A Travellerspoint blog

Key West, May 2011 (Part 6)

Every Time You Go Away

overcast 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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by sjyoder 06:22 Archived in USA Tagged seascapes key_west florida_keys Comments (0)

Key West, May 2011 (Part 5b)

Island in the Sun

sunny 88 °F

Way back when I first started thinking about this getaway, a snorkel and sunset cruise on our last night in Key West seemed like the perfect finale. Two things happened while we were on the island that changed our minds. Because of the Sundance slash Barf Bucket incident, I wasn't too keen on jumping on another boat right away. And, we had been bitten bad by the lazy bug. We just didn't want to do anything structured. Wandering around Old Town and just letting things happen seemed far more appealing. Our only goal for the night was to find Colombian Grace and have dinner there. After all, we hadn't had nearly enough to eat at Little Palm Island.

We parked near the Southernmost Beach Cafe and meandered down the upper end of Duval Street. We knew that Colombian Grace was located somewhere on Petronia Street and that Petronia intersected Duval. When we tried to find it the first time, we were in a car, in the dark, and in a strange place without a map. Our chances were much better on this outing. It was light, we were walking, and we were far more familiar with Key West. Petronia is a narrow (even by Key West standards) street that feels more and more residential the further you get from Duval. We walked for awhile past small shops and homes. We looked in the windows of a cute little powder and lotion shop called Besame Mucho. Unfortunately, it was closed on this Sunday evening. When I turned away from Besame Mucho, there was Colombian Grace. I honestly felt like we had stumbled upon El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth!

I've mentioned earlier that I use Tripadvisor.com as one of my resources when planning any trip. I especially like the forums because the advice is coming from real people, either residents of the area or people who have visited before. Colombian Grace routinely shows up in the forums as one of the best casual restaurants in Key West. When I checked out the menu, I thought we would like it, too. Even the breakfast menu sounded yummy with dishes having names like Happiness, Delicious, and Grace. Who wouldn't want those things for breakfast? Knowing this restaurant was highly rated, I was expecting a full house when we arrived. It was empty! We grabbed an outside table where it was cooler and set to work making our decisions.

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While we perused the menu, our waitress, Olga, brought us glasses of red sangria. Is it appropriate to say a glass of wine was delicious? I don't know, but this was. It was sweet and cool - the perfect drink on a hot evening.

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Our entire meal was sweet - literally. I chose Petronia Chicken which had a glaze of orange juice, rosemary and brandy and was served with rice and sweet plaintains. Jay chose coconut encrusted yellowtail which was also served with rice and sweet plaintains. I was tempted to lick the last bit of orange glaze from my plate but by that time another couple had shown up and I felt they might be offended by my behavior. The chef, who I believe is also the owner, came out to speak with us. We couldn't say enough good things to her. Everything was superb. And we didn't even try the really authentic stuff. I bet it is all out of this world.

Because we were now stuffed again, we felt the best remedy was a walk. So we wandered slowly back to the car. This time we stayed off Duval so we could get a different view of the town. Key West has a very intimate feel. The houses are close together and close to the road. I think it would be very hard to keep any secrets from your neighbors.

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The guy at this house gave us a good chuckle. We are huge Phillies fans so we wanted a photo of this home to show our families. While I was snapping shots of the Rally Towel, Jay struck up a converstation with a resident of the house. He was very quick to explain that he was not a Phillies fan. He was a Texas Rangers fan (whom the Phillies had beaten 2 out of a 3 game series that very week). It turned out that this gentleman's roommate was the Phillies fan. Ever curious, Jay inquired where the roommate was from. The guy shrugged his shoulders and very nonchalantly said, "I have no idea." I may be a bit uptight, but I think I would like to know just a bit of information about someone before I start sharing living quarters with them.

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Since we had unintentionally created a third goal of seeing the sunset from a different place every evening, we decided this night to head to Mallory Square for the show. We parked on Green Street right near Kermit's (on purpose) and walked the lower end of Duval to Mallory Square. We found a spot and waited patiently for the show. Unlike the other two sunset viewing areas, there was a lot going on here - street performers with large groups of observers, people jostling for prime seating for the sunset, music coming from Pepe's, artists with booths. It had much more of a party atmosphere. Regardless of the distractions, the sunset did not disappoint. The cloud formations made it exceptional.

