We will make several stops along the way. First, in regard to retail therapy, there is an outlet store for most anything: scuba, adult movies, T shirts, sandals, sea shells, bras and used boats.
We also hope to find some great places for photos, and some more seafood in the roadside stands. A cold beer or soda will also help push us along this most unique of American highways.
A couple of things about this area. It has a red neck type of vibe, lots of smokers, trucks, and overweight people. The economy does not look very healthy, and it is already warm and humid before the start of the steamy rainy summer season. But thousands of people flock here every day, putting tremendous pressure on the Everglades, and the state’s infrastructure.
But most people we run into are ultra friendly, and willing to talk about the local scene and things to do. We met a nice little 20 year old waitress last night. She did not look a day over 16, and is already a mom. She said customers were so mean to her when she was pregnant, telling her she was too young to have a baby!!!! She should live in California!
The area appears fairly well integrated, though we have also seen many homeless of every shape and color. It is a working class area, and hardly qualifies as a resort town. And it is definitely NOT a breakfast town. Basically, it is the gateway to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, as well as the departure point for the drive through the Keys.
We arrived in Key West just in time for lunch. So, we hit the Conch Republic Seafood Company, right on the waterfront. We had some great oysters on the half shell, a lobster gazpacho, and we shared a blackened snapper sandwich. We topped it off with a very unusual dessert, a tempura style giant strawberries, coated in sugar and cinnamon, topped with whipped cream, chocolate and caramel sauce!! Very good, and rather unique.
We strolled around and decided to go uptown Key West. The vibe is much like Santa Cruz hippie with a good dose of Pier 39. The tourists were mostly foreigners, as were the retail help. We met Russians, Ukrainians, and Israelis in the stores. They all spoke excellent English and were very customer friendly. But an hour was all we could handle.
The drivers here in Florida are the worst I have seen in the states. After nearly being run over twice at a crosswalk signal, we decided to hang it up. We got back into our weapon, I mean rental car, and headed back here to Homestead.
Key West has a landmark that denotes it as the southernmost point in the United States, and only 90 miles from Castro-land. It honestly did not feel like Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the entire world. But tourists lined up to get their photo taken in front of the boat anchor.
Enough driving for one day, I think we must have logged over 250 miles. That is not my idea of a relaxing vacation!
Day 1: The Florida Keys are a 120 mile long chain of islands linked to mainland Florida by U. S. 1, also called the Overseas Highway. The upper Keys can be reached in about an hour from Miami proper. We hope to find Bogie and Bacall in Key Largo!
A Note on Mile Markers. Once in the Keys, U.S. 1 becomes the Overseas Highway, which is the Main Street. The best way to get around is to know the mile marker of your destination. Look for the little green mile-marker signs on the side of the highway. They begin just south of Florida City with number 127 and run all the way down to zero in Key West. Think of them like addresses. If you know the mile marker, getting there is easy. I certainly can’t make any wrong turns!
Fishing is obviously a big deal here. Bonefish, tarpon, and permit are favored inshore species, but jacks, Spanish mackerel and barracuda also abound, especially in the winter months. Burly grouper and snapper haunt the reef areas. Acrobatic dolphin fish (mahi-mahi), billfish, tuna and wahoo cruise offshore.
If the day’s catch is not headed to the dinner table, taxidermists can provide exact reproduction mounts, for a three-dimensional memory! I think we will eat, rather than taxiderm! Famous novelists Zane Grey and Ernesto Hemingway loved to tell about the vast array of fish species and habitats. Unfortunately, they say W liked to hang out here too.
Perhaps equally important, the Keys are home to the only living coral barrier reef in the United States. Preserving the reef is a top priority for a good reason. There is no more versatile marine destination in the world. The area has coral-encrusted ship wrecks and intricate natural coral formations. Also, shallow reefs for snorkelers, and a range of deeper reefs for experienced divers make it a family destination.
We are arriving on the cusp of hurricane season, which begins June 1 and ends around Thanksgiving. It rarely rains here in the winter, but by May, sporadic thunder showers start popping up, but not enough to ruin the day. But Stone Crab season lasts until May 15!!!!
The Keys offer a tropical vacation without leaving the mainland. Water sports are king. Hard to fathom the Keys having over 1700 islands. In addition, 23 artificial reefs have been established, from old Coast Guard Cutters to wooden shrimp boats. Juan Ponce de Leon was the first non Native American to land here. One of the worst hurricanes in American history occurred here on Labor Day, 1935. The War on Drugs in the 80s focused attention here in the Keys.
I hear that the ghost of Ted Williams is here in the Keys, as he loved to fish here after he finished his great baseball career. Just think! Instead of being known as Teddy Ballgame, he could have been Teddy, a Master Baiter!
Lunch was at Rib Daddy’s in Key Largo, right on Highway 1. We met Rib Daddy and his daughter, after we ordered the conch fritters and grouper sandwiches. Both interesting and excellent. We topped it off with a pie of mango pie, not nearly as good as Key lime pie, and twice as heavy.
Then a few stops here and there, topped by the Sandal Factory outlet store in Key Largo. Every smelly hippie from here to Miami was there to buy their cheap flip flops or Keen sandals. It also appears many of the female persuasion must have stopped at the plastic surgery outlet down the road! They even have Ingrid’s narrow Pikolinos like she found in Ronda, Spain so many years ago.
We are headed back for the beautiful drive out to Key West and points between. This is now salt water and that means crocodile territory, Dundee!