Adventure: Diving in Key Largo

Let’s get up to speed. I learned how to scuba dive, got my PADI open water certification, and fell in love with it all.

My partner-in-crime, coincidentally, is also a certified diver. When he lived in Florida, he dove all the time. He even has his own gear. So once I was certified, it was only natural that we would want to dive together. And thus came our next adventure.

Here’s the thing, and I write this for the other twenty-somethings out there who find their dreams limited by cash flow. Diving isn’t what you’d call a cheap hobby. Buying basic gear (fins, mask, snorkel, boots), scuba school, and my certification weekend set me back quite a bit. But once you’re certified, you can spend something like $50-75 and get on a boat. That’s a splurge, sure, but not completely unreasonable. The priciest thing is usually getting to the place you want to dive. To travel and stay in Mexico, Thailand, or Australia isn’t always cheap.

While you can travel all over the world to dive, we’re lucky to be within driving distance of a great choice: Key Largo. The trip is not what you’d call a short jaunt from Atlanta. But if you stop in Tampa and see friends, it’s divided into two very manageable portions. Since the dive season was starting to wind down, we found a stay-and-dive package for an incredibly reasonable price. So reasonable, in fact, that we will probably make an annual tradition out of this trip.

We drove. Down through Georgia, with a quick trip to Tampa. Andre and Catae graciously allowed us to crash at their place for a few hours of much-needed rest. Then we headed down through Alligator Alley. No forest fires this time, like last year.

Snapped out the window, somewhere on I-75 between Fort Meyers and Miami

Instead, we were graced with a lovely sunset hiding behind naked trees.

Upon our arrival to Amoray Dive Resort, it felt like we’d been taken back in time. Our room looked like it had been designed in the 1980s and never updated. With its white wicker furniture, neon upholstery, and a TV that had an antennae, it was like no hotel room I’ve seen recently. However, it was clean and comfortable. And furthermore, we could wake up, stumble sleepily down the steps, and be ten feet from the dock. We weren’t there for a fancy room, though. We were there to dive. And dive we did.

The next morning was simultaneously scary and awesome. We woke up early to grab my rental gear and secure our spots on the boat. It was packed! There were tons of people milling about, attaching tanks to gear, and stringing up weight belts. This was my first time as an independent diver and not a member of a class, so I took an extra-long time making sure that my stuff was properly set up. It was tough to focus. I was literally bouncing up and down with excitement, just like a little kid. I feel so bad for my boyfriend sometimes. He has to be seen in public with me. But just as quickly as my excitement mounted, it faded away when we anchored at the dive site.

Listen up, future divers. Here’s how you enter the water from a boat. You rarely just climb in like you’d enter a pool. Instead, you execute a “giant stride entry.” This involves standing on the edge of the boat, taking – you guessed it – a giant step, and then dropping into the water. From there, you float for a second, meet up with your buddy, and descend. Xavier went first. When it was my turn to follow, I stood paralyzed at the edge of the boat with all of my gear on. It was about four or five feet to the surface of the water, and with my crippling fear of heights, it was just too much to bear. Moments away from my first real scuba diving in the gorgeous Florida Keys, I panicked.

The first mate of the boat was a very nice guy, but he started to get impatient. “I’m going to give you a little push,” he told me, leaning over to knock me overboard. I thought about skydiving and just went for it before he could touch me. The drop was quick and easy, as these things usually are once you get over your fears. And then Xavier and I sunk beneath the surface together for the very first time.

Well, let’s talk for a minute about just how incredibly awesome scuba diving is. First of all, when you dive a coral reef, you’re going to view the most amazing things. You sink gracefully to the bottom of the ocean floor and at first it’s a little creepy because, you know, you’re sinking. But you can still breathe. And you can see! Imagine going to the aquarium, and looking through the glass at the schools of fish, the gently undulating coral, the occasional big fish that swims by and scatters everything in its path. When you dive, you’re not just watching that. You’re inside of that.

Second of all, you’re weightless. You’re floating. You’re unencumbered by gravity, and you can play with that for fun and for utility’s sake. My dive buddy was the best at this. It’s considered an absolute no-no to touch the coral with any part of your body or gear; for one, you’ll damage a delicate living organism, and also, it very well might be poisonous. Xavier gets around this by floating upside down on his head to look under reefs. He’s the most fun person I know outside of the water, so it was only fitting that we had a blast thirty feet deep.

That was the only photo we got of us together underwater. If you think taking a self portrait is challenging in the best of circumstances, this was a nightmare!

For you lovebirds who are looking to dive together, I will also offer this piece of advice: kissing underwater is a challenge, but not impossible. Just remember that if you try to adjust your lips, your mouths will be flooded. This makes for somewhat awkward moments and will require you to stop kissing and immediately reach for your air supply. Fortunately, practice makes perfect – and practicing is fun!

On a whim, I purchased a disposable underwater camera. These exposures don’t even come close to doing justice to what we saw: a shark, an eagle ray, a manta ray, a sea turtle, huge barracudas, the most colorful little fish. But I brought it underwater for two of our six dives, and the shots are pretty cool.

This one was taken in a moment of utter awe. It’s upside down because that was my viewpoint. I was simply playing in the water. I’d somewhat mastered my buoyancy, and was enjoying the weightlessness by laying backwards and floating upside down. I was completely lost in my own little world when I looked up and saw a giant school of fish around me. It sounds really corny, but I was one with them, and for a second I felt like a fish and an impostor all at once. Most of all, it was so exciting to be there. The moment was overwhelming in the best possible way.

Next, we played around a bit. This is my boyfriend showing me in scuba-signs that he is okay.

And here he is in the midst of a school of largish fish.

Here I am, awkwardly trying to pose for the photograph and keep my fins above the coral reef.

And here I am exploring some more. I think that’s a grouper under the reef. You can see its creepy glowing eye.

In a nutshell, diving is amazing. I cannot wait for our next trip.

Although we spent hours underwater, there were plenty of sights and adventures on Earth’s surface. Our resort had kayaks, which we enjoyed after an initial hiccup in sea navigation. (I won’t elaborate, but let’s just say it wasn’t me – I was a coxswain, remember?). We explored the mangroves around the bay and worked on our tans under the strong rays of sun. Sunglasses? Who needs ’em?

The view from the resort was amazing, especially at sunset. We sat on the dock and enjoyed our own musical entertainment.

And for some reason, one morning I awoke early enough to catch my first sunrise in years.

The trip to Key Largo was a raging success. How could we not have a blast swimming with sharks? We enjoyed a very relaxing long weekend. It was also the grand finale to an action-packed summer that put my finances in the proverbial hole. Fall around here is going to be a lot tighter. But that means exciting budget adventures, creative recipes on the cheap, and lots of time to explore Atlanta with my camera. Sounds great to me!

(All photos are mine! If you want to use one, just ask).

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One thought on “Adventure: Diving in Key Largo

  1. catae

    Love the sunset pics!!!! Underwater cameras are expensive even just the cases for regular point and shoots. I tried to get one for Hawaii but ended up buying 2 disposable ones. Next time I will make the effort to buy a better one. We don't dive but snorkeling is also fun! 🙂 can't wait to see pics of Atlanta!

    Reply

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