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Mallory Square emptied out pretty quickly and we joined the masses as they surged onto lower Duval Street. We were headed back to the hotel but decided to make a quick detour into Kermit's for some frozen Key Lime pie on-a-stick. The pie at Little Palm Island left us wanting something more familiar. Jay chose strawberry white chocolate covered pie and I chose dark chocolate because I love citrus and dark chocolate together. We took the pies back to the room and attempted to keep them frozen by covering them with ice in the ice bucket. We were still too full for dessert. We ended our last evening in Key West by floating in the pool one last time. Once again, it was bliss. After one last soak in the jacuzzi, we headed to our room for our one last sleep in the Keys. The pies on-a-stick had melted a bit making the stick thing tricky. Messy, but still very good. We finished them off, curled up in bed, and slept like babies.

Posted by sjyoder 19:24 Archived in USA Tagged sunsets key_west Comments (0)

Key West, May 2011 (Part 5a)

I Wish [Brunch] Could Last Forever

sunny 88 °F

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This was the day to rub elbows with the rich and snooty (or so I thought). We were having brunch at Little Palm Island. Perhaps this is an unfamiliar destination. Allow me to offer some enlightenment. Little Palm Island is a small, secluded, and rather exclusive resort that is only accessible by boat from a dock on Little Torch Key. The dining room on the premises is open to non-resort patrons who have reservations and wear appropriate attire. I can attest that the appropriate attire requirement is strictly enforced. A family who arrived at the welcome center about the same time we did was scurrying around to find a collared shirt for the youngest man in the party. He'd had the audacity to show up in a T-shirt and the hostess would not allow him to get on the boat until he changed.

I've known about Little Palm Island since before we were married. Back then, my fanciful mind thought we should make it our honeymoon destination. Reality has a nasty way of setting things straight. It didn't take long to see that a student and medical physicist trainee with no salary had zero hope of affording the astronomical rates. Even now, with base rates starting at $840.00 a night, a stay at Little Palm Island is probably not in the cards for us any time soon. I've kept the idea of Little Palm Island in the back of my mind for nineteen years. When the trip to Key West became a reality, I made reservations for brunch as soon as I could - I was going to get there one way or another. We justified the splurge as an anniversary celebration even though our anniversary isn't until June.

Little Torch Key is about a half hour's drive from Key West. I must admit I was a bit nervous about this little expedition. We are just middle-class commonfolk. Little Palm is frequented by celebrities, politicians, and very wealthy people. When we pulled into the parking lot and saw the Rolls Royce, I thought for sure we were way out of our league. We checked in, and once all the expected brunch guests arrived, we boarded our boat, the Woodson. This was a gorgeous, old-timey mahogany vessel with blue leather seats and original watercolors of the resort hanging on its walls. The fifteen minute boat ride was thankfully uneventful (no motion sickness). The minute I saw the dock, I knew we were someplace very special. I could not have been more wrong about the snootiness. Little Palm exudes the most unpretentious, relaxed luxury. It was an incredible experience.

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"2010 Zagat rated this Dining Room extraordinary to perfection in every cataegory - Food, Decor, and Service." (from Little Palm's website) I could not agree more with this rating. Everything was perfection. Our hostess met us at the dock and walked us to the dining room. She was sweet and very personable. Our table was situated on a shaded side porch with large ceiling fans and an unobstucted view of the water. For about an hour, a gentleman effortlessly played jazz on the baby grand at the back of the porch. Our server, Betty, was attentive but not intrusive, genuine and pleasant. As a matter of fact, the snootiness I was expecting was nowhere to be found. While everyone was very attentive and accomodating, it did not feel forced. The whole place had an understated, relaxed vibe. Very, very nice.

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As if the setting was not perfect enough, almost on queue a couple of tiny Key deer strolled around the corner and tentatively investigated. From what I understand, sighting key deer, especially during the day, is rather rare. I was beginning to feel that everything was aligning to create another of those unplanned, surreal, defining moments of the trip.

