Having grown up in Miami, the Florida Keys were always a getaway for my family and I’ve loved heading down to the entire chain of islands all my life – especially Key West!
First, of course, for anyone from the city area, you find yourself cheerful just because you’re driving south. Yes, they are basically catching the same fish off the coast of Miami as they are off the coast of Key Largo—first stop on the chain. They somehow just taste better as soon as you’re off the mainland. And somehow, we’re all just instantly in better moods. Perhaps it’s the concept of the sea and the breeze and the fact that our natural landscape is just so darned beautiful. I don’t know. But I am happy to head down at the drop of a hat.
Key Largo offers a number of fun establishments and, to me most importantly, John Pennekamp State Park. It’s a great place to go snorkeling, diving, picnicking, or just relaxing. Our reefs are sensational, and no matter how you go, it’s a day of nature—natural nature, if you will! We haven’t managed to manicure too much on our reefs yet and I hope they never do. They offer such amazing relaxation. I’m a diver, and there’s nothing like being down there—as of yet!—with no cell phones or distractions.
Near Pennekamp you’ll find Captain Slate’s. Now, if you are a diver, this is something you must try to do—Captain Slate’s Creature Feature. Check out his schedule—he offers a dive with large nurse sharks and rays the Captain has been feeding for years. They are like his pets. They are gentle and play with the divers. (Not as food—they are naturally gentle unless you step on them or pull or tug at them.) It is truly an experience like no other.
This is a blog so I’m not going to get too carried away because I can extol the virtues of every island in the chain. But I will tell you that all along the 120 (approx) miles to the 0 mark in Key West from the mainland, you will find excellent restaurants, charming and rustic bed and breakfast inns and more glamorous resorts. Fishing, boating, para-sailing, you name it. There’s camping, too. You can drop by Theater of the Sea for lots of sea mammal fun.
Speaking of which . . . .
In Marathon, at Grassy Key, there’s Dolphin Research Center. Once the home of Flipper, the founders and trainers there work with these marvelous mammals in many ways; they have become the home for many rescue animals who would have died in the wild. I have my favorite friends there, and I swear, my boy Tanner knows me when I come and chat with him or take a swim. I’ve been there for their Wounded Warrior Day—and I can’t say enough!
If you wish a swim or play time with a sea lion, make sure you check schedules and availability at either venue.
Heading on down, you’ll cross the famous Seven Mile Bridge, pass through areas where our little key deer are protected, and many nature preserves.
Indian Key is where Doctor Henry Perrine was massacred with others when the Seminole Indians—harassed and massacred themselves—took revenge on the wrong man, a man who had never harmed anyone. Perrine had been looking for a land grant; at his death, his widow had the land relocated and we now have the community of Perrine, Florida, in his honor.
Next you come to Stock Island and then Key West. Now part of what you see of Key West is the “new area.” Land filled in out of marsh and bogs as time went by. Old Town Key West is naturally my favorite area. That’s where you’ll find a huge conglomeration of Victorian houses—during the years of salvage, Key West was the highest per capita income area of the states. You can tour Hemingway’s house and get to know some six-toed cats. You can visit the Mel Fisher Museum and find out about modern salvage. Visit the East Martello Museum and see a Victorian hearse among other artifacts—and learn about the days of pirates and Key West during the Civil War. The cemetery is mid island on the highest land with many interred in above ground vaults—bodies did indeed wash down Duval Street after a major hurricane.
And good Lord, go on a ghost tour!
Fun, historic, and informative.
As many times as I’ve been, I still hop on the Conch tour train. A “conch,” of course, is a native. A “fresh water conch” is someone who has been there at least seven years. (Yes, it’s also a large sea snail as well.) The Conch Republic refers to the fact that Key West, to protest at blockade at the mainland, seceded from the Union. The “secession” lasted a few hours—the point of everyone going broke with no tourism dollars was quickly made and thankfully, all came to a satisfactory conclusion without the beautiful and historic island leaving the states.
Check out Artist House Bed and Breakfast – famed for being the home of Robert the Doll. And make sure you learn the story of Maria de Hoyos and Carl Tanzler. If not the greatest love story of all time—it’s got to be darned close to the creepiest. Seriously—where else could a man marry a corpse and live with her for seven years without really being noticed?
Only in Key West.
I hope some of the crazy and incredible beauty and wonder—along with history, the good, the bad, and the ugly—are all within the pages of The Cursed. And, of course, I hope that one day, if you haven’t yet, you will come on down!