Driving to Duck Key
Trip Start Jan 08, 2012
7Trip End Jan 16, 2012
Felipe picks us up at 9.30 and deliver us to the car hire depot at the airport which is so huge it seems to have its own terminal. Check in desks for Hertz, Thrifty, National, Budget and a myriad more all with lines of drivers queuing to collect their keys and tannoy announcements blaring out make it feel like a busy day at Stansted. No wonder they call Florida the ultimate fly-drive destination.
In typical fashion our car hire provider, Alamo, try to impose extra charges upon us, despite us having pre-paid a 'Platinum Package' with assurances that every possible eventuality is covered
Sadly this doesn't include satnav, which would be a further $100, but she assures us that Miami to Key West is a straight line and we can't possibly get lost. However Juanita hadn't factored on us being unable to actually find our way out of the airport itself!
We pick up our big white saloon beast and with Coman at the wheel and me on directions head out of the rental terminal and onto the freeway. Signposts for highways and exits, laneways and flyovers send us left, right and in circles - with stress levels rising we find ourselves driving back into the airport itself and following a police car along the perimeter road, with imprecations and swear words we didn't know existed flying around. Before we know it we're heading back into the rental terminal having taken 20 minutes to go 20 metres.
Finally, just before we enter the Alamo carpark we see a sign for Highway 836 South to Key West and veer sharply across the traffic and up the entry ramp onto the correct road. A further thirty minutes of six-lane traffic dramas later and we eventually swing onto Florida Turnpike 1, and see another sign to Key West, confirming that we are heading south after all. Phew!!
Coman finally loosens his white-knuckle, sweaty-palmed death grip on the steering wheel and switches on the radio in a bid to relax
As we progress on we pass signs telling us to 'Enjoy Grapefruit' and warning us of 'Crocodiles crossing' and soon we're driving through the Everglades and leaving mainland USA and heading out into the Florida Keys archipelago, on what is billed as one of the most scenic drives in America.
However if Key Largo is anything to go by, the scenery is going to be decidedly questionable. To be blunt, it's what the guidebooks would call a bit of shithole, just a straight road through dusty shacks, fast food joints, gift stops, trailer parks, hardware stores, boat yards and concrete huts that call themselves diving centres. Apparently Key Largo used to be called Rock Harbour and renamed itself after the 1948 Hollywood movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a rather savvy marketing move to evoke a tropical paradise. It's a pretty big con job based on the evidence before us.
We decide to stop for a cup of coffee and pull into Denny's Latin Cafe, a little Cuban place that time forgot
On we go, mile after mile, waiting for the scenery to change into the spectacular picture-postcard tropical idyll we're expecting. But bar the odd bridge over turquoise water, all we're seeing is a big stretch of tarmac cutting through run down buildings or ordinary scrubland. Hmmmm.
About 70 miles after Key Largo we pull into Duck Key and our next hotel, Hawks Cay Resort. A huge, purpose-built holiday complex, its big sweeping drive leads down past roadside villas to a grand reception area where we pull in and hand our car keys to a valet. At reception they inform us our room won't be ready for a few hours so we grab our swim shorts and flip flops out of our bags and go for a wander.
First up is a large pool, surrounded by palm trees and sun loungers, and beyond that a pretty, man-made lagoon. On the beach sits Faith, a blonde attendant with skin so leathered by the sun that you could make a saddle from it
The lagoon hosts a 'Dolphin Connection', which is a large enclosure supposedly housing captive dolphins for the enjoyment of holidaymakers who can swim with them. It's plastered with notices everywhere we look about responsible eco-tourism and how happy the dolphins are. There's no sign of the creatures though, but dotted around the pool are a fair few beached whales, sipping huge holiday-sized cartons of Malibu cocktails.
In fact our fellow holidaymakers seem to be either drinking themselves to oblivion from the beach bar or knocking on heaven's door with their mobility scooters. It's like a funeral director's convention.
Faith had told us the Tranquility Pool, past the lagoon and the wedding pagoda, would be ideal for us as it's over-21s only, therefore child-free. Considering most of the people here are so past child-bearing years that they could star in Cocoon, the whole resort seems to beone big Tranquility Pool. We base ourselves there anyway and chill out for a good few hours until our room is finally ready.
That evening we decide to wander up to Tom's Harbor House restaurant for dinner by the marina
Inside there are groups of men who have obviously returned from a day on the high seas reeling in their big catches and telling each other how amazing they've been. It's similar to the Massachussets clam shacks we've visited, but you don't get mahi mahi and fish tacos served there.
We finish off by ordering key lime pie from our server Keralee. "Everywhere you go people will tell you they have the best key lime pie. But honey, they is all lyin'. Here is the BEST key lime pie!". Sure enough, it's yellow like a real key lime fruit and creamy like a cheesecake rather than the flourescent green version Nigella pretends to make.
As we finish they start playing Dire Straits to the obvious glee of the fishing parties
One of the older guys suggests they should hold their next conference at a clothing optional resort. Betsy, who seems to be wearing a pair of curtains looks shocked while Ernie pulls on an anorak to protect hinself from lascivious thoughts. Rhonda, who has the haircut of a 70s lesbian and the shoes to match seems very excited though, tossing back a double JD and coke and dancing on the edge of the firepit in quite a worrying manner.
We decide to head to bed before the geriatric orgy gets going. It's only 10pm...