Visitor Season Has Begun!

One of the big reasons why we wanted to rent a house this winter was so we could have visitors. Living in a 25 x 8-foot metal tube really doesn’t allow any room for overnight guests. That means if we’re lucky enough to convince family or friends to come visit us they have to make arrangments to sleep elsewhere. As you can imagine, we don’t get many visitors. So when we decided to rent a house for a few months, having a second bedroom for guests was a must. This past week we put that bedroom to good use when Tim’s dad & stepmom, Al & Michele, got to be our very first visitors!

Dinner with the parents
Dinner out with my dad, Michele & Al

Even though Tim & I both had to work during part of their stay, there was still plenty of time for fun in the evenings. One night we had dinner out at the Square Grouper where we all stuffed ourselves silly and then managed to polish off a giant banana coconut cream puff (despite everyone claiming to be too full for dessert). The Square Grouper remains one of my favorite restaurants in the Keys. The food is consistently excellent, the atmosphere fun, and because it’s located only about 20 minutes south of us on Cudjoe Key, fighting the crowds and traffic in Key West is not required.

Square Grouper Bar & Grill
Cuban Mac & Cheese, Almond Encrusted Grouper, Banana Coconut Cream Puff!
Square Grouper
Us at the Square Grouper

We also went out one day after work for a short sunset paddle. Al & Michele used our kayaks while Tim and I tried out my dad’s two-person Hobie Kayak.

Florida Keys Kayaking
Al & Michele kayaking in the canal

Hobie is known for their peddle powered kayaks popular with fishermen (and others who prefer leg over arm power). I was hesitant at first because I feel really comfortable in my kayak and enjoy sitting in the kayak far more than sitting on top of it. However, the Hobie surprised me with its comfortable seats and easy to use peddles. It’s also really fast. With two people peddling at full strength we were able to go crazy fast! The biggest downside was that because the peddles hang down below the boat it’s not a good vessel for really shallow water. As a result, in a few spots we had to pull them up and use the paddles instead.

Kayaking in the Florida Keys
Us in the peddle boat

We also re-confirmed that single kayaks are better for us. We spend enough time living in a small space with each other — we don’t need to a share a kayak as well.

Kayaking Florida Keys
Peddle power!
Kayaking Florida Keys
Sunset on the water

Tim took a day off near the end of the week and the plan was to go out on the boat for some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the boat had other ideas and the motor started acting up only a few minutes from shore. Luckily, we were able to limp back to the dock where the men folk all gathered round to examine the damage. The diagnosis was a spun prop — something that needs to be taken to a shop to be fixed.

Boating Florida Keys
“It looks like the hoozawit is no longer connected to the ding-a-ling.” (Or something like that)

So we moved on the plan B — more kayaking. Somehow we gathered up enough boats for everyone to use without having to back home for the three at our house. After loading up with paddles, water, and lifejackets, out on the water for round two we went. Our destination was only a short distance away on the western shore of No Name Key. Here we slipped into a small opening in the mangroves and slowly made out way through the winding, narrow path.

Mangrove Trail Florida Keys
Into the mangroves

Without prior knowledge of the trail, we would have never found it. The entrance looked like nothing more than a small indent in an otherwise impenetrable wall of mangroves. I guess this is a popular route for the kayak tours that run from the nearby Old Wooden Bridge Marina. They must keep it pruned and open because without human intervention this trail would surely fill in completely. As it was, some sections were barely wide enough for a boat, and definitely not wide enough to use paddles. Most of the way we kept the paddles on top of the boats and instead used the mangrove roots to pull ourselves along.

Mangrove Trail
A tight squeeze

Occasionally the trail opened up to a wider body of water.

Mangrove Trail
One of the wider spots

And sometimes branches across the trail made ducking necessary.

Mangrove Trail
Watch your head

After about 30 minutes of slow progress, we exited the trail into a very shallow, inland water area on No Name Key.

