Adjusted Reality

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

Tag: travel Page 2 of 5

Turtle Home Voyage #3 – Granger Lake

Last weekend, we were supposed to head to Port Aransas with the family for a weekend beach trip.  However, Port A really doesn’t *exist* right now, so we’re going to postpone our trip and go in the spring.

Here’s the highlight reel.  You can see everything here.

We had an extra day off work already booked, so we decided to take Turtle Home north instead of south and spent three days at Granger Lake.  The week before was extra hectic and stressful but once we pulled into our spot, I almost immediately relaxed because we had most of the campsite to ourselves.  The twenty-six slot section we were in had *maybe* 5 people at max over the weekend.  One happened to be right next to us, but she barely left her motorhome.  It was incredibly exactly everything I needed to destress.

Since Saturday was going to be quite a long day, we took Friday night easy.  We set up camp, and then cooked up a feast: steak, potatoes, and all the leftover veggies I had in the fridge.  So, so, so good.  Probably one of the best camping meals I’ve ever had.  We had a few light beers with dinner but went to bed around midnight like good kids.

But not before we got to see the spooky moon!

We had a day full of plans for Saturday – a bike date with Matt at 10am, and then lickety split, drive the hour up to Temple to hit up a sale to get our kitchen renovation supplies purchased, and spend some time with the fam.  Once we did some mental math on the store’s closing time and driving time, we realized we didn’t have time to ride the 40-50 miles as planned.  So, we went out for 30-ish-but-speedy in mind.

Once we hit the road, we found the wind was out to play.  I suggested we attempt another paceline because that worked REALLY REALLY well at HHH, and it was super nice to have three of us, which meant one mile of WORK and two miles of slight recovery.  We were able to keep a pretty nice speed and had some fun enjoying bikes on fairly empty country roads with light traffic.

We hit a turn and we made a puppy friend.  At first I was a little freaked out because you never know if dogs will be nice or aggressive, but thankfully, he just wanted to trot with us while we pedaled.  Sadly, this road was utter crapola, full of gravel and potholes and uneven, so we decided to turn around and do an out and back course instead a loop.

We also got to try out our anniversary presents.  Zliten picked us up these… walkie talkies… for lack of a better word, that attach to our helmets.  Spoiler alert: they rock my world.  Instead of spending most of our ride time shouting “WHAT” and “I can’t hear you” and “what did you call me? oh wait, you said turn left up here not you have a big rear”, we can just chat to each other like we were riding side by side.

Chipmunk to grey squirrel… can you hear me now?

Once we turned around, we hit this AWESOME tailwind.  We kept up our paceline and our speed climbed almost as fast as the temperature.  There was a (closed) bar that had sodas for sale on the honor system in a cooler out front, so we stopped and instead of a gel, I enjoyed the tastiest 1$ berry Fanta EVAR.  Biking in the country leads to fun discoveries!

We decided we had just enough time to roll up and down the Granger Dam road (adding about 6 miles), so we took some pictures at the Granger sign (as you do) and then time trialed our way back.  We spaced ourselves out every minute and busted ass down the dam road without drafting.  Strava says I got 7th place female and I know I held between 21-23 mph on my road bike, so I was pretty happy with life.  Yay bike fitness!

We quickly showered and changed and shoved turkey bacon avocado bagel sandwiches in our faces while driving and subsequently got a little lost on the way up and went about 15 minutes out of the way.  It worked out though, we found our people and our place and found out they were open later after all.  Whew!  After a jaunt around the store and a little wait, we met with our designer and finalized our cabinet order, added some granite slabs for the counter top (we shall see how that works out… but the difference in cost was 400$ vs 3000$, so we couldn’t pass that up) and some hardware and we got an INSANELY great deal.

We still have to buy some things and then also pay for it with blood, sweat, and tears, though Zliten’s parents are going to help us with a LOT of the work because they have done two kitchen redos now and are AWESOME.  I believe we still need to pick out paint, some tools to actually be able to cut granite, a backsplash (if we decide to do a backsplash and not just paint), a new kitchen faucet, a microwave with a stove vent, and probably about 20 other things that will come up, but the first big step is DONE!

Then, we went to a mexican restaurant, and I got a chicken fajita plate which was pretty yummy!  They had all sorts of salsas, which came in handy for the amazing breakfast tacos the rest of the weekend.


We had planned to make an elaborate chicken, rice, veggies, and campfire bread feast that night, but we weren’t super hungry and were kind of exhausted so we just attempted to cook the bread as an experiment and I made some camping punch.  The punch worked out great.  The bread did NOT.  Ah well.  The guts actually were delicious but the crust was too burnt, so we’ll try it again next time for about half the cooking time.  We supplemented this void in our stomachs with dutch oven avocado oil popcorn and one tiny half smore because… camping.

I spent the evening listening to classic rock, watching the stars, and switching off reading my non-fiction Calm the F*ck Down – The Brave Triathlete sports psychology book and my Star Force space dinosaurs fiction book.  It was exactly everything I needed to, literally, calm the f*ck down after the last month and a half of CRAZY.

