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Around The Bend - Mosquitoes And Dark Grassy Pits

Snorkeling Adventure

Jennifer Steedly Duncan
Apr 1, 2013
For the first time since we’ve been down here, big white clouds that seem to start at the Atlantic’s edge are blossoming up into the sky like a smoke plume tinged with pockets of indigo blue. The breeze has finally picked up, mitigating the swarms of mosquitoes a bit—well, that is if you stand in the right spot. The wrong spot feels like something out of a horror flick. Unfortunately, the mossies have decided that right under the door to the bus is a nice place to hang out in their bloodthirsty hoards, and they come careening into the bus every time the door opens. We have rigged a fan to blow out the door and put three citronella candles at the base of the door. The mosquitoes just laugh at us. It is, after all, June in the Keys—the beginning of the rainy season and the least optimal time to be here.
Photo 2/7   |   Liam diving at Pickle Reef off Islamorada
However, the minute we got away from the campsites, which were not on the beach, and headed toward the water, the wind kept the mosquitoes away and it wasn’t a problem as long as we stayed on the windward side of the mangroves and not the leeward side. One day, down at a little beach here in the park, I watched in horror as parents blithely prepared to lead two children, about 2 and 4 in age, through a little trail in the mangroves.
The scene that unfolded was so surreal it felt like a play and it has stuck in all our heads. The youngish mom, with waist length hair, had on jeans and an oversized T-shirt that hung down to her knees, and the much older dad with a potbelly, gray monks ring, and bathing suit were leading a little boy and girl who only had on their bathing suits. Their attire screamed eccentric hippies and the dad, talking loudly in a weird, slow, singsong way like something off of “PBS Kids,” was saying, “OK, Kegan and Keiry, we’re going to try to find something alive! We’re going to go on a walk through the trees and look for something alive!” They found something alive, all right: mosquitoes. Within minutes of them sauntering into the mangroves, they came back out—quickly—with crying children covered from head to toe in bites. I could only shake my head at their stupidity.
Photo 3/7   |   Surrounded by fish on Pickle Reef
Snorkels On!
The first evening we arrived, we dashed amongst the marauding mosquitoes with the boys’ brand-new snorkel gear and flung ourselves into the still, wave-less water. At 7 p.m., it was really too late to be in the water, but try telling that to three little boys who’d been dying to get in the water and try out their gear. The snorkeling area at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is not a reef. Technically, it is a saw-grass area where a long time ago someone put down some old cannons and an anchor to replicate a Spanish shipwreck. So there were a few spots of much-abused coral, just enough fish for the kids to get excited, green, sandy water, and grass—lots of grass. The water was rather dark, but the kids did not care one bit after hours of traveling in the bus through south Florida.
Photo 4/7   |   Buddy system
By the time Chris and I got our snorkeling gear on after helping all the kids, Elliot was already coming back out of the water with tense body language. He called out, “I’ve decided that I don’t like snorkeling after all. Do you want to play Frisbee?” What!? He had been looking forward to this for months. He hadn’t inhaled water or had any trouble with his gear. He had been confidently and happily snorkeling around and then all of a sudden he was out of the water and no amount of coaxing would get him back in.
Is There A Monster Down There?
I left him exploring on the beach and headed into the water to help Tucker go out to the cannons. Between the coral beach and the cannons was a deep grassy bed, deep enough that even in the bright morning sunlight the next day, the bottom was not visible. It was probably only 15 feet deep, but the visibility was quite low with the high sediment in the water, especially in the evening light. The effect was that you were swimming over a sandy coral bottom and then suddenly a dark pit, which was disconcerting, to say the least.
Photo 5/7   |   Blue chromis
I’ll let you in on a secret here. I didn’t want to go out there, either. I’ve always had a thing, even when I was a kid, about snorkeling where I can’t see the bottom. When we were in Jamaica a long time ago, my dad took us to the Blue Lagoon, which is 200 feet deep. It was beautiful, it was clear, it was the deepest blue I had ever seen, but the entire time I felt like I was having a panic attack and was quietly desperate to get out of the water.
When I saw the darkness, I knew instantly what had sent him running. Now the thing about Elliot is that once he gets an idea in his head, he can be immovable. If he took it into his head that he didn’t like snorkeling, we were going to have a pretty miserable trip. I pulled him aside and told him how much I didn’t like that dark green pit. I let him know it made me feel yucky, too, but that I knew it would be better in the morning and that I wasn’t going to let some dumb ol’ grassy pit mess up my fun. He listened, taking it in, but still insisted that he didn’t like snorkeling.
Brave!
The next morning, the boys and I headed right back over to the same beach and hit the water again, while Chris made a beeline for the Starbucks near the park. Elliot was very quiet. The boys and I got on our gear and I watched Elliot out of the corner of my eye. He was putting on his gear. I held my breath. He headed out to the water and paddled around in the shallow end. OK, good, good, I thought. I finally had Tucker all adjusted, ready to hit the water.
Photo 6/7   |   Tucker, smiling even underwater!
I merrily sang out “buddy system,” grabbed Tucker and Elliot’s hands, and determinedly struck out for the grassy patch. Elliot stuck close to my side, and I pulled them both close to my sides as we reached the patch of darkness, and we just kept on kicking. Within moments, we were across it and back in shallow waters over the cannons.
Inside I was cheering up a storm, dancing a jig and singing, “Glory, hallelujah.” I gave Elliot double thumbs up and we watched the fish. We swam all morning, exclaiming over all the little things we saw, and the kids worked on not kicking each other in the face with their flippers, blowing water out of their snorkels and diving down to see things. When it came time to cross back over that grassy pit, though, Elliot swam close to me like a sucker fish, tucking his arm into mine as we both kicked just as fast as we could.
As we lay on the beach warming up, I thought, good for us! We’ve braved bloodsucking mosquitoes and dark grassy pits, and tomorrow? Who knows what adventure awaits us because sometimes the toughest part of travel is not letting the little things screw up your adventure.
Photo 7/7   |   The only place to sit when you are at anchor—up top!
Note: All underwater pictures were taken with our Pentax Optio W90.

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