Tropical Paradise

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Sunday, October 7, 2012

Howdy folks,

Steffie and I were keen to get on the road while we had a rental car and head due south to explore the Florida Keys. We got up early to pack some things and by the time we had some breakfast and filled up with gas it was 9:30am. We jumped on Highway 95 south so that we could drive on the massive freeway systems that connects all of Miami-Dade County. Detouring around Miami on the Palmetto Expressway, we connected back onto Highway 1 which drives all the way down to Key West. Our first stop today, however, was Key Largo. As Highway 1 enters the Florida Keys it becomes a single lane both ways but luckily the traffic was flowing smoothly. Once we had crossed over the first of many bridges we were officially in the Keys.

We were both eager to make the most of our time so our first stop was snorkelling. We didn't have a secure reservation, so we were lucky to make it onto the boat going out in the afternoon. By the time we had signed up, we had just 30 minutes to grab a bite to eat, get changed and make our way to the docks. It wasn't far from the dive shop and we had plenty of time to spare as the returning boat had to unload all their scuba gear from the morning trip. 

Eventually we all jumped on the boat and were cruising out into open waters. Our destination was John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. I had never been on a proper snorkelling trip before and neither had Steffie so we weren't sure what to expect. It took around 40 minutes to get to the first of our three stops and we geared up with our snorkel, mask and flippers and jumped into the nice warm Carribean waters. I couldn't believe how warm the ocean is here, its much different than swimming in Lake Minnewanka! There were plenty of medium and small fish swiming around the coral which looked like you were in a giant tropical fish tank. Our other stops were at another section of the reef which had quite a few jellyfish around so we had to be careful and our last stop was at an underwater statue of Jesus which is a quite popular spot. You can't touch the statue even though it isn't very deep because it is covered in fire coral. After 2 hours of snorkelling about and dodging barracuda, jellyfish and fire coral it was time to head back to land.

Unfortunately the experience wasn't all good because Steffie got a bit sea sick and we both had a nice red sunburn on our backs from facing downwards. Nevertheless it was a great time and we both enjoyed it although my nose was full of water! Once we were back at the car, we drove further along past Islamorada to Marathon where we had booked a room for 2 nights. We were pretty tired from all that exercise, but we decided to go out for dinner at the Sunset Grille. Matt told us that it was a great place to go for dinner and to watch the sunset, but the clouds were covering the skies. There was live music and I had a big plate of paella and we were both very full once we were done. Down at the dock, there were a few green lights illuminating the water and the large tarpin that were swimming about. It was definitely time for bed after that!

The next morning, we had a lazy start to the day before we drove down to the Stuffed Pig for breakfast. Matt also had told us about that place so we were keen to see what all the fuss was about. It wasn't very big and it was pretty busy. It had been there for a while because on every available space was stuffed pig toys, ornaments and posters. The serving was pretty big and we left definitely not requiring any lunch for the day!

Our first stop was across the 7 Mile Bridge and down to Bahia Honda State Park. We had heard that there was a top rated beach there so we wanted to check it out, but once we arrived we found ourselves at a stinky beach full of decomposing seaweed. We perservered and found that on the other side of the Key was a Visitor Center and an old Railroad Bridge. Before Highway 1 extended down through the Florida Keys linking them all together, the only way to get to Key West was by boat or by rail. The railway didn't last long as many hurricanes came through and destroyed sections of the track including the bridge. Still it was a nice view from the top back across the bay.

It was pretty warm in the sun, so we got a drink and jumped back into the car to continue driving. It seems hard to believe, but for half of the time out there you aren't driving over land. There are tiny sections where the road runs through to connect the islands which are manmade and connected by bridges. It must have been quite a feat to connect all the links in the chain together. Finally we arrived at Key West around lunchtime and stopped in at McDonalds for a soft serve. They have all these feral chickens and roosters running around the island which is a little unusual. We had a bit of time before our parasaling at 4pm, so we stopped in at the Key West cemetary which had quite a few graves stacked up ontop of each other. It also had monuments to the Cuban Revolution of 1868 and the USS Maine disaster.

We took time to drive south to the southermost point of continental USA and I even went for a swim at Higgs Beach. It wasn't so great because it was shallow with lots of seaweed, but there were a few fish swimming around me. We drove back up Duval Street and parked near the Mile Marker 0 which signifies the end of Highway 1. Duval Street is the main street in Key West and filled with bars, souvenir shops and other tacky tourist attractions. We had a date with a speedboat to go parasailing, so we went down to the pier to find it.

The clouds were dark offshore, so we weren't sure if it would be cancelled, but we stuck around and were lucky enough to go out to sea. There were 11 of us going up in pairs and after we were out of the harbor the first mate opened the chute and got the first 2 people geared up with a lifejacket and harness. It didn't take long before they were being dunked like tea bags in the water and then hoisted high up into the sky. After 20 minutes and several other people, it was our turn to go up and we definitely got wet. The view was clear from the top and pretty quiet. I have done parasailing before in New Zealand, but it was Steffie's first time and she loved it.

We hung around to have a look at all the shops and had a drink and some conch fritters at the Hogs Breath Cafe. There were plenty of people down at Mallory Square for the sunset, but again the clouds were restricting the view. On the way back to the car, we passed a square filled with statues of past residents including Harry Truman and Ernest Hemingway. It was dark by the time we got back to Marathon, so we just got a pizza for dinner before lounging in front of the TV.

Key West done and dusted!
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