We stayed up way, way, way too late and subsequently stayed in bed until almost noon reading.  We started the day with a walk around the campsite and some amazing breakfast tacos with bacon, potatoes, onions, peppers, and cheese. Our ice had melted, so we hit the store for that and a few other things.  On the way back, we finally took a moment on the side of the road to poke one of the cotton bales on the farmland we had been eyeing all weekend.  Yep – even packed in tight, it’s still fluffy!  It felt just like a cotton swab.

After re-provisioning, we inflated the kayak and hit the actual LAKE part of Lake Granger.  We had planned to go all the way out to the dam (which was a couple of miles away), but once we got out of the little inlet area to more open water, the wind started to beat us up, so we just paddled in a big circle instead in the more protected water.  We mooed at cows on the shore and bopped each other with paddles and enjoyed the clouds dancing for us with the sun and we even found a lucky hat that we fished out of the water.  We logged a little over two miles of arm and shoulder work in about an hour.

For late lunch, we grilled up these ridiculous Sausage Slammer things.  This amazing abomination consists of cheddar cheese stuffed in a jalapeno stuffed in sausage with bacon wrapped around it.  We had one each and had to save the rest because we felt our hearts threaten to explode if we continued, but they were so, so delicious and decadent.

Om. Nom. Nom.

We had time for one more activity before dinner.  I had originally thought about blowing up the tube and floating in the water while my husband fished, but I felt like being a little more active.  I put on pants and shoes and took a hike by myself.  The way out was a lot slower because I stopped to take pictures of damn near everything.  I found an armadillo friend who was a little shy.  I saw lots of dragon fly sex.  I found my way to the haunted bridge in the pretty afternoon sun that makes it glow.  It was ultimately awesome.

The magical forest of scared-y dillos and bug shagging.

Stew was on the docket for dinner.  It’s an amazing meal… but it takes a long time.  Fortified from fatty fat slammers earlier and some beverages, we were plenty patient and the stew took a few hours, but it was worth it.  So much better than the crockpot.  Cooking on fire is the BEST!

Fire makes food magical… and look pretty for pictures too!

However, after two days of cooking on fire… the next morning, I had a headache the size of Texas.  I’d make the joke that it can’t be because of all the carbonated malt beverages the night before, but I know my body and it was an unreasonable pounding in my head for the amount of hops and barley soda consumed.  Either way, the best cure for a headache is water, so we pumped up the tube and Zliten attempted to feed the fish with worms while I floated back and forth between two trees and watched the clouds.

We dithered around and made another batch of breakfast tacos and packed up our things a little bit.  We almost lazed out, but we found a little patch of motivation and took off on our bikes around noon.  We decided to just circle the campsite since I didn’t know if I felt like riding one mile or twenty, and the end result was 6 miles in about 25 minutes before we stopped simply because we needed to vacate the premises.  My headache was still in force, but cycling didn’t make it worse, and everything is better on bikes.

Long weekend home away from home. 

We left the camp a little after the 2pm checkout, but it was so desolate no one minded.  After an uneventful drive home, we spent the rest of the day couchified and unpacking and doing ALL THE LAUNDRY.

While I will not claim much involvement in helping beyond moral support, over the weekend, my lovely husband fixed the outdoor shower, the hot water, cleaned the water tank, the outdoor light, switched out the propane tank, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting.  At this point, the only thing that needs to be replaced is the battery, and the rest of the purchases are then just upgrades or toys!

Camping totally makes the week before and week after a little hectic.  There’s a lot of gear and prep and unpacking and you are absolutely away from your To Do list so you’re not making forward progress.  I didn’t even get to writing, which I totally could have and maybe should have since I’m now behind on my book.  Every so often though, it’s fun to say “fuck it” to your responsibilities and it’s SO WORTH IT to have those days where you’re just playing outside and the evenings where you’re disconnected from (most) technology and really focused, present, and in the moment.

I can’t wait to go again next weekend.


Wanderlust on the cheap – 10 ways to vacation on a budget

Ah, it’s about to be vacation season.  I’ve got four camping trips planned from now until December, and I’m waffling back and forth on what I want to do for my actual VACATION vacation (requirement: must include scuba diving, snorkeling, and awesome photo opportunities).  This year, I’ve already been on a cruise to the Carribean with my folks, spent a week in the woods, plus a five day trip to do IM Texas in April.  I have the wanderlust and I have it bad.

The company isn’t quite so colorful at home.

I drop probably more than my share of income on it, but I also buy all my clothes from a thrift store and hang onto things until they are so worn out they’re not useful.  It’s one of my priorities.  I don’t remember most of the crap I’ve bought in the last 10 years, but I have vivid memories of my vacations.  I can be underwater with pretty fishies in blue water, which is not something I can do at home.  I can completely relax and let go, which is hard to do at home with one more chore or to do and the internet and the television all handily accessible.

