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Florida & The Bahamas 2004


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

When I leave home, the temperature is -38C/-32F with the windchill effect. I get a cab to the airport at 5:30am (why can't we have later flights????), connect in Montreal and then fly to Miami where it is a balmy 25C/77F - what a change a few hours can make.

I drag my too heavy luggage around the airport looking for the car rental counter - an hour later, I am waiting for the bus to take me to my car. And 30 minutes later I'm driving away from the airport. Unfortunately I forgot to put the address of my hotel in my carry on luggage - it is packed with all the touristy type materials in the bottom of my suitcase!!! So I drive up and down the street until I give up and go into a shop (a dive shop!!) to ask for directions, or at least an address. Surprise, I'm only 2 blocks from the hotel!!.

I finally find the hotel, check in and then head with the car to the parking garage, which is a block away - parking is at a premium in the trendy art deco area of South Beach. After parking the car, I decide to walk around the neighborhood. Very interesting stores (selling very interesting sexual items), lots of pretty men (much too pretty), and lots of art deco buildings.

I decide to eat supper at Chicken Kitchen, home of the Chop Chop!!! Quite tasty, and quick. Then it's back to the hotel in time for American Idol (do I know how to live it up??)

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I wake up to the sad news that it will be "cold" today - a chilly low of 13C/55F and a high of 20C/68F - yeah, really cold!!!! These people don't know what cold is!!! People stare at me as I walk around in a tank top and shorts. The waitress at breakfast asks me if I'm freezing. I explain.... "I'm from Canada" ... and the questions stop. Oooooh, Canada - it's cold there.

I spend the day shopping. I hit Target (which is the US version of Zellers, except they also sell Isaac Mizrahi!!), Walmart, KMart, Miami International Mall and the Dolphin Mall. Old Navy has an awesome sale and I take full advantage. I take so much advantage that on my return home I will be forced to pay overweight charges on my baggage!!!

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Again, it's going to be cold today. I break down and break out the long sleeve shirt for over my tank top (it is supposed to be warm by noon).

I'm off to Florida City and the Florida Keys today via ANOTHER Old Navy store, where I pick up a few shirts for the nephews and 3 pairs of pants for me (did I mention the overweight luggage?)

The big draw of Florida City is and Outlet Mall. Well, it is false advertising and not worth the trip!! Don't go to the Florida City Outlet Mall!!!!

Since the shopping was so bad I had extra time and headed off for the Florida Keys, a short 25 miles away. However, it was too late to make it to the famous 7 Mile Bridge. It starts to get dark and I decide to turn around. I stop to take photos at another bridge and a pier where people are fishing. I hope to get a photo of a pelican, but he is too shy and I end up having a conversation with a man from Thunder Bay (now that's cold!!). I visit several dive shops today, all bigger than any other I have ever seen - one is the size of a Zellers store!!! It is dive shop heaven!!


Friday, January 30, 2004

Today it's off to Coopertown Everglades tour!! This is the highlight of Florida for me. A neat airboat ride followed by a meet-the-alligators session. Did you know that an alligator's belly feels like silk? And the back of an alligator is all bones?

There is a sort of zoo set up - the only animal represented is the alligator, but there are a number of them. The largest is a male who weighs 1400 pounds - he was raised in captivity and is a lazy lump. He has a girl alligator in the same enclosure with him. Today they are cleaning the "cement pond" the alligators have been provided. The girl alligator does not approve and proceeds to make a satanish sound at the man trying to get her out of the now-emptied pond - half hissing, half growling. Very spooky!! She whips her tail back and forth - if she wanted, she could snap the man's legs off!!

The airboats are very noisy and so they give us cotton balls to stuff in our ears. The tour guides feed the birds and turtles so that they will come to the air boats, once they are stopped. What do they feed them? Seeds? No! Meat? No! Marshmallows? Yes siree!!! They have turned the wild animals of the Everglades into sugar junkies!!!! Birds swarm the airboat each time we stop, hoping for marshmallows. Once I express my dislike of birds to the tour guide, he proceeds to hold a marshmallow over my head. Birds divebomb in hopes of a marshmallow. I wish to die!!!

