The drive from Miami to Key West was enjoyable – not nearly as long as we thought it would be. Our timing was lucky, however, as the weekends are much busier.
We saw the biggest American flag we have ever seen at a used car dealer in Miami. We’ll see the world’s largest in Long Beach, California, but this one was mighty big. We hit a car wash to get a week’s worth of dirt blasted off the AmericaMobile, and we finally found a really nice American flag license plate at Discount Auto Parts. So we were standing tall as we began our search for Jimmy Buffett. It’s about 150 miles from Miami to Key West.
We visited two tourist attractions before we headed south. We started the day at Monkey Jungle. Boz loves monkeys, and we enjoyed seeing and feeding the monkeys. At Monkey Jungle, the animals run free, and the guests walk through cages. It was very interesting to learn a little about monkeys; they are very much like humans. For example, they eat fruit like we do – just the good part, while I would have thought “animals” would eat the whole thing.
The guide introduced Ray and May, two orangutans, and a silverback gorilla, King. Ray and May were funny. King was a little sad. He had been rescued from a circus where he was mistreated. The circus pulled his two front teeth, so King has been rejected by potential mates and has lived his life alone. He has also gained a lot of weight, and they’ve put him on a diet to lose 100 pounds. You could see how bummed he was when the guide threw him a bag of diet food – carrots, celery, lettuce – rather than tasty fruit.
We got the biggest kick out of the variety of monkeys who run wild over the cages through which the guests walk. There are bowls on chains every 20-feet or so, and they haul these up to grab food the minute any is dropped in. There is a very distinct pecking order among monkeys, and it was interesting to observe this in action. We were also struck by what amazing athletes monkeys are. It was nice to learn that monkeys live much longer in captivity than they do in the wild.
Monkey Jungle was established by the DuMond family in 1932, and they still own and operate it today. We thought it was very expensive ($15.95 each), but the fee really seemed to be more of a donation for the care of the animals, the rainforest, and research, so we didn’t mind. It isn’t a busy tourist attraction; there weren’t over a dozen cars in the parking lot when we pulled in. It seemed like Monkey Jungle is a labor of love by the family and staff. www.monkeyjungle.com
A little further down the road was Coral Castle, a most unusual labor of love. I had read a lot about this place, so I knew what to expect, but it is still amazing to see. Coral Castle is a home, furnishings, and property constructed entirely out of coral. One tiny little 5-foot tall 100 pound man, Ed Leedskalnin, built it all singlehandedly. He built it as a monument to the woman he loved, Agnes Scuffs, who called off the wedding just hours before the ceremony. Some of the coral sculptures in the “garden” weigh as much as 30 tons, and the story is that Ed somehow managed to work with these massive pieces and move them into place without help as he “understood the laws of balance and leverage.” There are over 1100 tons of rock! It’s hard to believe, but Coral Castle is not as impressive unless that part of the story is true, so we choose to believe. I probably wouldn’t have doubted it if there hadn’t been a staff member trying to convince us that there were energy fields in the ground there. I didn’t buy that. Coral Castle opened in 1923. Some call it “America’s Stonehenge.” Coral Castle is right on Highway 1, so it was easy to see as we headed south to Key West. www.coralcastle.com
The drive was very pleasant and didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it would. Most of the drive is on narrow stretches of island land, and the islands are connected by little bridges. Then there is the big 7-mile bridge. We were immediately struck by the color of the water; it was an unusual greenish blue near Key Largo and then it became an amazing turquoise a little further south. In one of my pictures, you can get a sense of the color, but the color is even more vibrant in real life.
There are many more keys than I thought. I couldn’t tell how many there were from all that I had read in preparing for the trip. Now I know why; you get tired of counting.
Key Largo is the dive capital of the US, because of the coral reef. Key Largo has Jules’ Undersea Lodge, an underwater hotel. There are a few other “attractions” along the way, but nothing too significant as far as we could tell.
We had a list of a half dozen restaurants, so we kept looking for them. Then I spotted Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen and slammed on the brakes. Mrs. Mac’s is exactly the kind of restaurant we are searching for on the trip – a place where the locals eat (and those tourists lucky enough to have heard about it). It has a truck-stop-like appearance on the outside and a wide variety of license plate décor on the inside. Flying Saucers are their specialty – delicious sandwiches in round pita bread pockets. For dessert, we had “frozen” key lime pie, and boy was it good – very refreshing.
We were excited when we reached Key West. It’s always more exciting (to us at least) to visit someplace new, and neither of us had ever been to the Keys. Key West is much bigger and more commercialized than we expected, and it is busy. Since Monday is a slow day here, we are so thankful that we didn’t hit it on a Saturday!
We just drove around at first, and we drove right up to the Southernmost Point statue. Barbara took my picture, and I took a picture of Cuba (at least I pointed the camera in that general direction). Cuba is just 90 miles from Key West. We hit Duval Street – where most of the action is – one tourist-oriented restaurant, bar, and shop after another. It’s a cool-looking place, but talk about commercialized – WOW! We expected to see Jimmy Buffett relaxing in the corner of a thatched roof shack of a bar, but that’s not what we found.
We checked into the hotel (two nights in the same room is a real luxury), rested just a bit, and then raced back downtown to try to catch the sunset. We saw an incredible sun from the road, but just had remnants of the sun behind some clouds when I managed to get past the crowds to get a camera angle. I got a decent photo, but we will get their earlier tomorrow. The sunset is a BIG deal here. Key West is advertised as THE place the sun sets.
A man we met at The Museum at Ragtops in Palm Beach recommended a restaurant, but we couldn’t find it. When a timeshare salesman on a street corner indicated the restaurant catered to a certain type of clientele other than husbands and wives, we decided to find another spot for dinner. Key West is known for great restaurants, but we didn’t have our book with us, so we just stopped at the Hog’s Breath (www.hogsbreath.com). We enjoyed the Hog’s Breath in Carmel many years ago. It was fine – nothing special – much more of a bar than a restaurant.
The message that Boz and I got from Monkey Jungle and Coral Castle was that the power of love can accomplish amazing things.
It would be great if we could all vacation and just tune out business, but that’s never been possible for me. There’s not a lot going on, but two or three business matters have to be dealt with periodically.
I’ve taken 511 photographs in 7 days. At this pace, I’ll take over 7,000 photographs over the course of the trip. I’m using a Sony DSC-F717 digital camera with a 10x zoom lens and a UV filter. I’ll use my wide angle lens for the first time tomorrow when I shoot the sunset. With a 128 MB memory stick, I can take about 50 large format pictures before I have to download. I simply download the photos to my laptop every night and recharge the camera for the next day.
The first week is now history. We had a great time — only one less than pleasant day.