I’ve made the mistake of thinking everyone is like me, but I know differently now.  I know some people who go five or even ten years without taking a vacation.  I’ve heard tell of people, ADULT people, who have never left their hometown.  I’ve also known a lot of people who only vacation to visit family or friends.  While that’s a wonderful thing, I love family and friends, and for those of you that aren’t (or have a spouse that’s) allergic to anything with fur, it can be a much cheaper option to get out of town for a bit.

However, you can miss out on some of the things that make a vacation a vacation.  You can’t completely let go and unwind when you’re staying in someone else’s guest room that’s going about their daily lives.  Also, unless your family is in Hawaii or Iceland, or somewhere else that you’d actually WANT to vacation, it’s really a visit.  Which is cool.  But it’s not a vacation.

What, your first idea for an excursion in Alaska in September ISN’T snorkeling?

How many new experiences would I have missed out on?  If I didn’t travel, I would have never been motivated to learn to scuba dive, which is now at least my third favorite hobby and one of the motivating factors on where I choose to roam.  I would have never climbed to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, Hanging Lake, or ran up a mountain in Juneau.  I wouldn’t have scaled the Colorado National Monument or up the Klondike Highway in Skagway (ok, partway…) on bikes.  I wouldn’t have snorkeled in Hawaii, Alaska, or any damn where you put an ocean or even a mildly pretty lake.

I love food and drink.  If I didn’t travel, I would have never had a REAL Belizian meat pie.  I would not have a sick obsession with Publix subs.  I would have never eaten Nepalese food in a little town in Colorado.  I would have never known the joy that is bean, bacon, and cheese breakfast tacos cooked over an open camp fire in the morning.  I wouldn’t have sat in a swim up bar in Jamaica drinking boozy banana drinks. I would have never had an (in)famous hand grenade in New Orleans and I would never have tried the fast food restaurant Krystal after having a few too many of them.

This is the stuff of dreams right here.

“Hey,” you say, “I get it, I want to travel!  But money’s tight, y’know?”

I got you.  If there’s a will, there’s a way.  Here’s ten tips to make travel more affordable/better so you can get the heck out of town and still have enough money to enjoy yourself.

1. Plan your trip when the air fare is cheaper. I am notorious for taking my vacations in early December because travel prices are at rock bottom.  We usually cruise in early March before spring break or on mother’s day weekend because it’s affordable.  Generally, if there’s a big holiday/event coming up, 2-3 weeks BEFORE and AFTER is the best time to travel.  Are the kids in school? Probably cheaper than spring/summer/winter break.  For those of you that have kids: I know my parents busted me out of school for vacations.  You’ll travel cheaper AND you’ll be your kid’s hero.

2. If you have set dates, consider being flexible with your destination.  For example, I knew I wanted to take a vacation for a specific week in December out of Florida.  Instead of doing a Key Largo trip (over 1000$ just for the condo), we took a cruise instead (less than 1000$ for both lodging and food and entertainment).

Condos are awesome because you have extra space and you can also make homemade meals from local food that look like this…

3. Consider staying at a condo/house rental vs a hotel. Consider SCVH for car rental. Typically for the same prices as just a single room or maybe a little bit more, you can get a full kitchen, living room, patio, seperate bedroom (or two), a washing machine, and sometimes other cool amenities like a grill, a bike to ride, or even toys/games/dvds.  Besides being awesome for comfortability reasons, the grill/kitchen means you can cut down on food expenses.  While I love experiencing the food a location has to offer, I’d rather just have an easy breakfast and sometimes lunches I make at home.  And there’s nothing better than grilling some fish on the patio of your condo (that you biked a mile up the road to purchase from a fish market on the water)!  Some of my most memorable Key Largo meals were cooked that way.

4. Some things pay to book in advance, some are left best to the last minute.  For example, if you want to do a cruise excursion with the ship, book it ahead of time and it will cost less.  But, for the cheapest option, show up on the docks with cash and haggle.  It works the same way for vacations – usually planning ahead will save you money, but if you can be impulsive and flexible, you can get some super great last minute deals (for example, a 10 day South American cruise for 299$ per person is happening right now 😛 – and yes, that is room AND food for 10 days…).

8 days in Bonaire, because we were flexible about the time of year and the days we traveled, ended up being less expensive than two long weekend getaways somewhere in the states.

5. Taking your vacation in larger chunks will save you money.  If you take one two week vacation, vs four long weekends, you’re saving 3 round trip flights (or you can go somewhere four times as cool!).  Booking a condo for a month is sometimes just a little more expensive than a week.  If you have the flexibility, go long!

6. A lot of times, the direct flight option, if there is one, is the cheapest (plus you get there quicker, so its a win win).  Always search for the direct flights and then compare it to the cheapest (and see if it’s not worth spending a few extra dollars to take it to actually be on vacation a little longer).

And being here longer is typically better.

7. Consider the RELATIVE cost.  A cheaper flight leaving a day before means another night at a hotel.  A more expensive hotel room in the city may mean you can use public transport and save on a rental car.  A more expensive hotel room with a free breakfast means less meals out.

