During high school I was lucky enough to become a staple part of the Theatre Department, a place that would eventually lead me to where I professionally am today. During my time in the department I formed a group of friends and we fostered a strong relationship that survived graduation and the inevitable parting of ways that followed. Knowing that the proverbial end was quickly approaching with the end of senior year, I decided that we needed to take a trip together, somewhere we could relax and enjoy each other’s company. My only stipulation was we needed to “splish splash”, to swim in some capacity. Little did any of us know that we were forming a tradition that would outlast our time in high school, or that “Splish Splash” would grow to become the official name of our trip.
That summer we decided to go to Schlitterbahn, the best water park in the world that’s only a couple of towns south. Lucky for us, our timing lined up perfectly with Tropical Storm Bill hitting the coast. The plus side to the tropical storm was that Schlitterbahn opened earlier and we didn’t have to wait in any long lines because people stayed home so as not to get wet. However, the down side was that our plans to go tubing the river the next day were cancelled due to spontaneous flash flooding. We revised our plans and ended up ice skating then watching a movie at the Drafthouse, nestled safe from the torrential downpour of Bill. Needless to say, we needed to plan another vacation for the next summer on account of the unambiguous success of the first trip.
In 2016 we ventured out further. We drove down to Galveston, an island historically plagued by pirates, ghost stories, and now a group of teenagers in desperate need of sunscreen. Incidentally, this was the week that Pokémon Go was released so all seven of us were obsessively catching Pikachus and Magikarps. The motel we were staying at was of questionable safety, but attracted many rare Pokémon so we didn’t mind. We visited the Galvez Hotel, famous for its haunted grounds and the terrifying portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez whose eyes follow you around the room. I had gotten wind of the ruins of Jean Lafitte’s pirate colony abandoned on the side of the road, so naturally we adventured around the remnants, halfway hoping to catch a glimpse of the hellhounds said to roam the area. Although Texas beaches aren’t famous for their white sand or clear beaches, we still enjoyed time by the sea and in the sand. I wrote up a six page tour guide complete with footnotes, poetry, and puns to lead us around the island, for your viewing pleasure, I uploaded it here.
We began to realize that we were establishing a tradition that would hopefully carry us on through life, so we set our sights towards bigger trips out of state, and eventually, out of country. The only thing inhibiting us is our imagination and bank accounts. In the hopes of taking a larger trip the following year, 2017 stayed fairly local. We drove out to the hill country, home of Hamilton Pool and Jacob’s Well. Keeping true to Splish Splash, we swam in some of the most beautiful water I have ever seen. We rejoiced that one of our friends was befriended by a large group of catfish, and lamented over the undesirably hot temperatures. Jacob’s Well is an abyss extending down over 100 feet that lies in a fairly shallow river. The water is frigid and divers are welcome to plunge into the dark depths of the Well. I was too chicken to jump off from up high but everyone enjoyed the adrenaline rush. On the third day of our trip we were able to finally tube the river and were thankful that there wasn’t a tropical storm brewing. At the end of the vacation we weren’t as burnt as we were in Galveston, but we were still in desperate need of Aloe vera.
All this led up to this past summer’s Splish Splash trip. We finally left the state and flew to the Florida Keys and Miami. I had been to New York that January, but I still found myself nervous to fly. What got me through the short flight was how ready I was to live out my Margaritaville dreams.
The Fort Lauderdale airport was comparably dry to the humid atrocity of the outdoors. Just because the sun was shining did not mean we weren’t drenched in sweat the entire time. We settled in to our condo and prepared for the excitement of our vacation. Our first day led us down to the southernmost point of the continental United States. Key West, famous for its pie and scenic beaches, treated us well. We were one seat short of comfort in our rental car, so we threw a pillow on the floor of the vehicle and took turns sitting on it to accommodate our large group. Lunch was a priority after the almost three hour drive to the island, and we ended up at the original Margaritaville fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams; the good times had started rolling.
As an English major, the Hemingway House called to my soul. It was a beautiful structure made of a white waterproof stone almost completely obscured by lush green foliage. Before the expansion of the coastline, its front door led directly to the beach and inspired Hemingway to no end. The grounds are inhabited by a colony of six toed cats, a genetic mutation Hemingway considered lucky. At the end of the tour I felt like I understood the author better.
Many art galleries dotted the island, and my friends wanted to enter every single one. I learned the origin story of the roosters populating the Keys, apparently Cuban immigrants brought chickens to the isles where hurricanes over the years enabled their escape. It was very educational – a sign of a good vacation. At the end of the day, we found a small beach and walked off the tip of America into the briny depths ahead.
I had forgotten how terrible sea water tasted but it was well worth it. As per tradition, we buried our friend deep in the sand and took (hopefully good) pictures as a group. One of my favorite moments was when two full grown Swordfish swam past my legs and out to sea. The water was so clear off of Key West that I saw them in the ocean perfectly. However, our evening quickly came to an end when something hit two of my friends at the same time despite them being several feet apart. We jumped out of the water as fast as humanly possible and headed over to the Southernmost Point Buoy, where we took the obligatory tourist picture.
The next day we drove down to Islamorada and Key Largo. There was a pretty magical artist’s market alongside the road with a magnificent giant lobster I wasn’t allowed to buy, much to my disdain. I had a Pina Colada at a seafood restaurant where we feasted on Calamari and fed Tarpon ominously swimming around the dock. Key Largo seemed to be more exciting if you owned a boat, but we found a small nature reserve with a beach that we used for a photo shoot. Unfortunately, there was a mild threat of alligators in the waters, and a very rocky bottom, so we enjoyed the sunset and some jokes before we left.
The third day was probably the most fun. We up to Miami to experience some of that iconic beach life. Miami Beach was the best beach we visited on our vacation. We bought a couple of snorkels and enjoyed collecting shells at the bottom of the sea to bring home as souvenirs. The sand was hot and deep, but we were having too good of a time swimming around to build any sort of castle or fortified structure. When the tide started rolling in and the waves were getting more violent, we headed back home to get ready for dinner. No one looked sunburnt until we took a shower. Besides the hue of our skin, the eight of us looked fantastic once we cleaned up. We drove out to Chef Adrianne’s where I ate the most amazing meal of my life. Treating ourselves to a fancy dinner, complete with wine and crème brulee, added a new special element to the trip. Did I mention we all looked amazing?
Our fourth and final day we packed up and drove back to Miami since it was en route to the airport. We roamed around Calle Ocho in Little Havana and ate ice cream at Azucar. One of the most memorable parts of the day was eating a Cuban lunch since it made me realize where many of my family’s dishes come from. Since we all know there is more than one way to cook an empanada, it was very cool how to me that I was eating familiar foods in a familiar way. From Patacones to Yucca Frita, I was stuffing my face and washing it down with Sangria.
As our day drew to a close, we drove back to the airport and prepared to board our flights. One of our friends was headed back to Colorado, so we said our goodbyes to her and we departed for Texas. Of all the Splish Splash trips, this past year’s was not only the most meticulously planned, but the biggest and longest vacation we have had together. I like to think our only regret was not wearing enough sunscreen – which seems like a common theme every year – but in the end we all developed a gorgeous tan so it worked out. We’ve set our sights towards the open seas for next year with the hopes of going on a cruise. I know whichever country we end up in will have as many memories to make as the one we came from. Needless to say, I love my friends and the traditions we have developed to keep us together, and I look forward to whatever adventures may come.