Unexso Shark Dive at Shark Junction, Saturday, June 28th 2014 @ Freeport, Grand Bahamas

For my 26th dive overall, I had selected a trip out to Shark Junction with Freeport’s Unexso dive shop. For traveling across the Atlantic from Port Everglades, my buddy and I had picked up a day cruise from Balearia Bahamas Express from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahamas for $120 US. Summary on the commute, it was about seven hours total working through customs. In retrospect, I had wished making this kind of effort for a multi-day visit.

After arriving in Freeport, the next major step was the 30 minute taxi ride to Unexso. For reference, the location of the shop was in the market place next to the Pelican hotel. As far as equipment rentals, we had asked for the $40 upgrade to rent BCDs, fins, regulators, weights, and a mask; however, we had opted to bring our own masks and dive computers. The push on the dive computers, the shop had skipped on wanting to attach our wireless transmitters to their regulators. After a brief meal and rain storm, the boat had headed out to sea. Getting to Shark Junction had took about 10 minutes. During this time, Jarvis, our shark feeder, had provided a rundown of the forthcoming action under the water. One reservation about this excursion was sitting statically on the sea floor. The reason for sitting in a single file profile for the divers was reducing any room or motion for open jaws. Apparently, the grey reef sharks had a disposition to key off sudden movements when hunting prey. The dive instructions on hands was keep them close to your body and avoid moving them out into the open water.

Descending at Shark Junction, all the visiting divers were placed in a row along the front of a downed boat. From here, we had prepared for the underwater show starting with a hungry stray grouper. Unfortunately for the grouper, he was shushed away but not before becoming irate, changing colors from dark brown to a white pattern and back. After few moments, the dive master had started working from right to left in front of his audience doling out food to the hoarding sharks. The sharks had behaved very similar to hungry dogs waiting for a treat. On the flip side, the several grouper in the area were fairly head strong constantly trying to sneak in for a bite. This underwater adventure had lasted for about 30 minutes before shifting to an ascent.

On the returning cruise ship, a passenger had asked me about my fear of sharks on the dive. The response was simple “My only fear was running out of air.” After watching sharks feed in close proximity, it was extremely obvious the focus of their attention, fish. If you had wanted to personally challenge your phobia of sharks, suggest a similar dive. The only question for myself that remains was,”What kind of sharks to see next?”

Read More:
Balearia Bahamas Express (ferryexpress.com)
Unexso Grand Bahama Island (www.enexso.com)
Grey Reef Shark (Wikipedia)
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The Stuffed Pig and the Sombrero Resort @ Marathon, Florida

On a brief road trip through the Florida Keys, I had ended up staying two nights in Marathon, Florida. On this adventure, two things had worked in Marathon’s favor versus Key West. The two differences were the cost of getting a room, about 50% less and being equidistant between Key Largo and Key West. Upon checking into the room at the Sombrero Resort and Marina, the amenities were acceptable but, worthy of a 2 out of 5 stars on various travel websites. The WI-FI, though free, was unable to transmit any data. Despite the dreary Internet connectivity and the windy weather, the friendly front desk staff were polite and accommodating. They also had produced an interesting suggestion for dining at a nearby place called The Stuffed Pig.

The great thing about the Stuffed Pig were the selections of eclectic seafood options on the menu and the outside seating area. On consecutive mornings, I was seated inside their front of house. After review of the menu, I had ordered up Shrimp & Grits. This entree was composed of grilled shrimp with grits with sprinkling of cheddar on top. It had also come with portion of smokey crisp bacon, two eggs and toast. The only difference between the first and second day, I had added on a side order of conch fritters day one. The summary on the Stuffed Pig, I had enjoyed both meals enough to clear the plates clean. For myself, that dining experience had made the stay in Marathon, Florida worthwhile.

The Stuffed Pig is located at 3520 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050

Sombrero Resort & Marina is located at 19 Sombrero Boulevard, Marathon, FL 33050

Read More:
Marathon, Florida (Wikipedia)
The Stuffed Pig (thestuffedpig.com)

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Waters off Blue Heron Bridge @ West Palm Beach, Florida

In the last post, I had spoken of connections to people in your life alluding to the past, present and future. One of the pretenses for getting scuba certified wasn’t merely having new angles for adventure with a good buddy but, connecting to my father. During adolescence, my father had taken my brother and me along for various fishing and snorkeling trips while living on Andros Island, Bahamas. Commuting three hours from Orlando to West Palm Beach, I was on the verge of making a connection to my past.

For better part of 2013, I had spent quite a number of days in fresh water springs across the state of Florida. With the prospect of my first salt water dive, I had tempered my exuberance with knowledge of recent cold front sweeping through the state. Usually such weather changes had followed with rain causing turbidity in most kinds of water bodies. Before entering these briny shallows, my buddy and I had walked a rough outline of our dive plan. With the change from fresh to salt water, we had itemized a couple of technical challenges for emphasizing; buoyancy, water current, and air consumption. Putting technique aside for a moment, I was jazzed about the prospect of seeing tropical aquatic life again.