8.  A great way to “sample” a new area is to combine 2-4 seperate destinations that are nearby.  Cruises are great because you spend about 8 hours in each port.  Some, you don’t care to return to (Grenada).  Some, you fall in love with and spend a week there (Bonaire).  You can do this on land by hitting up a few different towns in the same region.  For example, we did a weekend in Portland, took a bus and spent a few days on the Oregon Coast, and a quick cheap plane flight took us to the Bay Area before we headed home. It would have been WAY more expensive to do these as three separate trips.

I got to wear a jacket in July and kiss crabs.  The Oregon Coast was surreal!

9.  Leave and come back on Saturday if that’s an option.  It’s usually one of the cheaper days to fly, PLUS you get a full day off to decompress and unpack (if you work a typical schedule).  Tuesday and Wednesday are generally the absolute cheapest but that means you have to split up a week off which can feel like you get less time off.

10. Super broke but still want to get away?  Go camping!  A weekend pass to a campsite is about 30 bucks (for improved camping with power and water).  Even if you have zero gear, you can rent a tent from REI for 40 bucks (or buy a super cheap one but I DO NOT RECOMMEND that – rent or buy a good one, but I covered that here), an air matress is 20 bucks, stuff to light a fire is 10 bucks, and from there, all you need is hot dogs, makings for smores, and a case of cheap beer and you’re set!

Not a bad view from your patio for 20$ a night, hmmm?

It’s easy to talk yourself out of taking a vacation.  The actual TRAVEL part of traveling is a hassle.  Then there’s packing, getting everything everything at home and work taken care of while you’re away… and it costs money, no matter HOW great of a deal you get.  I promise, it’s worth it.  Go forth and vacation (cheaply)!

Fishy Business – Roatan, Costa Maya, and Cozumel

As time goes on, as a fishie in a human’s body, all vacations seem to descend into as much time in the ocean as possible.

My natural state of being when there’s ocean around.

With land-based vacations like Bonaire or Key Largo, that means just about every moment until Zliten cries uncle.  On a cruise, though, you’re limited to the days your have at port, and I think we pretty much made the most of them.

Day 4 of the cruise, we docked in Roatan, and took a cruise tour excursion to Tabatya Beach.  We heard good things about the snorkeling there, and it did not disappoint.  We’re actually considering returning there later this year, the reef was so gorgeous.

I actually didn’t look at any of my photos until after the cruise was over because I was bummed about them for no reason.  My back was hurting and I couldn’t stabilize as well as normal so I figured my pictures were going to be shit.  Not true in the slightest.  I’m sure I missed a few things because I wasn’t at 100% but I have some great stuff to show off, so here we go!

This may be one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken.  A giant school of Ocean Surgeonfish playing the the morning sun.

Giant mature Rainbow Parrotfish are usually super skittish and they’re super hard to photograph well, but this one and a few friends were just hanging out in like 18 inches of water feeding.  Watching them from above, their fins kept poking out of the water.  I stayed there for a while in awe even though I almost snagged my rashguard about 10 times on the coral.

Sergeant Majors are my favorite common fish and they were super brave and wanted to include me in their school and show me around everywhere.  This was taken without zoom.  They were THAT friendly.

Not a terribly rare fish, but I like my picture of this Banded Butterfly feeding.

Parrots are all over down there, but this Stoplight was showing me his good side.

Pufferfish says “peekaboo, I see you, now GO AWAY”.

It was a spectacular day.  We started out about 9am with beautiful conditions and light.  We took three trips in, about 60-90 minutes each time, and took a break the first time to reapply sunscreen and the second for a quick lunch.  I think we covered at least 2 miles in the approximately 4 hours we were out there, if not more.  Bonaire might be tops for diving, but I think the snorkeling in Roatan is definitely some of the best around and we’re definitely considering spending a week there soon.

Storytime!  On day five of the cruise, we docked in Costa Maya, a new port for us.  The diving was pretty expensive, the snorkeling situation was a little sketchy (either not great or you had to go out of town), so we decided to take a cab to a nearby beach and see what “not great” meant.

Well, not great means that you will have to swim about an Ironman distance swim to see anything and dodge boats and current to do it.  In the future our yellow snorkel vests and even a diver down flag would be prudent.  These pictures are not the greatest, the lighting and conditions were not super, but here’s a few things from the area around Yaya Beach.

First thing we saw was a giant Sea Cucumber.  In Bonaire they were called Donkey Turds and I think that name is pretty appropriate, no?

After a loooooong swim, I was excited to find a few squid.  Then I turned around and watched as a pod of like 40 of them swam away.  Sigh.

As we were coming back to the shore, we saw this pretty little starfish in just a few feet of water.

Then we found a beach (which may have been private) to cut across instead of the boat lane and walked across a road and more beaches and we were back at our Carribean Life beach area and our stuff was all there and we declined to go back out a second round because there was nothing near us, and we didn’t want to swim ANOTHER 2 miles.

I’m torn as to what I’d do if we go back here.  It was kinda fun to adventure snorkel but I really feel like there has to be a better place to go that doesn’t take a boat or a 45 minute cab ride each way.  And maybe it’s OK to take the cruise excursion where you only snorkel for 40 minutes if it’s more quality, and maybe it’s better to go to the zip line and waterpark instead or drink beers at the swim up bar in the port instead and call it a day.

