South Florida and The Keys by Daniel Reid
South Florida and the
by Daniel Reid
South Florida is home to oranges, conch, Horatio Caine and Papa Hemingway. The sunshine state is also covered with a huge swamp filled with nasty things that can eat, poison or strangle you to death. So with my "Cainesque" sunglasses, flip flops, and A Farewell to Arms in my back pocket, we were ready to hit Florida. First the Everglades, and then with loaded backpacks we were ready to camp the Keys - the centre piece of our vacation, or so we thought.
Our first adventure
was a full moon canoe trip in the Everglades at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge– home to
alligators, water moccasins, coral snakes and Burmese pythons (luckily you can
kill these foreigners because they are invasive to the Everglades, but still,
these massive constrictors eat alligators, small children and pasty white
The beginning of this harrowing boat trip was frightful. We spun
in frantic circles, screaming at each other while neon eyes glared at us, waiting: “Go ahead stick your foot in the water... dare ya!” pleads Mr. Alligator.
The panic subsided about half way through the trip as we finally got control of
the craft and moved pleasantly down the middle of a sawgrass canal (right means left in a canoe). After regaining our confidence (with a couple of Full
Sail India Pale Ales) we sang French Canadian songs as the gators darted out of our way.
An awesome trip, one we will remember for a lifetime. You don't need canoe
lessons, but go with someone who has more experience than a distant relative called Jacques. It'll make the experience a little less
Just as our fears
settled, it was time to move south to the Keys. We were a bit worried because
we didn't have a campsite reservation and apparently the sites fill up real
quick, so we decided to take the first available campsite (I'd tried booking in advance through http://www.reserveamerica.com but no go). We arrived
in Key Largo and pulled in to the John Pennekamp State Park. The ranger-looking
guy at the booth told us we must have won the lottery. Sure, we'll take four
nights without looking at the site. When we pulled into the site we almost
cried. Valuable lesson learnt – look at the campsite first – the guys who work
the park booth are salesmen not Ranger Ricks. We got a $180 gravel strip
plucked between two RVs. Not what we had in mind.
Even though this was
not our “ideal” camping trip, the campground was immaculately clean, perhaps a
bit too manicured for our liking. If I'd had children with me, it might have been an ideal
place to hang out for a few days – in a trailer NOT a tent. There is a ton to do - fishing, the best snorkelling in the Keys, two beaches in the
park, glass bottom boat rides, and showers. But it’s not primitive
camping – unless air conditioning and satellite TV were used by the ancient
Seminoles in the area. Two days and we'd had enough. Time to head to Key West.
The drive was
wonderful with lots of little parks and scenic beaches, like Anne's
Beach (MM 73.5) or the Veteran's Memorial beach (MM 40 - Little
Duck Key). Another great stop is Curry Hammock State Park (it'll cost you six
bucks for the day). The beach was quiet and the snorkelling great. We stopped
in Islamadora and ate at two very good restaurants. The first was the all-you-can-eat
seafood buffet at Whale Harbor and Marina (83413 Overseas Highway Islamorada,
FL 33036). The food was great; crab legs, seared tuna, paella, grouper and
sushi, but like any buffet, afterwards I felt like a Burmese Python that had just
swallowed a calf. The second was the Fish Company in Islamadora. The dolphin sandwich (not the mammal – the fish – they really have to rename
the fish. “You mean I'm gonna eat Flipper, Mommy?”) and the panoramic Gulf view is wonderful. You can also visit the Bass Pro shop to pick up those last
minute items like snorkel gear.
We finally hit Key West. I sucked in the warm
tropical booze-filled air as packs of scooters zipped by. Our hotel location, at the south end near Duval Street, was perfect. Drop the bags and let's get
the party started.
Duval street is bar
after bar and it starts in the Atlantic Ocean and ends in the Gulf of Mexico.
The first thing I noticed was people walking down the street with drinks.
Really? I got a conflicting opinion on this, but from a self-interested
bartender because he wanted us to stay and drink at his bar and NOT on the
street. I think the rule is: don't act like an animal and you're OK (and
perhaps don't bring outside liquor into another restaurant).
The next day we did
the Hemingway thing - Hemingway House at $12.50 per person. Expensive, but
necessary, just to go to his writing room and breathe in the cat urine. In fact
the whole house smelled like cat piss. Then on to Capitan Tony's “Hemingway
spent a lifetime here.” The place was a shit hole. Sloppy Joe's was better.
And the final Hemingway touch – hangover number, blah, blah. There are many
other historic homes and museums to visit, including Audubon House &
Gardens, the Key West Lighthouse Museum, the Harry S. Truman Little White
House, the Heritage House & Robert Frost Cottage and the Wrecker's Museum
House. Take a hangover day and do a walking tour of these magnificent homes. Or
rent a scooter rather than numbing your way around town. The scooters are dirt
cheap, about 25 bucks for a full day. What a great way to bomb around the
island, especially since we needed more Tequila and Margarita mix. Buy booze from
one of the vendors in the Old Town and you need your children as a down
payment. Albertson's in the New Town, mucho better.
A final trip to the Southernmost Hotel for happy hour - cheap, cheap appies and
drinks, another trip down Duval and we were ready to head back to Fort
Lauderdale and then home. Awesome trip. I can hardly wait for next year...
after I take canoe lessons, learn all of “Frère
Jacques,” leave the tent and backpack at home and make reservations in Key
Largo and Key West... but most of all when my liver finally recovers from the
beer, tequila, cigars and the great experience.
Recommendations from Leap Local users:
Schoolhouse Children's Museum & Learning Centre is located in Boynton Beach, Florida. This museum is a great family attraction that will educate and keep children entertained for hours.
Alternatively, to see locals from all across the USA, click here. You can also view our worldwide map to browse all locals from across the globe and explore the countless activities and adventures on offer.
Daniel Reid is a writer, reader and
runner living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When he's not freezing through a
harsh prairie winter, he's inspiring new Canadians at a small but prominent
university in Calgary.
Daniel has a degree in English
Literature from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., Canada. He’s
currently working on a writing project, but not sure what form it'll take. He
is still on a quest to run the planet.
You can also check out his blog http://dereid99.wordpress.com – a nasty bag of rantings.