Working through technical objectives, I had loaded up another 2 lbs. of weights for a total of 10 lbs. for this salt water dive. For myself, extra weight in my buoyancy control device (BCD) had made me sink like the Titanic. For the next salt water outing, I had concluded sticking to 8 lbs. as a starting point. With the tidal shift, I had noticed a strong current on the surface water passing underneath Blue Heron Bridge. To offset, my friend had suggested diving on the bottom. In reality, the push of the current wasn’t diminished much at around 15 feet of depth with drag of the dive flag. The remedy for current was let the drift of the tide move us as necessary, otherwise swim, swim, swim! With respect to air and energy consumption, we had agreed to surface intervals for snorkeling for preserving air. In total, we had three mini dives achieving an excess supply of air of at least 1300 PSI out of 3000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch).

Despite reduced underwater visibility of about 18 feet, the main attraction for day was the aquatic life. Navigating the waters parallel to and beyond Blue Heron Bridge, we had seen an eclectic grouping of creatures. It was great mentally rattling off different things including; parrot fish, an urchin, juvenile Queen and Black angelfish, barracudas, Sgt. Majors, a solitary stingray, juvenile yellow Grunts and the chunks of Sargasso seaweed. With this exuberance, there was an interlude of seriousness regarding safety protocols when diving.

During the course of the excursion, we had maintained a healthy distance of about arm’s length to max of 10 feet snorkeling between us. Transitioning from one makeshift boat reef to another, I had remembered turning to check for my dive buddy. I wasn’t able to locate him within a 360 degree view, then up and down. Recalling dive protocol to surface after a minute of searching, I had almost conceded looking for him; however, I had seen a blurred silhouette on the edge of visibility. On closer inspection, it was my friend. He had tangled himself in the dive flag string. Approaching him, he had finished unraveling most of the string sans a loop around his fin. With a brief assist on the play, he was back in business gladly handing off the spool for the dive flag. The point of this scare was respect nature whether underwater or out on a mountain top, keep a visual connection to your buddy tight and avoid overloading on new gear. Now, my friend and I probably had thought skip on the melodramatic bit but, in the wild, a slip here, a mistake there, equals a dirt nap.

Speaking to past connections, almost a decade had gone by since my father’s passing. The taste of salt water and views of tropical fish had recalled great adolescent memories hanging out with him. These moments had ironically connected to one hour flights east of West Palm Beach to Andros Island, Bahamas. My parting thought for you, what had being underwater stirred inside of you?

Phil Foster Park (pbcgov.com)
Lake Worth Inlet Beach Cam (pbcgov.com)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information: website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

 

Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida

On the last Sunday of 2013, around 4:30 am, I had received a text from a good friend while asleep. The text was the start of a conversation for selecting a pick-up time for heading out to Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida. By chance, I had awoke around 5:30 am responding to his text with “Ready to go in 30 minutes.” The irony, my friend and I had reversed sleeping schedules by chance. Usually, I had perked up earlier in the day; though, this morning was different. Our travel plan had evolved as early as Thursday. Since then, I had checked the weather report, water clarity, and any manatees blocking spring access; however, accommodating out of town friends and family, we had pushed back our initial target date from Saturday to Sunday. With my buddy’s arrival at 6 am, we had embarked to our water borne destination tossing my gear into his back seat.

A big concern for this fresh water adventure was air management and site selection. Neither of us had known a great deal about this locale in advance. Our tentative objective was scout the two bodies of water at the park; Manatee Springs and Catfish Hotel. Less any onsite objections, we had wanted to expend 1000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch) out of 3000 from our scuba tanks per body of water. Another unexpected variable was weather. During in car conversations, we had both noticed the unusually warm temperatures in Orlando, Florida. Beginning the drive, the skies were slightly overcast with little to no rain. Entering the last hour of the drive, a heavy deluge had begun falling. For the most part, passing storms in Florida had provided a shelf life of about 15 minutes. Intensifying with the sound of thunder and flashes of lighting, this front had matured beyond that characterization. For a scuba trip, we had wondered what kind of omen this might mean at Manatee Springs State Park.

After commuting just under three hours, we had pulled into the park’s main gate courtesy of my friend’s snappy driving. Flashing our Florida State Park Annual Family Pass for admission, we had cleared the gate. Though, we were immediately re-directed to diver check-in. During that process, one of the rangers had entered exclaiming, ”You are going to get your hair wet out there today.” My response was, “Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem scuba diving.” Despite the dreary overcast skies, this happy banter had reinforced our cheerful road demeanor. That good karma, I had believed in manifestation of slowing the rains and an end to the thunder and lightning.

Afterwards, we had followed the road down a bit until parking. From here, we had engaged in walk-through of Catfish Hotel and Manatee Springs. Two things had immediately caught my eye. One, a sign for snakes, which in all of my Florida travels, I had seen only once before at remote beach on Honey Moon Island. The second, a layer of bright puke green algae had obscured about half of the water’s surface at Catfish Hotel. Now, I hadn’t really worried much about any snakes with the air temperatures dipping to 68 F degrees with no sun; however, the green algae had just reminded me of an out of control toilet or sewer. The notion of submerging myself into this water hole had just invoked the idea of filth. The phrase,”Ewwwh!” had epitomized my feeling exactly.

