Tag Archives: travel

TCI: Conch Diving

TCI

Yeah, that’s basically what it looked like most of our trip.  I was told “there is no bad time to go”.  Really though, fall wasn’t a good time to visit.  In hindsight, we should have not chanced it with rainy season although everything I read said it rains and then clears right up.  Pffft.  Lies!  Alas, hindsight is always 20/20.  You can read all about our less-than-spectacular trip to TCI here.

I was really bummed that our Snuba excursion was cancelled due to a rather big early morning storm.  (I may or may not have sat on the hotel bed and whined about why I picked this destination for two hours.  I admit, not my finest hour.)  So when it came time for our conch diving trip, I was hopeful the skies wouldn’t open up and unleash any more torrential downpour for those precious few hours.

Luckily for us, those awesome folks over at Caicos Dream Tours picked us up right on time – and directly on the beach – with the sun peaking out from behind the clouds.  We were greeted by our friendly boat crew and offered rum punch Caicos style, in gallon jugs with lots o’ rum, and plenty of Turks Head beer.  What more do you need on a boat tour?  Am I right or am I right?

Our first stop was the conch diving sight in shallow water barely reaching the top of our thighs.  The water was slightly murky from churned up sand but it was clear enough to see the seagrass, urchins, and conch.  We all hopped in donning our snorkel gear and fins, thanks to the sea urchins.

And we were off!  Swimming against the current was a nice, little workout and before we knew it we were a ways away from the boat.  We were told to show the captain our conch findings and he would let us know whether or not it was worth grabbing.  I was glad to know, they only accepted fully mature, large conch.  Ken held up a few, the captain scoffing at the puny size each time.  I was probably busy being fascinated in the fuzzy algae growing on their shells and camouflaging them.  Finally, after it seemed like we would never find a queen, I did.

Queen Conch

Before you saw anything, I am aware snorkel gear is not needed above water.  I was trying to hide my face.

Lets just focus on that big momma Queen Conch I snatched up.  I was excited to have found such a big one, although I am not too sure why.  Ken kept getting rejected and we began drifting back towards the boat.  He finally grabbed one, although it wasn’t nearly as huge and amazing as mine.  Sorry, Ken!

When we arrived back at the boat, the co-captain told me I was Queen Conch for the day, having grabbed the largest conch yet.  Say what!  But I can never do anything right.  Moving on, we took our turn getting all excited about the large starfish they had found.  Of course, I had to touch.

giant starfish

Then, the seemingly snotty woman wearing her thong shimmied back onto the boat, with a much larger conch than mine…

And that, my friends is why we don’t gloat.  Heh.

Our next stop was snorkeling out in the ocean with tons of colorful tropical fish and stinger-less jelly fish.  It was really amazing!  I wish we could have gotten better photos of those little guys, but one underwater camera took a crap on us during this excursion.  And well, dang! those jellies are quick.

conch salad, anyone?

After all that swimming, a girl can get hungry.  We stopped by the secluded Little Water Cay, also known as Ignuana Island, as the dark storm clouds pregnant with rain started rolling in.  Time to eat!  Conch salad.  I start feeling really bad.  We are about to watch as the captain cracks the shells open and pulls the innocent little conch out only to be devoured.  I chose that Queen Conch’s fate!  Oh crud!  Now we are going to chop her up with some jalapenos and tomatoes and EAT her!  Um, how does one get back onto the boat and rescue her without arousing suspicion?  All she needs is a little shove back into the ocean…

Too late.  I watched in horror as the captain cracked open several of the largest conch.  The only thing that got me through this?  I am told conch are abundant in TCI and are in no way endangered.  Phew!

yum, conch parts

The captain pulled several of these weird stringy bits out and offered them up, saying they were an aphrodisiac.  Trying to distract myself, I did attempt to eat um, the conch’s penis?  I am not sure what it was but I just couldn’t do it.  Ken did though.  Feel free to make fun of him for that in the comments.  Just kidding.  Wait, no I’m not.  Just in time for lunch to be over, a storm rushed in.  Everyone huddled on the boat until it passed.  Then it was time for a swim…right after we had just seen a shark swim past the boat.

