Tropical escape, part 3

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys had long been on Eric’s and my bucket lists. It was finally time to go! Come on along on a photo tour as we see what Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett made a such a fuss about.

Here we go on the Overseas Highway, the 113-mile, 42-bridge, southern end of US 1, which links the Florida Keys to the mainland. Most of the highway is two-lane like this, but a few places have been upgraded to four-lane. Our destination: Key West.

Crossing the 7-mile bridge on U.S. 1, Florida Keys

Seven-Mile Bridge

We planned to drive straight through, but it wasn’t long before we pulled over to take pictures of that water. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you know what I’m talking about—the colors are incredible. If you haven’t, well … you need to go.

Shallow cove of aqua water in Bay of Florida

Aquamarine

The highway follows alongside the remains of the old railroad or the old highway (I couldn’t always tell which). The railroad, built in the 1920s, predates the highway, which was built in segments during the 1920s and 1930s. The continuous highway opened for traffic in 1938; it’s been partially updated.

Cars parked on old Hwy. 1 in the Florida Keys

Part of the old highway is now a very long fishing pier.

Key West

Arriving in Key West, we made straight for famous Duval Street, a mile-long strip of tourist restaurants, loud bars, and tacky t-shirt shops. For some reason, Key West is overrun by feral chickens. They’re everywhere. People love them or hate them—I think it depends on whether they’re trying to get some sleep.

We hoofed it through the sauna-like air down to a long pier at the end of the street—the southernmost point in the US.

Later we learned that the pole at the end of the pier is not really the official southernmost point. The official southernmost point is the painted buoy at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. (It’s not a real buoy … it’s an old concrete sewer junction box that’s painted to look like a buoy! Ha! Tourists beware.)

Painted "buoy" at southernmost point in US, Key West, FL

Southernmost tourist point in the US

But wait—that’s not the real southernmost point, either. The really real one is on nearby US Navy property and not accessible to civilians. Anyway … we were damn close.

It was getting on toward sunset, so we beat feet to Mallory Square, all the way at the other end of Duval. This is the iconic plaza where the crowd gathers every evening to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico behind Sunset Key. Every tourist on the island was there, plus souvenir vendors and performance artists … maybe even some locals. The place was packed, but we managed to find a spot at the rail, so to speak. I was so busy watching the sunset that I didn’t think about turning around and taking a picture of Mallory Square itself. Here’s one taken from a cruise ship, which gives you a much better perspective than I had.

Crowded Mallory Square from the air

Mallory Square [onboard.com ]

Here’s what was distracting me. Wow, what a show! I can’t possibly cull my photos down to one favorite shot, so enjoy the gallery. None of these photos has been Photoshopped or color-enhanced. (Click to enlarge.)

The next morning we toured the Hemingway Home and Museum use to get a cat fix. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline lived in this charming house from 1931 until their 1940 divorce. We were lucky to be there when the African tulip tree was in bloom.

A plaque beneath this 1928 photo explains that Hemingway got the gash on his forehead when he yanked on a skylight chain, thinking it was the toilet chain. The skylight shattered over his head. I’m sure alcohol was not a factor.

1928 photo of Ernest Hemingway with a curved gash on his forehead.

Nine stitches

Hemingway had a polydactyl cat, and the present-day house and gardens are crawling with kitties, some of whom are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s cat. Many are polydactyl. All are safe and content, and do what cats do in the heat: snooze. They even have a feeding station designed to match the house.

How about this for a bathroom? Windows on three sides! I love the Deco tile floor—fish are always at home in a bathroom.

Yellow, black and white bathroom at Hemingway house in Key West, FL

As big as our bedroom

We peeked in at Hemingway’s writing studio over the old carriage house. A suitably masculine place to hang out. But it’s blocked off … we could only stand in the doorway to look and imagine him typing the manuscript for To Have and Have Not.

Hemingway's Key West studio over the carriage house.

Hemingway’s studio seen from the house’s balcony

Interior of Hemingway's Key West studio

Inside the studio

From Papa Hemingway’s place, we walked to the other end of town (again) to catch a glass-bottomed catamaran cruise to the barrier reef. (Alas, I am neither swimmer nor snorkeler.) The Florida Barrier Reef is the third largest living coral reef in the world (behind Australia and Belize). I thought it would be cooler out on the water, but it was mercilessly hot and humid. The woman next to me mopped her face with a Kleenex, which disintegrated and stuck to her skin.

Back on shore, we walked some of the side streets. Just a block or two off Duval, Key West is quiet and distinctly Caribbean.

We strolled by Harry Truman’s Little White House, which was being set up for a wedding (even the bride’s little dog was wearing a lace gown). I was amazed to find coleus, which back home are small potted plants, growing taller than me!