Post our walk-through, we had suited up selecting the deepest body of water, my favorite of course, Catfish Hotel. Moving down the steps for entry, much to my relief, my buddy had entered first. He had inadvertently caused a wake clearing a path in the algae. In this wake, I was now able to see clear water below. With this opening, I had mitigated my earlier disgust. Putting off use of my regulator, I had swam out to the center of the water. Agreeing once more to general subsurface plan, we had descended into Catfish Hotel. We had maneuvered into the base of the depression moving to threshold of the cavern going to Manatee Springs. Throughout our 12 minute dive, we had seen various fish including, yes, hand sized catfish. Coming about to 40 feet in depth, we had pulled parallel to the cavern opening. After pivoting off some submerged tree logs, I had come within view of a corner pocket off this cavern threshold. In this pocket, I had seen a medium school of small fish. Because of the lack of surface light penetrating the darkness, I wasn’t able to get a make on a specific type of fish. With a maddening curiosity, I had wanted to investigate them further. Though, due to my lack of cavern diving credentials, I had redirected to ascending into the middle of water column. During that moment, I had recalled recent discussions of mishaps by unqualified divers and swimmers dying this year at Wekiva Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Eagle’s Nest. Later in the day, my dive buddy had forwarded a great YouTube video summarizing the dangers of cavern diving by the untrained called, ”A deceptively easy way to die.” The point of the video was the mental seduction of what appears safe to the inexperienced precipitating in a life ending event.

After an allotment of time for a safety stop, we both had resurfaced switching out our regulators for snorkels. Out of the water, I had turned down to see my friend pulling himself up an exit ladder. A layer of green algae had covered the top of his body. Luckily, I was spared a similar fate by following in his wake to the water’s edge. Walking to Manatee Springs, he had told me of his misfortune of sucking algae into his mouth from his snorkel. He had described the sensation as extremely unpalatable. To freshen up, we had quickly immersed ourselves into the pristine clear blue waters of the Manatee Spring boil. From the spring head, we had used our snorkels to acclimate to the physical layout of submerged area. After going back up against the current, we had took a moment to rest to our heart rate before switching back to our tanks. Soon after, we had descended into the spring.

The main attraction for this 25 foot deep area, the strong underwater current. To close out the day, I had decided to place myself directly in path of this raw power. After equalizing a few times, I had grabbed firmly upon a rock at the threshold of the spring opening. The pressure forcing me back was substantial. My right hand had flexed to maintain a firm grip. After a moment, I had shifted to two hands onto a larger rock. Wanting to share in the experience, I had signaled my friend down. I had encouraged him to hold onto the adjacent rock. After settling on the bottom, we had felt the current’s force breach our masks with noticeable amount of water. Periodically, we had exercised pushing the water out with air from our noses. Despite the display of nature’s unbridled will, the current was extremely relaxing, almost enthralling.

With air starting to run low, I had perched myself  atop another submerged log. After catching my friend’s attention, I had made a few hand signals mimicking sexual gestures for humor sake. In response, my friend had motioned to the surface. He wanted to share in the beauty of the light rain breaking the surface tension. The cascading effect from below had appeared almost like drops of silver.  After this observation, we had concluded with another scuba safety stop. Leaving the water this time, we had packed our equipment for departure.

This day was marked by grey clouds and spattering of rain. Raining days were defined by most people as depressing in general. This one was different. Reflecting on the whole experience now, it had took the mundane into the realm of magnificent. This experience was rooted above and below the water in appreciation of physical exploration, mental renewal, and joyful friendship.”If everyday had ended that way,” I had thought,”Text me whenever! I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Manatee Springs State Park
Address: 11650 NW 115 Street, Chiefland, Florida 32626
Phone: (352) 493-6072

Read More:
Manatee Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
A deceptively easy way to die (YouTube)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

fishtall2

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Perfect Day @ 42

On Friday, December 13th, 2013, I had awoke two hours into a red eye flight back to Orlando, Florida. Being in a plane crash when twelve years old, sleeping in-flight had become a foreign concept until now. After an exhausting 80 hour work week in California, I had fell asleep with earphones on listening to the all too familiar, Tron Legacy Soundtrack. The big bonus of the early morning was discovering the flight time being four hours versus, the initial westbound trip of five. At 3 am Eastern, I had already thought, “Good way to start the day.”

Getting home from the airport around 5:30 am, I had wanted to generate a self-induced insulin spike for another round of sleep. Scarfing down a banana, a big spoon of peanut butter, a magnesium pill and cup of orange juice, I had set course for slumber on my Spartan two inch mattress pad on the bedroom floor. For those unfamiliar with this Spartan affair, it was physical and mental conditioning for various road trips for the back of my ’96 Ford Explorer or some hiking shelter. Plus, I had experienced feline fluids once too often on a decent mattress but, urine that’s another story for another day. Fading quickly into unconsciousness, I had received the best sleep in two weeks in two hours. Waking up a few hours later, I had begun unpacking my luggage before heading to 10 am doctor appointment. Before leaving my place, I had received some impromptu affection from my cat Patch. Stroking Patch’s soft orange white ears, I had reflected, “Great to be home again!”

After a quick interlude reviewing blood work with my family doctor of 13 years, I had started driving to Altamonte Springs AMC Movie Theater for a noon showing of “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.” En route, I had fielded a call from a good friend. Taking a moment from his workday, he had sung “happy birthday to you” in his low masculine southern inflection. With his father’s passing about a year ago, I was moved. Think the act had meant a lot two both of us. After all, only my mom had called to wish such tidings that way. Wrapping up the call, I had thought, ”The Hobbit can suck, it’ll still be a good day!”