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The buffet was ridiculous. It consisted of four food stations and one bar station with fixings for make-your-own bellinis and Bloody Marys. One food station was just seafood - oysters on the half shell, shrimp cocktail, and small servings of what I think was salmon. Lemon wedges were wrapped in pretty fabric packages and displayed around the seafood. Another station must have had seven or eight different kinds of salads like Chipotle Potato (Jay's favorite), Orange shrimp and snow pea, and a fancy white bean salad that was very good as well. There were also two different kinds of green salads offered. The third station was just fruit - strawberries, raspberries, papaya, mango, watermelon and other melons, pineapple, etc., etc, etc. This was like food of the gods for me. Everthing was fresh and ripe and delicious. My mouth is watering even now as I type. The final food station consisted of a variety of pasteries, breads, crackers, humus, and cheeses. I had a small pastery with a coconut filling that was fab (I am running out of adjectives and risking the impression of exaggeration but everything was that good.) At the bar, endless glasses of champagne were offered with raspberry, cassis, and peach syrups. There were raspberries, strawberries, and peaches to add as well. For the Bloody Marys, I never saw so many vegetable fixings in my life. We decided that the bellinins would be our fun drink of the day. We both did raspberry. Jay also tried peach - very delicious - and a peach/raspberry combo.

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Just the buffet part of brunch would have been more than satisfactory. But this is Little Palm Island and I'm pretty sure satisfactory is not the goal. Along with the buffet, we ordered tapas-style entrees off the menu. We could order as many and as often as we liked. I think we tried everything but the asparagus soup and eggs benedict. My favorite was the fried rock shrimp and Jay liked the Blackened Churrasco. (He must have because he did not share with me and I think he ordered it twice.) Unfortunately I have few food photos because I was just too busy eating.

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For the finale, a platter of small desserts was brought to the table. This showed up on ours.

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The platter consisted of some type of death by chocolate torte, churros with a caramel sauce, chocolate ice cream, and Key lime pie with a passionfruit gel. We decided the Key lime pie would be our candidate for the day. The pie part was very good, creamy and mild with a graham cracker crust. The passion fruit gel was different. The flavor was fine but I didn't care for it in combination with the pie. And the texture was completey wrong for me. It was rather chewy and was mismatched with the creaminess of the pie. I'm ashamed to say that I don't remember much about the other desserts. By this time my taste buds were overloaded from so many delicious flavors and I was thoroughly stuffed.

What made this brunch perfection is that we were never rushed. Betty encouraged us to take our time and enjoy the surroundings. We could have stayed all afternoon, visiting the buffet and ordering tapas from the kitchen. It was just a wonderful experience from beginning to end. At the end of the meal, Betty gave us us our personalized menu, presented as a little scroll tied with raffia.

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This pulled up while we were enjoying our brunch. Jay had to take a photo. Wow! What A boat.

As non-resort guests, we were restricted to the area surrounding the restaurant. After we were finished eating and were just waiting for the boat, I did some wandering around.
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Sadly, we boarded the Woodson for the trip back to reality. This time, we rode outside in the back of the boat.
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We got a kick out of this sign. Considering the fact that X-ray radiation played a signifcant role in financing this trip, I thought I should give it some recognition.
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We waddled back to our rental car and drove the half hour back "home" happy and content. What does a girl do when it's hot outside and she is drowsy with carb overload? Take a nap in the air-conditioning. And that's exactly what I did.

Posted by sjyoder 13:00 Archived in USA Tagged beaches food luxury key_west Comments (0)

Key West, May 2011 (Part 4)

Rock the Boat (Don't Rock the Boat, Baby)

sunny 90 °F

We slept in this morning. The hotel's resident rooster regularly timed his crack-of-dawn call for about 11am. We appreciated this style of alarm clock - very much.

Something happened to me in Key West that I still can't explain. Although I don't live on a farm, I do reside in a very agricultural area. Chickens are commonplace. I don't think about them from one moment to the next. I don't even really like them. I arrive in Key West and all of a sudden, I'm driving myself nuts trying to take pictures of chickens who would rather not be photographed. In their little chicken brains, they probably liken tourists such as myself to the infamous papparazzi. Chickens roam free in Key West. Several times we saw a hen and her chicks scratching in a flowerbed for bugs, crossing the street or meandering through a restaurant. One afternoon, I tried for a ridiculous amount of time to capture just one image of a little black hen and her three skittish babies. It was impossible! My only explanation for my behavior is that Key West chickens come in a lovely variety of colors and the families are so darn cute that pulling out the camera is almost irresistible. Key West chickens are not at all like the white bread chickens I usually see and smell here in the country. I will offer that this need to photograph farm aninamls could be a genetic anamoly on my part. The same thing happened to me on St. John. I suddenly felt compelled to take photos of feral goats, pigs, and donkeys - animals I see on a regular basis here at home and don't think twice about. Despite all my efforts, I managed very few good chicken photographs. Sigh.

