so. pretty much the main reason we came to the florida keys was so anna and i could take a ferry out to dry tortugas national park, for a few nights of camping and exploring.
we were able to snag a two night stay, thanks to a timely cancelation, and began preparations. dry tortugas is a cluster of islands about 70 miles west of key west and you have to pack out every thing that you pack in. also, there’s no water, so we had to bring our own, enough for two of us for three days. we loaded up the rest of our gear, clothes, and food in bins, woke up at 4 am to drive to key west (we are staying about an hour and a half east), and checked in to load our gear on the ferry at 6 am…
then we had to kill an hour and a half before we could load the ferry with the day trip folk for the ride to the island. we started by parking the car in the $32/day parking garage (ouch) and walking around in the dark around the marina. we debated breakfast, but knew that one was provided on the ferry, so we waited.
before we loaded, we were given warning about the choppy weather conditions and offered dramamine, but we had our own. i took some. anna did not. then, on the boat, an announcement was made that due to the rainy weather, they were offering refunds or rescheduling to anyone who didn’t want to go. dozens of folks filed off the boat.
once we were seated and had our food (all the carbs for anna and keto for me), we were good to go. we hung out with some fellow campers that we just me and things were mostly ok at first.
and then. i got crazy. the boat was rocking so hard from side to side that if i looked out one window, all i could see was water and out the other, only sky. water was splashing in huge waves all up around us, and at times it felt like we were airborne, slamming down hard into the water. i was sure we were going to die before we ever got out to the island. people were throwing up everywhere and a crew member (named “hollywood”) was zipping around distributing new and collecting used barf bags, dropping off paper towels and ginger ales. he was a hero. i was pretty much fine, but anna wasn’t feeling so hot. eventually, 2:45 after we left key west, we arrived, not having vomited.
when we arrived, it was still raining pretty hard, so we just hung out on the boat awhile (part of that time consumed by a park ranger giving us an orientation, full of all sorts of warnings about every single possible bad thing that likely would not happen, as long as we followed the rules). most of the day trippers did not even get off the boat, opting to eat a long lunch and take advantage of the bar that opened early. we had lunch on the boat too, before a break in the rain allowed us to quickly get our tent set up. as soon as it was, we crawled in to try to dry off a little and read (anna) and nap (me).
eventually, the rain (but not the wind) died off, but we were still a little wet and cold. that didn’t stop us from getting out and exploring. it didn’t take us long to realize that our campground was filled with hermit crabs. i think the rain brought them out of hiding a bit, and they were everywhere. anna was a HUGE fan and followed them around with a camera. when we found a cache of conch shells, she relocated them to where the crabs seemed to congregate, in case any of them were looking to upgrade. seriously. they were cool. and thankfully, our entire time at the park, we didn’t step on one.
we were able to walk around the fort and the surrounding grounds a bit that evening, but we settled in early, hopeful for better weather in the morning and a day of excellent exploring. we woke up at the crack of dawn, to the sounds of the national park service ship firing up, getting ready to head back to the keys.
when we unzipped our tent, we were pleased to discover our weather wished were granted. the skies were clear. blue. sunny. the temps were already warm. the wind had died down. everything was dry. and we were ready to start our day. well. i was. after a trip to the composting toilet, anna snuggled back into the tent, while i delivered breakfast granola bars.
i convinced her to move out into the sunshine in a grassy picnic area in front of the fort, while i had my breakfast. derek picked up these little coffee shots, so i would die of caffeine withdrawal. and i went with avocado, tuna pouches and absconded packets of mayo for my morning sustenance. since it was valentine’s day, i gave anna a bag of conversation hearts and we sat at the table reading them, deciding which family member each one would be perfect for, and even selected one for the fort. (crushin’).
before the day trippers arrived, we walked around the wall and explored the fort. but, it wasn’t long before the first of many seaplanes arrived, bringing rounds of people to start filling up the island. and then. at 10:30, our little slice of paradise turned into a tourist zoo, when the ferry arrived.
anyhoooo. we attempted some snorkeling, but the water was still murky from the previous day’s storms. and anna saw a flash of something moving and completely freaked out (thanks in part to the excessive warnings of ranger dave). we wandered around some more. played with hermit crabs. chatted with fellow campers. had lunch. picked up junior ranger books and worked on them. and just generally enjoyed the sunshine.
even though she didn’t want to snorkel anymore, anna was still cool with wading into the water. i sat on the beach and read. she found all sorts of dead coral and fun stuff and had a great time. i resigned myself to the fact that we were probably weren’t going to do anymore snorkeling and that i should just be happy with this view and her having fun…
while we were on the beach, we noticed this bird, sort of acting strangely. he would ride out on the waves that reached higher up on the beach and make his way back to shore, where he would just stand around, even as people walked close to him. when we walked past, he walked around with his wings extended like the pic, which seemed weird. later than night, when we came back for the sunset, he was still there, sleeping on and off. and then we weren’t all that surprised to find him there in the morning, this time, well, dead.
after a good night of sleep, we woke up on our final day before the sunrise, and i actually was able to convince anna to go sit at a picnic table and watch it with me. (also, i like the view of the sun shining on our tent with the fort in the background, in case you were wondering.)
from there, we strolled along the moat wall and realized that the water was back to being crystal clear and we could see all manner of coral reef life bustling below the surface (even a shark). anna changed her tune about snorkeling, so we quickly hit the water before she could change her mind and before the masses descended upon us. (i have an entire post planned for our snorkeling adventures).
we took a snorkeling break to pack up our site and get our gear over to be loaded onto the boat. we also took awhile to walk around to the other side of the key, which is a little grungier because it’s the side that breaks the waves. but the plus side is, there were fewer people.
when anna finished up her junior ranger books (two of them, one for dry tortugas and one for underwater explorer), we went to the visitor center to make it official. (full disclosure. first we went to park headquarters, where ranger dave put anna through the ringer, and used up way too many of our remaining minutes on the island. at the bookstore, this nice staff member swore her in).
we squeezed in a bit more snorkeling. and another stroll on the moat wall to look for fish. we grabbed lunch on the boat, which was an option on all the days we were there for $7 a person, which hardly feels like the primitive camping we were prepping for. then, we began preparations for leaving. warm water showers (trickles) on the boat, before we changed once and for all and laid our wet clothes out to dry as much as possible before we boarded to head home.
at 2:45, we piled on with all the day trippers, and off we went. the ride home was 100x more smooth than the ride out. no one barfed. everyone was jolly. the waves were nonexistent. and we got a great view of the fort as we pulled away (we couldn’t even see it on the way in). we were sunkissed, exhausted, slightly battered, and happy.