We got up Thursday morning and rode our crappy bikes down to Duval Street for the last time. We turned them in at the rental shop, and went across the street to have brunch on the patio at Caroline’s. Brunch included mojitos, of course.
We walked down Duval Street doing some further shopping, planning to call for a cab to the airport shortly. I looked up the taxi number and called, but the lady on the other end couldn’t hear me (or pretended she couldn’t, because it was loud outside). I tried three times to no avail, so I started looking up alternate cab companies. I dialed three other phone numbers, and they all went to the same damn crabby lady. Finally, I got through to a different company and requested to be picked up nearby.
The cab arrived quickly, and we headed off to the private charter terminal at the airport. We went into the waiting area for the Island City Flying Service, and only had to wait a little bit before an entertaining Australian lady came to take us all to the check-in area. That part involved reviewing a map of the Dry Tortugas so we knew where to snorkel, getting our flippers, and each couple getting a cooler to hold our beer and pop. If only all flights could be that way.
We went outside to wait for the plane, which landed shortly afterwards. While we waited, we talked to the other people for a bit. There was a pair of surgeons from Brazil (via Philly), and a couple who lived on their yacht in Florida. The husband was retired from the military, and had also worked on the space shuttle launch pad at NASA. Holy crap.
There were only six of us going to Fort Jefferson that day. We’d intentionally picked the afternoon trip, knowing that the ferry from Key West would be leaving just as we arrived, which meant we’d practically have the island to ourselves.
We boarded the plane, which had 10 single seats on either side of an aisle. We got to wear really sexy headphones so we could hear the pilot, too.
The flight was 45 minutes long, and on the way we got to see two shipwrecks, some boats stashed by Cuban refugees, and a ton of sea turtles. I thought I saw a shark, too, but I couldn’t tell for sure. It was definitely big enough to be a shark.
The pilot pointed out a bunch of interesting features along the way, and then we listening to a recording about the history of Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. (They were originally called the Tortugas, and ‘Dry’ was added to denote the lack of fresh water.)
As we neared the island, I knew that the seaplane was the absolute correct choice for the trip. We wouldn’t have had anywhere near the view from the ferry.
Speaking of the ferry, we saw it just leaving the dock as we arrived. Our pilot buzzed it on the way in.
I expected the landing to be bumpy, but it was actually smoother than on a regular runway! (The only other time I’ve been on a seaplane, I think I was eight. We landed on the river in downtown St Paul, which definitely doesn’t seem legal at all.)
We parked right on the beach in front of Fort Jefferson. The pilot told us we could just leave our stuff laying around, because we were the only people there except for the park ranger, a couple people staying at the campground, and the few people whose boat was docked there. There were at most 15 people on the entire island. That’s amazing.
Matt and I went to go tour the fort first. Rather than wait for the official tour, we just wandered around ourselves. It was insanely hot and humid there, seemingly even moreso than in Key West
We climbed up to the roof of the fort to take photos. From there, we could see jellyfish swimming in the moat. And not like the jellyfish I was familiar with seeing on Florida beaches… they were big pink or purple things, some of them over a foot across. We were maybe a little nervous about running into them. (Especially since the yacht-living couple had told us in detail how they treat jellyfish stings, and of course we were completely unprepared for that.)
After completing our quick tour of the fort, we went to take a look at the rest of the (very tiny) island. We saw the camping area, which made us really want to do that someday (until the pilot later told us that they were really rough conditions: not even because of the lack of water and the smell of the composting toilets, but because it rarely got below the mid-80s and extremely high humidity at night). We checked out the beach on one end of the fort, and saw the Brazilian couple hanging out there. On the walk back, we encountered the Florida couple heading that direction with their snorkel gear. Which meant that the beach on the other side of the fort belonged to us alone.
I was really, really nervous about being able to see jellyfish, but after swimming around and not encountering any of them for a while, I relaxed a little. We did some snorkeling, and I discovered that my underwater camera case didn’t work so well with my new, much-smaller camera!
We got out the beer from the cooler, and sat waist-deep in the water on our own private beach. I’ve had some really good days, but that one had to be in my top ten.
After a while, it was time to head back to the seaplane. We went and changed clothes on the dock (it’s really hard to do that when you can’t rinse off the salt water, by the way), then met up with our group at the plane. The Florida couple had picked up a couple of live conch to show us!
We climbed back in the plane and took the same seats so that we could see what we missed on the way there. I got to see the wreck of the Arbutus this time. The ship’s mast still sticks up above the water.
I also saw the only private island in the Florida Keys. Those people’s lives must be rough.
As we arrived back in Key West, the pilot pointed out a Cuban Airlines plane that has been parked at the Key West airport for years, because the pilots landed on the runway and ran away to defect. They didn’t know what to do with the plane, so it’s been sitting there ever since. Awesome.
Back at the airport, Matt and I walked over to the main terminal to the car rental counter and picked up our car. We drove to the hotel, picked up our parking pass, showered, and then headed down to park near Mallory Square for our last Key West sunset. SIGH.
Again, we got a table at Sunset Pier and ordered food and drinks. I decided it was time to order my drink in a coconut, since I’d been wanting one the whole time we had been there. Having a car made it way more convenient; I didn’t want to have to lock up my monkey on a bike!
Since we didn’t want to have to deal with leaving our car somewhere overnight, we took it back to the hotel and parked it in the tiny maze that was the Azul courtyard. We then headed off on foot to the Orchid Key Inn, which was recommended as a good cocktail bar. We found the tiny bar around back. It had only 8 seats, and was full of mostly-local people well into their drinking that evening (it was only 9:30pm). They were hilarious, though, and everyone there was having a great time. We tried ordering a couple specialties and the bartender wasn’t familiar with them, so we went with his flavored martini creations instead (they were actually really good, especially the French 75 made with St Germain). More people came in after a while, and we were convinced they were swingers. After a couple of drinks, we said goodbye to everyone and headed up Duval Street.
We decided on Bobalu’s, a very Caribbean-looking bar that we’d noticed the first night we were there. They had an entertaining cover band, a gaggle of bachelorette-partying girls, and very delicious pizza. Which got knocked off the bar halfway through, and they totally replaced for us (like, half the pizza… I think the kitchen staff had a snack). We hung out there for a while, and then it was time to head back to the hotel and prepare to leave Key West. Again, SIGH.