Our Alarm Clock (Even this guy wasn't interested in smiling for the camera)
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The only thing we absolutely wanted to do this day was snorkel the reef at Looe Key. We chose to take the tour through Bahia Honda state park because it was reasonably priced and we also wanted to spend some time at the beaches there. Because the boat didn't leave until 1:30pm, we decided to sleep in and try the brunch at the hotel. This meal had quantity and quality. The buffet offered a variety of hot and cold items. The fresh fruit was delicious. With the buffet came a hot item from the kitchen - omelets, French toast, eggs, etc. And a bonus is that the Cafe is outside but shaded. We sat down with our first round of buffet food and - lo, and behold - there was a small brown chicken wandering around the tables and pecking for food. I almost had a panic attack because I left the room without my camera. What was I thinking?!? Jay basically had to tie me to my chair with napkins to keep my from running back upstairs. I did calm down enough to enjoy the rest of my breakfast and after awhile forgot the chicken was even there.

Bahia Honda is located at the lower end of Marathon about an hour's drive from Key West. Because we had to check in an hour and a half before the boat ride, we had plenty of time to explore the park. This park has quintessential natural Keys beauty, but it is very exposed. Besides the few pavilions on the smallest beach and the air-conditioned concession bar and gift shop, there is precious little shade. Also of note, the beaches are left in their natural state. This equates to lots of seagrass on the beach and heavy wrack (a floating seagrass mini-ecosystem) in the water at the edge of the beach. Bahia Honda was hopping with people. There were sunbathers, snorkelers, kayakers, boaters, fishermen, and campers. This would not be the place to visit if you were looking for privacy and seclusion. Our first order of business was to take the short trail up to the railroad bridge and have a look around. The color of the water ranged from aquamarine to peridot to azur. Breathtaking. And it was so clear that we could see to the bottom of the pilings from the bridge.

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We grabbed our snorkel gear and headed to the boat. Our captain was PT and Justin was the dive master for the trip. After all saftey information was dispersed and introductions made, we were underway. The snorkel site is six miles from shore in a dedicated marine sanctuary so the boat ride took about forty minutes. Neither Jay or I had ever snorkeled in open water before. We were both looking forward to it. Our snorkeling experiences are limited to a week in St. John where an underwater paradise can be found just a few feet from shore in very placid water. There were no swells and no rocking boats to deal with. I have trouble with motion sickness. I would never dream of getting on a boat without being appropriately medicated. I was also told that in rough seas, motion sickness can happen even to snorkelers. I was not unprepared. I took my Bonine earlier in the day. Perhaps I should have taken more than the recommended dose. All was well until the boat stopped moving and started rocking. Getting out of the boat and into the water helped at first. At Looe Key, the swells were reportedly 1 to 3 feet. It felt like more to me. We were tossed around like flotsum and jetsum. Once I got my mask on and my face in the water, the queasiness eased up. I was good for the next hour or so. As time went by, it seemed like the seas were getting rougher and the water murkier. The queasiness came back. But I didn't want to get back on the bobbing boat because that would still be worse than the undulating water. Just when I thought I was going to lose my buffet breakfast in my snorkel, they called us all back in. I climbed in and promptly laid myself down on a bench, closed my eyes, and remained that way for the rest of the trip. PT was very very nice and checked on me occasionally. I hated making a spectacle of myself, but throwing up in front of everyone would have been much worse. The ride back seemed like some kind of evil purgatory but I survived it with the contents of my stomach still in my stomach. I was never so happy to be back on terra firma!

