Florida Keys

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Mar 08, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, March 3, 2007

We set off from Homestead mid morning on Thursday, down onto the Route 1 south. We went across our first bridge to Key Largo at about 11am, and stopped off at the Key's Visitor Centre as we had no idea where we were going to stay so we thought we could do with some help!
Luckily the ladies at the Visitors centre were very nice and helpful and, having looked at the prices for accommodation around Key West (minimum around $120 a night), we decided to camp. They booked us into a campsite 20 miles out of Key West - which was charging the exhorbitant rate of $55 a night for a tent pitch - I guess the Keys is not a cheap place to stay!
We thought about sleeping in the car, but using the campsite facilities, but having tried reclining the car seats as much as possible, we decided it would not be the most comfortable - OK for 1 night, but not for the 3 we had booked - so we set off to the nearest Walmart and purchased their cheapest tent, 2 sleeping bags and a blow up mattress - the bare essentials! This little lot came to $60 (about 30 quid) so not too bad really. We had lunch in the Walmart car park where the temps hit over 100 for the first time - scorchio!!
Once past Key Largo we started going through the Keys proper.
The Florida keys are a series of over 100 islands stretching 126 miles from the tip of Florida connected by Route 1 and 42 bridges ranging from a few hundred yards long to one spectacular bridge of over 7 miles. Apparently you do over 18 miles on bridges going from Key Largo to Key West!
The sea either side of you is a beautiful blue turquoise and dotted with little boats, and the keys themselves range from the smallest mangrove swamp island to the City of Key West with 24000 population. A lot of the area is protected as nature reserves, and many of the beaches have won awards as top US beaches with their white sands and perfect turquoise seas for swimming.
We got to our campsite which was on Sugarloaf Key mid afternoon, and managed to put together our new tent and blow up our airbed (which is much harder without a pump I can tell you!!) with teamwork and no arguments! Luckily the airbed just fitted inside the tent, so we were set for the night, and having completed our camp we hit the pool to cool down. We also tried out their private beach, which had a roped off area stopping you from going off across to the next key - I guess the currents are pretty dangerous.
While Q was swimming at the beach 3 porpoises came swimming by and got to within 10 yards of the shoreline - who needs to pay to swim with the dolphins - just come to the Keys! Pretty cool!
We spent the evening at the campsite bar before settling down in our very 'cosy' tent. There were a few midges around but there was a strong breeze so they weren't bothering us too much. We woke up on the Friday morning to find the breeze had dropped and the tent was filled with little midges eating us alive! They were so small they could get through the flyscreen of the tent. We got up in a real hurry to escape the little monsters! Once showered we drove the 20 miles into Key West.
Luckily we found the park and ride car park which was one of the cheapest places to park for the day at $13. We walked from there in towards the main streets. The architecture was really pretty with amazing balconied houses and lovely fretwork.
We decided to get the Conch train tour (one of those tourist trains that goes on the road), which lasted about 90 minutes and took us all over Key West including the highest point at a whole 8 feet above sea level! The guy driving the train was full of interesting info and cracking awful jokes, but he was very entertaining. He told us the history behind Key West's rise to becoming the richest US city in the 1800's (thanks to the wreckers!) and its bid for independance from the US in the 1980's when the Key Wester's set themselves up as the Conch Republic! In fact you can still get your passport stamped with a Conch Republic stamp and many houses have the Conch Republic flag flying!
We passed Ernest Hemingway's house, and many other attractions. Once off the tour we had a seafood lunch (yummy prawns!) and walked around the town a bit more before settling in at a bar on the western quayside to watch the sunset and take part in their famous daily sunset celebrations.
We were glad we got there in plenty of time because the tables and dockside soon filled up with 1000's of people. There were lots of street performers including one guy with 4 trained cats that leapt through flaming hoops and performed all sorts of tricks.
The sunset was beautiful, but unfortunately as the sun got towards the sea on the horizon in the last 10 minutes it dipped behind clouds. So we weren't able to witness the anomaly of the green flash which they sometimes get at the Keys where as the sun dips below the horizon for a couple of seconds a green light is visible (it's still puzzling the scientists but apparently it is true).
The crowds still applauded the sunset and it was a lovely way to end the day. We walked back through the hippy stalls of Mallory Square and had a fab evening meal of Snow Crab claws and Greek Salad overlooking the marina before driving back to our campsite.
When we got back there as soon as we got out of the car we got covered in midges who were biting us lots. The wind had dropped so they were everywhere! We managed to find our strong DEET anti mozzy spray and covered ourselves liberally before settling in for the night. Q slept in the tent, and I was in the car (as my coughing had kept him awake the night before) but the midges still drove me mad as I couldn't get them out of the car - so it wasn't a very good nights sleep, and as the DEET stuff only works for about 6-7 hours we were bitten to death again in the morning.
We spent Saturday chilling out around the pool and the beach, luckily while you were swimming the midges didn't bother you - but they came out again in force in the evening, while we sat in the bar watching a soft rock band. We met some nice people called Ed and Judy from Pittsburgh and spent the evening with them and their friends, finishing up by drinking outside one of their enormous RV's till the wee small hours. (The RV motorhomes they have over here are often the size of our 50 seater coaches - they are huge!! and they tow cars and boats behind them - its like taking your entire house on holiday!)
Even armed with the DEET spray we got bitten to death overnight and while packing everything up on the Sunday morning. Unlike mozzies the midges go in your hair and over your face and everywhere as they are so little. I must be a lot tastier than Q as I was covered head to toe with bites whereas he got away with about 40 bites in 3 small areas! Not pleasant to look at and really itchy too!
Its such a shame - it really tainted our visit to the keys. Apparently usually in the Keys there is a consistent breeze which keeps them at bay so we were really unlucky to get 2 days without any wind which meant they were plagueing everyone!
We really liked Key West - even if it is expensive and the whole pace of life in the Keys was way more relaxed. Its a beautiful place to visit, and we wish we could have stayed longer (although next time I will think twice about a tent unless I know they are going to have some wind! Those midges drive you demented!).
Only 4 more days to go now till the end of our trek.
Hope you're all OK.
Bex & Q
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