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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Occasionally the trail opened up to a wider body of water.
And sometimes branches across the trail made ducking necessary.
After about 30 minutes of slow progress, we exited the trail into a very shallow, inland water area on No Name Key.
A short kayak around while admiring the clear water and then back the way we came.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!