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Despite all that, the snorkeling was fantastic. We saw a school of barracuda and several large tarpon. The parrotfish were the largest I have ever seen and finding a midnight parrotfish was a first for us. It cracks me up how you can hear parrotfish crunching on the coral. There were blue tangs, grunts, french and queen angelfish, damselfish, yellowtail snapper and several species I couldn't identify. The sargent majors hung in the water in schools and liked to take peeks at us and then swim away. The sea walnuts (Comb jellies) were numerous but almost invisible. It was easy to look right past them without realizing they were there. There was an abundance of purple sea fans and elkhorn coral. I also saw one lonely sea urchin. Normally, snorkeling is one of the most meditative activites I can think of - floating around in a quiet environment, focusing on my breathing and enjoying the aquatic world. Because of the waves and my nausea, it wasn't as relaxing as I anticipated, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately, we have a scarcity of good photographs because it was too hard to hold the camera still. Jay did his best - he is the underwater photographer. It was a losing battle.

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After a soft pretzel and ice cold Coke at the only picnic table with shade, I felt capable of considering the plan for the rest of the day. We had originally decided to spend time on the beaches of Bahia Honda and stay for the sunset. Frankly, neither one of us felt like wading through the wrack to get back in the water to swim. And after hours in the sun, an air-conditoned hotel room was sounding mighty tempting. We didn't go directly back to the Inn, however. We first drove into town to purchase two Key Lime pie slices from Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shop for a our daily dose of sweet-tartness. We also grabbed some subs from Quizno's for supper and took them back to the room.

The Inn at Key West faces west. There is a nice view across the water from the walking path across the street from the hotel. The street just happens to be Route 1- a four lane highway that is heavily traveled. We took our lives in our hands crossing that road - the last bit of excitement I cared to experience for the day. The sunset was slightly obscured by a passing rain shower across the bay. This made for some interesting sunset photos and cloud formations. It was a sunset of understated beauty.

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We spent the rest of the evening at the hotel pool, reading, floating around, and enjoying the hot tub. The water temperature was exactly the temperature of the air. As I floated around, I couldn't tell where on my skin the water ended and the air began. It was a weird and wonderful feeling. I almost fell asleep on my raft, listening to the music, the waterfall and the muffled voices of people at the bar. (Pictures aren't that great because I was too lazy to get the little tri-pod).

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The tiki bar provided us with our fun drinks of the day. This turned out to be my biggest disappointment of the entire trip. I don't know if this is a reflection of my shallow thought processes or a reflection of the high caliber experience this trip was turning out to be. (I am obviously leaning toward the second explanation.) This experience is also a perfect illustration of how expectations can ruin what would normally be a perfectly acceptable experience. I wanted a strawberry daicquiri. In my mind I was envisioning crushed ice, pureed fresh strawberries, a mound of real whipped cream, and a big curvy glass. What I got was was an artificially flavored strawberry slushie with some rum poured on top and garnished with an orange slice and a cherry. There was an obvious mismatch between my expectation and my reality. It created a disappointment I found hard to surmount. (Can anyone say hyperbole?) Jay ordered a Presidential which was a strawberry daiquiri and pina colada mix. This equated to two different slushies mixed together with the same rum and garnishes. Although he had no burdensome preconceived notions, he was rather disappointed as well.

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We saved our Key Lime pie slices for a bedtime snack. Jay had to wake me up to eat mine - I fell asleep while he was in the shower. Our day obviously wore me out. The pie from Kermit's was yummy. It had more of a cheesecake-like, creamy texture with a nice balance of tart and sweet. It also had the traditional graham cracker crust and real whipped cream for garnish. It went down very easy. We gave it a two thumbs up. Was it better than the first two? I still can't say. Each pie has been different and delicious. It's beginning to feel like we are comparing apples to oranges to pears. I'm certainly enjoying every minute of the experiment.

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We fell asleep with the taste of pie on our tongues and images of reef fish in our heads. Despite the motion sickness and deep disappoinment over the adult beverages, it was a wonderful day spent in the Keys.

Posted by sjyoder 06:00 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes beaches sunsets key_west snorkeling Comments (0)

Key West, May 2011 (Part 3b)

Walking in the Sun

sunny 90 °F

Normally, I get a kick out of orchestrating our travels, making a pretty detailed itinerary with built-in options to please the variety of tastes in my family. It's not that spontaneity scares me. As a matter of fact, I find it refreshing. It's just that when I'm faced with the time constraints of a vacation and a family to please, lack of knowledge and democracy of choice usually lead to arguments and disappointment. In planning for Key West, Jay and I chose a few things we really wanted to do (like the kayak trip) and purposely left the rest of the schedule to whim. The purpose of the trip, after all, was escape and relaxation. Neither one of us struggled at all with the concept. Instead, the longer we stayed in the Keys, the harder it was to find motivation to do anything but chill.