Friday, Day 6 of the cruise in Cozumel, had an interesting start.  We made sure we were super early to the dive shop, which was in a resort… and they made us wait outside the complex.  And wait.  And wait.  Finally they told us to go down a path, and we found the wrong one which lead backstage to a show and were escorted out.  Then, we got escorted again to the right one (stupid Gringos), and hey, diveshop!

This may also be one of my other favorite pictures I’ve ever taken.  This Queen Triggerfish is gorgeous, super rare, and posing like a model for me.  Bonus boxy brown (spotted trunkfish) on the bottom as well!

This Spotted Barracuda totally wanted me to follow him.  Probably as food not friend but I don’t know for sure!

Tuuuuuuurtle!  I expended probably about a quarter of my tank kicking against the strong current to take another pass at this guy for a better picture, and I’m glad I did.  The lighting is great, if almost a little *too* bright.

I wish I could have had a banana for scale (or anything, really), but this Lobster was multiple feet long.  It’s tail could have fed a family.  I’ve never seen a lobster so big!

In this section, we went through some really gorgeous swim through areas which I attempted to not defile with my tank (and mostly succeeded).  This Blue Angelfish lead the way.

More swim through perspective.  This was a gorgeous section of the reef (and you can see our tour guide up ahead).

Again, showing off some goregous reef background with a French Angelfish friend.

All diving in Cozumel is drift diving.  We took some pretty significant rides.  The good thing is to progress forward with the current, you just have to relax.  The bad thing is when you want to see something specific not with the current, you have to kick like hell.  My back was not thrilled with that second situation but it was WORTH IT in some instances to get the shot.

My first drift dive in Coz a few years ago was not my favorite ever, but I feel like after this experience, it’s something I want to learn do right.  Like, with a multi-day trip.  Perhaps after a 70.3 next fall.  This plot may be hatching…

I will at this point direct you to my full album.  If you want to see more gorgeous reef, check it out.


Bikes to nowhere, adventure snorkeling, and local beers – Liberty of the Seas

I do love cruises, but they have a history of doing bad things to me.

In 2011, my back went out and I got a nasty cold.  In 2013, I injured my knee and I got a cold the last day.  2014 and 15 I did it to myself with a half marathon and marathon the day before the cruise. 2016 my body was totally healthy, but I discovered over spotty wifi in Belize that my company had done layoffs that day.  While I look forward to these vacations, I also am always wondering what bad thing is going to happen.  While it was annoying to have a cranky back through most of the vacation, it was definitely a MILD annoyance compared to some years…

Sunday’s drive was fairly uneventful minus a 45 minute stallout in traffic around Houston.  We got to the pier, everything seemed chill, we got in a short line to get on board and… technical difficulties.  Their internet was out so the security photos weren’t being sent up so things were taking a long time.  We got put in a line and then sent back to sit down and then another line and then as we got up to the end we were told to sit down again.  We’re on about hour 7 of not eating anything so we’re cranky and we decided we weren’t getting displaced in line again so we just stood there.  And stood there.  With heavy backpacks on… (foreshadowing…).

Finally we got on board and lunch (food was glorious) and went to the mandatory boat drill and since we were signed up for late dinner this time, we had a few hours to kill.  I asked Zliten what he wanted to do and he really wanted to hit the gym, so we rode bikes for 30 mins and stretched.

Then, we watched the boat sail away from the hot tub with some frozen mojitos.  This really started vacation.

We drank some wine and got dressed up for dinner.  Since it’s the same boat, around the same time of year, it seemed like the menu for the week was pretty much the same.  Last year, I had seafood spaghetti with oysters, scallops, and shrimp.  Guess what I had this year?

We called it an early night and retired back to the room to read books and sleeeeep.

Monday was our first day at sea.  We slept until we woke up without an alarm and still hit breakfast.  I kept these small and had a little corn beef hash (my cruise treat), some fruit, and a few potatoes.

We met my parents for cards and played a few rounds.  Then, we did another 35 mins on the bike and stretched before we got hungry for lunch.

The afternoon was for the pool, and a few drinks, and more lounging until we had to get gussied up for formal dinner.  We clean up alright.

After dinner, we headed up to the disco and spent the evening talking to random people and drinking a lot of Crown Royal on the rocks before some late night snacks and bed.

Tuesday was sort of a repeat of Monday, except a little less sleep and a weee bit of hangover that went away rapidly and my back felt SUPER out of place.  Fancy that, running around all evening in heels + lugging around a heavy backpack for hours + cruise chairs/beds not being super comfortable didn’t do me a world of good.

Anyhoo, we were up in time for a quickie breakfast of relatively the same thing.  Cards with the ‘rents.  Bike and stretch (and stretch and stretch and roll).  Lunch.  Pool.  Pretty sure there was a nap in there somewhere.  Dinner – one of my favorites from last year, crab cakes and cilantro cod.  Sleep early because the next day we arrived at our first destination!