Once back at the zoo area, we are allowed to pick up the baby alligators. We start with a teeny one - about a year old and a foot long. It's cute and cute probably leave a scar, but it's so little and cute you don't really think about it. Then the guide brings out the 3 foot long allligator (about 4 years old) for us to "experience" - definitely not a little cutesy thing. You can feel the power in the tail when you pick it up and it could do more than leave a scar if your hand happened to be in its mouth. Ouch!!!

I then head back to the South Beach area to return the rental car - but good luck finding a gas station!!! I give up after 26 blocks and have lunch at Denny's. I still can't find a gas station, so I call the car rental office and they tell me where the closest one is - seems I already drove by it....twice!!! As I pump the gas, the rain begins. It pours rain for the rest of the day. I do a bit of t-shirt shopping, dodging the rain drops, and then head back to the hotel to repack with the boat trip in mind.

Saturday, January 31, 2004

It's here! It's finally here! It's time to get on Blackbeard's!!!!

When I'm checking out of the hotel, I run into another diver, Brent, headed for the boat, so we share a cab. Brent has done the Blackbeard's thing a few times, so he knows what is in store for him. I don't.

We board the boat, are told to set up our dive gear and take all non-collapsible luggage to the holding bin which will remain in Miami until our return. I get a lower bunk in the front of the boat - seems OK to me!! My roommate, Pam, has already arrived - she has the top bunk. Brent's room is right across the "hall" next to the bathroom. The room size is teensy. Basically, I have a 3/4 mattress on a platform and there are 2 feet between the edge of the mattress and the wall of the room. The liveaboard I did in Australia is now looking roomy and luxurious!!

The captain briefs us on what to expect (2-4 foot seas), safety regulations and tipping (which is brought up again and again during the week - a 10% tip is basically expected at the end of the trip).

Then we leave Miami seaport. The rain begins. The passengers mill about, meeting one another. There are 2 passengers from France, one from Germany, another Canadian (Fred from Montreal), a couple from California, Brent from Utah, Mark from North Carolina, Rich from Missouri, Pam from West Virginia, and a group from Arizona. Seems like a good mixture.

In an hour we are starting to hit what I thought were rough seas. HAAA!!!!! After another hour I decide to eat supper. I barely make it up out of the main salon before I puke all over the deck. The boat is tossing and turning, the waves are hammering the bow (front of the boat) and it is now dark. Nice!!!!! I sit in my new waterproof outfit (that I paid many dollars for) completely soaked through. I am not impressed. At 830pm I decide that I am feeling better and I will go down to my bunk, take off my wet clothes and try to sleep. I lay down for maybe 15 minutes before I have to run up the ladder to be sick again. I swing open the door to hit the head of the guy from France who is facing me (after having run up his ladder) and puking. I join in the fun!! In a minute I hear Adam, from Arizona, yelling to me.... "You better keep on going because I'm coming up too!!" I scurry up the last few steps just in time for Adam to puke all over the deck.

At this point I decide I will stay on deck for the duration of the trip. The captain informs us that we are changing course and heading to North Bimini - only 5 hours of sailing left!! Yahoo!!! He tells us that we will be able to have hot showers once we dock - Yahoo!!!! It is so rough after this that people are unable to remain on the seats of the boat - we end up sitting on the deck bracing ourselves so that we don't slide into the water. Are we having fun yet???? By the end of the trip, I feel as if I am in a comedy sketch - the one where you see the captain at the helm with someone off camera throwing buckets of water. But it's just not funny!!

We get into North Bimini at 1:30am. I can barely wait to get to the wharf so that I never have to set foot on that damn boat again. I am soaked to the skin, shivering cold. I am not a happy camper-at-sea!!! But it's incredible what a 25 minute hot shower can do for a wet sailor. I love Weeches' showers - I have never been happier to be in a public washroom!!!! Under normal conditions, I would be turning up my nose at this semi-grungy shower, but tonight I jump in and love it!! After the shower I head back to my damp little bunk and fall asleep immediately.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

SuperBowl Sunday!!!! Yippee!!! I could care less - let's go diving!!!