Arriving at the AMC Movie Theater with another friend, I had purchased my ticket going straight to the overpriced concession stand.  There, I had mentioned receiving a free big soda on your birthday; however, the line employee had wanted an actual print out of the email offer. With some managerial escalation, I had coaxed them into scanning the barcode directly from my iPhone. With the elation of victory, I had clinched my fist with arm halfcocked blurting out the phrase, “Money!”

Returning from the movie, I had wanted to finally watch, BBC’s 50th Anniversary episode of Dr. Who, “Day of the Doctor.” Though during the morning, I had accumulated quite a few well-wishing messages from Facebook, email, texts, and voice mail. Some people, I hadn’t heard from in a few weeks to a quite a few years. I had concluded time better spent exchanging responses before becoming self-indulgent. Dr. Who being a “Time Lord”, I had thought in Yoda speak, “He understands changes to space time continuum, yes!”

With personal affairs in order, I had turned on my Apple TV and LCD television to watch Dr. Who. Needless to say, I hadn’t kept up with the last two seasons of Matt Smith as “the Doctor.” The anticipation for this episode had come from fellow fan feedback and John Hurt as special guest star. Without providing any spoilers, I had completed the episode with joyful smile and even a semblance of a tear. As the late Lou Reid had sung, “Oh, what a perfect day!”

With the theme of Dr. Who fresh in my mind, I had headed out to pick up another friend for Karaoke. Arriving at the bar around 10 PM Eastern, we had discovered the facility closing without an ounce of entertainment. Improvising, my friend and I had gone around the corner to another restaurant with live music. With a ginger ale and margarita in tow, we had hatched a gestating idea. That idea was going back to Georgia the next day to hike part of Appalachian Trail. With excitement of the idea keeping exhaustion at bay, I had figured,”Why not?”

I had started the day with just wanting to be home and get to a doctor’s appointment. The irony, I had experienced so much more in moments than any wrapped gifts can contain. Think a lot of people had characterized me in my 20s and 30s as being stoic, inward and dark. Trolling around in my early 40s, I had hoped to be a catalyst for illumination. To my blog’s refrain of “What is inside you?”, on 12/13/13, on this day, it was a “Perfect Day @ 42.”

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Read More:
Lou Reed, Perfect Day (Wikipedia)
Appalachian Trail Conservancy (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

On the road to friendship from Florida to California

This upcoming week, I had volunteered to head out to California for work. First, I had loathed traveling for business. Over the years, job opportunities had come across my email, most including more pay and lots of travel. Sure money had provided a better means of living but, at what cost to prime time with family, friends and other loved ones. My motivation for California had stemmed from seeing some great topography and a good friend.

Earlier in the year, my friend and I had talked about catching up but, competing Labor Day plans did not allow us to. The irony regarding our Labor Day plans, we had come within 50 miles of each other in West Florida. Unknown to me, his fishing trip had remained on shore because of bad weather. Go fish, pun intended! The great thing about friendships, with a little effort, hanging out had always seemed to materialize.Tomorrow, I had looked forward to documenting my free-time adventures in Cali, sans Disneyland. The big payoff though was just reconnecting with my friend, Joe.

Big Shoals State Park @ White Springs, Florida

One of the reasons for traveling to White Springs, Florida was the mention of white water rapids at Big Shoals State Park. After seeing the low level watermarks for the Suwannee River at Stephen Foster State Park, my expectations had diminished for this excursion, from canoeing to just hiking. Driving down County Road 135, I had not seen too many signs for navigating to the park. After taking a right onto Old Godwind Bridge Road, the pavement had turned to gravel. In the middle of the road had laid a dog and her four puppies. I had started to question out loud,” Is this the road to a state park?” The dogs had seemed unaffected by our encroaching vehicle. In a moment of clarity, I had switched off driving responsibilities with my friend to handle the dogs on the road. Snapping my fingers at the oldest dog, I had pointed to a nearby house. The dog, on cue, had responded wonderfully, moving her entourage out of the way. Another half mile down the road, the sign for Big Shoals had come into view.

After parking, we had walked down toward the canoe launch area. The Suwannee River’s appearance at this location had appeared more robust than the offering over at Stephen Foster. Walking back up toward the Pavilion, a small wooden fence had provided a great view of an overlook with 50 – 60 foot drop off to the river below. After this stop, we had proceeded out onto Big Shoals Hiking trail. Along the way, we had seen the remnants of an old bridge. Standing amongst the trees, the huge pillars had remained a testament to the history of the area. A mile in, we had heard the rumble of water. In excitement, we had both started jogging to another overlook with a similar drop-off like before. Down below, we had noticed the foaming rapids break upon the rocks. Wanting to get more pictures, we had scaled down the side of the limestone bluffs. At the water’s edge, we had both taken the opportunity for some pictures and video. The rapid were relatively nice but, nowhere near their optimal peak for canoeing. According to Florida State Parks website, to earn the class III classification for Big Shoals rapids, the water level had required being between 59 – 61 feet.

Scaling back up the estimated 80 foot bluffs, we had decided to double back on the hiking trail to the Pavilion. Near the Pavilion’s picnic area, another structure had caught my attention. The sign had read, “Bat Exhibit.” In the Florida Keys, I had seen another tower but, with a different architecture. Even though I was unable to see the bats, their sound echoed outside of the structure. The take away, bugs, specifically mosquitoes, were almost non-existent in the immediate area. Or maybe we were just lucky. In the end, Big Shoals State Park had offered a dynamic environment for canoeing, hiking and camping. If you had wanted to hit the rapids, suggest calling ahead for a water level report.

