Every Time You Go Away
23.05.2011 - 23.05.2011 86 °F
We woke to a dreary, cloud-covered day. Our spirits were pretty dreary and cloud-covered too. We were heading home. Thank goodness we had the four hour drive through the Keys to ease us into the reality of returning home to our high octane life. We didn't have to check out until 11am and our flight from Fort Lauderdale wasn't until 6:15pm so we had plenty of time for driving (or so we thought). We packed up our stuff, ate a quick breakfast, took care of business at the front desk, and were on our way. We turned on the radio, settled in and started to talk about our experiences. While we talked, I took photos - because I can't help myself. I obviously cannot have too many images of sky, water, and mangrove. Obviously. (Plus, the clouds were intriguing.)
Item #1. There were no bugs in the Keys. I did not see a single ant, beetle, palmetto bug, mosquito - nothing. I was all amazement at this realization. I am bug bait wherever I go. I didn't get one bite, not even during all that time we were kayaking in the mangroves or the nights we lounged by the pool. I wonder if it is always bugless in the Keys or just at this time of year. I liked it, whatever the reason.
Item #2. The food in Key West and the Keys seems to be very high quality. We did not have one bad or even mediocre meal. From Sparky's (which I will get to) to Little Palm Island, everything was fresh and delicious. Jay, in particular, ate so much fish that I swear he was starting to grow gills. An added bonus is the abundance of outdoor seating options. We ate outside for every meal. I personally loved this aspect of our dining experiences. Truly, the only bad things we ate were fast food burgers from Checkers, which we bought while in the midst of a starvation-induced psychotic episode late one evening. Jay would also say that his sub from Quizno's made him sick. I don't think it was Quizno's fault, though. He bought the big boy sized sub and ate it at Mach 6. That would make even Adam Richman's belly hurt. We barely scratched the surface of all that the Keys have to offer in the culinary arena. And I still can't believe we didn't have any Cuban food. Not even a cafe con leche. Unforgivable! Now I'm beginning to question whether we really experienced the Key West food scene at all.
Item #3. The friendliness of the people was exceptional. Every person we came into contact with was pleasant and helpful. I am not exaggerating. Everyone at the Inn (front desk, bar tender, waiter at the Cafe, housekeeping), the ladies at Lazy Dog, especially Robin, waiters and waitresses, shop owners, the staff at Bahia Honda and crew of the Sundance, everyone at Little Palm Island, fellow sunset worshippers - they were all warm and open. Jay and I come from the Mid-Atlantic culture of being too busy taking care of business to take the time to be genuinely interested in the people we come into contact with every day. There is something to be said for the island time frame of mind. Slowing down allows for leisurely and satisfying conversations with people. One of the Keys' most precious natural resources is the people that live there.
Item #4. We packed entirely too much clothing. We lived in bathing suits. We even joked that we know it's been a good vacation when all our underwear are still neatly folded in the suitcase. (This is a slight exaggeration, of course, but the point is made.) I could probably fit what I actually wore in one of my Mary Poppins style purses. The next time we head to Key West - oh, yes there will be a next time - I'll pack the suitcase and then promptly remove 2/3 of the contents.
To break up the drive, we stopped for lunch at Sparky's Landing in Key Colony Beach near Marathon. This spot sits right on the marina. We ate outside and watched pelicans and seagulls play. Once again, we had a delicious lunch of coconut shrimp (for me) and a blackened mahi mahi caesar wrap(for Jay). Instead of getting a fun drink of the day and a slice of Key Lime pie, we decided to combine the two and got a Key Lime Creamcicle that we shared. This drink consisted of vanilla icecream, lime juice and some kind of alcohol I can't remember. The flavor was mild and refreshing. It was also ice cold. One swig left my brain feeling like it was being crystallized. We drank it very slowly. Our waitress was a college student from New England who was studying veterinary medicine. Her aunt had gotten her the job at Sparky's and she was only three days into it. Again, very friendly people are everywhere. One interesting thing about Sparky's was the amount of Pittsburgh Steelers paraphenalia hanging around. My mom and brother are die hard Steelers fans. This would definitely be a fun place for them. After lunch, we hopped back in the car and continued our conversation.