Wednesday is when vacation really, for real starts for me because it’s time to go hit the beach for a few days instead of just look at it, but also it’s half over.  Boo.

Started out with a *slightly* larger breakfast since we were playing in the water all day.  We rode past this sweet lighthouse on the way to Tabatya Beach and then all of a sudden we were there.  This place was amazing, and I’m not even showing you the underwater photos yet.

We spent over four hours snorkeling the huge mass of reef (reefs?) around the beach. The last time we were in Hawaii, on one of those hawaii boat charters, we’d spent a whopping two full days in the water.

I’ll do a play by play of all the fish pictures once I’ve processed them, but for now, you get THIS happy fish after those four hours, what sounds like a totally mundane but actually super amazing lunch of bbq chicken, rice and beans, and coleslaw.  And a mojito.

We hit a bar right at the port on the way back to have a few more drinks off the ship (read: WAYYYY less expensive) and enjoyed the view before we hurried back to play cards with the ‘rents.

This is my dinner face (and wearing one of my favorite necklaces to boot), but I didn’t stay up much after that.  I’d say I’m old but I’m really just a fish – playing in the water is ALWAYS going to win out over just about anything else ever and I had two more days of that planned.

Thursday was a little nerve-wracking.  This was the day that got ruined last year by work news.  However, it was a different port and we had different plans, so I was excited to try something new.  Speaking of something new, I found stir fried veggies at breakfast.  It sounded like an odd thing to eat in the AM but they were actually really frikkin’ yummy so maybe I’ll start making breakfast stir fries… hmmm.

We taxi’d out to a beach called Yaya.  Apparently you needed reservations, so a nice older gentleman escorted us to a different area called Carribean Life.  There were no lockers and we were a little nervous about leaving our stuff there, but hey, stuff can be replaced and adventures can’t, so off we went into the water.

This was not the most ideal place to snorkel.  We found some reef in the two miles-ish we swam, and saw some cool stuff like a giant pod of squid.  However, we spent maybe 20 minutes snorkeling and the rest of the time swimming (transporting ourselves).  Sometimes fighting some decent current.  Sometimes hurrying through boat lanes to make sure we didn’t get squished.  Adventure snorkeling!

After that, we were ready for refueling.  Local beer (Corona, LOL).  Pico.  Guac.  Chips.  Chicken tacos.  It was all really great and fresh.  There were ladies offering 20$ massages on the beach and with my back all sore, I took advantage of this.  She worked on me for an hour and twenty minutes.  I was super relaxed by the end.  And… I can say I got topless (very carefully without ACTUALLY exposing myself) on a beach in Costa Maya Mexico!

There was a swim up bar in a giant pool at the port, and I made Zliten get in with me for about 10 minutes.  Because there was a pool and I was there.  Next time, I’ll definitely take more advantage of it.

We played cards around 5:30 and then went kinda casual for dinner and after another sun baked, salt-crusted, fishy type day, we hit the hay pretty quick.

Friday was diving day!  Wheee!  We skipped breakfast so we could sleep in and still make our diving appointment.

We ended up the only two people signed up, so we had a private dive for cheaper than the ship prices.  Score!  And…we saw not one, but TWO turtles!  And lots of other cool stuff.  Day = made.

Our plan was to take advantage of Playa Maya, but we left the dive boat later than expected and the all-inclusive price wasn’t really worth the 2-3 hours we could spend there.  So, we hit Senor Frogs and had our first meal of the day: we split nachos, chicken tacos, and had giant margs and maybe a few shots poured in our mouths.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on deck and marveled that this is probably the most sober we’ve ever left Cozumel (read: not falling down), so we had a *little* more to drink to make up for it.

We fancied up for the last formal dinner.  Richard brought me two lobsters because he is awesome.

Then, we sort of flitted around the ship.  We lost 30 bucks in the casino SUPER quickly so we left.  We then hit the disco and actually danced this time!  We lost our seats from dancing so we went to a different bar and found a completely abandoned comfy lounge.  Then we found out bars were closing so we got munchies at the cafe and went to bed.

Saturday is always the saddest day at sea since you have to leave the next day.  We skipped breakfast again to play cards with the fam, hit lunch, and then decided instead of all the crazy things we wanted to do (gym! waterslides! mini golf! rock climbing!) we instead promptly took a 1.5 hour nap and then went and swam and read by the pool until it was time to play cards again.  I think I ended up with about a 7 and 5 record for wins and losses.  We all did pretty well trading off with the wins.

I honestly didn’t write down the food I ate as well as I did last time, but I do remember this amazing appetizer (that I didn’t snap a picture of) – scallops with chorizo in a cauliflower puree.  Sounds weird but it was amazeballs.  I got a tandoori chicken salad with yogurt dressing that was amazing, and we split a bunch of desert around the table and the key lime pie and cheesecake were the best!

After dinner we did the packing we had put off, picked up our formal pictures (for the relatives), read books and fell asleep.