Would I ever go conch diving again?  Sure.  Would I bring my catch back for lunch?  I’m gonna go with a no.  It’s like picking a lobster out of a tank – I don’t want to think about my food ever having been alive let alone see it alive!

stormy skies

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Bora Bora Bucket List

…er – really a French Polynesia Bucket List.

But that just doesn’t sound as nice.

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Ken and I will be venturing to the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and finally Bora Bora for our honeymoon.  We are beyond excited.  Well not about the incredibly long flight.  But excited none the less.  Knowing me, I also got really excited to plan as much as possible since I doubt we will ever make it back.  Gotta find that happy medium between complete spontaneity and over-planning.

So, after many days of daydreaming about white (manmade) sand beaches and crystal clear water, here we go.

1. fly on a little island hopping plane

2. stay on Tahiti

3. drink a Hinano in Tahiti

4. snorkel

5. get lei’d

6. have breakfast brought in a canoe

7. eat at Bloody Mary’s in Bora Bora

8. drink out of a coconut

9. snorkel with sharks

10. see a sea turtle

snorkeling with black tips

11. see a pineapple plantation – and try pineapple jam

12. get a Tahitian pearl

13. go on an ATV tour in Moorea

14. drink a Tabu in Bora Bora

15. swim with dolphins

16. see an eel whilst snorkeling

17. get a massage on the beach

18. see an eagle ray

19. stay in an over-water bungalow

20. watch a sunrise

breakfast canoe Thalasso

21. see a giant clam

22. snorkel with humpback whales

23. lookout from Magic Mountain

24. have a photoshoot

25.  watch a sunset

 

Bahamas: The Brittle Star

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I am all about luxury hotels and being comfortable.  But I am also all about going on excursions and getting my hair wet, wearing no make-up and taking ugly photos the whole time.  Great Exuma was the perfect combination.  The minute I saw swimming pigs, I was following Ken around the house reading from our Fodor’s Caribbean book, “Ooooh and then they have iguanas and nurse sharks and a starfish reserve and turtle cay…and we can stay at Sandals.”  I’m sure he was rolling his eyes the whole time.  I don’t blame him, my daydreaming about travels can be intense at times.  Okay, probably all the time.  Luckily for me, he quickly agreed Great Exuma needed to be our next trip.

On our last full day in Great Exuma, we headed out on a “ocean safari” tour with Island Routes.  Unfortunately, it was a little too windy to do the full day tour we had signed up for.  We were bummed but we would take what we could get.  We got a nice second swim with the famous swimming pigs and got to feed some very hungry iguanas as well as check out multiple cays.

Once the iguanas returned to basking in the sun upon realization that the grapes were all gone, we began to wander around the small cay.  It was beautiful with lush green brush and the bluest water I have ever seen.  We walked down the narrow strip of beach towards the rock pool.

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The co-captain exclaims, “Awesome!  I was hoping to find one of these!”  I recoil as he shows us what looks [to me] like a freaky spider he found under a rock in the low tide.  After further inspection, I realize he is holding a brittle star.  I’m no expert (and apparently he wasn’t either) but I am fairly sure it is a spiny brittle star.  Me being me, I want to touch.

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The captain sets the star down on Ken’s arm and jokes that it looks like he has acquired a new tattoo on his other arm.  It just wraps its long flexible arms around Ken’s forearm and doesn’t even attempt to crawl away.  Then one of its arms falls off.  No joke.  Its arm. just. falls. off!  I begin to panic.  We have just killed it.  Oh geez, it is going to die.  Where is the blood?  Why do I always have to go and touch things!  Wait a minute, Ken touched it.  Not me.  Not my fault.  No bad karma here.

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Then the captain calms everyone down, “They fall off as a defense tactic. It will grow back right away.”  Oh, thank goodness!  Hand it over, then, Kenneth!  MY TURN!

