Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Florida Keys

One of my best friends is planning a trip to Florida with his family.  He sent me a message asking me, apart from Disney, what I would recommend seeing in the state of Florida.  I wrote back saying that apart from our drop-dead amazing Disney experience the only part of Florida that we explored this go round was the Florida Keys.  My friend name is not “X”, although I think he will like this alias – we grew up with Speed Racer after all.  X has a wife and two daughters and they may be referenced from here out.  The following is, by and large, what I wrote back to him…

Mother Hen and I took a business and pleasure vacation in August of 2015.  We went to Disney and had the time of our lives.  After the performance at Disney we headed south. I have always wanted to drive A1A down the keys. Truth be told, I'd go back in an instant and I would gleefully live there but Mother Hen doesn’t like the sound of “Hurricane Season”.  I think we could adapt.

X, my friend, if you are considering heading down to the Keys I would pay a visit to Betsy the 30-foot-tall giant lobster at the Rain Barrel Artisan Village in Islamorada.  How often does one get such an opportunity?

                   Betsy's a big one - I figure 55 gallons of melted butter would do.

 It’s free but I wouldn’t get too stuck there at the Rain Barrel itself – for that I’d head southward of Islamorada to Robbie’s (  Robbie’s has an artisan village vibe too but it is superior.  This is where you are going to want to lay down a five spot for a bucket of fish to feed the tarpon. The girls would LOVE this. Everyone needs to get a bucket to feed the fish. These tarpon are something to see up close and personal and these prehistoric fish will snap the bait right out of your hand. It was the best $5.00 I’ve ever spent.

                                                          Hungry Tarpon

If you feel so inclined they rent kayaks there too. We didn’t do the kayaks this time. After that keep heading south on A1A. I love this highway. To your right is the Gulf of Mexico ~ to you left is the Atlantic Ocean and you are driving on a ribbon of asphalt in what feels like the middle of it all. I’d head to Deer Key & No Name Key to find some Key Deer. They are similar to ours but they are small and they are not afraid of people. This has been to their detriment in that these wonderful creatures are now on the endangered species list. The speed limit is 35 mph and the authorities are not kidding. They are pretty wonderful to find.

           I don't know who the people are but this gives you an idea of the deer's size.

Moving southward still you will eventually come to Bahia Honda State Park ( Make this a beach day; however, it will be a beach day unlike any spent here in New Jersey. You will notice that the water is crystal clear, it truly is like “bathwater”, sea turtles lay eggs here, and there is a railroad bridge that is missing a section that was lost in a hurricane years ago. Please bring your own masks and snorkels ~ everyone will need them because you are about to see a world that you have only seen in pictures or in documentaries. 

                                           The railroad bridge at Bahia Honda

Play with your snorkel, dip your head into the water, and open your eyes.  X, I am not exaggerating, I could spend the rest of my days snorkeling in those waters. You will be only waist deep but you’ll see rock & corral formations, plant life, and tiny fish by the score. They are cautious but they are there. If you and the girls are decent swimmers and you want to do something that you and your family will remember forever, then hop on a snorkel trip right there at Bahia Honda. The boat will take you out to Looe Key – a living coral reef and bring you back again. We didn’t do this when we were down there and I’m sorry that we didn’t. It’s about $30.00 a head per adult and about $25.00 per child under 18. Money well spent.

                   LOOK at that water.  The flash of color is a fish of some sort.

Heading further southward you will end up in Key West. There is a lot going on in Key West and they have curiosities for each and every taste. Speaking of taste, have some Cuban coffee and some Conch Fritters.  We hit up B.O.’s Fish Wagon for our Conch.  It’s worth a quick stop.

                  Behind this truck is B.O.'s Fish Wagon. Try the Conch Fritters!

Do take the Conch Train or the Tour Trolley. Is it tourist-ish? Hell yeah! But it’s worth it.  While the blocks are small, Key West is larger than it seems and you’ll be able to get a good ‘lay of the land’ appreciation for the local on one of these tour conveyances. Also, you will be able to get on and off so if there is something that you want to see all you have to do is hop off and wait ‘till the next train or trolley.  We didn’t do either but I truly wish we did.  Be mindful of the time of year not for the weather (which is always pretty perfect) but for Fantasy Fest. You don’t want to be there with the family during Fantasy Fest. Do a search without the kids around, you’ll see what I mean. You and Mrs. X maybe – with the girls, not so much. I recommend seeing a sunset we were in the Keys for three days and circumstances on each night were beyond my control – we missed out each and every night. If you go, and I hope you do, X; do not miss this experience.

If you can’t tell already let it be known that I love the Florida Keys. There is a vibe – an energy there that is can’t really be duplicated off island.  Sure you are technically in the United States but you will not feel like it.  You will feel as if you are somewhere else altogether.  Half a world away.  These experiences were from a few days stay.  There is so much that we missed.  So much to see and do.  Included with all the things that we missed this time, next time we have to hit Key Largo and the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – the home of the Christ of the Abyss.  Sure I’ll have to bone up on my swimming skills but it will be worth it.  And then there is Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas National Park (which is the true southernmost point of the United States).  This would be a drop dead wonderful place to snorkel, camp, and watch the stars.  You can only get there via boat or sea plane but what a trip, what an adventure.  …Next time.

The Florida Keys have been home to pirates and poets and people who are not the easiest to classify.  There are some legends that people still tell tales of.  Soak it all in.  Earnest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams, and Harry Truman called the Keys home.  Carl Hiaasen, Travis McGee, Dave Berry, and Lee Child have set stories there too.  Perhaps this is what I like most about the Florida Keys – you have a chance to write your own story there too. 

I fell in love with the Keys.  I bet you and the girls would too.

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