Big Shoals State Park
Address: 11330 S.E. County Road 135, White Springs, Florida 32096
Phone: (386) 397-4331

Read more:
Big Shoals State Park (Florida State Parks)
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park @ White Springs, Florida (GarzaFX)

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Juniper Creek Canoe Run in the Ocala National Forest @ Marion, Florida

Closing out a day on a road trip for Veteran’s Day, I was curious about a sign for Juniper Creek Canoe Run. On the way back from Salt Springs on SR 19, I had looked for an excuse to pull over for the restroom. The brown signage on the left side of the road for the creek was that excuse. What was the connecton to Juniper Springs Recreation area? I had remembered Juniper Run at the recreation area. From that visit, the Run was unimpressive for a possible canoe excursion. That portion of the waterway within Juniper Springs Recreation area had become shallow and unmanageable. This canoe launch area had shown a much wider and deeper view of the creek, worthy of a second look. The view was postcard perfect with glistening water, powder blue skies and the ever present chirping of birds. From reading around the web, Juniper Creek Canoe Run had provided trips of a few hours plus, a possibility of shuttle ride back to the launching area. With the colder weather heading for Central Florida, I had pondered the possibility of canoeing through this portion of the Ocala National Forest again.

Located at Latitude :  29.183745   Longitude : -81.688533, just off Florida State Road 19.

Read More:
Juniper Run (US Forest Service)
Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest, FL  (GarzaFX)
Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest @ Salt Springs, Florida (GarzaFX)

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What’s inside me? A water world of swimming and scuba lessons

Returning today from a scuba lesson from Florida’s Alexander Springs in Ocala National Forest, I had pondered a question by a fellow classmate, ”Why challenge yourself with learning both things so close to together?” I had responded, “To expand possibilities.” Inside my mind, I had thought different motivations exist. With my 42nd birthday this December, how much time was left for my sight, muscles, joints, heart, or brain to carry out the maximum potential of certain experiences? No one knows when life had played your last card. Maybe, it was the competitive nature of keeping up with a friend younger than myself. Maybe, it was just fun or another avenue for cardio. For the most part, ego had provided the motivation for a journey back into water.

With swimming, I had never learned really how to swim confidently without fins, mask or snorkel as a child in the Bahamas. This bad precedent, a decision of my own, I had never revisited until this year. As a Navy brat, I had lived most of my life within an hour or less from the ocean. After returning stateside from Andros Island, Bahamas to the murky delta waters of the St. John’s River and Jacksonville Beaches, I had lost an inspiration to adventure out to the shore. The contrasting experience, in my opinion, was insurmountable. This October, with recent wear and tear on my ankles and knees from jogging, I had figured, “What a good time to switch horses for cardio!” The past two months, I had rotated to swims at my pool, the gym, fresh water springs, and the ocean. Steadily, I had improved but, elderly men and women left me in their wake leisurely. Part of the frustration of learning swimming was expending too much energy on keeping my head above water and engaging appendages full throttle. Reflecting on weight training from my 20s to now, this activity was counterintuitive. Swimming was not about power but, graceful breathing. This past Monday, I had finally gotten to 16 laps in the gym pool. This Friday, I had finally achieved an uninterrupted lap around the perimeter of Wekiva Springs swimming area. Both events had underscored the value of swimming as a good substitute for running and learning something new!

That second point had brought me to Scuba lessons. A friend had floated the suggestion of getting certified. I had figured why not add another dimension to adventures for the upcoming year; however, the past couple of weeks, I had stressed myself out with budgeting money, time, and health to work through tomorrow, my final day of a Padi Scuba class. During training, an instructor had rightfully told me, “Relax underwater.”  I had translated that into “don’t freak out man.” Easy to say, if failing was a familiar refrain. My instructor, Bob, had gladfully provided support to make this endeavor, fun and fulfilling. If you hadn’t understood his memory imprinting with certain repetitive tasks, perhaps you might be missing the point in the real world.

With final day of class tomorrow, I had aimed to “freak out” less, relax and the enjoy the submersion into the waters around Rainbow Springs State Park. Epiphanies had never come when you expect them but, with effort lies opportunity. In that potential, I had asked the question to try to find, “What’s inside me? What’s inside you?”

For Scuba lessons:

In Central Florida, I had recommended checking out Paul and Bob at Seminole Scuba. For more information, www.seminolescuba.com Address: 3869 Lake Emma Rd, Lake Mary, FL 32746 Phone:(407) 333-8856

For swimming:

Checkout,  Wekiva Springs State Park – Apopka, Florida, or if too cold, La Fitness’s heated saltwater pool in Winter Park, Florida

Read More:
Alexander Springs – Ocala National Forest – Florida (GarzaFX)
Rainbow Springs State Park -Dunnellon, Florida (GarzaFX)
Wekiva Springs State Park – Apopka, Florida (GarzaFX)

swim

Florida State Caverns Park @ Marianna, Florida: Part 2

Before proceeding to take a tour of the Florida Caverns, I had the opportunity to explore the back end of the park. If only hitting the caverns, you had missed out on the camping areas, horse trails, hiking trails and clean restrooms at the back of the property. Coming round to the tail end of the acreage, the road had gone up on a slight hill. On the left shoulder, probably the nicest looking restrooms in the state park system. Below this change area and outdoor shower, a scenic view that had given way to waters on the edge of my vision. Walking down the greens had appeared the deep aquamarine colors of Blue Hole and Blue Hole run. Blue Hole, though not advertised off the state’s website, had provided a means for swimming. It had also offered a location for fishing bass and other assorted aquatic life.

