The plan was to camp down the Keys. We had our tiny “pup tent,” a shelter offering no more protection than Saran Wrap on a “Super Ham and Cheese” in the Everglades. (See previous entry – i.e. Alligators and Burmese Pythons.) We were a bit worried because we didn’t have a campsite reservation and apparently the sites fill up real quick, (I tried booking online two months ago through Reserve America but no go), so we decided to take the first available campsite. 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 of won the lottery, “Sure we’ll take four nights without looking at the site.”
When we pulled into the site we cried – the site was nothing more than a gravel pit beside two RVs – one with a blaring TV, the other blasting air conditioning. And not a single tree offering protection from old guy in underwear walking around his RV. But valuable lesson learnt – look at the campsite first and the guys who work the park booth are salesmen not Ranger Ricks. The 180 dollar gravel strip was 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 had children with me, it’d be an ideal place to hang out for a few days – in a trailer NOT a tent – because there is tons to do: fishing, the best snorkeling in the Keys, two beaches in the park, glass bottom boat rides, fishing, and showers. But it is 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 with beaches to stop and enjoy the scenery 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 snorkeling great. We stopped to eat at The Fish company in Islamadoa and had the dolphin sandwich. Not the mammal – the fish – they really have to rename the fish. You mean I’m gonna eat Flipper, mommy? The ocean view was stupendous.
We finally hit Key West. I sucked in the warm tropical booze filled air as packs of scooters zipped by. Our hotel location was perfect – at the south end near Duval Street. Drop the bags and let’s get the party started. Duval street is bar after bar. You can stagger from the Atlantic side to 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 – of course 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 idiot and you’re OK (and perhaps don’t bring outside liquor into another bar or restaurant).
The next day we did the Hemingway thing – Hemingway house at 12.50 per person. Expensive, but necessary, just to go into his writing room and breath in the cat urine. In fact the whole house smelled like cat piss. The next time I read ‘ol Papa, I’m going sit in a litter box and see if I garner any extra insight. Then on to Capitan Tony’s “Hemingway spent a life time here.” The place was a shit hole. Sloppy Joe’s was better. And the final Hemingway touch – hangover number, bla, bla.
With hangover number, bla, bla in check (Gatorade and Advil – our Key West breakfast of champions) we decided (needed?) to rent scooters rather than numbing our 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 (or learn to swim faster than a gator or water moccasin), learn all the words to “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 great experience.