Travelogue: Snorkeling John Pennekamp Park in Key Largo

I tap Jer on the arm and point. He spots the barracuda and nods. We swim on. The current is strong on Banana Reef, but still the seas are calm and we glide easily through the bright blue waters.

Earlier today, we took the glass bottom boat tour and heard the descriptions and names of the reef life. The turquoise waters glinted like science fiction, painting the seascape with impossible hues. I spotted six sea turtles on the ride back to shore, more than I’ve ever seen in the wild. Really, I could have happily ended my day on that note, but there was more to come.

I push my goggles to my forehead and spit saltwater. I’m not a very good snorkeler. I forget I can’t breathe out of my nose and fog up my vision, or I look too far down and drown my spout. Jer pauses next to me while I readjust and plunge my face back in the water. Then we kick off, taking turns pointing at rainbow parrot fish, bluehead wrasse, and hogfish.

Clouds of pale blue roll below me. Closer inspection reveals millions of tiny fish, swarming in unified rhythm with the rocking currents. A few silver grunts slip in amongst the cloud, ten times larger than the little fish, but nearly obscured by their density.

The purple sea fan sets a perfect backdrop for the stoplight parrotfish donning checkered red, white, yellow, and black scales. I spin the names around in my head: Sargent major, French angelfish, spotted eagle ray.

Jer points. I spot the jellyfish floating toward me and shift left. I drown my spout again and check our location. We have drifted far from the boat. Jer’s head pops above water next to mine.

I point. “Let’s head back toward that reef.”

We swim against the currents for a few minutes, then ride it back again, watching and pointing. The last five minutes, we dawdle. Most passengers have boarded, the other stragglers climbing the ladder and removing their fins now. I soak in the last few sights and then I spot it. A few feet below me, a silver shark, maybe five feet long, heads our direction.  I point. Jer points. With a slow swish of the its tail, the reef shark speeds away.  We surface. Time to board.

We ride back to shore on the upper deck. Sun warms my skin and wind tangles my hair. I scan the turquoise waters, half looking for sea turtles, half thinking about the last time I did this trip. A year ago, I rode the glass-bottom boat and snorkeled the reef alone. I loved it. I enjoy traveling alone, catering to my own schedule and impulses. But today, I’m thrilled to be with Jer. Another set of eyes to help my avoid jellyfish, but it’s more than that. It’s knowing that the color and beauty I experience, he saw too.

When we settle in at our favorite Oceanside pub later, we compare what we saw. Trapped in my memory, those glimmering fish would circle around like a screensaver. But shared, the memories come to life. Fine details are recalled—some mine, some his. Together, we put together a stunning picture that is somehow truer than my solo version. And in the end, we talk about the shark.

seaturtle

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