Item #5. The natural beauty of the Keys should be enjoyed intimately. One of the main reasons Jay and I travel is to experience the wonder of God's creation. Sure, the vistas from Route 1 are pretty and all, but I think real appreciation and awe spring from active involvement with the natural world. If I had stayed on the pavement, I never would have touched a Cassiopea, or seen how the sky reflects in the still water of the mangrove trails, or heard a midnight parrotfish crunching on coral. These experiences are an integral part of my perception of the Keys. I am so glad we took the time to really "see" the Keys for the incredible part of creation that they are.
Item #6. Fort Zachery is a gem. We loved it! Granted, we went at one of my favorite times of day for the beach (early evening) and a jazz band was playing. However, I think this park is probably just plenty fine at any time. Every moment of our experience here was the epitome of relaxation - swimming in the warm, clear water, reading on the beach, watching the sun set. It was all very, very good and one of my favorite memories of the trip.
Item #7. Little Palm Island met every expectation and then some. I've already raved about it ad nauseum. What more is there to say? Another very special memory.
(We briefly stopped at the Rain Barrel looking for a gift for our daughter. I wish we would have had more time to poke around, especially in the pottery section in the back of the complex.)
Item #8. We enjoyed the Inn at Key West. The pool area was beautiful and we appreciated that the pool stayed open very late into the evening. Our room was comforable and spacious, with luxurious touches like marble in the bathroom and a big screen TV. The staff made the place extra special. Even though we had to drive into Old Town to be part of the action, we didn't mind. It was nice to come back to a quiet room and get away from the insanity. We would definitely stay here again.
Item #9. We were very infected with island disease. The longer we stayed in Key West, the less we desired an agenda. It's not that we didn't want to do things. We just didn't want to cram things in or do them quickly. We began to cling to the philosphy that regardless of what we were ultimately able to see or do, we were in a beautiful place and that was all that mattered. We relaxed a lot - the true purpose of the trip, after all. We were successful in meeting our objective.
Item #10. We sorely underestimated the amount of time it would take us to get through the Keys and back to Fort Lauderdale. The second leg of our drive fell apart. First, several school buses pulled out in front of us in Marathon and we followed them for fifteen miles because no one would pass them, even though it was a two lane highway. Then, we encountered road construction. With stops at the Rain Barrel and a gas station, we were well inside our two hour cushion for air travel check-in. Thankfully, the rental return, bag check, and security prodecures went quickly and smoothly. Getting through security was quite entertaining, as a matter of fact. The woman in front of me was trying to get through security without a boarding pass. She had the ticket information but had never checked in. When the security officer refused to let her pass, she was less then pleasant and stomped away. Not a minute later, another woman came running up and actually tried to cut under the guide ropes and bypass security entirely. Entirely. She wanted to try to get on a flight leaving in fifteen minutes and she needed to get to the gate right away. When the security officer asked her for her boarding pass, she didn't have one. She hadn't even purchased a ticket yet and was completely confused when the guy sent her downstairs to purchase one. After these two women left, the five of us who were still standing in line and the security officer looked at each other and just started laughing. On top of all this, security was engaging in advanced safety measures. Each one of us had to have an advanced screening X-ray radiation scan done. I have to say that I didn't care for this at all. The radiation doesn't bother me - I've worked with it for years. But I did feel violated, standing there with my feet spread apart and my arms above my head - not being able to see the person who was seeing me. My feelings surprised me. I'm not sure how much more privacy I am willing to give up for safety. Behind Jay was an elderly woman who had to go through the same prodecure. Really!?! A little white-haired old lady is a perceived national threat? We made it to our gate with enough time to each inhale half of a personal pizza. Before we knew it, we were on our way home.
For me, traveling is often a surreal experience. This is especially true if I fly somewhere. I am transported from my well-worn life and, in a few short hours, deposited into a completely new someplace. Time feels different. My senses are keener. My memory is sharper. I feel like I notice even the smallest details about the new place. And because I usually spend so much time planning, there is an underlying feeling of disbelief that I've actually arrived at the much anticipated destination. This surreal, dream-like quality is one of the reasons travel is so addictive for me. I also love experiencing the natural beauty of this world. We spend much of our traveling adventures engaging in outdoor activities, getting up close and personal with nature. We like to eat good food, too. The Florida Keys offer all these things in spades. We honestly do try to relax but tend to be miserable failures at this lofty goal. There is always so much to see and experience that relaxation feels like a waste of precious time. For some reason, in the Keys, we had no trouble giving in to island time. Key West has an allure that is hard to resist. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be back.