Tag Archives: Tropical Beaches

Life’s a Trip – At the Beach

This is the second in the Life’s A Trip series.

There are many ways to approach the journey of life and we have explored a bunch of them.  This is about the different beaches where we have lived for a time.

One of Kaye’s favorite activities in the whole world is beach walking.  I love sitting and soaking up the sun and synthesizing vitamin D.  So beaches work for both of us.

Tropical Beaches

It seems that the ultimate destination in the Caribbean is the beach and we have had the experience of enjoying many of them, mostly in the Dominican Republic, one of our favorite island winter respites.

Playa Rincón, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic.

Because of it’s remoteness, this beach is still largely undeveloped.  It is possible to be alone and unbothered.  We first visited this beach in 1990, camping in a tent in the coconut grove.  Our last visit there -via a rented quad runner – was in the winter of 2016 and it was still unspoiled and beautiful.

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Our favorite ride to Playa Rincon is the rented four wheeler.

BobnKaye wquad on Rincon

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La Playita,  Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

The Little Beach offers snorkeling on the reef just offshore, and there is a beach restaurant and masseuse on hand.  It was a 15-minute walk from our last vacation rental in the little fishing village.

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La Playita at evening

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Las Galeras Municipal Beach, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

A short walk from our vacation rental, the “town beach” offered beach bars and “tipico” restaurants and shuttle boats to other beaches nearby.

Las Galeras bob table beach

The Cove, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic

This beach is smack in front of the resort by the same name and is shared with the local fishermen who store their boats on shore every night.  The local kids love to get attention from the tourists and will put on a show whenever there is a camera around.  We stayed here for the winter of 2013.

Hammock Bob at the Cove

DR boys on palm tree

Dominican beach boys frolick fix

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At the Cove we could buy the fresh catch of the day directly from the fishermen on the beach.

West Coast Beaches

Santa Barbara Beach, California.

This large beach is nicely maintained by the city of Santa Barbara.  There is a bike path, volleyball courts, an art show every Sunday, and a wharf with restaurants on stilts.  We visited several times when we were doing the work-camping thing at nearby Fillmore, California, in the winter and spring of 2014.

Santa Barbara Beach volleyball

Santa Barb beach at sunset

While in California for the winter, we also explored Mugu Point Beach and had lunch at the famous beach diner, Neptune’s Net pictured in movies and TV shows.

We also enjoyed camping at the beach at the linear park at Seacliff where the beach was walkable for miles.  Boon docking at its best (no hookups).

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The campground is linear at Seacliff, California, 2 miles long and 20 feet wide.

The Gulf Coast and East Coast

Dauphin Island Beach, Dauphin Island, Alabama

In the winter of 2015 we set out to spend the entire winter on island beaches.  Dauphin Island was our home for January where the beaches are white sand.  They are walkable for many miles.

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St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, Florida

We spent the month of February in this historical town where driving on the beach is permitted.  Bonus!

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Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle, North Carolina

In March, our RV site was a short dune walk from this beautiful white sand beach.

Driving on the beach is permitted at Emerald Isle… for a price.

The Great Lakes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan

Being Michiganders most of our lives, this is probably one of our most frequent beach destinations.  Of course, Lake Michigan is too cold for swimming except in the late summer and early fall.

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Empire beach at twilight

Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan.

The closest beach to our house for over 40 years, this beach and several others along the east shore of Michigan were our favorite sun-and-sand destinations in the summertime.

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Turnip Rock is a kayaking destination reached via a 1-1/2-hour paddle along the shore from the harbor at Port Austin, Michigan.

So this is a sampling of the many beaches where we have spent some time.

Life’s a trip!  What is your favorite beach?

Obsessive Repositioning Disorder (ORD)*

Milepost 3-12-16                                — in a vacation rental in the tropics

Most of the time it is simply called wanderlust.  It’s that compulsive condition that makes people restless when they’ve been in one place for too long.  Sometimes it is in the DNA and whole families are afflicted with it, and sometimes it is brought on suddenly by a single extraordinary experience, perhaps a childhood trip to Disneyworld or a memorable  weekend in a cottage on the seashore.

