Chumming the waters of Islamorada

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It has been years since we’ve gone on a real family vacation to Florida.  I was long overdue for an actual vacation without conference calls and constant e-mails.  I needed to shut off my brain and surround myself with a few of my favorite people.

I have always wanted to see the Keys, so B and I made our way back to Sanibel to visit my brother and his wife.  We set up a base camp in their little island paradise and road-tripped to Islamorada for a few days.

Since we were missing our core group of elders, it was my brother’s job to recreate our childhood Florida vacations.  He packed Lao-style grilled chicken, garlic shrimp with the heads on, khao niew, and tham mak hoong.  He added a new menu item, homemade sushi burritos, to satisfy my latest obsession.  We also went shopping at a local Ft. Myers Asian market the day before so there was no shortage of snacks.

We stopped at Robert Is Here fruit stand, which is evidently a very popular last stop before you reach the Keys.  He boasts a petting zoo, smoothie bar, and an amazing assortment of exotic fruits.  We sampled a variety of honey and marveled at the monstrous mangos.  My brother purchased some mak kiep (sugar apples), which I fell in love with while in Laos.  I would like to bathe myself in a tub of its essence.

The largest jackfruit I have ever seen weighs 94 pounds.  It could feed a family of 4 for a couple months.  In the tradition of sibling rivalry, I posed with the larger of the two specimens.

There was a bit of hotel drama that interrupted our relaxing vibes but it worked out for the best.  I highly recommend Amara Cay resort if you are looking to stay on Islamorada.

The highlight of our trip was snorkeling in the clear waters off Islamorada.  We took a charter and stopped at a few good spots.  It was a beautiful day, perfect for being out on the boat.

At the first stop, I followed the fish too closely and bumped my head on the port, just seconds before B pulled me away, cautioning that I was too close to the vessel.  I frequently accuse him of being too cautious so I decided not to mention the accident.  My head didn’t feel great but I thought little of it until I got back on deck and instantly felt nauseous.  Since I don’t get seasick, it was strange and unsettling.  Maybe I had too much rum earlier that morning.  It wasn’t long before I was puking up nori snacks over the edge of the stern.  Things got worse from there, when we stopped at the lighthouse at Alligator Reef.  Soon the nori was coming out of my nostrils and I vaguely remember a silvery eel among other colorful fish, frantically swarming towards the side of the boat in search of my stomach contents.

Let this be a precautionary tale.  Fish are beautiful and mesmerizing.  Remember to look up.

It took us a whole day to get back to Sanibel with the numerous stops to see a giant lobster, eat amazing key lime pie and seafood at the renowned Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, and searching for ‘gators, manatees, and panthers in the swamp.  Even with a bonafide concussion and no sign of the aforementioned wildlife, it was worth every detour.

The drive home was a bit sad.  I missed my brother and sister-in-law already.  I made a promise to myself that I would take time out of my busy schedule to enjoy life, to take more vacations, to synthesize plenty of Vitamin D, and to savor every bite.  These moments are fleeting.

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