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Thursday, June 14, 2012


KeysKey West is a great destination.  We had our hit list: Hemingway’s House, Truman’s Little White House, Butterfly World, Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, and a very important stop at Sloppy Joe’s Bar—conch fritters and Key Lime Pie. Anything else would be icing on the cake. In retrospect, we had a lot of icing!  But the ride down was also a great experience.

The bus picked us up at 7:40 AM and had two stops to pick up the rest of the group. Our enthusiastic guide, Mindy, a transplanted Kentuckian who claimed that a 1978 Florida Spring Break vacation anchored her to the state, gave us a good commentary on things Floridian as we passed Everglades National Park.

The Everglades is a MUST SEE. Here, as we traveled, Mindy told us about the Melaleuka trees, a tree purposely imported from Australia because of its obsessively thirsty nature. It was supposed to help DRAIN the Everglades—only it was done at a time before the Everglades’ irreplaceable importance was realized (supposedly).

At any rate, the Melaleuka became a scourge, dropping the water table and producing thousands of strong, healthy pods that have resisted most attempts to eradicate it. They’re working on it. Keep your fingers crossed that these dead-looking trees will not feature in an Everglades obituary.

trees More pleasant were the Mangrove trees stretching their roots out into the water. In Columbia, Rob and I took a tour through impressive Mangrove areas—via canoes—and it was a beautiful and cool respite from the South American sun. Here in the Everglades these trees offer nesting and resting places for the myriad birds that make this magnificent place their home.

Last Chance SaloonSo after quite some time, we come to Homestead, Florida and the entrance to the Keys. We pass the Last Chance Saloon, the site where the Keys' secession was planned.

Once we leave Homestead, Florida and enter the Keys, we cross over 18 miles of water and 26 bridges, one seven miles long and appropriately named Seven Mile Bridge. That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? It’s beautiful. Going by bus, we are high above the cars and treated to wonderful views of the keys, and sparkling water and the birds. It’s gorgeous, and we are glad we’re not driving so we both can enjoy.
Highway 1 Florida

We stop only once on the trip down—in Key Largo, title of a 1948 Humphrey Bogart movie, but really a center of diving and sports fishing. It is in Key Largo that the only living reef in the United States exists; therefore the diving capital designation.

African Queen
But for me, the important stop is to see the REAL African Queen. Thank you Kate and Humphrey! OK, here I am in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, and I head directly for a piece of a movie set. I’m shallow. I am not disappointed! My trip is already worthwhile.
African Queen

As I stand on the dock, I glance into the water and spy a sand shark. Better a shark than the leeches in the movie that make me cringe.

We drive through Islamorada, the Purple Island, so named, perhaps, because the early Spanish explorers were greeted by the sight of purple orchids and bougainvillea. Doesn’t that conjure up gorgeously lush images in your mind’s eye?

Actually Islamorada is an incorporated “village of islands” encompassing several of the Florida Keys. Lovely.

Islamorada is known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It is a place where most of the game fishing records have been set. There are more charter possibilities here than at any of the other Keys. Notable, too, is this Key lured many famous people to try their luck: Presidents Bush, Carter, Truman and Hoover, writer Zane Grey, and athletes, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams to name just a few.

Here’s a mood changer. At about this time another we see another famous site—Betsy the Crustacean—a giant 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide anatomically correct model of a spiny lobster built in the 1980s over a five-year period by artist Richard Blaze. I may have seen Betsy only through my bus window, but she is a sight I won’t easily forget.

What, by the way, is the difference between an island and a key as both are land masses surrounded by water?

Highway 1 Florida-to the Keys
An island may be mountainous as we find in Hawaii. A Key is flat. In fact, the highest land in the Florida Keys is 18 feet above sea level.

We enjoy the rest of the sights, picturesque and relaxing as we continue our way down to the tip of the United States—Key West.

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