Somehow, somewhere, the infection gets under your skin and ends up flowing through your veins and you can’t sit still anymore.  You are compelled to move, even if it is just for a weekend road trip.

One last visit to the beach bar for one last Dominican pizza.
One last visit to the beach bar for one last Dominican fish fry.

Right now, we are getting ready to reposition, and the excitement is building every day.  We have been in the tropics for the winter and are flying back north a few days from now.  There are certain symptoms that accompany the onset of ORD for us:

  • Emptying the fridge and cupboards.  I am not sure how we developed this habit, but part of the excitement of moving on for us is eating leftovers and trying to finish stuff up right down to the last egg in the fridge and the last squeeze of toothpaste.  There is a certain check-it-off-the-list mentally that besets us when we are getting ready to move.  I guess we like to travel light.
  • Daydreaming.  That blank stare might mean I am reminiscing about that great campsite we had on the Pacific coast a couple of years ago, but if I am suffering from ORD, it’s more likely I am dreaming about what the next destination will be like…  or the journey from here to there.
  • Obsessive Googling.  We are both online checking the map of the next destination. “Hey, there is a bike path in our new neighborhood!”  “Oh, cool, we will be able to walk to the cafe down the block from our place!”  Before we even leave for our new location, we feel that we already know what’s there and what’s not.
  • One-Last-Time syndrome.  It may seem weird but we both take note of the last time we use something before moving.  The last time we charge the camera batteries, the last time we order pizza in this neighborhood, the last time we do the laundry, the last time we visit the grocery store, and so on.  I think it is part of the countdown for us.  Does that happen to you?
  • Planning ahead.  This is where we prepare for the trip and the new location. Maybe we buy jerky and crackers for the plane flight.  Perhaps we lay out our entire wardrobe for the trip and the arrival at the new place.  Will we need a jacket?  Where will we eat on the way?  Do we need a haircut before leaving?
  • Stocking up on arrival.  This is the counterpart to one-last-time syndrome.  It is the excitement of re-stocking the fridge upon arrival.  The first trip to the grocery store.  The search for the nearest farm market.  Which restaurant will we start with?

Since we are heading “home” to Michigan next, we have the added anticipation of seeing the grandkids for the first time in a couple of months.  That is a biggie for old folks like us.

Plus, there is an epic change in store for us with this move since we are planning to “park it” for a while and actually move into an apartment near our kids for at least a year, and maybe a lot longer.  We are going to get everything out of storage and rediscover the archives.   We are even planning to stay there through the next winter.  It will have been five years since that has happened.  We are still planning to travel, but we will have a home base again.  We still want to do the New England coast during fall color change… in a red convertible.  And there is my Southwest Photo Safari coming up this fall in the canyon lands of Utah.  And we haven’t ruled out an Art Tour of Italy later on.

So, when the ORD kicks in again, we are not sure what will happen.  Probably shorter trips and less distance from home.  I am sure that we are not done traveling yet.  As long as we are physically able, we plan to keep scratching that itch.

How does Obsessive Repositioning Disorder affect you?  How did you contract the bug in the first place?   Do you have to fight it off because of work or financial constraints?  What do you do when it’s time to move?  Can you take a spontaneous road trip?

Sorry, I don’t think there is a cure for ORD.  You might die with it someday.  Too bad.

In the meantime, have fun!

(*There’s really no such thing as ORD  other than common wanderlust or the travel bug,  I made it up.  Except that it is also the airport code for O’Hare in Chicago., and that carries it’s own suggestive travel connotation.)

Venturing Outside the Walls

Milepost 2-6-16                      -We are at a vacation rental in the tropics.

Here’s a tip about travel that first-timers may not discover on their own:  The real adventure is often where the real people are.  I am talking about the backstory that is on the backstreets of your travel destination.  I am talking about the true cultural realities that exist outside the walls of the gated resort where you are staying.

