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Destinations, Florida Keys, United States

Florida Keys Adventures (or: How I Learned to Love Swimming in the Ocean)

A Bahia Honda sunset

A few months ago, my brother told me that he had, by chance, snagged a camping spot at Bahia Honda State Park (pronounced bay-uh hon-da) in The Florida Keys. I wanted desperately to join him, his girlfriend, and my parents, but I didn’t see any way that it would work out. After a few weeks of searching for airfare, I’d nearly given up hope since everything was just so dern expensive. About a month before the scheduled trip, though, I hopped online one last time to look for flights and couldn’t believe it: flight prices were hundreds of dollars less than what I’d been looking at previously. I frantically called up my mom, and although I’m sure she couldn’t quite catch everything I was saying because I was so excited, she definitely understood, “I’m going to FLORIDAAaAaAaA!!!11”

Why was I so excited? Well, of course I’d be able to spend time with my family which is a rare thing since they all live on the east coast. Also, I’ve never been to the Keys, and I love seeing new places. But really, I was looking forward to swimming somewhere where I’d be able to see my feet.

The truth is, I love the beach, but I hate–hate–swimming in the ocean.

This sounds weird, but I feel like I’m not alone in this. There are a lot of people out there who just really dislike hopping in the ocean for a swim. You get tossed around in the current and the waves, saltwater enters every orifice of your body, and when you get out and dry, you’re left feeling sticky from all the salt.

Honestly, though, I can deal with all that. What actually creeps me out is not being able to see my feet. Yup.

The beach that I’ve been to many times in South Carolina is gorgeous, but step in over a foot deep and who knows what’s swimming around you. There could be little crabs at the bottom, a fresh wad of seaweed to step in, little hungry sharks, spiky poisonous things, etc etc etc.

Look, I get it, it’s an ocean and there’s all sorts of crazy stuff in it. I’m an adventurous person, and I’m well aware that I’m more likely to injured in a car accident than I am doing a number of other things, including, but not limited to, swimming in the deep blue sea. I just like to know what I’m stepping on or what’s swimming around me. Is that so much to ask?!

Enter: Florida.

Me at the beach!

You know when you’re watching commercials on tv or looking at an ad in a magazine, and you see this beautiful, wonderful beach with sparkly aquamarine waters, and you think to yourself, “Huh, I’d like that,” as you stare off into the distance wistfully? Well, that’s what The Florida Keys felt like to me. It was slightly unreal. The first day I was there, I decided to test the waters out “just to see what it was like,” but that warm, pristine ocean kept calling me back in day after day. It’s strange, but being able to see where I was stepping and what was around me, even in deep waters, put my mind at ease.

Aside from just feeling more comfortable in the water, I got the chance to see some cool stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. On my first day there, I caught sight of a large stingray swimming just a few yards away from me. I really, really wish that I could tell you I kept my cool, but I most definitely did not. I froze in place, started yelling to my brother, and pointed maniacally at the it as it was gliding around. My strange behavior made everyone in the vicinity take notice, and a crowd of people came over to watch the ray swim off and away from weird little me.

I did more than just wade around in the waters, too. I actually signed up to go snorkeling with my family, so Tuesday morning (6:30am to be exact–which, may I remind you is 3:30am my time–le woof) we hopped in the car and joined a boat of scuba divers and other snorkelers and headed out to sea. I’ve never gone snorkeling before, and honestly, I’m not the strongest swimmer in the world, either. As Fezzik from The Princess Bride would say, “I only dog paddle.” But armed with some flippers, a mask and snorkel, and a snorkeling vest, I spent two hours splashing around, getting to see some of the amazing coral reef, beautiful fish, and even a sea turtle!

Breaking news! Sea turtle spotted in Florida!

After snorkeling, the next day I decided to try out snuba–a mix of snorkel and scuba–for the first time. This. was. amazeballs. It was basically like scuba diving but without having to worry about the equipment, like the compressed air tank and such. It was so so fun, and incredibly freeing.

For scuba diving, I’d obviously have needed to get certified, but for Snuba all I had to do was a brief training. Honestly, when I first started listening to the instructor, I got really nervous about diving. I thought I was just going for a fun swim underwater like 25 feet, but it turns out lungs exploding is sort of a thing. I was briefed a little on how to use the regulator, equalizing the pressure in my ears, and why not to hold my breath (hint: the lung exploding thing I mentioned. NO BIG DEAL.).

Of course, it ended up totally fine and I had an amazing time swimming around. I saw a lobster, my instructor handed me a starfish to hold (!!!), and there were a few barracudas that a got a little too close for comfort. I also left feeling like I could be a part-time mermaid.

Snuba

Florida was a magical place for vacation this summer, and I got to do some amazing things I’d never done before. I also did more swimming in the ocean there than I have in my entire life, so you know it’s gotta be good. I was only there a few days, but the memories (and the tan lines) will last me much, much longer. Bahia Honda, I hope we meet again!

Have you ever gone snorkeling, scuba diving, or tried snuba? What was your experience like? What other activities do you like to do when you’re by the ocean? 

Photo credits:
Nathan Johnson
Tilden’s Scuba Center
moi

 

 

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