After the kayaking tour, we needed a break from the sun. The air-coniditioned darkness of our room was a welcome relief. The rest was brief, however, because we realized we hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was almost 4pm. After an quick discussion, we decided to head into Old Town for a very late lunch and then spend the evening at Fort Zachary Taylor state park and watch the sunset. I understand from numerous sources that finding parking in Old town is a hassle. This was not our experience at all. We easily found street parking every time we entered Old Town - even on Duval near the Southernmost Beach Cafe. Because we did Old Town in small doses, parking on the street made the most sense for us. I guess I should mention that we were not trying to find parking during prime dining and bar hopping hours. The parking situation could be much different during those times.

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The Southernmost Beach Cafe is found at the east end of Duval street (the quiet end). We basically chose it because it's right on the beach and the lunch reviews are consistently good. I personally recommend it for a number of reasons. It has a casual atmosphere with a great view of the ocean. The people watching was spectacular - the restaurant overlooks a public beach. Our waiter, Phil, was smiley and accomodating. The food was delectable. Even though the menu was just standard Key West lunch fare, everything we had was a treat to eat. I personally could have eaten 3 Coconut Shrimp appetizers myself. It took every ounce of civility to share those divine shrimp with the man I love most in this world.

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Because we worked so hard rowing our boat, we felt it was time to reward ourselves with our adult beverage of the day. Mojitos were the drink of choice. Incredibly refreshing on a hot afternoon.

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Our second Key Lime pie tasting took place right here at the Southernmost Beach Cafe. It had the same texture and consistency as the Morada Bay pie. The lime flavor was much more intense, increasing the tartness. The crust was comprised of crushed oreo cookies. The pie itself had a lime glaze drizzled on it which wasn't tart, just limey. A raspberry glaze was served with it as well. Our consensus - excellent. Jay liked the tartness. I liked the oreo crust. We struggled to choose the better pie. I couldn't do it. I thought they were equally excellent.

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After lunch, we wandered around The Southernmost area for a bit.

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Of course, we had to take the mandatory Key West tourist photos. The funny thing is that this isn't really the southernmost point of the island. I believe the real southernmost point isn't accessible to the general public. (I could be wrong about this.)

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The sun was relentless. It wasn't a hard decision to end our touring session and head to the beach. Fort Zachery is a state park on the southwest side of the island with a small entrance fee. There is a fort that can be toured during the day but we arrived late so we headed directly to the beach. I must say I was very pleasantly surprised. I'd read and heard that the beaches in the Keys aren't that great. The natural beaches are few and generally covered with seagrass debris. The man-made beaches are small and have sand shipped in from the Bahamas. We've been to many beaches - East coast, West coast, Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, and St. John, USVI. I can honestly say that I was not the least bit disappointed with Fort Zachary. It was a quiet, intimate place to relax after a long day. The sand is somewhat gritty and getting into the water can be uncomfortable on bare feet because of the rocky shoreline. But, it was still the beach and that was good enough for me. And there were trees that offered welcome shade - I rarely experience that at most of the beaches I go to. No seagrass was floating in the water and the seagrass on the beach was very managable. The water was heaven - warm but refreshing and clear blue. We swam for a long time.

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While we were there preparations were underway for a sunset wedding and beach reception. How romantic! Almost the entire time we were on the beach, the band warmed up. We were serenaded by the sounds of soft jazz floating on a gentle breeze as we lounged on the beach in Key West. Moments like these are never planned and yet become the defining memories of a trip.

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To watch the sunset, we left the beach and went to the west side of the park. This spot ended up being my favorite for watching the sunset. There were not many people and the area had plenty of space to spread out. We saw lots of couples which gave it a romantic atmosphere. It was a serene, meditative experience. We found a few rocks down by the water and enjoyed the show.

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And now, on with the show...
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And on that lovely note, we end our day in Key West.

Posted by sjyoder 16:46 Archived in USA Tagged beaches food sunsets key_west Comments (0)

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