Sunday was fairly uneventful.  We actually slept until the last possible minute to leave the room, splitting a protein bar instead of one last breakfast orgy.  I was kind of sad but also after eating ship food for 7 days I was kind of ready for something different.  We drove home, hitting a little rain but otherwise it was fine, picked up our leezard, grabbed some BBQ, and binge watched Kimmy Schmidt season 3 while sipping some high class tequila and orange soda dranks because VACATION WASN’T YET OVER DANGIT.

And then it was.  D’awww.  The end.

Once I process the other cameras pictures I’ll put up a fishy highlights post and add them here as well.



Key Largo: Six Days of Fish Pictures

If you like fish pictures, this is the post for you!  I spent so much time in the water this trip, I felt like it deserved it’s own post.  Here’s a recap of our days in the ocean in Key Largo…


Friday, the conditions were pretty awful.  The surge was pretty rough and the light was not good, and we got there during a lower part of the tide which is not ideal.  However, all ocean time is good time.  I saw an eel, my octopus buddy!!!, and some lobster, but the pictures aren’t really worth a feature because I got lazy and only brought my cheapo camera that day.  I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Saturday, we went diving in the morning.  The rest of the day was awful, but the morning held up well for us.  We started the day with a grouper right where we descended.


Later I’d see a Nassau grouper hanging out, trying to pretend to be part of a grunt school.


We then found two eels right next to each other.  A green moray and a spotted moray (many more greens later, so here’s the spotted).  It’s weird – when we’d see them in the morning, they seemed like they were happy and lounging and docile.  In the afternoon and evening, they seemed like they were more aggressive and on the hunt.


Midnight parrotfish are fairly rare and usually super skittish, but this one wanted to be friendly!


Longspine squirrelfish aren’t THAT rare, but I really liked the lighting and colors in this shot.


I had all the parrotfish luck, because this was a beautiful blue parrotfish hanging out with a juvie stoplight parrotfish and some grunt bodyguards.


….and yet MORE parrotfish.  The rainbow parrotfish are SO hard to photograph.  They’re also super skittish and you have to get them in the right light (read… REALLY close to my flash) for the colors to come out.  This doesn’t quite capture how pretty they are but it’s the closest I’ve come!


Then, the chain of awesome started.  It seems like a lot of times, you’ll see one cool thing, and then another cool thing, and then something else really cool all in a row.  This time, I found a spotted drum under a rock.


Then, I turned around, and saw an eel just lounging.  He had cleaner shrimp and some little fish giving him a manicure and pedicure.


Then, I turned around again, and I saw a Southern Ray just lazily swimming by.  I chased him down for pictures.


The day ended with a scrawled filefish that wanted to give me his closeup.  I obliged.


Sunday was all about the shallows and the lagoon.  It’s definitely a different sort of beautiful in the lagoon than the ocean.  It reminds me a lot of snorkeling in the quarry on a very very very clear day… in that it just looks like this alien world.


On my way out, I did see a little baby tiny upside down jellyfish getting attacked by the swarms of juvinile fish that are everywhere in the lake.  I rescued it for a few seconds.  It was still there a few days later so obviously it can stand up for itself and probably didn’t need my help.


In the ocean, we saw a lesser electric ray and a multitude of lobster (I have better pictures later of both, so I’ll hold off) and a bunch of adorable itty bitty nurse sharks napping the afternoon away.


I also chased down a bandtail puffer fish until it actually posed for me.  If I could communicate with fish and just tell them that I am friend and I just want a picture, life would be so much easier!


Monday, we flipped things around and went for an afternoon dive on the shop’s suggestion since the waters were supposed to be calmer.  Our plan was to go see Christ of the Deep, but the visibility in that area was crappy, so we just went back to Molasses Reef.  We started the day with a reminder of why to wear wet suits when diving… I feel pretty brave (/stupid?) getting that close to the stingy side of a moon jellyfish with no gloves on.


Trumpetfish are not super rare but I have never seen any this big!  They would have been a family’s meal for sure!  Scale is hard to judge here, but he was probably the length of my arm and much fatter!


Smooth trunkfish are always adorable.


I turned away from the group for a moment to get a good shot of these angels, and then they were GONE!


After cursing and freaking out just a little bit, I figured out which way they had to have gone and located them AND the reason they deserted me… a big beautiful nurse shark!


You see grunts all over, but just the sheer VOLUME of them blew my mind.  Sometimes it was far as the eye could see…


Another group was diving and had an underwater noisemaker rattling, and I went to go see what the fuss was about.  It was a shy turtle hiding under a rock.  He put up with my camera flashes for a little bit, and then swam RIGHT UNDER ME.  It made me happy!


Then, we saw ANOTHER turtle, and this one was just lazily swimming along and he didn’t mind the company.  Turtles are my favorite.


We ended the dive seeing a uniquely colored honeycomb cowfish.  I’ve never seen one quite this hue, it was gorgeous!


Even with the jellyfish action, these definitely in my top 10 dives ever.  There was so much to see!

Tuesday, we finally got our clear days out in the shallows.  I saw a lot of lobster, and this cute little crab who really wanted to pinch me.


