Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dolphin Encounter and Theater By the Sea

Sorry I wasn’t able to keep y’all updated while we were in the Keys. Unfortunately the house we were renting did not have internet access.

Anyhow, we arrived there safe and sound and surprisingly enough, Shaylee was quite good the whole five or six hours that it took to get there. It takes longer since my dad was towing his boat down there. The weight slows us down.

When we arrived to the rental, we were amazed to see that 1. the house was much larger than it appeared in the photos, 2. the house came supplied with a crib mattress which we were able to lay on the floor next to our bed for Shaylee which is the same type of set up we have in our own home and 3. the entire Keys are inhabited with wild iguanas, one of which was sunning itself on our dock.

Since we had such a long drive, we decided to go to the Cabana Club to go swimming in its pool which Shaylee loved as she had loads of energy to burn off which she did by swimming the entire length of the pool with me, in her life vest of course. We all enjoyed drinks poolside (the adults had beer and Mudslides and Shaylee had pineapple juice- straight and on the rocks, LOL).

That evening we went to a restaurant for dinner where my mom always orders the lobster quesadilla with mango salsa and I ordered the catch of the day which was Wahoo fish broiled in sherry and lemon juice with almond slivers. It was pretty good although it needed more acidity- perhaps more sherry or lemon flavor.

Sunday was the best day of all as it was our Dolphin Dip at the Dolphin Research Center. I was surprised on how fearless Shaylee was even with the large dolphins so close and boy, were they vocal! They kept doing this high pitched squeal which sounded like a very happy baby- and blowing raspberries which were really funny. I was also surprised on how pink their bellies were. I always see pictures of them and they are gray of course but they always seem to have lighter gray undersides. It wasn’t until I was face to face with one in the water where I discovered they have pink bellies!

We were introduced to Pandora and Merina, a mother and daughter duo. We gave back rubs, handshakes and got to give commands such as the “speed swim”. The best was when the trainer instructed the dolphins to mimic us and we decided to do “splash” behavior. We gently splashed in the water (Shaylee being the best splasher!) and the dolphins swam close by, eyeing us. They then came up out of the water and started splashing with their flippers! Shaylee nearly jumped behind my mom, not in fear but out of surprised. Here she was, thinking she was hot stuff just splashing away and then the dolphins started splashing back. At first we thought she was going to get upset and start crying but after she spit and sputtered any consumed salt water, she laughed.

Dolphins are pure geniuses, I swear, the rumors are true. After our encounter we stood, drip drying on the dock, while Pandora went over to an abandoned pole with a padded end, a tool used in training on the dock, and kept bumping it with her nose, pushing it closer and closer to falling into the water, which it eventually did. Then to our amazement, she started swimming with it, not in her mouth which we half expected, but under her flipper, like Poseidon and his spear! She even managed to switch flippers. I caught it all on video which I will post in a separate web bog for you to see as it is truly incredible.

We could have spent all day just watching these amazing creatures. They are such personalities! There was a very young dolphin named Jax there that had a deformed dorsal and pectoral (or tail) fin that was found injured and orphaned. He was certainly a character. We watched him with his trainer as she led him from some of the drills they do. Every once in a while he showed just how immature he really was. There was other trainers in the same area and every once in a while his trainer would call out “he’s coming to see you” and off would go Jax, off to interrupt the training session of his fellow dolphins. What’s really funny is the trainers talk to the dolphins as if they were humans. Jax’s trainer talked to him as if he was a toddler.

I was happy to feel through the dolphins’ expressions, just how happy they seemed. They truly seemed to enjoy every minute they were spending with their trainers, and us. The center had to create a cover canopy over one of the dolphin holding areas as the two male dolphins that lived in there would get sunburned after hanging out too long in the sun doing what they loved to do the most, people watching! They would actually just hang out on their side in the water watching all the people on the docks! How funny is that?!

After the dolphin dip, we headed to the Theater of the Sea which had parrot, sea lion and dolphin shows as well as some fish and sea turtle displays. During the sea lion show, I got called as a volunteer to go down and meet Mimi the California sea lion performer and I could get a hug, handshake or kiss from Mimi herself. I, of course, choose the kiss. I got kissed by a sea lion! LOL! Their whiskers are a lot softer than they appear and no, in case you were wondering, they do not have anchovy breath! LOL!

For dinner that night I awed everyone with my copycat recipes of Olive Garden’s Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta and Bone Fish Grill’s Bang Bang Shrimp. Gay was amazed by the presentation and compared me to those on Top Chef and suggested I pursue cooking for a living.

