Key West

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
1
57
220
Trip End Jun 17, 2009


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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, December 15, 2007

Another 85 deg sunny day although there was a breeze blowing.

STOP PRESS   We have now managed to start catching up with the log on the 17th January 2008. Thanks for your patience.

We set off down Hwy 1 heading SW down the Keys, which are split into 4 areas; Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and Big Pine and lower Keys which ends at Key West. It was an intriguing mix of small towns, settlements, harbours, causeways and bridges. The original bridges were built for a railway to reach Key West and after part of it was destroyed in a hurricane it was converted to a road and the railway abandoned. Newer bridges have been (and are still being built) which have left the original bridges abandoned nearby. You remember the movie "True Lies", with Arnold Schwarzennegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, the final chase scenes were filmed on the Keys old bridges. They are a marvel of construction, the longest is 7 miles long over the water connecting the Keys.

We stopped at the 'Bahia Honda State Park' to have a look at one of the biggest beaches in the Keys. As with most of the National and State parks in the USA, they are very well set up with (good, clean) restroom facilities, parking, usually walkways over the main areas and information about the area. As we parked at the south end of the area we could see 3 'Magnificent Frigate'  birds gliding in the steady breeze and swapping airspace slots with the ever present vultures, (I have been most impressed with the vultures, they are everywhere, even in the main cities and are superb soarers). There was one long beach on the Atlantic side and a pretty, curved one on the Gulf of Mexico side (there is a good swimming and paddling depth close in shore at most of the Keys water edges) with watersports and snorkelling gear hire available. What a set up! We drove to the north end of the long beach, which was piled with sea weed from the NW wind driven waves and saw waders and then an Osprey, hovering 10 metres above the waves about 5 metres out. He suddenly dropped into the sea, folding his wings back at the last moment. A splash and then he rose with 3 wingbeats, a quick shake and back to his hover level. Nothing this time but a minute later down again, splash and up with a large fish, which he flew off and ate on the top of a nearby electricity pole. A fantastic sight. In the shrubbery surrounding the old railway line embankment there were butterflies and large, green Iguanas. The temperature in the midday was about 90deg.

We had planned to arrive in Key West and 'wing It' - just look around and see what accommodation we could find but we passed a tourist information office, stopped in and they called and booked a room in a house just off the main area, Duvall Street, close to the harbour. It was an intriguing arrangement of 2 adjacent houses with a shared garden, decking and pool where all the rooms were self contained. We dumped the bags and walked up Duvall Street, which was tourist shops, bars, restaurants and several art galleries which, apart from some interesting paintings, had some incredible Italian Merano glass and marble works. If we hadn't been travelling (and downsizing) I dread to think of the tonnage of art works that we (OK some of them were quite impressive) wanted to ship back home!! We reached the harbour at the top of Duvall, went onto the pier of the 'Sunset Bar' and sat overlooking the turquoise sea at the end of the Florida Keys. A few tourist boats were passing round the palm strewn offshore islands as the sun went down and although the clouds on the far horizon prevented the 'big ball', we were still treated to a great orange glow. A duo were playing reggae music nearby and it was a magical feeling of calmness and relaxation. If this was close to the Caribbean then this'll do me man, I don' need no ganja!!!

This was a real happening place and as it was Friday night, the bars started to kick off with live music and the restaurants fill. We changed and went for supper on the verandah of a large house that had been a doctor's residence years ago and watched the world go by. On the way back down Duvall we declined the friendly invitation to 'the best drag show in the Keys', from the assembled cast who were stood on the sidewalk outside the showbar. There's something for everyone here.
Distance driven     105 miles