Many travelers see a carefully scripted performance when they go on vacation at the all-inclusive resort.  Even the cruise lines that claim to visit exotic islands, as it turns out, may have bought the island and designed an elaborate facade that is only a fake reproduction of the real culture that they are trying to depict.  But it’s not real.

If you like it that way, fine.  If you want to stay within the enclave, you should be comfortable and safe.  Hopefully, you will be able to relax and have a good time, maybe even make some new friends.  For you, it may be exactly the right thing.  But you might be able to ratchet your adventure factor to the next level with a venture outside the walls.

Culturally, the real fun begins when you leave the reservation.  When you leave Front Street and venture to Second or Third Street… or even farther to where the street turns into a pathway.

When the waiter comes to your table at the resort, do you ever ask yourself, “Who is this person?  Where does he live?  Does she have a family?  What’s her name?”  Better yet, don’t just ask yourself…  ask the waiter.

When I was in the Maldive Islands, my scuba diving buddies asked these questions of our guide, a young man named Ibrahim.  After 2 weeks of friendly interaction with him, we were surprised when he invited us to come to his home and meet his wife — they were expecting their first child.  This sort of encounter is unheard of in the Maldives where the government requires strict oversight of tourists; it just never happens.  But for us, it happened.  The day before Ibrahim escorted us to the airport, he started crying, and threw himself at us with hugs and weeping as we parted company.  I couldn’t believe it.  This was unreal.  No.  This was real.

This sort of rich adventure can be really hard to find when you are on a 10-day cruise where your movements are scheduled and your encounters carefully scripted.   It is hard to escape the confines and get to the raw realities of the real culture.

One of the blessings of the traveling life that Kaye and I are now enjoying is the extravagance of being able to stay as long as we want wherever we want.  We love to find out where the natives live, and we have been invited into their homes lots of times.  Nobody tells us where to be or at what time.  We decide for ourselves.

This winter, we are staying 10 weeks in a little town on the beach in the Dominican Republic.  We have learned enough Spanish to be able to venture onto the side roads and back alleys to see how these people really live.

In fact, by planning ahead, we were able to visit an indigenous family in the interior of the country just yesterday.  We have been sponsoring a kid through an international humanitarian organization that provides underprivileged children with a quality education and health care.  Yorgelis is now 15 years old and we got to meet him.  We hired a car and driver who was able to find his way through the maze of backroads and the small towns (on the cell phone with the host several times for directions) to find these guys in an obscure neighborhood far (4 hours one way)  from the tourist resorts.

We were able to visit our sponsored child's family in their home.
We were able to visit our sponsored child’s family in their home.

What an amazing experience!  Their family is actually part of a community of artists and have a pottery factory in their backyard.  Did you ever wonder who makes the vases and bowls and cups that you find in the gift shops at the resorts where you stay?  We found them.

We got to tour the school where our kid has been educated for the last 9 years, and then his family put on a demonstration for us in the pottery shop.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful experience with an authentic indigenous family.  Precious.

Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.
Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.

We now have some pottery to add to our international collection at home.  And here’s the thing:  We know the people who made it.

That is the stuff of real adventure.

Here are a few more photos from our visit to the interior yesterday:

This guy threw a beautiful vase in about 5 minutes.
This guy threw a beautiful vase on the potter’s wheel in about 5 minutes.
Yorgelis' dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis’ dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis' family gave us gifts of pottery.  At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
Yorgelis’ family gave us gifts of pottery. At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln

Pottery

We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting avocados.
We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting fresh avocados.

I hope you are able to get outside the walls on your next adventure!

Have fun!

Not Wasting Away Again

Milepost 1-25-16                     -at a VRBO in the Dominican Republic

Our list of reasons to leave the northern winters is a short list for good reason.  Who needs more than a couple of good reasons to leave misery behind?

