Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Keys to Happiness

Decamped St.Augustine before 7:00 am, aiming for The Keys. The beginning of the journey was interesting with many sitings of White Egrets, Grey Sandhill Cranes, Hawks and even a juvenile Bald Eagle. I have a fascination with the armoured rodents known as Armadillos. We saw a few curled up by the highway napping... NOT!


We unwisely chose to stay on I-95 South through Ft Lauderdale and Miami instead of following the GPS instructions to bypass that mess on the Florida Turnpike to the west and found ourselves trapped in traffic cutting in and our around us. The tension was overwhelming along the Miami stretch. Chris kept his cool and we both were relieved to hit the calmer Highway One as we entered The Florida Keys. Grand expanses of sea sparkled in sunlight that painted three shades of cobalt. The many islands are linked with low bridges whose posts and wires are decorated with Gulls, Pelicans, Cormorants and Osprey.  Marinas are crammed with cabin cruisers, fishing boats and a few sailboats.  Motels galore, hide behind palm trees or giant cement dolphin or sea turtles. Between the newer, posh resorts, are the older fixtures from the sixties with retro pink and turquoise neon signage and green and yellow balconies draped with patio lanterns. Jimmy Buffet lyrics filter into our brains as we pass the eighth or twelfth "Paradise Bay", "The Oasis", "Siesta Inn" or "Silent Palms". Restaurants and bars are named after seabirds, fish, sunshine and anything tropical. "Tiki" takes the prize for the most common label as Tiki Rooms, Tiki Bars and Tiki Huts are as common as sand on a beach. Most architecture is built on stilts to deal with flooding and shutters wait to protect the windows during hurricanes.

By early afternoon, we were setting up the motor home at the "Jolly Roger Holiday Resort". We chose one of the grassy sites that were shaded with Palm and Mahogany. Those willing to pay extra, parked a few feet from the bay. We were able to enjoy the view and seabirds from a short distance and avoid the salt water spray that can be so damaging to RVs. We spent a number of days at this pleasant camp relaxing, reading and and people watching. We met a friendly couple,Suzanne and Peter, from Orillia, a short distance from Orangeville and ignored the Quebec couple who made it obvious with their stoic lack of eye contact that they did not wish to acknowledge Ontarians. Another neighbour walks their gorgeous black cat around the park on a leash. The cat obviously has not determined that this is not the norm. We've seen a miniature dachshund being carried under her owner's arm or pushed in a baby stroller. The little black wiener dog sits up like a toddler and I can attest to never having seen its little doggy paws touch the ground!
AThe park is full of coconut palms and a few full sized coconuts have fallen to the grass around the camp and we are thankful not to be parked under one of the many "bomb-bearing" palms.We are in Marathon County on Grassy Key, so called for the heaps of sea grass that blow into shore every night.
On Thursday November 15,we drove waaaay out across numerous keys, mangrove bays and bridges until we reached Key West. We shared a grouper sandwich on a hot patio and stapled our CCand Dixie Dollar bill to the wall of hundreds. We wandered about the town where chickens run wild and architecture is a mix of old and new, scruffy run down homes, tacky t-shirt shops and beautiful vine covered inns.The temperature was 86 and Dixie was not inspired. It was difficult to avoid the tourist traps, tons of tour trains and trolleys, pleas to take a boat cruise and vendors of whole coconuts punched with a straw.  It was cool seeing the Southermost Point of North America, sipping a couple of Mohitos, standing in the shade of "Majesty of the Seas",a huge cruise ship, and peeking over the fence at Ernest Hemingway's home. I decided against a tour when I realized that it was $23.00 a pop! Overall, we were disappointed with Key West. Perhaps its glory days are over or the romantic spots are hidden from view. Stopping at a fishing dock where the regulars were unloading their catch of the day proved to be a more genuine adventure.

Friday's breeze cooled the heat in the park and Dixie and I found a cool spot to watch the seabirds. They are so entertaining! One pelican spent almost 20 minutes trying to get a rather large fish down its throat. (Take a moment to recite "A wonderful bird is the pelican whose beak can hold more than its bellycan!") The bird would struggle for a few minutes, then take a rest and try again. As this process repeated itself, gulls and other pelicans would swoop down in an effort to steal the fish away. Fascinating!
For dinner that night, we drove a few miles down the keys where we ate seaside,outdoors on the pier. After our seafood dinner at "Keys Fisheries Market and Marina", we headed back, just in time, to watch the day close with a spectacular sunset.

On Saturday, we gave our lawn chairs a break and took hike for a few miles across the Old Seven Mile Bridge. It is the longest in the Keys and vehicles use the new bridge which runs alongside, to traverse the islands. The old bridge is beginning to decay but through financial donations, its time worn concrete and rusty beams are being maintained. Chris and some highschool buddies drove across the old bridge in the 1970's. The bridge crosses a huge stretch of the ocean where rock-lobster pot markers bob, boats take tourists out to scuba dive, fishing boats of all sizes bait their hooks and pleasure boats motor across the surf. The old railway ties used in construction have beautiful rust patterns and patina. The name of the bridge is a no-brainer! As everywhere, in The Keys, a strong breeze moderates the heat and seabirds idle by.You may know about the Iguana problem in Florida, some say it's due to people freeing their pets into the wild or sneaky reptiles dashing from the holds of tropical freighters. Whatever the reason, they are numerous and range in size from three inches to three feet. We watched a few munching grass and sunbathing at the edge of the bridge.
We picked up some great fresh cod to cook for dinner; wholesome market fish is another appeal of The Keys. Fishing is a passion of Keys folk and an obsession for visitors. The inlets and waterways surrounding the Florida Keys make it unique and to get the most from it, one really needs to own a boat.

 In a few days we're off the Everglades National Park.


1 comment:

  1. Chris! yer Mum asked me to TELL you to putcher hat on!! :)...I guess cheesy spots make it a whole new culture.(if you know what i mean)...i thought cod was northern cold seas fisH?..did you buy any shellfish fr the local fishermen?
    ...hehe, in havanna, at ernest H's 'bar', they wanted us to buy Tshirts there for $90 U.S...and that was >10yrs ago...