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Yeah, it still creeped me out to hold it.  It looks like a gigantic spider.  I hate spiders.  But it was harmless and actually felt incredibly neat.  The central disc that makes up their body actually felt nearly silky and incredibly fragile.  Apparently, others didn’t like the looks of this guy because no one else wanted to hold him.  More for me, I got to place him gently back under his rock to go back to munching on planktonic organisms or whatever he was up to.

Upon our return home, I made a point to read up on these brittle stars.  And I gotta admit they are pretty neat little sea creatures.  These invertebrates make up a portion of the sea star family, having over 2000 different varieties.  They bury themselves, like our friend under the rock, for protection and leave a few arms free to catch their food.  They mostly eat at night, passing food down through their mouth located in the central disc.  But the coolest thing about these guys is that they can regenerate their arms at a rapid rate.  It was nice to have confirmation on that!

How can you help these guys thrive?  Recycle.  Recycle.  Recycle!  Also make sure that when you get an oil change or do one yourself, the oil is recycled – it can be re-refined and re-used.  Many of our oceans special creatures are harmed or killed by trash and the nearly 220 million gallons of oil illegally disposed of from the United States alone.

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On to the next cay!

 

Lowry Park Zoo: Sweet Sea Lions

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I am an animal lover.  I have loved animals since I was a baby.  Ever since my first pet, Bacon the Beta fish, I have been acquiring pets and doing my best to help wildlife whenever possible.  I even used to ride around in a nifty plastic Playskool tractor with a neighborhood friend “saving” worms from untimely deaths in the summer sun after a rainstorm.  I was 7 okay, so cut me some slack.

Ken has become all too used to my daydreams of encountering wildlife and seeking experiences with amazing animals.  Often times, I even choose vacation destinations based upon some unique (or crazy)  wildlife adventure.  I worked with animals for years and after having many uncommon involvements with wildlife (trimming a wallabies toenails, drawing blood from iguanas, tagging Fox snakes, and restraining an alligator to name a few) I have learned that the most special are those that are not planned.  Those special moments when you are lucky enough to have a truly wild animal become as interested in you as you are in them.

That being said, I still fall for the allure of any encounter with an animal I have yet to come in contact with.  I find myself having a moral dilemma.  I love going to zoos and wildlife parks, yet I have such a hard time looking at a majestic tiger in a tiny enclosure, so far from its natural habitat.  I understand the need for knowledge in order to help save these animals, but I find myself going back and forth about how I feel about zoos.

Yet, I found myself coaxing Ken to take me to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa after we finished up our wedding planning at the Florida Aquarium.  We needed a little bit of fun out in the sun.  Without a beach nearby, the zoo was a good choice.  And I ended up being so glad that we went.

The zoo was much larger than I had expected, and even though it was filled with many screaming children, it didn’t feel too crowded at the exhibits.  The highlights were definitely the manatee hospital and watching the bears swim to cool off.  But after walking around the zoo for a couple hours (and sweating profusely) I learned yet another lesson in spontaneity.

We saw signs all over the park for the sea lions.  And gosh, they are cute.  $2 to watch the show, blahblahblah, take photos with the sea lions.  Hit the brakes.  I can do what?  I want.  I really want.  I think I must have asked Ken about 12 times “so where are these sea lions again?”  By the way, his response was always I don’t know – the map is confusing.  Men and maps.  I know, I know, they don’t need them!

Finally, we end up walking past the sea lion area.  I can hear the show going on.  I walked up to the girl at the front and asked how one takes a photo with the sea lions.  She said there is an opportunity after the show and it’s already half way through.  Oh well, sign me up!  So $4 later, and as we are walking through the doors the show is over.  Apparently time moves slowly while sitting in the heat and the ability to tell time diminishes.  But this worked out, we were fourth in line to get our photo taken with the adorable sea lions.  The one resting his head on my shoulder kept leaving between photos and diving nose first into the water only to be called right back to take another photo.  He was a clown – sliding across the platform and skidding to a halt next to the trainer.

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It’s funny to think if we would have walked past only a couple minutes later, we would have missed out of that memorable opportunity.  And I would have missed out on crossing another item of the ever-growing Great Big Animal Bucket List.

More photos can be found on our facebook page.

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