Saturday 15th December
I was never sure how long we would want to stay in Key West, from its 'lively' reputation and although we had booked the room on a night by night basis, we decided to explore the town. We've found that the best way to get our bearings is usually by a town tour and here there were two versions. A sedate old fashioned style bus or a custom built tractor (usually designed like a train loco) that pulls open coaches with bench seats. We had first seen them in Spain, where we had been told that the residents called them 'Wally Trollies', cos that's where all the tourist 'wallies' go for a ride. So - mmmm, difficult choice but we paid up and joined the 'wallies'. It was really interesting riding round town and the driver gave a very good history of the area of Key West. The locals are known as 'Conchs', after the Conch shells, which contain a mollusk, that they collect from the sea. The shells make ornaments and the snail is cooked, hence conch chowder, etc.. They have had the same economic ups and downs as many other places and are now based on tourism for a livelihood. Key West is also the most southern part of mainland USA, with Cuba being just 90 miles away. We saw a lot of the town and it was quite well maintained with no high rises, which are banned. We topped the hill that is the highest part of Key West, it stands 15 feet above sea level! After this Loti (we have been christened Hans and Loti Hass by two of our friends after our recent water exploits. That's OK with me, as he was one of my first boyhood heroes, as well as Captain Jacques Cousteau, so I have both of them to thank for my sea interest. Anyone who remembers them is as old as me. What John did not tell me is what he thought Norah had a Loti of? You're in real trouble when we get home pal!!!) - anyway, Loti had decided she wanted to go on a glass bottomed boat - Sharkwoman???  We boarded and the Skipper told us that they couldn't go out round the Atlantic side as it was too rough, so we went into the Gulf of Mexico (as the Keys jut between the two) instead. We saw dolphins playing in the water and several large turtles swimming along. At a shallow reef we drifted over the sand and rocky bottom looking at the many, coloured fish. Norah also spotted a small stingray.

We had booked to go on a day's boat trip to an island 70 miles away from Key West, as extended along the line of the Keys. This was Dry Tortugas - so called by the sailors because there is no fresh water there. This was to have been Sunday but there was a message at our room saying that it had been cancelled because of forecast bad weather. Here ??  I know they had been forecasting thunder storms for the past few days but someone told me the weather forecasters always do that, just in case. Seems like weather forecasters all over the world are the same! We go out for supper and there are more people, mostly Americans, here for the weekend. The streets are pretty crowded but there is no bad behavior, just a few good natured, high jinks and a good, lively, friendly atmosphere. We return to our rooms at 11pm and the temperature is 79deg. and 80% humidity - It's going to be a hot night.

Sunday 16th December
It is cooler and as we look outside it is raining heavily. The pool house in the garden serves as a breakfast bar and as we rush to it we can see the plastic pool duck being blown around on his endless circuits. It is forecast to clear up and after breakfast we see blue sky, as the clouds clear from the opposite wind direction to yesterday. A good call from our Skipper has prevented a long, rough sea trip. We wanted to return to see a bit more of a few places we passed on yesterdays Wally Trolley. It is now warming up, so we don't bother with coats and walk down Duvall to the 'Southernmost house in the USA'. Nearby the wind is really whipping up the onshore waves and as we get near the southernmost marker it starts to shower and then rain heavily! We try to shelter behind a wall and still get wet but without getting cold - a strange feeling! A train with today's 'Wallies' passes, its unfortunate incumbents wrapped in plastic ponchos and huddling to try to keep out the strong wind and rain. So yesterday's ride was a good choice! The shower eventually stops and the sky is blue again so, steaming, we return to the rooms and get changed - we had reasonably dried off during the walk back.

Over 400 years ago there was a fleet of Spanish galleons set sail from the Caribbean for Spain, carrying a fortune in gold, silver, jewels and spices. They were soon overcome by a hurricane that drove them onto reefs south of the Keys. The Spanish were excellent record keepers so they knew what, when but not where this fleet, which was scattered, finally lay. An American diver and entrepreneur, Mel Fisher, had heard the stories and spent years and thousands of dollars looking for the wrecks. In the mid 70's he found the flagship (?), 'Nuestra Senora de Atocha' and it became one of the richest wreck finds ever, yielding over 400 million dollars in gold and silver bars, coins and many artifacts. We visited the Mel Fisher museum of the search and saw many coins, artifacts and even a gold bar that you could touch! A very interesting visit, especially for me as you don't get many Spanish galleons in the Manchester Ship Canal!

Another good supper and then ready to start back north tomorrow. Norah's brother, Donald, reckons that you lose weight when you travel.  He didn't tell us how long it takes to take effect though!
We quite enjoyed Key West, despite its raucous reputation and did stay longer than I expected to because of the area and the atmosphere.
 
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