Experience is a wonderful teacher and we have enough time on the ground in the mystical Keys to offer a few more random thoughts for those who have always wanted to see this part of Florida. Let’s jump right in and talk about what we have discovered thus far.
As I mentioned before, the atmosphere is distinctly laid back, with the beauty of the seas all around. The coastal waters will stimulate your senses with a palette of color, sounds and smells. Navigation in these waters requires either a great deal of experience or the services of one who has that experience. You can be miles off shore and find yourself either aground or running in 3′ of water, and the changes occur rapidly. We have enjoyed the skills of Billy Thompson, seen in the photograph, who is a Fish and Wildlife officer stationed here and also my nephew. In a sense, running down here is akin to the upper reaches of Truman Lake where knowledge of the channels and bars is necessary to prevent an embarrassing day ending experience. We fished in 100′ of water and as much as 600′ of water all within an hour or two of the marina. Unless sunbathing in an anchored boat, fishing here is work, skipping a dead Ballyhoo (baitfish) across the surface behind a trolling, rocking boat. The breeze while trolling is most welcome. Predictably, the equipment is very stout and heavy. The fishing has not been excellent, however; day to day we have boated enough Dolphin and Mahi to keep the skillet hot. These fish, fresh from the water and dropped into a smoking hot cast iron skillet after a dusting of Bill’s excellent blackening mix makes the entire trip worthwhile.
We drove down to Key West where the pace quickened a bit and the traffic was brutal. If you make Key West a priority, be ready to walk a lot and pay a hefty toll to park somewhere close to the action. It was as expected. Duvall Street, in the heart of the historic downtown was a collection of small shops selling just about anything from t-shirts to the tools necessary to enjoy your favorite herbal concoction. In between hordes of tourists, locals sauntered by, often barefoot on bicycles, drifting in and out of traffic on very narrow streets. There are a number of historically interesting places, including Mr. Truman’s summer home and Mr. Hemingway’s house. I liked the old Coast Guard Headquarters building where a museum, named after the treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, was located. Apparently, Mel Fisher was renowned in his area of expertise, as was another Mel Fisher that I worked for several years ago. A nasty thunderstorm interrupted our visit downtown, forcing us to take refuge in Garbo’s, a small eatery that is highly rated in Key West. We enjoyed a respectable lunch while we drip dried to the delight of Tazzy who cannot get enough water! We can say that we have been to Key West but are not in a hurry to return, as opposed to the destinations in the western and mountain reaches of America. If you want a colorful and rich experience visiting the old south, I can absolutely recommend Charleston, S.C., where the charm is palpable, or the “forgotten coast” of Florida’s panhandle, a subject of past blogs. This leads to another perspective.
Generally speaking, the Keys do not remotely approach the Florida panhandle in terms of seafood. It was disappointing to see a Rinehardt or US Foods truck backed up to these restaurants unloading the same frozen foods and staples that we enjoy at Red Lobster in the heart of the Ozarks. The seafood in the Apalachicola area is absolutely superior to the touristy foods in the Keys, with the exception of a select few eateries that require the services of Trip Advisor to locate, well off the beaten path. I will suggest the folks in the Keys do not approach the reverence in seafood that Kansas City and St. Louis do in terms of barbecue. Only a very few eateries that we have visited merit a second visit.
There are a number of RV parks spaced along Highway 1. Most are fairly average, often crowded and not as well manicured as Grassy Key Park, the location we have managed to luck into. I talked a bit about this park in an earlier piece, and RV enthusiasts among my readers would do well to remember this park. It is adult oriented, although kids are in residence, very neat and managed for the comfort of it’s patrons. It is ideally located in the center of the Keys, has a nice Marina and the salt water pool is a great place to burn the uncomfortable afternoon heat. You must be willing (and able) to rely solely on your RV, as there are no shower houses or restrooms beyond what you towed or drove in. This should not be a problem for 99% of the hard core RV’ers out there.
A note or two about the necessities of everyday living. There are the normal drug stores, markets and enough medical services to be stabilized should you develop a suspicious chest pain after eating a meal of frozen, farmed shrimp from Thailand. There are a number of stop and robs offering fuel at mainland prices and plenty of ice to keep your cooler at peak efficiency. You can buy your fishing permit online with ease, and the out of state saltwater licenses are reasonable (10 days, 30 bucks).
I suppose that Missouri with it’s show me philosophy, will always be where my heart is and I am sure that among my readers there are a number of folks that absolutely loved the Florida Keys. We have at least two more adventures on out list while we are here, the turtle hospital and hand feeding the Tarpon at an establishment called Robbies. Pure tourist stuff, but hopefully educational. I am glad we came, and we will be back…….to the forgotten coast!