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The Keys

Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002
written by Teresa

The lack of an air conditioner has impressed itself upon us these last few days. The day is young and it's already eighty-five degrees in the shade. Usually I wouldn't complain about this but trying to cook in a small space sans air conditioner is a singularly wet and salty experience. While the female of the species normally "glows", these circumstances result in unabashed sweating particularly when two burners of the stove are at full blast. I have resolved to give up cooking for the duration and while this may seem a little like the deprivations of childhood Lent, I will endeavour to stay with my resolution. Bougainvillea The question is, can we survive on coconuts and bananas alone?

In many ways the Keys resemble a secular view of paradise - majestic palms, fronds wafting in the breeze, the stunning colours of oleander and bougainvillea, calling for attention, ospreys and pelicans riding the thermals and all against a backdrop of aqua marine tones, shimmering as the sun plays across the water and punctuated by low lying coral and mangrove islands.

Beneath the waves is another world of breathtaking beauty where rays, turtles and sharks may be glimpsed from vantage points on the bridges stringing the long line of Keys together. Loggerhead sea turtle Leave the land behind and there is another reality to be seen beneath the surface. Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is a protected piece of reef and snorkelling there is a wonderful experience.

I cannot pretend that the water temperature was ideal, in fact it was literally breathtaking and it took me a few seconds to stop gasping loudly. This is largely due to my being a ninny in spite of having spent my childhood swimming in the North Sea where at the best of times it feels as though it has been well doused with ice cubes. Sterling had gone in the day before on the Gulf side where the water was a good eight degrees colder and there hadn't been a whimper out of him although there was a vague tinge of blue around his lips when he got out.

The experience I was least prepared for the first time I snorkelled was the noise of the reef. There is a continuous gentle popping sound a little like small drops of fat spattering on a very hot pan along with the sound of fish scrapping the coral with their teeth as they feed. I have it on good authority that the popping is made by millions of territorial shrimp clicking their legs together to establish position in the pecking order. Large purple fans sway elegantly to and fro with the ebb and flow of the water while small outrageously coloured fish dart amongst the coral formations, schools of Tangs or Angels swim by and the larger Parrot fish graze on the reef. Sterling snorkelling Sterling was lucky enough to see a Nurse Shark and as usual there were a number of Barracuda lurking in the sandy valleys between the reef fingers. Being allowed to watch a world in another element with all it's colour, activity and otherness is a delight that I can never imagine tiring of.

I cannot finish this entry without some mention of the no-see-ums. These are minute bugs associated with coastal areas of which the Keys have the odd one or two. They are nothing short of vicious with a bite comparable, for their size, to a Doberman. Most people seem to live in some sort of accepting relationship with them. The no-see-um has a nibble now and again, thus allowing it to lay eggs and leaves behind a tiny red mark the size of a pinprick and a minor irritation to the skin. That is unless you're a delicate little flower and the avaricious beasts see you as the banqueting feast after the famine, resulting in huge red welts, covering a higher proportion of your skin surface than you'd like to think about. Add to this that the itch factor is too excruciating to even attempt a description and you have some idea of what is involved. I have been sprayed from head to toe in DEET for much of the time, the sale of anti-itch lotions, potions and pills has doubled and I'm still plagued. The worst is that they get through the window screening that Lance in their wisdom made small enough to keep mosquitoes out but large enough to let the smaller beasties through. While I combat the no-see-ums and their aftermath, Sterling deals with another kind of bug and fortunately, he's usually a lot more successful.

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