  1.  Physical well-being.  For many of us it goes beyond the discomfort of a chill running down your spine when the north wind blows.  The lack of sunshine and the short days in Michigan in the wintertime have a noticeable debilitating effect on human beings that becomes even more bothersome as they age.  Joint aches, muscle pain, and an overall lethargy that makes you want to go to bed right after supper all combine to make life dark and depressing.  Not to mention that if you do actually venture outside for a walk or a trip to the store, you may well slip on the ice, split your head open and end up at the hospital for stitches.  Winter is actually life-threatening for highway travelers, as indicated by traffic death statistics for the winter months.  Every snow storm ends up being the last one for some unfortunate travelers as their car slides off the road and hits a tree.
  2. Emotional well-being.  There is a reason why February is the month when the most suicides take place, and I am sure the long winter’s night of the soul has something to do with it.  Cabin fever may sound entirely benign until it goes beyond restlessness and brings on bona fide depression and a sense of hopelessness.  A feeling of being trapped in a dark place is not a healthful mental state for the human soul.  There is a sense that you are wasting away while hunkering in a human hibernation mode until spring.
  3. Financial well-being.  Winter can be expensive when you are paying to heat the house.  You end up caught in a mental and emotional tug-of-war as you shiver while the thermostat is pinned at 65 degrees to save money.  75 would be a lot more comfortable, but the utility bills will rise exponentially.  And the lights are on longer as the days are shorter, so the electric bill takes off as well.  Instead of being out in the yard in the evening, you are sitting in front of the TV… and consuming even more electricity.  And that means more popcorn and potato chips.
  4. That’s enough.  Who needs more than 3 reasons to head south in the winter?  Is self-preservation not enough?

(Note:  I realize that I am not speaking for winter sports enthusiasts.  Go out and sled, ski and skate while you are young, and have fun.)

So What Do You Do With Yourself?

Having escaped the northern winters and living as the proverbial snowbirds, we have been asked this question a few times.  Those who have not retired yet wonder the same thing.  What do we do to occupy our time?

It is a question that no one can answer for you, because the answer rests entirely on your personality and interests and physical state.  If you can’t think of something to do, maybe you shouldn’t retire.  A former co-worker of mine is still teaching school in his 70’s because he can’t imagine what he will do with time on his hands.  He says he will die teaching – and I believe him.

Lots of folks will move to retirement communities that surround golf courses or marinas. That is perfect if you love golf or boats.

For Kaye and me, having open spaces for walking and biking is important.  We hope to stay physically active as long as we possibly can.

As a photographer, I seldom land in a place that is without visual opportunity.  When it does happen, I have always been able to find something within a short drive.

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A short drive on the quad took me past this colorful farm market on the way to the beach.

As a musician, I have been a little bit more frustrated as my piano is heavy and not very mobile and presents certain logistical challenges.  Still, I have found ways to express my musical self in almost every place we have stayed.  A couple of years ago I found a fellow musician who had set up a recording studio in a tent next to his motor home in a campground in Alabama.  We collaberated on a song or two.  Cool.

Escaping to Margaritaville

This winter we flew to the tropics where we are renting a vacation house near the beach in a small fishing village.  Our daily walks consist of sauntering downtown to the French bakery for a croissant or a pizza, or a short walk in the other direction to one of several palm-lined beaches.  A swim in the ocean is always available – and the water is 80 degrees.

A twilight stroll on the beach can be good medicine for the soul
A twilight stroll on the beach can be good medicine for both body and soul

In the apartment, we are able to stream movies to our laptops while lying on the bed or chatting with the kids and grandkids back home through social media or FaceTime.  We read books that we download for Kindle.  We journal about our adventures.  Kaye and I are both actually writing books this winter.

Adaptation is necessary for a successful migration in the wintertime, but every new place offers its own smorgasbord of opportunities.

If boredom sets in, we look for ways to change things up a bit.

And remind ourselves that at least we are not shivering in the northern snow and wondering how we will stay warm if the power goes off during a winter storm.

If we have a worry here it has more to do with blowing out a flip flop or stepping on a pop top.  We are not wasting away this winter.*

And just so you know, we are not on vacation either.  For us, this is life.

I wonder if these guys will sell me that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.*
I wonder if these guys will sell me that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.*

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*Lyrics from Jimmy Buffet’s song, Margaritaville.