But the weather is still not cooperating (seas are still rough) and we are to be land-based for the whole day. I start off by walking around the island. It is 4 miles long and maybe 1/8 mile wide. I walk to the various touristy places

I also wander the island looking for a coin laundry. I find one, however it is closed on Sunday and won't open for the onslaught of passengers with damp, puke encrusted clothing. We end up getting help from the local hotel's maid. She washes and dries the laundry for us without stating a price. What a great gal!!!

On the rounds about the island, I run into Picolo Pete - and 83 year old man who has a CD to sell and a "dance bar" to fill. He tells us that he meets everyone who comes to the island. Chances are he doesn't tell all his stories to everyone, but Mark & I feel like we heard them all by the time we part his company.

By 330pm the sun is out in full force and the seas have calmed down. But the passengers are too spread out, all over the island, to get them together for a dive. So those of use who are itching to get in the water decide on a snorkel. The crew takes the tenders to the mangroves near the dock and we jump out. Actually it was an interesting snorkel - I photographed one sealife form that no one could identify and we all saw some mangrove upside down jellies. One group saw baby nurse sharks. But the water felt very chilly to us all.

As it was SuperBowl Sunday and I was with a bunch of Americans, I decided to take part in the annual event. We all headed off to the End of the World and watched as the football players played and then all saw Janet Jackson's nipple in the half time show. Exciting!!

Monday, February 2, 2004

Finally, we are diving!!!!

  1. Rainbow Reef at 7am
  2. Big Greenie at 9am
  3. Stevie's Wonder at 1pm
  4. Crotch Rock at 4pm
  5. Crotch Rock at 6pm for a night dive
During the various dives I learned that angelfish can be VERY inquisitive (one almost kissed me), I saw a flamingo tongue for the first time, I saw rays, barracuda, and my very first octopus. The poor octopus was so frightened by the 9 or so divers surrounding it, beaming lights on it (during the night dive) and following it that it curled itself up into a ball. When one of the divers continued to poke it, the octopus finally inked and shot off in the distance. All the dives were good except Stevie's Wonder, which had very poor visibility.

When we are not diving, we are eating it seems. Continental Breakfast, Hot Breakfast (after the 1st dive), Lunch, Snack, Supper (after the night dive) - food, food, food. And it's all good, thanks to Kate, our fantastic cook.

After all the diving, I reviewed the days photos from my digital camera on the TV in the main salon, starting what would become the nightly "slideshow." There were numerous digital underwater cameras on board, mostly of the Canon variety, and we all showed our photos.

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

More diving!!!

  1. Nodules at 7am
  2. Bull Run for a shark feeding at 1pm
  3. Panther (wreck) at 4pm
  4. Bull Run at 6pm for a night dive

Between the first and second dives, we head to a deserted island. It has a beach that is made from lava and there are cacti that grow wild. I am excited by this as it is the first time I have been somewhere that a cactus just sprouts from the ground. The people from Arizona think that I am quite simple at this point. We spend a couple of hours on the island, walking the beach, looking at shells, taking photos, while others fish for the bait for the shark feeding.

The shark feeding is great. There is a 4ft nurse shark who goes from diver to diver wanting to be petted (just stay away from its mouth). Another 8ft nurse shark nicknamed Big Bertha. And a grouper who got a little too close to the action a few weeks earlier. He is missing a big chunk of his head, but has healed up nicely. I decided that his nickname should be Denty - as his head appears to be dented.

There is more food all day long and a bonfire was offered to all passengers. I declined and went to bed quite early.

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

More diving!!!!

  1. Tuna Alley at 9am
  2. Piquet Rock at 2pm
  3. Sapona (wreck) at 4pm
  4. Sapona at 6pm for a night dive
Between the first and second dives we visit Gun Cay, a major navigational point in the Bahamas. Howard Hughes once owned the island, after which the Bahamian government took it over and let all the buildings go to pot after one hurricane or another. The lighthouse has a very rickety set of stairs which I did not choose to navigate, but I did venture into the broken down buildings to take some photos of our boat at the dock.

