This posting will be delayed because I don’t have Wi-Fi access. But I am composing real-time, as promised. I am also having photo upload problems and will post more when able. Sorry.
10-29: Lake Okeechobee is about a foot more full today because it rained ALL NIGHT – however, the constant pitter-patter on the roof made for a relaxing night’s rest. It rained through breakfast and then as we started to unhook – it stopped. We followed the levee line a good ways and saw the neighborhood make a distinct shift from poor to rich and found ourselves traversing palm-lined streets and large homes, many with their own docks and fishing boats. We also noticed the extreme blackness of the soil, so we were not surprised to see many farms, nurseries, and LOTS of sugar cane.
As we left the fertile area, the Everglades lay before us with its unusual landscape of trees and shrubs and vines – all immersed in murky waters with an occasional array of lilly-pads.
I noticed another alien invader – but not kudzu this time. This brown web-like veil covered everything in its path in a choking cocoon of smothering doom. It was not a pleasant sight.
Then, I spied a more unusual visitor on the electrical and phone lines – every so often you would see one or more of these round balls with tentacles sticking out in all directions that had wrapped itself around the wire and balanced there with its tendrils outstretched. They were cute.
No gators were seen today, but lots of water birds and also a spotted toad at our Lake campsite. As we got to the Keys, we also saw geckos and lizards running across the highway at break-neck speeds – no chance to photograph those.
The trip down through the Keys is amazing. The water is aquamarine and azure and contrasts with the white sand and the green groves of mangrove. You skim along-side the water at sea-level and then are thrust up onto an overpass bridge to look down on vistas that stretch from horizon to horizon and then back down again to be cradled between the two shores. Birds of all sorts soar and dive all around you and the potential to see dolphins or manatee or any number of other sea-creatures keeps your eyes focused on the clear water channels and open sea in hopes of catching a rare glimpse. Fishing boats and other water-craft seem to float on a table of blue sea-glass.
In the towns, you will see unusual conversational mailboxes and sign displays (fish, dolphins, manatees, mermaids, fire-trucks, lighthouses, seagulls, coral, shells, large mouth bass and pirates are some that I saw).
I know everyone makes a big deal out of Key West – but we found that to be over-commercialized and not our favorite. Some of it probably had to do with the fact that this is Fantasy Fest weekend – and Fantasy in the Keys can mean just about anything you can think of with as little clothes as your modesty can stand, and by the looks of things there are quite a few immodest people here… So Fantasy coupled with Halloween should make for some interesting costumes and activities – but it is SO crowded. Right now, it is pouring rain (we had sun most of the day) but I don’t think it will phase the partiers – they will party on, I am sure.
We are staying in a more sedate location – SugarLoaf Key. The camp has its own shoreline, sand beach, hot tub and pool and Tiki Bar – so we have all we need. I suppose that we could get naked if we wanted to, but that will take a LONG TIME at the bar before that will happen. So we are content to sit and talk with 4 gay men who are gearing up for the party down the way. They tried to shock us, but we are Las Vegans – fat chance!
We are here tomorrow and may take a tour, as driving the RV on the small, crammed city streets is not fun. If not, we will lounge by the pool – or maybe both… See you tomorrow.
10-30: Morning arrived and we awoke to the sound of rooster crows. He was strutting down the RV lane as if trained to crow in front of each trailer twice and then move on. Later on we would find out that the Keys are full of chickens as leftovers from the cock-fighting sport in the earlier part of the 20th century. Once it was outlawed, the people let the birds run free and now there is a $500 fine for “chicken abuse”.
We decided to give Key West another chance, since the Fantasy Fest adult party had concluded last night in the ongoing downpour. We drove the RV to the Visitor Center and picked up the Trolley Tour which took us on a circuit around the city. We were impressed with the colorful and ornate architecture – some whimsical and some stately.
We stopped at the Pirate Wreckers Museum – which really wasn’t about
pirates, per sae (but I suspect that is more intriguing than the term “wreckers”, which is what the museum was actually about). It seems that the Keys has a substantial coral reef off-shore, which all but eliminates waves and sandy beach formation, but does cause significant damage to ships tossed upon it in storms (or hurricanes). Once the ships were damaged, the “wreckers” raced out to the ships and saved many lives, but also were then allowed to take a percent of the proceeds of goods that they retrieved. Divers had to be able to hold their breath for at least 6 minutes (no diving equipment in the 1800’s) to go down and bring up merchandise, “lumpers” had to carry the cargo to shore where it was salvaged and sold with some of the profits going to the “wrecker” and his crew. At the time, “wrecking” made Key West the richest city in America until more modern diving and salvaging equipment was discovered.
Two other industries that had a great economic foothold in the area were cigars and natural sponges. You can see a small remnant of both industries that are left, but a great fire and cheaper labor killed the cigar industry and a bacterium decimated the sponging economy. Now, Key West was one of the poorest cities…
Looking for another industry to revitalize them, the US Government, WPA movement, helped with the beginnings of a tourism industry – the Aquarium was built, the land mass was increased by over double and hotels and restaurants began to flourish. The Navy had a big presence in the area as well. Key West got kind of a bail-out and thought it was on its way – but obstacles of fire (now all buildings downtown mandatorily have metal roofs to prevent fire spread), mosquitoes (somebody tried to build a bat-tower to get the bats to eat them, but the mosquitoes won and killed the bats) and the tropical storms and hurricanes plagued their success. We all now know that they eventually succeeded –but did you know that they also suceeded?
Angry that US Customs and Immigration was causing undo delays of tourists retruning to the mainland, resulting in a devastating drop in visitors, they tried to petition for an open border, like all other US States enjoy. Once denied, they decided to suceed and made up their own flag and everything – eventually, that all settled down – but they still have their own flag, their own name “The Conch Republic” and issue their own passports, valid in 11 countries.
Harry S. Truman’s “Little White House” is here and it also has been the accomodation for other Democratic presidents: Carter, Clinton and Kennedy. We also visited the Hemmingway House and saw the 6-toed cats, the cat cemetary and beautiful grounds and period and personal memorabilia.
We had a drink and Conch Fritters in Sloppy Joe’s Bar (Ernest’s favorite place). Conch Fritters were kind of like a cross between and crab cake and a large hush puppy – we found the Conch to be rather rubbery and tough (SNAPpy, as my brother would say). But anything chased with a tropical drink, can’t be that bad.
We enjoyed the Key Lime Pie much more and had that twice during our stay – bad, we know…but in a good way. One of our stops was the “Southern-Most point in the Continental United States”. We are not quite sure about that, as Dad remembers a trip to Imperial Beach, CA wherehe also saw that same claim to fame. But, they play it up big here, as well as the Mile Marker 0 of US-1.
Back at camp, we took to the pool to decompress from a very humid day (but no rain, so we should be thankful for that). Tomorrow, we will travel across the Everglades again to visit my aunt (Dad’s sister) and her son, my cousin. Looking forward to seeing them and also my aunt and uncle (Dad’s brother). I may also get to connect with an old pharmacy friend who has relocated near here. So, the next few days will be about family and friends – what could be better!
Look to the title of this blog for the WOTD as told by Bob Marley.