Oh, the (Zany) Things We Will See!

Milepost 1-14-16                         Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

Travel will entirely change your world view.  And part of that is that very often it just offers really unusual sights that are not on the itinerary.  My experience has been that nary an adventure transpires without bonus stuff thrown in, little surprises that add interest to the story.

We have moved to the Dominican Republic for the winter, one of our favorite and most affordable tropical destinations, and our biggest surprise so far was the sighting of a pirate ship that ran aground on the beach next to the restaurant where we were having lunch with our French hosts.

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The beach-going vacationers were called on to help free the heavy old vessel and they were eager to dive in and help.  Well, actually, diving wasn’t necessary as the water was only a meter deep.

Okay, everybody, put down your pina colada and heave ho!
Okay, everybody, put down your pina colada and heave ho!

Their efforts were futile, and the seamen decided to try towing their ship off the sand using a motor boat.  Alas, they couldn’t find enough rope to reach to deeper water where the boat was waiting so they had to give that up.

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Hmm, not enough rope to reach the tow boat.

When we left they were attempting to push the ship seaward with a backhoe.  I don’t know if they were successful with that; I think there  is a limit to how far into the ocean you can drive a backhoe.

Pirates can be quite resourceful when their ship is beached.
Pirates can be quite resourceful when their ship is beached.  Let’s use a backhoe to free it

So we had some pretty amusing dinner entertainment – and an unanticipated photo op.

The surprises that the travel life offers are not always fun.  I am sure the ship’s owner was not amused by his predicament.

Our motto for travel has always been, “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

Because you never know for sure what you are in for when you set sail on life’s sea.

Neighborly Natives

Milepost 2-2-13   Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt like they were an old friend?  Did you visit a new place and immediately feel that you were home?  That’s what happened when Kaye and I arrived at The Cove in the Dominican Republic last winter.  We were renting a VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) apartment on the beach on the Samana Peninsula at the east end of the island of Hispanola, and as soon as we started to meet the locals, we knew we had come home – at least for the winter.

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Manager Coco – and his son Alexandro – keep everything running smoothly at The Cove.

  Coco was the first to welcome us as our taxi driver dropped us at the front door of our home.  He was the manager of the complex and immediately started taking care of us, first with a tour of the house and a how-to-start-the-air-conditioner demonstration.   The next morning came more info as he delivered a 5-gallon water bottle and told us how to hire the local women to come in and cook a full meal of chicken or fish and rice and salad.  And a whole lot more.  Coco smiled a lot and his default reply to every question was, “No problema!”  He told us where we could buy provisions and cold Coke at the nearby colmado (general store) only a five-minute walk from the house.

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Grandma and her kids and grandkids run the local colmado.

  When we arrived at the colmado we were welcomed with quick smiles as we brushed the cobwebs off our Spanish and dove into the indigenous mode, ordering flour and sugar and milk and eggs… and banana chips.  Processed foods simply weren’t available.  Behind the counter grandma reached for this and that as we pointed at the stuff we wanted, and the grandkids scrambled to help.  We discovered later that the tourists who stayed at The Cove rarely shopped at the local store and in fact, didn’t cook for themselves much, choosing to eat out more often than not.  So, seeing our willingness to engage the local culture and support the neighborhood economy, we made ourselves popular very quickly.

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The guaguas shuttle passengers and cargo on a fixed route all day long.

  We saw even more surprise and pleasure on the faces of the neighbors when we showed up at the bus stop to board the guagua for a trip to the nearest town.  The guaguas are beat-up vans and small pickups with benches built in the back for passengers.  They come by every half hour and charge about 70 cents for a ride to town.  They were often crowded, but people would quickly scoot over to make room for the Americanos every time.  It seems that the foreigners rarely  ever ride the guaguas because they all have rental cars.  Except for us.  We like to get as close to the culture as we can.  Believe me, in a guagua, the culture is very close!

A Dominican visits the local colmado.
A Dominican girl visits the local market.