Tonight is to be our night in North Bimini. The only thing opened is End of the World, which is showing American Idol. I am exhausted and not feeling too well, so I call home and then head back to the boat. I'll be very happy to be home in 48hours.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

It is very windy today. I wake up at 7am and go up to deck. My ear is hurting and I just don't feel well. I go to the once-loved Weeches' showers. They're still great, but I think I have my sea legs - now when I'm on land and I close my eyes, I feel seasick!! Great!!!!

I have breakfast on the boat and then decide to skip the first dive and sleep for a bit. I wake up at 130pm!! I have missed two dives, I feel horrible, my ear feels like it will explode if anyone touches it, and I decide to skip the 3rd and last dive of the day. I go back to bed after a quick lunch. I believe I have been all-dived-out!!

Not much happens for the rest of the day. The crossing back to Miami is a lot calmer, but there are still occassional jack-hammer-like waves at the bow. We are back in Miami by midnight.

Friday, February 6, 2004

The day starts with customs and immigration officials. A grilling by two government officers before 8am is not a great way to start any day. Once the boat, and its passengers clear, there is a mad rush for the luggage in the storage container. We need our dive bags so that we can pack up our dive gear and get to the airport.

Brent, Pam and I are going to share a minivan to the airport. Brent is ready and waiting for both Pam and I. The taxi driver is rushing us. I finally say - forget it, I'll take my own cab. Then everyone calms down and decides to not rush us anymore. I get the suitcases packed and the dive gear packed. Holy crap, I have a lot of stuff!!!

We get to the airport by 930am. I line up and go through Air Canada's check in. I pay the overweight luggage fee and then find a seat for the wait. My flight (which also happens to be Fred's flight) is scheduled to leave at 120pm. I have never been to the airport so early in my life!! Fred and I are amused by all the extra time we have to burn in the airport. I wander off to the washroom and happen to notice the HUGE lineup for security clearance. It is now 11am and I am hungry. I tell Fred about the big line, let him know that I'm going to the restaurant to eat and then I'll work my way through the security line. Fred decides to visit the washroom to shave and tidy up while I wait for a seat in the restaurant (Chili's, I believe). I chow down on Mexican food and then head to the lineup. It takes about 30 minutes to make it to the security officers. Of course they decide to go through both of my carry on pieces (one is underwater camera equipment and the other is my toiletry bag and a novel). That takes another 10 minutes. By the time I am through security, it is 12:40. We rush to the gate. Oh, the flight is delayed due to weather in Montreal. We will now leave at 2:30. At 2:20 they announce that we will leave at 3:40. At 3:40 we are on the plane and waiting for luggage to be loaded - we take off at 4:10.

In Montreal, my bag with all my dive gear in it has gone missing, so I have to fill out customs forms and baggage forms so that it will be able to get to me (since I have not cleared customs with it!!). I have 15 minutes to make my connection to Moncton. I run from one end of the airport to the other end. They rush me onto the airplane so that I can sit and wait for us to be de-iced - a full hour!!!!!! I get home at 12:30am on Friday night.

I have never been so happy to sleep in my own bed (even though it was still woozy and wavey in my head). I did truly enjoy the trip - the diving, the people - but I don't know if I would do it again. The rough crossing at the start of the trip put a bad taste in my mouth and took a lot out of me.

I truly believe that the Bahamas is one of the best dive spots close to home, but the islands leave a lot to be desired. The people are odd - perhaps it's all the isolation from the real world. But they just don't give tourists what they expect or want.

Blackbeard's Cruises is a bit like the Bahamas - the diving is great, but the land (or boat, in this case) just doesn't thrill me. The boat was not very clean, I saw dirt at the beginning of the trip that stayed there till the end of the trip. The washroom I was to use with 6 other adults was grungy from start to end. My sheets were dirty when I arrived (a footprint in the middle of the sheet I was to sleep on). I also had concerns about the safety precautions, or lack of, with regards to diving. We did not sign off the boat with a time when we did a dive - we could be in trouble and no one would know until we didn't come back - and that troubled me greatly. Overall, I do feel that I got what I paid for. I was told it was like "camping at sea" and that it was - complete with the damp bedding and dirty shared bathrooms. However, I've never been thrown off a bench by a wave while camping.



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