West, but didn't really want to ride after dark since without a visor I was relying on sunglasses to keep the bugs out of my eyes.  I got as far as Big Pine Key, maybe a little further, but the sun was sinking fast and it was clear Key West was going to have to wait to another day.  I got back to my seat at the bar in time to watch the sun set and enjoy a dinner of grilled yellowtail and a fruity rum drink.

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