No Name Key
Shallow water

A short kayak around while admiring the clear water and then back the way we came.

No Name Key
Tim disappearing into the mangroves

It was quicker on the way back because the current was flowing in the correct direction and all we had to do was steer the boats using the mangrove roots as guides.

No Name Key, FL
Michele & Al make it our successfully!

Our final day with Al & Michele fell on a Saturday which meant an obligatory morning trip to the Big Pine Flea Market. I go every week to stock up on fresh Florida produce, but there are tons of others things to look at and buy.

Big Pine Flea Market
A tiny sampling of what you will find at the Flea Market (including mini donuts)

Afterward, we made our way to Marathon for a tour of the Turtle Hospital. This place has long been on my “must visit” list. The $22/per person price seems high at first, but after spending 90 minutes learning about the hospital and the turtles they save it becomes apparent that the good work this organization does is well worth supporting. I’m even hoping that we can make a reutrn visit before we leave the Keys.

Turtle Hospital, Marathon FL
The Turtle Hospital

The tour started with a 20-minute video and presentation all about sea turtles. We learned the four different types of sea turtles along with the common injuries and illness that they treat at the hospital. We also learned how the hospital was started and that their main goal is to treat and release the turtles back into the wild. They do have some permanent residents though that for various reasons will always have to live at the hospital.

After the presentaion it was time to see some turtles!

Turtle Hospital
Turtle Paparazzi

First up where the Green Turtles in the large hurricane tank. These guys (and gals) have all been treated and are on on the way to recovery. The majority of green turtles find their way to the hospital as a result of a disease called fibropapillomatosis (FP) that causes tumors to grow around the flippers, neck, and eyes. These large lumps affect the turtle’s sight and movement, two things critical to survival. While there is currently no cure, the tumors can be removed and over the course of a year-long stay at the hospital, the turtles develop antibodies to the virus and become immune. Donatello, Poppy & Lawless have all undergone surgety for their tumors and are currently building up strength so they can return to the sea.

Turtle Hospital
Green Sea Turtles

Next we saw the tank of Kemp’s Ridley Turtles. This group of 15 smaller turtles were rescued near Cape Cod, MA at the beginning of January and brought to the hospital for recovery. The turtles had developed pneumonia as a result of being exposed to cold water for a prolonged amount of time. Apparently, they came into the area when the water was warm and for some reason didn’t leave in time. Since their move to the hospital, the turtles have all recovered and are happily swimming around in their large in a 75-degree tank. At some point this winter they are expected to be released into the warm waters off the Florida coast.

Turtle Hospital
Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle

The turtles in individual tanks were next. I don’t remember the names or stories of the two big Loggerhead turtles in the photo on the left, but I do know that the one in the back has an antibiotic cream on its back which is commonly used to treat wounds caused by boat damage. The other two are Toby (top right) whose shell was damaged by a boat propeller, and Jim (bottom right) who is suffering from impaction. Basically, this means he ate a bunch of trash that we carelessly let float out into the ocean. When turtles eat synthetic materials their bodies can’t break it down and this leads to an intestinal blockage known as an impaction. Left on their own, a turtle with impaction will normally die of starvation. (FYI, the plastic square on top of Toby is a turtle toy that they use for scratching and “hiding” under.)

Turtle Hospital
Two loggerhead turtles, Toby, and Jim

Finally, we moved over to the large pool where many of the permanent residents live. Here we were able to feed the turtles. We also got to see a few of them have their backs scrubbed.

Turtle Hospital
Snack time

Many of the permanent residents suffer from a condition the hospital calls “bubble butt syndrome”. This syndrome is usually caused by boat strikes that damage the turtle in such a way that it can no longer submerge under the surface. Sea Turtles need to spend a lot of time under water and when they can’t submerge they can’t survive. To fix this problem the hospital attaches a lead weight to the back of their shell. Unfortunately, the weights fall off over time, so turtles with bubble butt syndrome are not able to be released. Coastie on the left is a green sea turtle who has resided at the hospital since 1999. She was hit on the head by a boat propeller, became a floater and now has a lead weight on her back to assist in submerging.

