“You must snorkel and fish and be out on the water all the time!” says everyone and anyone who has vacationed here for those purposes.
At the year-and-a-half mark of my living in the Keys, the following pathetic statistics bear witness to my landlocked life here: I have been fishing once, never snorkeled, and can count on one hand the number of times I have been out on a boat.
“We’re going to the Sandbar on Sunday,” said a friend with a big boat on which he lives and a little boat on which he plays. “You want to go with us?”
The Sandbar? On a Sunday? Where, smack in the middle of the ocean, a lengthy strip of visible sand lures boaters by the dozens, their skiffs crammed full of beer and booze and those who will imbibe both to extreme excess?
“Go with them. You’ll have fun,” said my great guy who had to work, as always, on my day off.
The Sandbar? On a Sunday? Where every stereotypical image of the Jersey Shore meets that of Venice, Calif., resulting in a kind of waterlogged, beach-town boardwalk on steroids?
“Good, we leave at 11 a.m.,” said the friend who took my great guy’s comment as my acceptance of his invitation.
Guess I was going to the Sandbar. On a Sunday.
There is nothing quite like being on the water in the Keys. You see everything you drive past every day from an entirely different perspective: That ugly concrete garage backs up to a beautiful bay-front estate; that tiny, nondescript road-side motel boasts an ocean view to die for–and a huge pool.
As you slow here and speed up there, as you take the cut through the mangroves over there, you are continually amazed by how much you never see from shore.
“How about here?” said my friend as we slowly puttered into a spot between two larger fishing boats. His girlfriend agreed, and seconds later the anchor was dropped. We were wedged in with the other hundreds at the Sandbar. On a Sunday.
Dogs floated by on rafts being pulled by their owners. Inflatable coolers pulled up the rear of a line of 20-something guys cruising the shallow waters for 20-something gals. The terrible sound system blaring country music on one boat tried to outdo the terrible sound system playing salsa-style tunes on the boat next to it, which prompted the guy with a tiny skiff and a huge sound system to drown them both out with pounding urban sounds.
Kill me first, I thought, rather than stay here another second on the Sandbar. And never again on a Sunday.
“You’re at the Sandbar?” asked RG daughter, when I called to report my latest escapade. “I saw something about it once on the Travel Channel.”
On a Sunday?
I watched my friend’s girlfriend lounge about in the shallow water on a floating raft tied to the boat, a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other. Okay, I told myself, get over yourself and enjoy the day.
I plugged my headphones into my ears, played my own music to drown out the competing tunes trifecta, and stretched out on a towel the bow of the boat. I snoozed a little; I relaxed a lot. At the Sandbar. Even on a Sunday.
Three hours, two Gatorades and one slight sunburn later, we were headed back to shore.
“I need a boat,” I blurted out.
“You?” laughed my friend. “Didn’t you say this was your first visit to the Sandbar, and how you are a little afraid of boats and big water?”
“That’s why I need a boat,” I said. “I have to get over all my stupid fears.” And live what is clearly the other major and very cool part of life here.
“Why don’t you and your guy just borrow my skiff tomorrow,” he offered. Because he thought I was kidding about getting a boat.
Whatever the Sandbar may be on a Sunday, it isn’t on a Monday.
On Monday, the Sandbar’s calmer, more sedate twin sister greets a handful of boaters who prefer the sounds of birds calling and waves lapping over that of screeching canned music. On Monday, this Sandbar’s alter ego allows her azure water to teem with tiny fish and maybe a ray or a turtle, or two.
On any Monday, you will be completely captivated by the Sandbar’s unique spell, and you will immediately give in to the notion that if you had a boat of your own, you could explore all the other beautiful sandbars and all the other parts of the close-in Keys waters that, until this day, were something vague and unreachable and simply “out there.”
On this Monday, with me, my great guy and my dogs aboard a borrowed boat, I finally understood what all the fuss about living here is all about.