After soaking up some sun and the view, we had departed to canoe launch area about 1/2 mile down the road. This portion of the park had appeared considerably different but, no less tranquil with the sound of running water. A row of rental canoes had laid securely across aluminum framing near the river. There was one key difference about the Chipola River launch area versus Blue Hole, a sign relating to Florida’s favorite reptile, alligators. Investigating the canoe launch area were signs relating to flood history of the area, plus references to President Andrew Jackson.

After taking some of pictures and video of the Chipola River, the time had come to return to the front of the park for the cavern tour. Of the five state parks in West Florida I had visited, Florida State Caverns Park definitely worthy of the time and gas.

Read More:

Florida State Caverns Park (Florida State Parks)

Florida State Caverns Park @ Marianna, Florida: Part 1 (GarzaFX)

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Falling Waters State Park @ Chipley, Florida

Heading back from west Florida, we had wanted to check this out after reading the guide to Florida State Parks and visiting the falls of Rainbow Springs Park. After taking a quick detour off 1-10 into the countryside, we had driven to the park entrance. At the gate, the park ranger had provided a cheerful welcome; however, she was not excited about the flow of the river feeding the falls. Proceeding to the park area, we made quick use of the restrooms before heading down the trail to the Falling Waters sink. Without question, this park was exceedingly clean and well groomed by the staff and respectful visitors. The other two parks that had fallen in that category, Troy Springs and Florida Caverns State Park. Proceeding down the walkway were examples of local greenery including some wax murtle and some purple flowers. After hitting the boardwalk to the sink, it had appeared down on right with the 70 foot fall below. Crestfallen with the view, we had packed up shop reminiscing about the photogenic but, smaller offerings at Rainbow Springs. The park had a hiking trail, small river and lake for other activities. With about 3 hours left of daylight, we had opted to head back through Tallahassee, Florida. Before leaving Chipley, we had taken a quick stop for photo op of cotton fields. They were quite impressive in passing,  despite a possible negative historical reference and current shout out to US trade in-balance. For a weekend getaway, this park was exceedingly beautiful with the rolling hills and pine trees, just call ahead for feedback on the falls.

Falling Waters State Park is located at:

1130 State Park Road, Chipley, Florida 32428
Phone: (850) 638-6130

Read More:

Falling Waters State Park (Florida State Parks)

Rainbow Springs State Park -Dunnellon, Florida (GarzaFX)

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Music from Steve Howe, “Valley of Rocks”

Upgrades and Updates @ GarzaFX.com

Added more video and pictures to two of the more popular posts @ GarzaFX.com, plus video from my next post on Falling Waters State Park @ Chipley, Florida. Just a reminder, all original content images I had posted at 3264 x 2448, so don’t forget to click for the higher res version if you like 😛

1. Manatees and Tarpon of Crystal River, Florida

(Updated Tarpoon Feeding video edit, music by Jerry Goldsmith, “Ila’s Theme”)

2. Halloween: A Garza Tale, The General

(Pumpkin Eating Contest, video edit, music by Duran Duran, “Sinner or Saint”)

3. Falling Waters State Park @ Chipley, Florida

(Final edit, music by Steve Howe,”Valley of the Rocks”)

Just got done upgrading my good ole’ Macbook with latest copy of iMovie, GarageBand and Mac OS X, Mavericks; however, popping up to iOS 7.0.3, my iPhone 5s has been a formidable force kicking out content the past two weeks. My Google+ account is now auto-publishing all new content to the general public!

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Troy Springs State Park @ Branford, Florida

Troy Springs State Park had fell second to last stop on a three day road trip. It had offered a self service payment system with a $5 admission fee. The boardwalk, restrooms and grounds had seemed fairly new providing one of the best experiences in my travels. The waters at the deepest point were 70 feet. The spring run had also contained the remains of the Civil War-era steamboat Madison. Though the boat had not appeared in plain sight on entering the area. Troy Springs had earned the rating of first magnitude spring, 1 of 33 in Florida. That rating had meant a discharge water rate of at least 2800 liters or 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3) of water per second. Due to time restrictions and a touch of exhaustion, my swim time there was brief. I had really fancied the secluded nature of park and lack of activity. If you had travelled close to central Florida, try to work this site in!

Troy Springs State Park address is:
674 Troy Springs Road, Branford, Florida 32008

Read More:
Troy Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)

Springs “Hydrology” (Wikipedia)

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Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park @ Wakulla Springs, Florida

Enroute to Apalachicola National Forest, I had wanted to visit Wakulla Springs before camping out. In my college days, I had frequented this state park to escape the summer heat of Tallahassee, Florida. The springs had provided a pristine clear blue waters with a two story diving platform.

With dusk approaching, I had parked my vehicle heading quickly to the water’s edge. Two things had become immediately apparent, the lack of foot traffic and clear waters. In difference to Silver Springs, these premises had allowed for swimming and diving. After entering the springs, I had seen the reason for the lack of people. The water had appeared murky with an abundance of algae and other overgrown vegetation. Acquiescing to the state of springs, I had swam over to the two story diving platform. After taking a couple of jumps into the waters, I had headed to shower off reflecting on the current state of world’s largest and deepest fresh water spring. With the glass bottom boat rides, I had thought ,”What a disappointment for a paying customer.” The one bright spot of the visit, I had seen a deer and her two offspring crossing the road on exiting.