Monday was our trip to Sombrero reef. It was a long ride in some pretty scary waves out to the reef. I didn’t like how the boat rocked side to side with the waves. It felt as if we would all spill out over the side into the water which was several hundred feet deep. Eek! Shaylee slept most of the way, her life jacket kinda made a pillow which cradled her head. My mom kept reassuring me that my dad knew what he was doing and would never take us out with Shaylee if he felt it was unsafe. I knew she was right but I worried the whole time anyhow, just because I am a mom and that’s what mom’s do! LOL! When the waves started dying down some, I felt much better and could enjoy the views around me- turquoise water so clear you could see almost all the way down. Dark patches marked where there were coral reefs below us. My dad, Nils, and Don started tolling (I think that’s the right word!) for dolphin (the fish kind, also known as Mahi-Mahi), tuna, and Wahoo (another type of fish). While they did that, I kept an eye out for dolphins (the mammal, Flipper kind) and flying fish. Flying fish are really cool, like hummingbirds of the sea. When you first see one, you think it’s a tiny sea bird of some type, until it disappears into the water and doesn’t come back up.

When we finally got to the reef, Don grabbed a snorkel and jumped off the boat. The water was only about 19 to 20 feet here and you could see the bottom where brightly colored yellowfin snapper, parrotfish and an occasional barracuda swam. Nils jumped right in and of course, Shaylee wanted to go swimming too. We had Nils put a life jacket on just to be safe as he held Shaylee in the water (and yes, she had a life jacket on too). I jumped in for a few minutes but chickened out. I didn’t want to know what was below me, and I didn’t want to not know either. Needless to say my swim and ultimately Shaylee’s swim in the Sombrero reef was brief. No biggie to either of us, we had a blast crumbling up Lay’s potato chips and throwing them over the side of the boat and watching all the brightly colored fish come out from the reef to eat them.

Tuesday was our last day in the Keys, sadly. Nils went out with the guys to go fishing. He was determined to catch a fish while he was down there, so my mom and I took Shaylee to The Shell Man which is a seashell store to shop for, what else, seashells. We planned on spending the rest of the morning poolside at the Cabana Club until the guys got back but the weather was looking icky so we headed back to the house to finish packing up our stuff to get ready to leave that afternoon. We were surprised to see that the guys had returned all ready. And with fish. Nils was the first to show off his first dolphin (Mahi-Mahi). He actually caught the largest one! My dad and Don caught a dolphin fish each (my dad got the puny one! LOL!) Don and my dad also caught some tuna (Don caught two, my dad caught one) which they planned to fillet and eat raw using my mom’s Sesame Seed Crusted Ahi Tuna recipe.

Since it was our last day and getting late, my mom and dad, Nils and Shaylee and I went to The Fisheries restaurant, famous for their Lobster Reuben. Nils and I shared gator nuggets, conch fritters, coconut shrimp with a yummy mango horseradish sauce and crab cakes with Shaylee. My parents got the Lobster Reuben of course. Shaylee had fun feeding the parrotfish and tarpon that hovered around the dock.

After lunch, we finish our last packing and loading up of my mom’s car and sadly said our goodbyes. Four days just didn’t seem long enough and it sucked having to go home four days earlier than my parents. Luckily the weather going home was nice and Shaylee was good for the ride home. She had a few moments of restlessness but was good for the most part.

Needless to say our trip was a blast. Nils has the “fever” as my mom calls it. She says everyone that my dad takes fishing get the “fever”, they go once and don’t want to stop. We decided that we would try to make it a family affair each year to go to the Keys. There are still so many places we want to see and things to do and places to eat that we just got to try. And we decided we would definitely go back to the Dolphin Research Center, maybe to do the Trainer for the Day or Dolphin Swim encounter (where you get to do things like ride on the back of a dolphin) next time and I personally would like to try catching a dolphin (Mahi- Mahi fish, of course) of my own (as long as someone would agree to stay on dry land with Shaylee until she gets older). The Keys are definitely my favorite vacation spot!

Yellowtail snapper enjoying Lays Potato chip crumbs

Feeding the fish at Sombrero Reef

Nils' first dolphin- AKA Mahi-Mahi- he caught the biggest one!

Poppa shows Shaylee the catch of the day

Three tuna, three Mahi-Mahi (Nils' is the one on the right!)


The boys and their catches of the day.

The iguana at the house who greeted us on arrival.

Swimming at the Cabana Club.

Ahhh..vacation at last!

Shaylee enjoying pineapple juice- straight and on the rocks- LOL!

Nils kicking back poolside.

What a vacation!!!

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