Flying low

The day had come when we were going on the most expensive tourist tour of the whole vacation. Well actually the most expensive tour ever. We were going to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park for a mere $320 per person! If you don't know the Dry Tortugas National Park you may wonder why it is so expensive as most national parks can be visited for $ 25 or less for a seven day pass. And I have to admit, that the entrance ticket was only $ 10, but what is costly is getting there. Dry Tortugas is a small archipelago in The Gulf of Mexico about 70 miles west of Key West. There are two ways to get there. You can go by boat or by seaplane. If you don't have a boat yourself, a ferry from Key West will take you there. The trip lasts about 3 hours in each direction, and you have to go back the same day, as you can't stay overnight on the only island, where you can go ashore. The price for a ticket to the ferry is around $ 170 (2016) and it will take a whole day. If you go by seaplane, the prize is $ 300+, for a half days trip and $ 500 + for a whole day. As we didn't want to spend a whole day we had decided for the plane trip and booked it from home.

A couple of days earlier, we had received a mail with directions on how to find the airport and the office of the airline in the airport. Finding the airport was very easy, as we almost had the runway in the hotel's backyard. We were going on the first flight, that were leaving at 8 am, and as we had to be there 30 minutes early to check in, we got up early and made ready. We had no troubles finding the office of the airline either, and when we checked in, we were asked if we wanted snorkling equipment which was included in the price, but we didn't. We were given a small cooler with ice and - by choice - water and coke to drink, as no drinking water is found or can be bought on the island. Therefore the name DRY Tortugas! Tortugas is Spanish for turtles, and the islands werfe given the name when they was first discovered by Spanish sailors, because of the many turtles living there at the time of the discovery.

Eastern Key West from the air. Our hotel is the group of buildings right before the road turns north.

After a while our pilot arrived. At that time he looked more like a surfer than a pilot. Long hair and long beard, dressed in a T-shirt, baseball cap, shorts with an interesting pattern and slippers. He took us to the plane and started stowing our luggage away in the back of the plane. Besides from the cooler we had brought a backpack with towels, swimwear, spare clothes, sun lotion and stuff like that. The plan was a De Havilland Otter amphibious plane with wheels that could be drawn into the pontoons when landing or take off from water. The plane had room for 10 passengers in two rows by the windows so everyone had a window seat. We were told by the pilot to use the same seat going out and home, as we then could see, what we didn't see flying in the opposite direction. After take off the pilot circled low over Key West to give us an aerial view of town and then we headed west. Along the way the plane keeps rather low, so you are able to see whats going on in the mostly shallow waters. We saw sharks, rays and turtles, but unfortunately they were impossible to photograph due to the glimmer of sunshine from the waves. All that is seen on my pictures looks like water. Except from two ship wrecks that are clearly visible.

45 minutes after take off we landed on the beach of Garden Island, the only island in the archipelago that are open for visistors, and only part of that too, as most of it is a bird sanctuary. We got our luggage from the plane, and found ourselves a table in the shade - at 9 am it was already 95 F in the shade. We put on some sun lotion and walked to Fort Jefferson. Fort Jefferson is a never completed fort from the 1840's. It's the largest brick building in the western hemisphere and you can get on top, which we did. We walked almost all around the roof of the fort (a small part is closed to give the park rangers some privacy) in the glowing sun. The view from the top of the fort was excellent, and we had a good view of the other islands in the archipelago, the bird sanctuary, and we got the opportunity to take some nice pictures of seagulls, pelicans, cormorants and not least majestic frigate birds. When it was getting too hot up there, we decided to go for a swim. By the way, even as the fort never served as such, up to 1,700 soldiers were stationed there at one time, but because of the lack of water and food having to be transported to the island by ship, it was simply to difficult too maintain such a large force. Later the fort was used as a prison, and among the prisoners was Samuel Mudd and three other co-conspirators in the murder of President Lincoln. Mudd was the physician who helped John Wilkes Booth during his escape after the murder.

Back down we went to the small changing room near the ferry dock and changed into our swimwear, grabbed our towels and walked to the beach. I don't know how hot it was then, but it was so hot, that even the 82 degrees F water felt cool. A few other people were at the same beach, all wearing T-shirts while swimming. The salt water quickly disposed of the sun lotion, so in order not to get a sunburn, we decided to do the same. The beach was nice, sandy and shallow water though deep enough to swim in not far from the beach. When we felt we had swum enough we returned to the table where our backpack and and ice cooler had remained. After all there were only 20 people and 8 rangers on the island, so like suggested by the pilot we had left wallets, watches, cameras, phones in the backpack, and everything was still there when we returned. We let the sun dry us for a while, and then returned to the changing room to change back to our ordinary clothes. While we were waiting for the plane to return with new visitors, we entertained ourselves with looking at birds and later looking at the passengers from the ferry which arrived around 30 minutes before we were returning to the mainland. At 11 the plane returned with a new group. The pilot, now looking like a terrorist still with the baseball cap, but now with a bandana in front of his face so only the eyes were visible, or rather they were not, as he also wore sunglasses. He left the plane and walked to the ranger's office with some hot pizzas that he had with him in the plane. 11.15 we boarded the plane for our return trip and at noon we were back in Key West Airport after a great experience that was well worth the cost.

You can hear my son, Tim, talk about Dry Tortugas and four other places in USA that you have to see before you die :-) by following this link: Sage Kronsell on Youtube.

The pool seen from the pool bar

When we were back on the mainland (can an island like Key West be the mainand?) we went back to the car and returned to the hotel, only to find out that our room wasn't yet ready, so we drove back to downtown Key West to see a little more of town. When we got back to the hotel, the staff was still not done with our room, so we went to the pool bar and had a couple of drinks. Back home, when we booked the hotel, Tim became aware of the pool bar, and decided that before leaving he would have a drink there.  While we enjoyed our mojitos we spent the time watching a large iguana and a small ibis who apparently lived somewhere near by. When we had completed our drinks we decided to return to our room, even if it was not done yet, as we wanted to take a bath to rinse of the salt from the swimming. But when we got there the room was ready so we took our baths and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the room. When we were ready to go to dinner, neither of us were really hungry even if we had nothing to eat the whole day, maybe because of spending so much time in the sun, so we decided for a sandwich at a Subway. We had notices a Subway close the hotel, where we met my colleagues the previous day. When we left the hotel it was pouring down, and walking to the car we watch two men trying to get a girl into a car without her getting wet. The girl wore a wedding dress and plastic slippers (probably to prevent her bridal shoes from getting ruined). I suppose the older man that tried to prevent her hair from getting wet and her hairdo ruined with a very small umbrella, was her father, and the younger man who ran before them to open the doors of the car was her brother. She wasn't looking too bad when she reached the car, but as the rain just got worse while we ate, I'm not sure if she wasn't getting more wet leaving the car again.

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