The Conch Republic

Trip Start Oct 07, 2013
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of United States  , Florida
Monday, February 24, 2014

To get to Easter Island (our  next big Wow) we need to catch a plane ride that starts in Miami. It turns out that despite being one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world a lot of folks want to drop in for a visit. The earliest take-it-or-leave-it flight from Santiago to Easter Island wasn't going to happen for 3 weeks so we decided to take a quick spin around Florida. DH has identified a number of friends that will be somewhere in Florida during our visit (big surprise- Canadians in Florida during the winter) so we used their locations to sketch out our route. Before socializing we decided to start at the very bottom of the state with a handful of days in Key West, which, for me, is a fun reminder of the micro-nation, the Principality of Hutt River, in Australia.

In 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a roadblock just to the north of the Keys in front of the Last Chance Saloon. Vehicles were stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants.  The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the inconvenience for travelers, declared Key West's independence on April 23, 1982, declared war against the U.S., quickly surrendered after one long minute, and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid. The stunt worked and all roadblocks were removed and an effective new tourism angle was created. You have to go see a place that still proudly refers to itself as the Conch Republic (with the Keys to the north referred to as The Northern Territories). This is the town that inspired Jimmy Buffett’s song Margaritaville, after all.
 
First impressions can be deadly however, and I thought we might have to abandon feisty Key West a little early. We did an evening walk along the very famous Duval St and found ourselves battling cruise ship types and an early wave of Spring Breakers who were buying up some of the most graphic T-Shirts I have ever seen. Mixed in with the normal winter escapees, all of them seemed to be barging from one bar to the next (complete with yet another 'famous' Hemingway drinking establishment- Sloppy Joe's) in a desperate bid to maintain an extraordinarily high blood alcohol content.
 
Suitably battered and bruised, the next morning we decided to contemplate our next move from the safety of the comfy chairs on our wrap-around veranda which looked out on Duval St. Two things became clear as we lazily watched the world waddle by- first, we needed to get off Duval St in order to enjoy Key West, and second, either America is heading for an obesity crisis or the sidewalks of Key West are just too narrow. Two groups meeting would usually result in a serious jostling for position that saw pizza slices lose their toppings and Big Gulp drinks slosh about (if your drink cup requires wheels, shouldn't you be thinking about downsizing?). 
 
Getting off the main drag was definitely the right answer- we started off in an area with it's own jostling but this time it seemed to be over the title of 'Southernmost'. Hotels, restaurants, and stores all want to be at the southernmost point in the U.S.- there's even a marker that claims to be the most southern point in the U.S.,  which would seem a bit odd since even if you believe that Key West is part of the continental U.S., there is a Naval base further south, and if you count it as an island, Hawaii is further south. Massaging the facts for the sake of tourism seems to be an art-form down here.

Our aimless wandering did take us to a cemetery which was so typically Key West (inscriptions which read "I told you I was sick", "Devoted fan of Julio Iglesias", and "At least I know where he's sleeping tonight" among others) , the Little Whitehouse (which was most actively used by president Harry Truman during his term in the 1940s and ‘50s), a Key Lime Pie factory (dessert named after the small Key limes that are naturalized throughout the Florida Keys). We just needed a little adventure to complete our Key West visit.

I suspect that DH is getting a little concerned with the lengths to which I go to try and keep our various airfares within budget but when we showed up at the Key West airport and she was standing next to a 1942 Waco biplane belonging to the Conch Republic Airforce (yes the Republic maintains a tongue-in-cheek standing military and with one Army battalion, 10 designated Navy boats, and 12 aircraft, it would appear to be only slightly smaller than the Canadian Military), I'm sure she was convinced I was taking economy class to an unnecessary extreme. When we were asked to don aviators caps and goggles, I'm sure she thought we were going to have to fly this slightly aged plane but, in fact, there was a pilot stuck in the opening behind us. In this Red Baron-type contraption we had a great view of the Keys and the surrounding coral reefs. 

We also saw some jet ski's that looked to be taking the long way around Key West, racing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and back to the Atlantic. After bouncing to a landing, we made our way to the dock and signed up for this 28 mile, 2-hour jet ski tour. We're not normally big fans of these Indy E noise makers but given that we were buzzing by cruise ships and not wildlife, it seemed to be an OK thing to do.

Let the drinkers own the pub crawl on Duval St and explore the rest of Key West and you'll have a great time- not Margaritaville but pretty close.

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Comments

Elaine & Doug on

We loved the Conch Republic story. It's a shame that OUR local politicians couldn't occasionally display that same courage/imagination/sense of humour.
We'd be delighted to hoist a Ogopogo Republic flag over our home, in protest of the many brainless actions by both our Provincial and Federal governments.

Carol C on

I was actually pleasantly surprise with the adventures you could have in Florida. The only thing I ever hear about is from retired friends living in the caravan parks!

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