We got out and walked to the jetty, and Zliten decided to get in and check it out.  He swam around a bit and then shouted THROW ME MY CAMERA!!!  Once I heard what it was, and that it wasn’t moving, I clambered down the rocks as quickly as I could and said fuck my fins so I could get some snaps of this guy.


My octopus buddy hung out for a bit before hiding away again.  It made sense why I couldn’t find him after the first day… he had left for HIS vacation.  This made my week!


We went back out close to sundown, and found all the eels on the hunt.  At first, I thought one eel was just stalking me, but Zliten pointed out they were different sizes.  It was still a little creepy.  However, I got this lovely picture, which I call Eel School Portrait.  It makes me giggle when I look at it every time.


It was the full moon, so the lobsters were definitely partying and doing the moon dance.  This was the first time I’ve snorkeled after dark, and it was really fun to catch the inhabitants of the rocks doing different stuff.


Wednesday was our last day and I was bound and determined to spend as much of it in the water as I could.  I think I clocked something like 4 hours submerged.    We spent more time around the jetty, which was great, because we saw more things, but it was definitely DANGER SNORKELING because there were thousands of these things all over.


I always think I see highhats, but they’re always spotted drums (which are more common).  However, this trip, I found my FIRST highhat, after I chased a stupidly shy (ok, probably SMARTLY shy for his self preservation, but still…) midnight parrot fish into a crevice, this little guy posed for me for a bit.


Let me introduce you to Lobster Family.  On a broken lobster trap, no less, there were constantly 6-10+ lobsters hanging out under this one rock.  I always said hi to them and let them tap my camera when I went by.


I’ve not seen schools of parrot fish before.  It’s not the best photo, but it was really cool to see more than one at a time!


We found an abandoned tractor tire, and inside of it was a sleeping nurse shark.  It made a nice photo.


On the way back, we stopped in the lagoon for a bit.  Here’s more of that eccentric alien world.


I almost didn’t get Zliten to come back out for another session, but enough pouting made it happen.   How about one more sleeping nurse shark for posterity?


We found two lionfish this time.  Lionfish are SO gorgeous but so bad for reefs – they eat anything smaller than them and reproduce so quickly.  I hope beyond hope that they were not a breeding pair or we may come back and see all the lionfish and not much else.


I turned my head randomly and caught a gorgeous giant spotted ray flying by about 5 feet from me.  The lighting was all wrong and I only had one chance at it, so this is the best I got.


However, ALL the lesser electric rays were out.  I counted at least five we saw.  They are a lot calmer and you don’t have to chase them down.


I’ll save you more eel and lobster pics, but they were out to say their farewells to us.  We did catch a very uniquely colored scrawled cowfish on our way back to shore.  He didn’t want to stay in my light (the fun of night snorkel pictures) but he lit himself up pretty well anyway…


And for our last trick, in one foot of water, we played hide and seek with this little tiny baby crab.  He’d hide, and we’d tap on the sand above him and he’d come back out.  It was adorbs.  Please excuse the overexposure from all our lights in such shallow water.


Things I learned this time:

  • It’s never worthless to get in the water.  Worst case, you see nothing and spend some time in the ocean and it’s still a win.
  • However, it’s ALWAYS worth bringing the good camera.  Especially on the bad days (because you’ll get better pictures).  You’ll never know what you’ll capture.
  • 75-79 degrees (December Key Largo ocean temps) is not really comfortable with just a swimsuit, but I didn’t need a wetsuit every day.  Next time I’ll grab some sort of cheapo leggings to go with my rashguard so I can save the pull and tug of getting the wetsuit on every time.
  • Having three bathing suits was not overkill.  I still had to put a wet one on to go out once in a while.  Four actually would have been ideal, and I could have left some of the other clothes I brought instead.
  • Snorkeling in the shallows after a few beers was fun. 🙂
  • Not so much learned, but enforced – the slower you go, the more you’ll see.  It takes looking under all the rocks and crevices and looking all around you to find the cool stuff.  There were SO many people we talked to that snorkeled there all the time and had never seen the eels and sharks.
  • When given the opportunity to snorkel/dive vs do anything else – I will pick water time.  We had designs about doing a long run, having a bike adventure around the key, going on a fishing tip… but instead we played in the water until we were pooped.
  • Besides looking at the pictures we took, the best way to unwind was reading.  We figured we’d go out and hit a bar at least one night but instead we just read books until our eyes were droopy.
  • Not to say there wasn’t cocktails being had.  The last word of wisdom is the best way to cure a hangover… getting outside and back into the water.  I did a pretty good job at not overdoing it, but was feeling pretty rough the last morning, but a quickie run and a dip in the lagoon fixed me right up.

Sadly, I’m now back to being landlocked, but we’re discussing our adventures for 2017, which will definitely include some diving on a cruise, mayyyyybe some altitude diving in Lake Tahoe if it works out, and perhaps a short liveaboard trip in the fall/winter.

And, if you’re still here, bless your heart, and want to see more, you can find my whole album HERE.







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