Bahia Honda Key

We wanted to stay longer, but we had a schedule to keep and a wedding to get to, so back we went on US 1. We stopped to take photos of the Bahia Honda Bridge. This one was obviously a railroad bridge … right? Yes … and no. The new four-lane bridge sits to the north. Beside it, the old bridge is slowly crumbling into the sea. It was originally a railroad bridge, but when a hurricane wiped out many railroad bridges in 1935, the state bought what remained of the bridges and used them to build more of the highway. In this case, the pavement is on top of the railroad structure. Something tells me they wouldn’t get away with that these days.

Marathon

In Marathon, we visited the Sea Turtle Hospital, an experience that I’ll always remember. This nonprofit hospital rehabilitates sea turtles that have been injured by boats or nets, have eaten trash, or are suffering from disease. It’s set up in an old motel, and the staff lives onsite. What a perfect use for an old property! The old salt-water pool is too dilapidated for humans, but it works just fine for turtles. Some of these turtles are permanent hospital residents. For instance, a collision with a boat can force air into the turtle’s body tissue, deforming its shell and causing it to float head-down, bottom-up. This condition, called bubble butt, can be compensated for by gluing weights to the turtle’s shell … but the weights will eventually fall off, so the turtle cannot safely to return to the sea.

Key Largo

That night we ate at a seaside restaurant whose boat dock was lit from underwater. As darkness fell, I snapped this otherworldly photo with my cell phone. I think it’s the shot of the trip.

Boats at dock with water lit from below with green lights

One last stop before we returned to the mainland: John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, where we discovered a beautiful aquarium. After studying the sea life there, I was able to identify all the types of coral depicted in Finding Nemo.

We walked down a wooded trail and along the beach, where we found these large coral rocks. Easy to see remnants of sea life here.

Coral texture on large rock

Love the patterns

As we were leaving, we passed the kayak rental. Why do these colorful kayaks remind me of fruit?

Detail pf multicolored kayaks in a row

Bananas?

Goodbye, Florida Keys … we’ll be back someday!

Coming next: My final post about Florida, featuring gardens, lighthouses, and a wedding!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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18 thoughts on “Tropical escape, part 3

  1. Jessica@CapeofDreams

    Those sunset pictures are spectacular, the green lights in the water are cool… Actually I loved all of the pictures. I’ve never been to the Keys and need to go! Thanks for the tour.

    Reply
  2. Tom and Judy

    Eric, your pictures are wonderful and make one feel they are there with you two. Great job of capturing every aspect. I have never been to the Keys, but this makes me want to go big time.

    Reply
    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      All but a couple of the photos are mine, Judy. (But I’m not above stealing one or two of Eric’s if he has better ones!) You would enjoy the Keys–GO! You need to see something other than Minn on vacation! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Karen B.

    What beauty in the water and buildings…I don’t think I’d survive the heat and humidity for very long. What a wonderful vacation. I hope the wedding was lovely.
    Karen

    Reply
    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I’m with you, Karen … the heat and humidity just zap me and turn me into a ragdoll. But its SO beautiful down there, it’s worth it for a few days. You just have to take it easy. The wedding was beautiful–but sweaty!

      Reply
  4. Jo

    I’ve been to the Keys and even camped on Bahia Honda but I don’t remember it as being as fabulous as your photos. Thanks for the tour. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    Reply
    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Oh, camping there would be fun, I bet! I only wish we’d had more time to relax and explore instead of our usual whirlwind tour. I could just sit and stare at that turquoise water!

      Reply
  5. Africadayz

    What a lovely post! I didn’t realise there was such a strong Caribbean influence in the Florida Keys. The architecture is fascinating. Loved the bits about Hemingway too. Is there any time of year that the weather is not humid down there, D’Arcy?

    Reply
    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      I don’t think so, Jacqui. There’s a “wet” season (winter) and a “dry” season (summer), but it’s always hot and humid, especially to someone who’s not accustomed to a tropical climate–like me. Eric says I have a two-degree preferred temperature range. 🙂 True enough.

      Reply
  6. Nine Dark Moons

    i love your last sunset picture – amazing. love the pink on the water. but you’re right, the dock with the underwater lights is the pic of the century! beautiful. thanks for posting so many pics, i’ve never been, and have always wanted to go. especially to see the polydactyl cats. darwin is polydactyle (7 toes on all 4 feet), and birdie is polydactyle, but only on the front (7 toes on one foot, 8 on the other). her back feet are normal. beautiful photos! great photos of you guys, too!!! loved learning about “bubble butt” – poor turtles. i’m glad they have somewhere safe to be 🙂

    Reply

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