A week later, by chance, I had switched over from my AppleTV to viewing regular cable television. Starting on PBS, I had caught the tail end of Florida Crossroads: Protecting Florida’s Liquid Sunshine (Florida Channel). The show had incidentally profiled Wakula Springs’ challenges. Apparently, one of the up stream lakes feeding the area had become a source of populated runoff from Tallahassee. State government had recently moved to better protect this spring through land and water management; However, Wakula Springs had left me recalling the “good ‘ole days.”
Before heading out to to this park, I had suggested calling first for water clarity.

Address: 465 Wakulla Park Drive
Wakulla Springs, Florida 32327
Phone: (850) 561-7276
Hours: 8 AM -sundown, everyday

Read More:
Florida Crossroads: Protecting Florida’s Liquid Sunshine (Florida Channel)

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs Park (Florida State Parks)

Wakulla Springs (Wikipedia)

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Pope Still Hunt Camp, Apalachicola National Forest @ Crawfordville, Florida

A few weekends ago, traveling through Tallahassee, Florida, one night’s final destination was the 500,000 plus acres of Apalachicola National Forest. After exiting I-10 east, we had headed south on US 319 for about 30 minutes. With dusk approaching, we had taken a detour for a quick dip in Wakulla Springs State Park.

After departing Wakulla Springs, our first concern was paying for a campsite. The solution my friend had dialed up, Freecampsites.net. With directions in tow, we had started moving toward Pope Still Hunt Camp. Not too far into Apalachicola National Forest, we had both lost cell coverage for T-Mobile and AT&T. Fortunately, Pope Still Hunt Camp site had sat close to the intersection of Florida Highways 13 and 350. Approaching this intersection, asphalt had given way to sandy dirt roads.

After parking at our destination, another vehicle had pulled into the camping area about 50 yards away. Unlike most other travelers in passing, they had seemed reclusive staying inside their van. Isolated moments like these had always invoked scenes from backwoods Hollywood movies like Deliverance or Wrong Turn. In an effort to get better feel for the immediate area, we had walked around for a bit before getting in our SUV. Driving down about a half mile, the road had become increasingly narrow and rough. Outside the driver’s side window had appeared a sign for “road closed.” After passing this signage, four ATVs had driven out on the road. The odd thing, they had all stopped moving in the middle of the road behind us. Proceeding for another half mile, I had turned around figuring to setup for the night back at the campsite. Upon coming around their previous location, the ATVs had parked at another turnoff. I was curious of their purpose but, more so in sleeping. This small bit of paranoia had clearly stemmed from exhaustion.

At the campsite, my friend had chosen to sleep in his tent in the cool dry air. I had decided to go it alone in the vehicle. I had surmised in the event of a bear or “crazy”, the path of least resistance, my friend’s tent! After taking off my shoes to sleep, I had noticed the lack of light and noise pollution. Initially, I had hoped to go hiking or visit Leon Sinks while in Apalachicola National Forest; however, the tranquil twilight environment had provided enough satisfaction. I had hoped to visit here someday again.

Read More:
Freecampsites.net (freecampsites.net)

Apalachicola National Forest (fs.usda.gov)

Apalachicola National Forest (Wikipedia)

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St. John’s River Cruise @ Orange City, Florida

Yesterday, I had driven out to Blue Springs State Park for St. John’s River Cruise. Few things I had reminded myself before booking this ride:

1) Reservation required.
2) Subject to weather.
3) $6 parking fee for entrance into Blue Springs State Park.
4) Tours 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Since purchasing this off Groupon, I had targeted a weekday to avoid crowds. With a 1 PM launch time, the reservation agent had recommended being there 30 minutes in advance.

After boarding, the boat had embarked on the 2-hour tour. Moving onto the river system, the captain had provided historical details regarding commerce history of the surrounding area. He had continued offering insight to indegenous plants, birds, and reptiles on the banks of the river. He had stopped a few times along the trip to ensure good photops. If thirsty or hunger, snacks and water had sold for .50 and $1 respectively. A specialized bathroom was also available for those requiring a potty break. This tour had seemed ideal for the avid naturist or passive water bound activity. I had originally purchased this for my mom, but could work for anyone.

More information:
St. John’s River Cruises
Address: 2100 W. French Avenue, Orange City, Florida
Phone: 386-917-0724

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Freak out: Flounder, snakes, and a bear…

Over the past couple of weeks, I had crafted a few of my finer moments in courage. Of course, I had said that with certain degree of sarcasm. After visiting Honeymoon Island, Florida, three different weekends, I had stepped on a flounder each time wading in the shallow surf. Reflecting on each moment, I had echoed the same surprise. My visceral reaction had channeled Nathan Lane from the movie Bird Cage. Okay, maybe that was over the top but, unbecoming of the stoic nature of an adult male none the less. Perhaps, childhood memories of living in the Bahamas had etched into my mind the larger than average, stingrays, eels and barracudas. All three of which had cruised in similar shallow waters.