  The camera was the next thing that promoted our welcome with the neighbors.  The Dominicans love to have their pictures taken.  I rarely shoot a photo of a stranger without first making some introductory small talk, but these folks were eager to smile and pose for the camera.  Sometimes, when I was standing near someone, they would get my attention, point at the camera and then at themselves, and smile real big.  Man, this is easy!  Even teenage guys would pose when they saw the camera without the slightest hint that there was anything uncool about it.

These guys asked me to snap their picture while enjoying the seaside.
These guys asked me to snap their picture while waiting for friends at the seaside.
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These guys invited me in to share their fried fish with me.

  One day I grabbed the camera and headed out for a walk through the neighborhood of El Frances near our house.  The first guy I met on the street motioned me toward the path around behind the colmado where we took a shortcut through the baseball field and ended up standing in front of his house.  Next he took me to the school which was in session, disappeared inside and came back out with the principal so I could take her picture.  From there I continued on down the street where kids were running around naked while their moms hung up laundry in the yard.  Some guys invited me into their kitchen to share some freshly fried fish – right out of the pan.  I love these people!

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A local family on the front porch of their home in El Frances.

  I tell you, at the end of our stay as we said farewell to these great neighbors, it was like parting with family members.

  I love the Dominican Republic.  It’s a beautiful land with splendid beaches and forests of coconut palms.  But the biggest draw to this gorgeous tropical paradise is its beautiful people with their unpretentious grace and easy smiles.

This roadside vendor claimed his Mama Juana makes you strong and sexy.
This roadside vendor claimed his Mama Juana makes you strong and sexy.

  On my next visit to The Cove at El Frances I’m hoping to stay longer if I can possibly do it.  It’s like home after all.

  See my gallery of 250 photos of the land and the people of the Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic, at my online gallery and photo store here.

Dominican teenager on the seashore.
Dominican teenager on the seashore.
These girls were prepared for an afternoon rain shower.
These girls were prepared for an afternoon rain shower with an improvised rain poncho.

The Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

Milepost 11-13   If I were to compile a bucket list for nature lovers and history lovers – and adventurers who like to find the most isolated corners of the country, the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson would be on the list.  The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of islands in the Gulf of Mexico 68 miles west of Key West.  This remote destination is managed by the National Park Service.

  It is a great location for nature lovers because of its diverse aquatic life.  As an avid snorkeler, I was astounded at the wide range of sea creatures I saw there.  Besides the scores of tropical fish, I saw stingrays, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, reef sharks, lobsters, tarpon, barracudas and of course, sea turtles (tortugas in Spanish).

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The moat seems unnecessary as the fort is surrounded by the ocean on three sides.

  Fort Jefferson is a massive structure built of bricks, 16 million bricks!  In fact, it is said to be the largest brick building in the western hemisphere.  It was  built over a 20-year period beginning in 1846.  The fort was never attacked, and none of its cannons were ever used in battle.  One of those guns was capable of firing a cannonball 3 miles!

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Now THAT’S a cannon!

  Probably its foremost claim to fame is that it was used as a military prison and was the place where Dr. Mudd was incarcerated after the assassination of President Lincoln.  He was later pardoned after saving many lives in an outbreak of yellow fever at the fort.

  There is a small campground on the island in the shadow of the fort, and campers pay a few dollars per night.  When I camped there the ocean was almost dead calm and the snorkeling was easy.  My friends and I snorkeled all the way around the island in an hour-and-a-half in about 12 feet of water.  Then after dark some us returned to the water with a dive light for a nighttime skinny snorkel.

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The small tent campground offers about a dozen sites.

  There are a couple of reliable shuttle services that zoom to the islands from Key West with powerful double-hulled catamarans – in only a couple of hours at about 35 knots!  If you want to get there even faster, take the sea plane.

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The fastest shuttle to Fort Jefferson is the seaplane from Key West.
Even though it seems huge, the fort was once crowded with 400 residents.
Even though it seems huge, the fort was once crowded with 400 residents.

Best lightning photo

A nighttime thunderstorm interrupts the normal summer calm just offshore from Garden Island.  A sheltered cove protects boats.