Eight Days in Paradise – The Florida Keys

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the comments on last week’s post fifth anniversary of our trip to Trinidad Cuba. This week I’ll extend that trip to the Florida Keys where it was sunny and warm with highs in the mid-70s during the day and down into the 60s at night during the month of February. It was also dry as February is the month with the least rainfall so very pleasant when compared to winter in Wisconsin, especially this year.

For our flight out of Cuba, our tour group rendezvoused at 2:30 AM for the bus ride from Trinidad through the dark mountains to the Santa Clara Airport. From there we would make the hour and a half flight back to Miami and then on to our next destinations. We arrived at the Santa Clara terminal just as they were opening giving us a couple of hours to clear the Cuban inspectors then have a bite to eat before boarding our plane.

My Traveling Partner began to feel ill the evening before and was worse the next morning. She was pale and the thought of food made her gag. During our stay in Cuba, she was very careful about what she ate, the only thing that might have made her stomach upset was the mint in the mojitos. Our tour leader noticed her peakedness, he offered to try to get her boarded early. Being a stoic midwesterner and a nurse, she declined. By the time we arrived in Miami, she felt even sicker.

We drove to Florida so we could extend our travel with a side trip to the Florida Keys, a destination I always wanted to experience. We picked up our car then headed south towards the Keys. Our lodging reservation on Big Pine Key didn’t start for another day so we needed a place to stay for the night. She was feeling worse so I stopped in the parking lot of a strip mall in Homestead to search for room. It’s the last major city before getting on U.S. Highway 1 that takes travelers to the Keys. I forgot it was a holiday weekend so a lot of hotels were booked. I finally found a suite at a nearby Hampton Inn, I booked the room and overlooked the high rental rate. Cost didn’t matter, my Traveling Partner needed a comfortable place to lay her head that was close to the bathroom. She slept for twelve hours and felt better next morning, we thought the worse had passed. We took off for the Keys and stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant located on a marina. 

The lunch didn’t set well with her so we drove as fast as the speed limit and winter traffic would allow. After a couple hours, we arrived at our lodging for the next eight days. I had rented a trailer in an RV park on Big Pine. We are RVers and used to living in a travel trailer. Besides it was the most cost effective option, less than half the cost of a hotel in Key West thirty miles down the road. It was ok, not a lodging I would give more than three stars. My Traveling Partner headed straight for the bedroom for a long nap while I made a trip to the nearby Winn-Dixie for some groceries. It took her a couple more days to eat more than crackers and drink 7-Up and feel up to sightseeing.

Big Pine Key is about half-way between Marathon (23 miles to the north) and Key West (30 miles to the south). It has a population of about 5000 people. It’s known for the tiny Key Deer that inhabit the island. This endangered subspecies of white tail deer is the smallest deer in the United States. The whole island is the National Key Deer Refuge so the deer have the run of the place. With that protection comes the lowest speed limits on the Overseas Highway, thirty-five miles per hour at night and forty-five during the day. This speed limit is strictly enforced and the penalty for hitting one of the very tame critters is severe. The adult doe in the photo below stands about three feet tall.

We knew we were on island time when we saw this fella, a left over hippie from the 60s living in his van! I’m thinking that could be me. Without the beard!

Our first impression of Key West was the traffic. There was lots of it! Even in the middle of the week. It was the high season when northerners were seeking respite from the cold and to work on a little tan for their lily white bodies. As we slowly made our way to the historic district, we noted the number of chain stores – Walmart, Home Depot – and restaurants like McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Once we reached the downtown near Duvall Street, we saw fewer chains and more local eateries and shops.

Since we are Jimmy Buffett fans, we had lunch at his original Margaritaville Cafe on Duvall. It’s over priced for both food and drinks but the atmosphere is lively and fun. We also stopped at the store to pick up some JB merch.

The highlight of the day in Key West, at least in my opinion, is watching the sunset at Mallory Square. It seems there is always a crowd especially when there’s a mega cruise ship in port.

Here’s my feeble attempt at a sunset photo as the clouds were building in the west. 

Duvall Street intersects with Caroline Street a couple of blocks from Mallory Square. This sign reminded me of the Jimmy Buffett song “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street.”

While we’re on the subject of street signs, here’s Mile 0 on U. S. Highway 1 heading north.

Nearby is the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar. It was the favorite watering hole of author, Ernest Hemingway. He made his home in Key West for most of the 1930s. His home is now a National Historic Landmark and one of Key West’s popular tourist attractions.

Another attraction is the Harry S. Truman Little White House. In 1946, Truman’s doctor ordered him to take some time away in a warm place from the rigors of the Washington White House. He came to Key West and stayed at the residence that was part of the naval station. After his first stay he vowed to return and he did for at least a month during the dreary winter season. Other Presidents also stayed at this house but Truman was it’s most frequent visitor. We toured the house with a docent who in his youth would sell President Truman his daily paper when he went for his morning constitutional.  Definitely worth the time to visit.

We walked over to the Southern most point in the Continental United States. It was fun to stand there and look south, it’s only ninety miles to Cuba from this spot where we were just a few days before. 

Nearby we spotted a few of the famous Key West chickens. The story goes that they were brought in from Cuba or somewhere in the Caribbean for cockfighting. When this practice was outlawed, they were let go to fend for themselves. Now days, the city has to hire a “chicken catcher” to reduce the population. The city also recently passed an ordinance that it’s illegal to feed the chickens. Some of the local residents are unhappy with them especially with their indiscriminate droppings deposited hither and yon. 

The resorts in Key West are popular. The water is warm and the weather pleasant nearly every day.

We spent several days enjoying the easy going atmosphere and the natural beauty of the Florida Keys. Here are a few photos taken on our meanderings. 

By the end of our time in the Keys, we’d been traveling for over a month. Both of us were in need of a haircut. Just across the highway from the RV park where we were staying, we saw this interesting sign, noting that walk-ins were welcome. So we took them up on that each getting a haircut that we would later regret. A great name for a hair salon but not a great cut!

To soon it was time to start our nearly 1700 mile trek home. It would take us a few days to make the trip back to the winter weather in Wisconsin. We did return with a lot of memories, a few that I shared with you here.

Until next week, happy virtual travels!