Maybe psychological closure had played a role in this fear. Whether Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s killer rabbit or Ridley Scott’s Alien, each had projected a fear of the unknown with frame and shadow. Hiking recently in northern Florida, I had come across two snakes on the same trip. The first, a constrictor, had rustled back into underbrush with my advancing. The other, a three foot diamond back, had laid just off the trail on a hillside. Both had expressed no aggression, but what of their brethren down the line? While pacing through the low lying brush, I had recalled the quote,”Don’t you tread on me?” The snake on that flag had seemed really pissed off.

Jogging with a friend a couple weekends ago, a biker had proclaimed a bear on the trail. After slowing down, a young lady in pink had mentioned the animal moving back into the woods. After watching a YouTube video of a bear rushing a hunter in a tree, I had thought,”Oh well.” This weekend, I had caught a passing glimpse of this bear on the first leg of the trek. Returning back the same way from jogging, I had run across the same Florida brown bear. It had decided to cross the trail during my approach. At this point, I hadn’t stored enough energy to even care. I had focused on more pressing matters like the sun, pain and hydration. Luckily, the bear had moved back into trees. As with all things in nature and the trail, it had earned a respect and a different perspective, just a matter of not freaking out with fear.

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Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park @ Port Richey, Florida

This state park had offered about 4,000 acres for various activities from hiking, fishing and canoeing. For reference, I had not confused this land for Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest. Visiting two entrances off US 19, hiking trails and port-o-potties had immediately been visible for any weary travelers. After making a quick visit to the northern entrance, I had ventured down to the southern entrance. Keep your eyes open, I had effortlessly driven by the southern entrance by the nearby Walmart. After parking, I had noticed surrounding acreage a recent target of controlled burns. Walking down one of the hiking trails, the park was exceptionally quiet. Upon nearing the water, I had come across some folks fishing in the salt marsh. For a quick or extended excursion, I had thought this park a great choice for avoiding the hustle of the Tampa Bay area.

Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park address was 9120 Old Post Rd, Port Richey, Florida. Admission was $3 for those without an annual Florida State park pass.

Read More:
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park (www.floridastateparks.org)

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Greeks, Octopus and Mama Maria’s @ Tarpon Springs, Florida

Over the past few months, I had driven around the Tampa area, visiting various Florida State parks. Tarpon Springs had come up in a conversation with a fellow co-worker and a friend’s posting on Facebook. After leaving Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, I had plotted a course for a restaurant in Tarpon Springs.

Despite having the word “springs” in the city name, this town had evolved from a history of sponge diving. Interestingly enough, that reputation had matured under the immigration of Greek nationals. Tarpon Springs, Florida had provided the highest density of Greek population within the United States. As I had driven south on 19, two things appear; Dunkin Donut shops and a Mediterranean influence.

Starving from a swim earlier in the day, I had pulled into Mama Maria’s for sustenance. My co-worker had recommended their calamari; however, I had opted for a new adventure. I had taken up the waitress’s suggestion of grilled octopus. I had immediately consumed the smaller ends of the tendrils upon the dish hitting my table. With a mix of herbs, lemon and butter, the entree had started off well. Working my way up to thicker portions of the tentacles, the octopus had become more an exercise in chewing, than a pleasurable consumption of seafood. Satisfying my hunger, I had taken a ride by the city’s historical docks. Near the water, the Greek influence had become more pronounced with the various eateries and shops. With the day turning to dusk, I had cut this portion of my Saturday drive short. I had then proceeded off to another random detour off 19 to the waters off Honeymoon Island, before ending the night in Tampa, Florida.

Read More:
Tarpon Springs, Florida (Wikipedia)
The Original Mama Maria’s Greek Cuisine (theoriginalmamamarias.com)

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Traffic stop @ 3 am

I had just returned from a lengthy road trip across the State of Florida. I had already started reflecting on the various locations and moments in my mind. One thing I had thought worth mentioning, a 3 am traffic stop by Wakulla County PD. Now, I had recalled plenty of negative coverage by media outlets over the years on bad cops; however, how many times do we think of those moments when a police officer had just done their job to protect and serve?

Passing through Wakulla County, I had seen the flashing of red and blue in the rear view mirror. After getting pulled over, I had thought, “This is going to make Monday suck!” That feeling emanated from maybe being little heavy on the gas pedal after just waking up. Approaching the vehicle, the officer had inquired about the purpose for being in his jurisdiction. I had responded with visiting Wakulla Springs and camping in Apalachicola Forest. He had followed up with asking, “Would anything return from running the license?” I had quickly responded, “No!” The officer then had gone to his car to communicate with dispatch. Upon returning, he had sent us on our way with a warning.

What luck, especially considering all the municipalities that had orchestrated speed traps for revenue. Then, I had thought about the context of our interaction. We had nothing to hide, less my menacing facial hair. Also, I had offered quick, honest answers. Probably the most important thing, I had recalled my body language. My left hand had laid out the window with right one on the wheel. Recalling a friend doing patrols as an officer, he had mentioned how stressful the first few minutes of interacting with the general public during a traffic stop. I had wanted to take a moment in underscoring that perspective. The purpose was not to avoid a citation but, the officer’s experience. After all, police officers had wanted to get home just like rest of us.

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On the road again, across Florida

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Hitting the road yesterday from Orlando, Florida, I had ventured across a sea of different towns. Each had offered a different experience ranging from under a hunter’s moon to underground. Looking forward to wrapping up trip, I had wanted to provide a quick update before arriving at next destination. Here was a partial list of the points on the map:

Tampa
Tallahassee
Tarpon Springs
Brookesville
Chipley
Marianna
Crawfordville