Turtle Hospital
Permanent residents swimming & getting washed

There are many, many more turtles at the hospital all with their own unique stories. If you can’t make it in person, be sure to check out the hospital website to learn more about their work and the turtles who they rescue.

And with that, we wrap up our first round of visitors. Having family visit us in a place we love where the weather is nice and the options for fun activities are endless has been a blast. And being able to host them at our house instead of making them stay at a hotel makes it especially fun. No real progress to report on the Airstream renovation for this past week or the next (family visit round two had already begun), but Tim did spend a few hours dry fitting and cutting some of the new floor so when the time comes we’ll be ready to bust it out!

Locking Wheel Chocks

Locks the wheels and keeps the trailer stable. Easy to use and never dirty.


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13 Responses to “Visitor Season Has Begun!”


  1. Roger

    Great post! So much good and interesting info! We’ll be in the Keys in November and will check out several of these places. Glad to hear you’re enjoying your stay back in the “stick &bricks”. The Keys are certainly the best place to do that!

    • Amanda

      Yes, we’ve been happy to spend time in a house while down here. Much better temperature control and fewer bugs than in the Airstream. November should be a great time to visit!

  2. Andrea M Elkins

    I think we have similar writing styles – although you’re much better about including lots of photos to help tell the story! We’re also in a similar situation, as my DH Shawn still works full-time from our rig.

    I hadn’t considered renting a place for a period of time until I read your blog. It’s an intriguing idea. I’m sure your many other posts will prove equally inspirational!

    -From two FT newbies :)

    • Amanda

      Thanks for sharing your blog! We do have similar story telling styles! Hope the weather improves while you’re in San Antonio. Renting a house had previously not been on our radar and I have to admit that it’s been even more enjoyable than anticipated.

  3. Jacquie Johnson

    Very interesting post – and love the turtles. When we ever settle down I want it to be a place where I can volunteer to take care of turtles. Glad you’re enjoying the Keys and your rental house and family!

    • Amanda

      If I lived down here I would definitely volunteer at the Turtle Hospital. Since most of their injuries are human caused it only seems right that we help take care of them.

  4. Laurel

    It looks like you’re having a wonderful time—the Keys really can be idyllic. We’ve done lots of kayaking in those narrow mangrove tunnels—like you said, you just have to forget about the paddles and pull yourself along by the tree roots! We have a tandem kayak and it works out well for us because one of us can keep the kayak steady while the other is (trying) to take photos. And it’s nice to have double paddling power when we’re kayaking against a strong current. We manage to get along most of the time. :-)) Keep on posting—I’m vicariously enjoying the Keys through your adventure this year.

    • Amanda

      I can see how having one person steer and steady while the other takes photos would be easier. Most of most kayaking photos come out crooked and I have to edit them later.

  5. Laurel

    Oh, and the Turtle Hospital! Thanks so much for the tour and stories of the turtles. I’m so bummed we didn’t go on either of our trips down to the Keys. I didn’t realize at the time just how wonderful it is. Next time, for sure.

  6. Dayami

    We visited the Turtle Hospital two years ago. We really enjoyed it also. My younger son is fascinated with Turtles. I plan to make a return visit anytime we are back. What was not as impressive was the Dolphin Research Center. Unless you pay the higher prices, there is not much more than to just walk around.

    • Amanda

      Good to know about the Dolphin Research place. I thought the Turtle Hospital was well worth the fee.

  7. Sharon and David (Two lanes of freedom)

    Great post and great pictures! Glad to hear you’re enjoying your stay back in a “sticks &bricks” for a while. The Keys are certainly a great place to reconnect with family and friends. I too thought that the animal hospital would be an awesome place to volunteer. Love the Keys!


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